If you’re creative, you know how important it is to see and feel growth in your work. This goes out to other photographers facing battles within themselves, but also in a broad sense, anyone struggling to find their voice, creativity, or moment of contribution to the world. I hope there’s something here you can apply in your life.

The year after I started shooting, I finally picked up a decent starter camera. It was a Canon 60D (I later moved up to a 5D MK II). The LCD on this Canon 60D was a swivel screen which was clutch in moments where I needed to grab a shot in a unique (or weird) angle. It’s ironic that my first camera had a screen like that. Even though the function of the screen allowed me to see the world at a new angle or perspective, it wasn’t until I made attempts towards balancing my “swivel” in life—paying attention to my dream and how I can make photography work—that enabled me to start to make a path forward.

Success leaves clues, but do we open ourselves up to notice them?
An older fraternity brother of mine saw me and my passion for photography and knew I was a broke college student at the time. He worked at a Fortune 100 company and was gracious enough to gift me $500.00 and told me to spend it on my passion. Little clues and gifts of goodwill like these don’t always come in the form of blue hundreds, but do you notice them? They can be as simple as comments, encouragement, and people serving as the wind beneath your wings that carry your creative spirit into that next great shot. On this journey, there’s always growth to do and every photographer starts somewhere.

Back then I was self-conscious and still trying to find myself, figure out where I wanted to take my career, and how I wanted to show up in the world. Talking to people and making friends in college, let alone asking them to model for me in a portrait session was already a tough ask. I sometimes cringe looking at my old work:

PRO TIP: If you’re color grading your images, don’t ever crank your clarity slider up to 100.

I don’t even think she used the photo.

Looking back, I thought that it was actually good work at the time. So many times I wanted to put down my camera and hang it up for good. If I would’ve stopped and let my fears, emotions, pain, and doubt get the best of me, I would have never have been able to bloom into the photographer I am today:

I met Hannah Dtrick (@hannahdtrick on Instagram) on March 2, 2019 at Penny’s Coffee after a consultation meeting with a couple hiring me for portraits. She was posing her best friend across the room and I felt I could try and capture an organic moment. Don’t get me wrong, organic shots like these sometimes don’t go as planned. Lucky for me, Hannah was warm, kind, and visiting Minnesota to do some influencer campaign promo for Hewing Hotel that weekend.

The beauty about shaping and chasing light, especially if you carry a camera with you wherever you go, is that it opens you up to infinite strokes of serendipity. All there needs to be is a willingness to find and bump up against those kindred spirits in the world. I’m not from New York, but Notorious B.I.G. said it well, “Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way.”

Journey on.
No matter what the circumstance, stay the course. If you have a will to keep going, a few friends, supporters, and coaches who enable your dream—just know that’s all you need. All you have to do is lean into your growth, calling, and make time for what you love. The grass doesn’t water itself and your skills won’t get better until you invest in yourself. You are the diamond. You are the jewel.

Excellence is not just a goal nor a byproduct. It is something that requires blood, sweat, and tears. Excellence is hard to achieve and some seldom do. Sacrifice is the hardest of all. It places others over your personal desires and needs; It challenges you to remember your why in the midst of your reality and emotions. To everyone out there chasing something better.

Don’t stop. Keep going.
Achieve your purest form of excellence.

Whatever that may be.

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