“I want to be a photographer.” Again, and again the words echoed through the deep recesses of my mind. Year after year I repeated the words, so the echo never ceased. I’ve wanted to be a photographer since I was a young girl watching my father and older sister taking pictures of places we went and people we met. However, it was years before I was gifted with my first camera—a full-frame, automatic, 35mm Ricoh. I took it everywhere a camera could go. Film was not overly expensive, but for a teenager whose income came from occasional babysitting jobs, it took as much time to save for developing costs as it did to purchase the film.
So, I had a camera and rolls of undeveloped film, but I had my camera. That was the most important thing.
When I found myself borderline homeless at 18, I pawned it for $5 so I could have a hamburger. Not knowing how pawn shops operated, however, I didn’t know that I couldn’t go back and pay the same $5 to get it back. Suddenly, unexpectedly, my treasure was lost in San Diego.
After that, cameras came and went. I kept a disposable point-and-shoot Kodak camera for a while. Then, I was gifted with a Kodak 110 pocket camera so I could “take pictures of ‘the baby’” and for a few years, I was satisfied, but not quite. I had a camera, but something was not quite working coming together. I was taking pictures, but I definitely was not a photographer.
I cut off heads, feet, arms—flowers, trees, you name it. Nothing was placed like I'd seen it as I looked through the viewfinder. The pictures were never quite “right”. So, I just took the picture for the sake of the record and hoped for the best. Of course, I didn’t know it wasn’t as good as I thought it was until I picked up the developed prints. WASTED. Well, no, not quite. I did have a record of the event, of the person, but that was all. It was obvious that I didn’t know something, I just didn’t know what that something was. I was no longer living close to my dad and was too far from my uncle, as well. Phone calls were too expensive to get a lesson that way. So, I was stuck with a camera and the unending echo. The dream lived.
A decade or so later, a friend asked me if I wanted to learn photography and offered to teach me what he knew. I purchased a Minolta and started the journey of learning photography—learning to manually focus and actually get a picture I could appreciate. Film development was still too expensive for the amount of waste in the learning process.
Then came the dawn of the age of digital cameras. I wanted one desperately but could not afford it. I drooled as I saw the pictures my daughter captured of my granddaughter. Wistfully I thought, “Maybe I’ll have one, someday.” In 2006, another friend with whom I’d attended college let me know he was going to be working in my area for a few days. “If you have a digital camera, and want to learn photography, I’ll show you some things while I’m out there,” he offered.
I had no digital camera, but by then I had a lot of faith. “God, I want to learn photography. I have no camera and limited money. PLEASE, help me find one if this is my time to learn.” When I looked in my local stores, I found a Nikon Coolpix L3 on sale for around $99! Look at God work! He had already provided the money! Oh, the joy of prayers answered with a “Yes!”
My digital photography journey began.
True to his word, my friend came, and for two days he showed me photography “how-tos”. I couldn’t believe it. I began understanding the science of photography. I began understanding the math of it. And, more importantly, that little camera took fabulous pictures with very little help from me. In fact, it took some of my best early pictures of Mt. Hood across Trillium Lake. It took pictures of droplets. Seeing beautiful results inspired me to shoot more. And there was no waste! If I didn't like what I saw in review mode, I simply shot the image again! Gone were the headless people. Gone were the unintended off-center subjects. Unintentionally blurred images vanished.
As I shared what I called my ‘burnt offerings” with my mentor, he asked me why I wanted to be a photographer. “I want people to see what God allows me to see and exclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!” It was simple. In all of the ugliness that is in this world, there is some awesome beauty that people miss by not traveling. I travel a lot, and I wanted them to see it! To KNOW that it really is out there, and not far from where they live. It’s in their neighborhood.
Month by month he patiently guided me over the hurdles despite my wailing, encouraging me forward and upward toward my photographic destination.
A few years later, the same friend asked me if I wanted to use the photography course he had finished. Did I ever!! So, he mailed the complete course to me, and I began studying the courses of the New York Institute of Photography (NYIP). There was much to learn, so much catching up to do!
As I did those classes, I also enrolled in the school when they offered the course on CD and DVD at a significant discount, thinking I might as well get the certificate since I was doing the work. I diligently took pictures daily. I was improving; I could see it! I still sent my friend pictures for critiquing, but I called fewer and fewer “burnt offerings”. I also joined an online group of photographers, accepted their critiquing, and grew under their friendly guidance.
In a few months, I finished all the coursework and stopped. Frozen. The coursework sat there completed, unsubmitted, unchecked. What good was that? But I could not move forward. I was stranded on a corner watching the photographic world go by.
For two years I lived at the intersection of Fear and Desire—unable to move. Fear kept me frozen as the “what if” questions swirled around me. What if my instructor doesn't like it? What if my instructor says it's not right? What if______. Every negative thing that could pop into my brain popped in there.
However, you can't stay on that corner; you must decide. Am I going to walk the path of Fear or go the opposite direction and walk the path of Desire?
God gives us the desires of our hearts. He does not give us fear. His word clearly tells us those two things: “I set before you life and death” and then He encourages us to choose life.
I couldn't. I was halting between two opinions. If God was God, I had to choose desire, and let Him give me the desires He placed in my heart. Otherwise, fear would be my choice, and I would have to serve His adversary. Why? Because the spirit of fear comes from the adversary!
It took me a long time to realize that.
What changed? It was a call from a man named “Michael” who called from NYIP to ask if I was ready to do another program. I told him I had not finished the first one yet. “Why not? Do you need an extension? Is there anything we can do to help you finish?” Momentarily I sat thinking in stunned silence.
A man named Michael was on my phone. “God, why Michael?” I almost said the words aloud. The Biblical archangel is named Michael. It was as if God had that angel call me up to push me out of that spot because there have been many times in my life when I have asked God to send Michael to help, to deliver me. So, as I was stuck in a photography slump needing help, there was a “Michael”.
Returning to the call, I simply said, “No.” Sheepishly, I told Michael the problem—all the things I feared.
Quietly he asked, “Why did you decide to become a photographer?”
“Michael,” I began, “I wanted to be a photographer so I could take pictures of the wonders I see as I travel. I want people to see what I see and say, “My God! How great thou art! I want them to see the beauty of this world in places they might never go…the wonder of the mighty rivers, the waterfalls, the majesty of the forests, the flowers, the grandeur of the mountains…. I want to show them the sunsets, the oceans….” As I paused, Michael softly said, “I haven’t seen a thing you have taken, Alethea, but in talking with you, I know you are doing it! I know your work is good. I KNOW it!” After a moment of silence, he emphatically said: “Submit it.” It sounded like a command.
Submit it? Seriously? Oh wow! PANIC time! Fear nearly engulfed me as I sat there at my desk talking to Michael who must have been nuts to even suggest such a thing. But no, he repeated it, “Submit it.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
As I sat there, struggling with what Michael urged, my agreement to do it, and my fear of rejection, Michael asked a life-changing question. “Do you know what ‘fear’ is?” Before I could get an answer formulated that I thought he would be satisfied with, he with an almost military cadence said, “It is: False. Evidence. Appearing. Real. F. E. A. R. That’s all it is! You want God to bless you, to bless your photography, stop blocking your blessings!”
“Stop blocking your blessings!” It was a firm, yet gentle command.
A few seconds passed before I said, “Okay, I will do it!" I committed to submit my first project the next day. It took me two days, but I did submit it.
In surprised disbelief, I read my instructor's comments. He more than ‘liked’ my work and said he looked forward to seeing more! I did a little “Snoopy” dance in my mind—leaping into the air for joy! “He likes it! Hey Mikey!” A grin crossed my face as I said it out loud to myself and to the invisible world.
Michael would be proud of me. I was proud of myself. So proud, in fact, that I submitted everything that week and got my certificate of completion. I was a “professional” photographer. Yes, I still had a lot to learn. I had many hours of practice, fine-tuning, and honing my skills ahead of me, but the hurdle that blocked my path was behind me. I was a “card-carrying” photographer, an NYIP graduate, I was a "rookieographer". (That’s what I named myself, and all the work I was doing became "rookieography".) And, "Rookieography" was born.
Then, the best day ever came. When I sent my friend a fall image of a waterfall I had been shooting through the seasons, his response was: “With this picture, you’ve done it! You have achieved your goal of capturing nature in such a way that people exclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!”
KAH-BAMMMMM! Thank you, God! High fives to the sky!
Oh yes, there remained the crucible, of course, but by His grace, I had completed the part necessary to begin the journey into my world of “Rookieography.” I am thankful to be out here beyond the sidelines with the “wannabes”. A rookie, yes, but I am a photographer--a photographer who now is thriving in her crucible.
In the world of photography rookies, you can learn many simple things that will give you the images you want, images you can be happy to share with friends and family—and you can do it with your cell phone, even a point-and-shoot.
If that’s where you are, come learn with me. I will show you some of my missteps and the actions needed to correct them and improve. And I will share with you the things I continue learning as I thrive in my crucible.