In the name of Progress

In High School, I took 3 years of Photography classes. I spent countless hours learning how ISO affects aperture, what things like "shutter speed" and "f-stop" meant. I loved it, but I still ended up taking pictures that were due for assignments the night before. I turned in several pictures of random things from my room I had thrown together to look artistic. Oh, and I still shot on Auto and thought my teachers wouldn't notice.
I certainly didn't see a difference.
I bought my first DSLR in 2009 and was introduced to the wonderful world of Photoshop... via Picnik. For those of you who weren't a teenage girl in 2009, let me tell you about Picnik. It was a very simple online photo editor, that included tools to help you whiten teeth, smooth skin, even tan yourself. It was heaven-sent. At first my friends and I took pictures of each other and enjoyed editing ourselves into perfection. Then, I went rogue and started taking pictures for other people. I even had the gall to charge them for it!
Let me pause for a minute here and just say I very strongly believe we (in the Photography community) have to be careful about Photographer-shaming. At the time, I remember thinking I was great. I was loving the pictures that I was cranking out, and honestly didn't see much of a difference between the pictures I was taking, and the pictures people were paying hundreds for. At the same time, there were photographers who were much more advanced than me who let me know that my work was no good. I brushed it off as "differences in artistic taste" and went on with my total massacre of the entire photography profession.
Actually, that's a little harsh, and completely the opposite of the point I'm trying to make. But just so you can understand, let's take a little walk through time here and see what I'm talking about...
This one has a cute background, but the subjects are so dark you can barely see their faces! Did I care? No. I probably made them look more tan, because I'm such a nice photographer.

Ah, my beloved zoom effect. I used this a LOT. It's making me a little motion sick now.

My poor, beautiful friend who I offered a free photoshoot to because I was so proud of my skills. And what do I do to her? I whiten her teeth until they can blind you from a mile away. But it's not obvious, right?

I can't figure out what I was thinking in this one. He dropped the flower on the ground, so I use it as the focal point of the picture? And I used selective coloring (well, the Picnik version of selective coloring, which clearly leaves a "cloud" around the object)... I might as well have taken these at the train tracks and called it a day. (As a side note, their other location was, in fact, at the train tracks. So I rest my case.)

It pains me to look at them now, but at the time I was so sure of my skills, I knew I'd go far in this business.
And you know what? I'm glad. I'm glad that I was naive enough to push through those tough times. I'm glad that I had enough faith in my skills to keep going. I'm glad I ignored those who did see my flaws, and kept pressing forward. If I hadn't, I never would have progressed past the point of shooting on Auto and completely ignoring lighting.
I heard an awesome quote a few months ago that of course I can't find now, but it said something along the lines of "Every artist has that point where they know what they are creating is not as good as what is in their head. They don't have the skills or experience to create what they so badly want. But that is when you keep trying, keep growing, keep learning, until you can reach that point."
Somewhere along the line, I did start to grow. It was gradual at first, then started exploding. I learned that shooting on Auto is never our friend, and that lighting will make or break your session. I learned what poses I like, what locations are best, and I finally understood what my poor photography teachers were trying to teach me about ISO and aperture.
The problem is, I didn't realize how far I'd come. I still let myself feel down about my Photography sometime, because I still have such a long way to go. 
Here is my point (finally): We all have the potential in us to do whatever we want to do. So whatever you are doing, do your best at it. Work at it every day. Be proud of it. Someday, you will look back and think, "Wow. My first draft was awful." And then you will finally appreciate where you are.

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