Sense of Reality
My desk was in an “office’ which was really the stock room. From my desk I could look out its door onto the show floor and easily take most of it in with a single glance. Right in front of me would be 800mm, 600mm, 400mm, and 300mm fast Nikkor lenses set up on tripods. On the table in front of them would be $100k worth of glass ranging in sizes from 200mm down to 8mm. My job was store manager which meant everything from vacuuming the floor each morning to ordering the million dollar Nikon inventory. It was for me at the time the perfect job, a place where a young (I was 21), wanta be photographer could inhale new Nikon fumes while being able to play with every piece of Nikon gear known to man. It was truly a candy store!
One day five folks came strolling into the store and went right to the big glass on the tripods right in front of my door. I looked out and with my crystal clear 21yr old perception instantly marked them as “not photographers” so I went back to my paperwork. A few minutes later I heard my name called and I went out into the showroom where the owner informed me the folks needed my help, they were going to photograph wildlife. That being my “expertise” (ya, been doing it for a whopping 6 months by then), I was the resident expert. The four gents then went on to tell me their needs. The four of them were big game hunters and were heading to Africa on a hunt and they had hired this kid (he was younger than me) to photographically document the hunt. Their need and question was, could they get all the gear the kid needed for $20k?
I walked home that night a starving photographer mumbling under my breath the whole way. I mumbled under my breath for the next year every time I had to scrape together enough money for a brick of Kodachrome. “Why did that kid get the opportunity of a lifetime put on a silver platter for him when he didn’t know a shutter speed from a speed limit when I was stuck inside four walls?” I have no doubt that some this week read my Up in the Air and had the same reaction to my exploits as I did back when those folks walked into the store to buy that gear for the hunt. I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to add up the expense of that 44min flight and say’s to yourself, “Damn!” I’m here to tell ya, if some photographer came into that store 29yrs ago and told me what I shared with you this week, I would have said the exact same thing.
Yet, here I am all those years later doing what I thought I should have been able to do way back then. And to be 100% honest with you, if those hunters had selected me to go instead of that kid, while I might have comeback with some photos, they wouldn’t have been “the” photos. I nowhere close had the technical base let alone the emotional or “old fart” skills to take advantage of such a grand opportunity. I look back today on some of the opportunities I made for myself back then with regret, wishing I had the skills I have now back then because I didn’t make the most of them. But that’s not the way this photography thing works, that’s when a sense of reality has to kick in.
Stepping into the back seat of that T6 this week didn’t come as some fluke, there was literally a whole lot of luck involved in it that I was able, with time (both behind the lens and working the business) to turn into a flight alongside a P-51D. First, my dear friend Scott who runs NPS happened to join us once at DLWS and at a breakfast mention he was going to the Reno Air Races. I then was able to get myself invited to the races as a NPS volunteer. I then was able at PRS to become dear friends with Richard who was kind enough to share his aviation photography knowledge with me. When I asked Richard about doing air to air, knowing the price tag of such adventures he suggested I save some pennies by at least saving on travel time by trying this one guy just up the road from me. That’s when we meet Dennis, the owner of the T6 and the rest just fell into place. But to start this whole wheel in motion was 20yrs of time behind the camera and proving myself as a photographer so I could associate with Scott from NPS. And THEN, be able to make the most of it with the skills built up to that time.
We simply don’t start at the top, not even close to it and there’s a really good reason for that. I know that if someone had told me this when I was 21, I would have tuned them out so quickly but then, that’s what you do at 21. And the simple truth is that the journey is so much a part of the photograph that without the journey, there is no photograph. Yeah, there’s the click that says, “I was here” but that’s not the photograph saying, “You should be here” which is what we should be striving for. And when we see images out there that we think or wish were ours, that’s hard to swallow at times. Don’t think for one instant that when I seem some incredible act in nature captured by another photographer, my first gut response is, “I wish.” That though is quickly replaced with, “I’m glad!” I’m so glad that there are other photographers out there shooting. There are other photographers out there making “the” images. There are other photographers out there sharing their great images. And most importantly, there are other photographers out there challenging me to improve my photography to meet and beat the standards they have set with their photographs!
You just can’t always imagine the possibilities if you don’t see them first! Some ask why I blog so much, share so much of what I do and how I do it. This is just another part of that answer. To encourage while removing the frustration. I can more than relate to photographers coming up the ladder and some of the frustrations they feel from time to time. It’s hard to look at where one’s at, where others are at, where you want to be or think you should be and still creatively make clicks. But I think if it were easy, no one would do it. I am very serious that if I can do it, you can do it. But perhaps just not today, but you will be able to do it tomorrow. As long as your vertical and moving forward, no matter the pace, you will get where you want to get with photography. I know these are just words but you’ll with time (there’s that element again), come to know them as I have. And then you have to remember to not only count your blessing, but pass the knowledge along. You just gotta have a sense of reality.