It’s funny how things work out sometimes. Sometimes memories can be fostered by sights, smells, old assignment sheets, requests for retro media, or even just visiting someplace you haven’t been in years. Yesterday I had to shoot some photos in a subdivision in a part of Indianapolis that I hadn’t been to in years, but the memories it brought back were kind of wild. The subdivision I visited is up on the far north east side of Indianapolis in Fishers, and I remember the first time I went there. It was to shoot photos for a company named PJD Creations right after I started at the star. Seriously, the first or second month I lived here and I hadn’t even really unpacked in the apartment that I had rented to that point. PJD Creations is an artistic company that creates custom wall textures for home or businesses. Do you want a brick wall in your basement but don’t feel like ripping the wall out? PJD is the kind of company that would come in and put a plaster brick wall texture over the existing wall, and you’d never know the difference by touching it. It’s wildly awesome actually. They do quite a bit more as I believe in this photo they did the floor and ceiling (forgive me my memory is a little hazy since this was one of my first assignments), but as you can tell; they do A+ work.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the house that I shot for PJD was actually owned by one Tim Durham, who unfortunately has now been convicted of stealing a boat load of money from a bunch of people and is going to jail for 50 years. Too bad really that someone would do something like that. I met the man while I was there but I had no idea who he was, I really didn’t care, and he seemed nice enough. I even got to see the Delorean in his car collection which as I recall was housed in his multi level garage. As I sit here about to make a phone call to a student at the local college who left me a message about interviewing me for their portfolio class, I have started to think about how much I’ve learned coming from that world years ago. I’m not exactly a rockstar photographer like Joe McNally, Tim Wallace, or Dave Black by any stretch of the imagination. I’d like to think I’m ok though; definitely better than I was although probably not by much, and that I’ve learned a lot over the last several years doing this full time. If you’re just getting started, photography is a scary thing!
That photo is from my very first assignment at the Indianapolis Star. The Indiana Ghost Hunters. I remember sitting at my desk after making the appointment thinking I had hit the jackpot. BEST JOB EVER. To this day I generally have that mentality, but this was different since my position still had “new job smell”, and I had no idea how much other work went into being a shooter. I had no idea what I was doing on that assignment, and the photos show it. They were Terrible. I was so nervous that I didn’t even notice the guy almost eclipsed by the lady on the left side of that photo. The rest of the shots? Lots of blown out highlights, Virgin Mary Shadows, mostly just horrific photos. Yup. My first assignment at the Indianapolis Star was to take my cameras into an incredibly dark space where they were using flashes to try and see ghosts; and make them appear like they were doing the voodoo that they do. While they were doing it and I was out of my mind excited about it. I failed. The Article ran, everybody went on like it was just another day, and honestly nobody said anything about how they turned out one way or another. Looking back at the photos from that day makes me as sick now as they did back then. Just goes to show that you have to start somewhere, and nobody knows what they are doing right out of the gate. Even though I went to school for photography and had been shooting for some time by that point, I still felt like I was behind the curve when it came to getting started.
Not everything was terrible though, I had at least a few images that were passable by some standard. Not a lot though in my opinion even though nobody really seemed to complain with what I provided. I never had much of a mentor here at the Star to point me in the right direction though, which really was discouraging. At that point in time there was an incredible divide between the News side of things, and the Advertising/Marketing/Custom Content side of things which is where I primarily reside. There still is a divide between the departments, however it’s much different today which is another topic for another day. Really I just did my best to replicate what my other department coworkers did, but that side of the staff even has a Pulitzer prize winner; I was just a kid with a camera and nobody to tell him the way to do it right. Then on top of that I was using Canon equipment, which isn’t what I had ever owned, or even used at all to that point in time. There’s nothing wrong with the Canon gear, in fact I still have it and use it daily. But having been a Nikon shooter previous then being thrown into a non stop real world shooting environment with gear I wasn’t familiar with was terrifying. Throwing the camera into Aperture Priority, Motor Drive and 800ISO was sort of my go to for most assignments because that’s what I’d seen other shooters on the news side of things do. I had been to formal schooling, but it was nothing like this and I was really starting to feel the pressure of the real world sink in. I needed to be saved.
I remember shooting this photo of Mike B. You would think I remembered his name because I did all kinds of work to get information from him but that isn’t really the case. I remember his name because years later we became friends as sort of a random happenstance. Eventually I got to know who is now one of my best friends in the world; Brad who during our time when not lighting things on fire frequented an establishment named Howl at the Moon where Mike here actually was the General Manager at that point. Eventually I went on to do some work for them, not including the 13″x19″ copy of this image I printed to give him because we were both excited about it and it never went anywhere. I’m not sure where Mike is now, but I know Brad and I have remained close and in fact I stood in his Wedding (and he will in mine). Brad’s got a set of Twins on the way now too, which he’s already started charging his camera batteries for. Only person I know with a 128gb SD card for his D800 so he doesn’t miss a moment. I’ve always loved Brads enthusiasm and really appreciate over the years him asking all the photo related questions that he has. Honestly his always asking questions about photography is probably a big reason as to why I started to push myself the way I did knowing that I couldn’t always just point the camera and hope for the best. Just like in golf don’t hit the ball and see where it goes; learn to hit the ball where you want it. Funny to think that Brad and I met at a party where he and I were the only two that showed up out of everybody; including the person that threw the party in the first place…
My first year at the paper I’ll just never forget though. Trying to swim when all my gear was trying to sink me to the bottom of this pool known as the photography industry. There were little victories here and there; but nothing that I would consider to be substantial; or really a turning point. I just couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t very good at it, nor was I ever going to be and it bothered me. I remember setting my 400 watt newspaper provided lights up in my apartment every night and trying to get them to do the things that I wanted. You may think that was good practice but honestly in a 500 Square foot apartment it was almost pointless. All I was doing was scaring the neighbors with 400 watt blasts of light followed by the beep of the capacitors chiming to notify me of their charged status. If I have any trouble with my eyesight to this day this is probably why, but that’s besides the point. I always knew photography was tough, but I had to figure it out. I still have to figure it out because unfortunately it hasn’t gotten any easier.
That piece of Jewelery there was probably the first photo that I took for the newspaper that I had done right. In fact 7 years later it is still in my screensaver montage on the Mac Pro at our downtown office. The photo ran lots of times too, in the now defunct magazines that the Indianapolis Star once published; as well as in zoned special sections of the Carmel Star and on direct mail pieces. I still have a box of those magazines and newspaper clippings to show that I had accomplished something with my photography. In fact I am pretty sure I even took one to show my Grandparents when I saw them next. I was so proud, but the battle had just begun. What had I done? How did I do it? Just because I had done it once doesn’t mean I would ever do it again. I was terrified. What if I had taken the only reasonably decent photo I would ever take?
Fast forward a bit. I still haven’t figured it out. I shot that photo of Mike in the beginning of 2011, and while I really like it and I feel like I’m getting closer along with being more consistent; I’m still not there. I’m still not as good at this as I want to be, and for that I’m going to keep trying. Every day is still a battle where I learn something new. I still believe that the best photo that I will ever take has yet to be taken, and I plan on hunting for it like it is a legal to hunt endangered species. I taught two classes at Ivy tech last year and one of the questions that is asked most often is, “how can I work to improve my photography?” A lot of photographers like to say to shoot anything you can. That’s not enough. “how can I work to improve my photography?” You need to realize that it’s work. It’s not going to happen overnight. You need to WORK to improve it. Taking classes at the local college, or even classes at Roberts Camera can help, but you can’t just do that. Seven working years later I feel like I’ve improved a little, but not enough. There’s still work to be done though and it’s not getting any faster. I don’t ever expect to be one of those “Rockstar” photographers that people travel far and wide to see, or subscribe to on KelbyTraining or ect. Honestly I smile knowing that I’ve come this far. I can only pray that I have a long way to go since I’m still working towards taking my best photo ever; and I can only hope that it’s still a long way away. More Soon.