We all want to be successful at what we do and I’m often asked by people to “teach me how to do that!”, but it’s a request I genuinely struggle with. I can explain the inspiration behind my creative images and I can demonstrate my techniques in Photoshop but that isn’t a blueprint for success. Being good at what you do isn’t about pressing buttons or following a formula – it’s much more complex than that. But the request has made me think about why some people manage to achieve more acclaim than others and for what it’s worth here is my take on the subject:
- Find your passion
I did fairly well in competitions with my portraits, wildlife and other images but it wasn’t until I discovered composite photography that my success sky rocketed, and that’s because while I like portrait and wildlife photography I love creative and composite. It’s my passion. It makes me excited, happy, motivated and fulfilled. I think about my fine art images endlessly, spend hours mulling over how to best tell my stories and can spend weeks producing just one picture. And I enjoy every minute, not least because I get to dress up in really girlie outfits with cascading blonde hair down to my waist. My post-man has long since stopped being surprised when I answer the door as a medieval queen or evil sorceress 😁.
- Tell your own story
There are a handful of photographers around the world whose work blows me away. I tracked down their websites (often obscure!), read their blogs and studied their work. But I didn’t re-produce their images because that’s their story to tell, not mine. I dissected what it was about their pictures which I loved so much – their use of light; their use of textures; the emotions the image evoked in me – then used that as a basis to tell my own story in my own unique way. You can’t stand out from the crowd if you’re the same as everyone else.
- Believe in yourself
When I first started out in composite photography it was not popular as a genre. My images often bombed in competitions and my work was looked down on by lots of my fellow photographers as “less than” or “not real photography” and in some quarters they still are. Composites are simply not accepted or promoted by most galleries, and organisations such as the IPA or Sony World Photo Awards, but I don’t care. I love what I do and I believe in my art.
- Be fearless
My early creative work was simply photos blended together and while they conveyed a story they didn’t contain a message.
As my skills progressed, however, it became important to me for my pictures to have meaning. They reflected my vegetarian principles, my concern for animal welfare, my experiences of bullying and harassment, my history of controlling relationships, my fury at women’s lack of equality. And when I’m invited to speak at organizations these messages are included in the narrative. But it doesn’t always go down well and I’m genuinely OK with that. I can only be me and I can only speak my truth, and if some people aren’t ready to hear that I try to be compassionate and understanding about their lack of compassion and understanding.
- Do the work
When I tell people that just one of my creative pictures was 2 years in the making they inevitably say “oh, I couldn’t be bothered!” or “I wouldn’t have the patience!”, but Usain Bolt didn’t become the fastest man on earth by jogging round his local park a couple of times a week. Bill Gates didn’t become the 2nd richest man on earth by working 9am-5pm. If you want to be successful you have to put in the work. I don’t think I’ve watched more than an hour of TV a day since 2014 and its’ been 5 years since I picked up a book because every spare second I have is spent on photography: learning new techniques and skills, mulling over ideas for pictures, gathering props and costumes, taking texture images, actually taking the photographs, editing, printing, mounting, entering competitions and maintaining my social media sites. It’s a huge amount of work.
The other thing people say to me is that “I don’t have time”, my response to which is “if you want something doing, ask a busy person”! I have some quite serious health issues to contend with, I have a home, a dog, a job, care for elderly disabled parents, teach photography, write, do volunteer work………and still find time for my photography because I make time. It’s always at the expense of other things but no-one ever lay on their death bed and said “I wish I’d dusted the house more” 😉.
Being good at anything takes passion, commitment, innovation and sheer bloody hard work. It’s not something you can do half-heartedly, not if you want to succeed. We’d all love to be award winning photographers with only an hour’s effort each week but sadly that’s unlikely to happen. And even if you put in all the effort and work required you still might not achieve ‘success’ in the commercial sense, which is why having a true passion for what you do is so important. You have to create for the love of creating and because it feeds your soul, not for money or acclaim (nice as those things are) because they aren’t guaranteed.