Can a Graphic Designer become a great Photographer?

I found myself in a position when I was a young graphic designer where I grew tired of scouring the Internet for the perfect image to match my vision or a simple image to meet the client’s expectation.  I also found it a bit annoying that there were many restrictions on textures and certain photos that were fairly easy to find (via Google image search).  I grew very frustrated as a graphic designer trying to play the photography copyright and search game. These frustrations grew into my desire of wanting to take my own photos.  I noticed a friend of mine was selling a Minolta Dimage 7i, and so my journey of photography begins.

The first thing I did much like many newbie photographers was totally avoid reading the instructions and went strait for shooting.  I took pictures of plants, streets, cars, rusty stop signs and so on.  I thought to myself that photography was super freaking easy and it did not require too much talent or skill (I will come back to this later).  I was shooting everything with auto ISO, and in program exposure mode for a year simply because I never bothered to take two hours of my time to learn what these features did.

I posted these photos in forums and showed them to my mom.  I was relished with “you’re an awesome photographer” and “wow your just too awesome, you the best photographer ever!”.  All of these comments from people who had no idea about photography went strait to my head and this gave me an even greater incentive on why I never needed to bother reading the manual or simply just try to learn my equipment.

I soon found myself giving other people advice on photography and camera equipment that I honestly never really knew too much about.  I was quickly becoming a very arrogant artist and I had nothing to be arrogant about.  Today I look back at the photos I took and I realize how much I regret that attitude.  My start in photography however did expose that I naturally understood the rule of thirds and good composition but I had no idea about exposure and how to mold lighting to truly bring out the beauty of a photo.

It was not until I joined Combat Camera where my mentor taught me the art of photography and showed me that not everyone who picks up a camera can take a great photo.  I showed him a few pictures, which I considered were my best work in Lake Tahoe of the mountains and the lake.  He totally ripped me apart and told me that a five year old could take these photos with a point and shoot camera.  He explained to me that a mountain and a lake never move.  My photo could be duplicated easily by someone standing in the same spot I was.  The true value of art and photography is to have something that no one else can duplicate.  You may have learned about this little thing in your economics class as scarcity (it’s so rare, it builds value over time).  My mentor went on to explain in the case of photojournalism that the art of it is to find a moment within a split second that can never be captured again.  He flipped open a copy of National Geographic and showed me a tear jerking photo of a girl crying in front of her burned house in Texas.  I thought to myself “wow that’s a moment”.  Not only did the photographer who took this amazing photograph have to capture the moment but they also had to quickly frame it and ensure it was optimized for the best exposure.

It was not until I was sent out for my first few times as a combat photographer that I truly understood what it was like to be a real photographer, not someone who just bought a camera and was told by their mother that they take beautiful photos.    I soon felt so ashamed and embarrassed about my photography knowledge that I grabbed the manual for my command issued Nikon D2X and learned every aspect of the camera.  I searched the Internet for tutorials and feed my hunger to be a better photographer.  Soon this hunger built an extraordinary passion that taught me photography is not just about learning the body of the camera or how to compose a great shot but it is a journey that has many variables that you must learn to control and understand. A photographer must come to terms that they always continue learning their craft.  There is no such thing as the best photographer, only a better one.

If you are starting off,  avoid the mistakes I made.  Learn to be humble and embrace your graphic design skills.  Read the manual and find a photography mentor that can guide you and show you why photography is an art form that can be very challenging but very rewarding!

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