So you want to be a photographer?

Everyone wants to be a photographer.

Well, not everyone. I’m sure there is someone out there who thinks it’s dumb, but I’ve never met them. It’s almost like working in the movie business because it’s in this mythical category of “the most amazing jobs you could ever have.” At least that’s the impression that I get. I talk to a lot of people that want to be photographers. As in almost every time I meet a new person. Invariably, the conversation starts exactly the same.

“Oh, you’re a photographer, I want to be one too. I just have a crappy old (insert camera name here) but what I really want to get is a (insert latest and greatest camera name here).

What usually proceeds after that is a 20-minute talk about camera specs and lens selection. And look, I’m not saying I’m any different. When I decide to take up a hobby, the first thing I want to do is go buy everything I’ll ever need for it. Sadly that act usually takes the place of, you know, actually doing the hobby. And honestly, I think a lot of aspiring photographers substitute time spent lusting after camera specs online for actually getting out there and working on the art of photography.

If I was teaching someone photography, I would make them start with an iPhone. And I would never let them upgrade until they maxed it out. Start with a camera that wouldn’t know a bell or a whistle if they came up and slapped it. Learn to make great photos with all its limitations. Start with a camera that doesn’t zoom. Start with a camera that has no lighting control or even flash. Most people are going to spend a fortune on a nice camera and then just stick it in automatic mode anyway. Why not start with one that does that at a fraction of the cost?

But, shooting with my iPhone doesn’t look professional. I’ll never get hired for shooting with an iPhone.

No, you won’t, but I’ve never been hired because I shoot with higher-end gear either. I get hired because I have pictures to show that are shiny. Those don’t come in the fancy camera box.

Ok, I used my iPhone and shot about a million photos and they are good, now what?

You still don’t get to upgrade. Have you hit the limits of what the camera will do? Have you thought a thousand times while shooting, “hey, if only this thing had (insert feature here), then it would make my photo do (insert effect of feature here). If not, no upgrade for you. The point of shooting within limitations is not just to make pretty pictures. It’s to learn how to make them despite limits. That will then get your brain working in the opposite direction. Let’s say you’ve set up a beautiful shot. Since there is no zoom, you moved your body into the perfect position. Since there is no flash, you’ve utilized available light as best you can. Your head should be running through the myriad things that would happen to your photo if you had more features.

If I had a flash, I could position it here for maximum effect. If I had a zoom, I could stand back a little and that would allow the light to be here, which would do (insert benefit of feature here).

Hey, nice job, you’re getting it finally. Now, if that goes through your head on almost every photo you take, it’s time to upgrade.

Nikon D3s, here I come.

Um, no. Let’s talk some more about that. Instead of going straight to the $5,000 body, how about we start with the cheapest DSLR you can buy. And buy it used.

Used!? But…

Used. You know where I bought my main camera I use now? eBay. I didn’t want to pay full retail. A few years ago I bought a Nikon D300 with battery grip and extra batteries for $1,300. I saved about $700. See, as a “professional” you not only have to have one good body and a few great lenses, you have to have two bodies. It’s called backup my friend, and you will appreciate it when one of your cameras completely craps out on a paid shoot. You have two choices. You either call off the shoot, apologize to your client and pray they don’t ask for their money back because you have kids to feed. Or, you can confidently pull your backup camera out of the pack and keep shooting. And don’t get me started on the cost of lighting gear. And that is what will make a huge difference in your photography career.

Lighting? You mean like a flash? That thing scares me.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention all the lighting. It’s like learning to shoot all over again. But it’s good, trust me.

That sounds like a lot of money for everything.

Look, I’m not saying everyone should buy used gear. I am saying that if you are not to a level where you can charge real money for your work, don’t spend a fortune on a camera. Do you even know what manual controls are? No? Then you probably don’t need that kind of body yet, do you? Learn on something affordable. Why? Because one day you might get what you want. You might become a real professional photographer, and you might discover it’s not what you wanted after all.

But it looks like it would be a lot of fun to be a photographer.

Oh it is, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also like every other job in the world. There are moments of unbridled excitement when you get that perfect photo. In between those moment, though, photography is a lot of other things. It is struggling to find clients that share your vision. It is learning to tell people they can’t have a discount. It is learning to set expectations. It is spending more time prepping gear and planning shoots than you spend actually shooting. It is constantly networking to bring in new business. It is going into a shoot with no clue how it’s going to turn out. It is pretending you always know what you are doing despite feeling like a complete hack. It is constantly questioning your style. It is comparing yourself to others and always finding yourself lacking. It is sacrificing your body for your art. It is a life of uncertainty and questioning.

And then you get that perfect shot. You realize that you are laying in a mud puddle, in a nasty alleyway, five feet from where a junky probably shot up the night before but it doesn’t matter because you got that perfect picture. And it makes it all worth it.

That sounds a lot like my job, minus the scary alleys.

It is. Photography is not some magical unicorn of a profession. It is just like everything else. There are days, weeks and months filled with things completely unrelated to pressing that shutter release, that allow you to actually spend a little time shooting. If it’s meant to be, if you really are supposed to be a photographer, you’ll deal with all those other things, because that moment of artistic euphoria is worth it. It will drive you.

Wow, that’s…I have a lot to think about now.

Yes, you do. Instead of spending your time looking at cameras on B&H, how about you spend time thinking through all that, and working on the art of photography? If it’s meant to be, it will happen through more hard work than you’ve ever done, and none of it will come in a box with a new camera. It’s all about the photos. You have to remember that. Everything else is secondary to that. Cameras, lenses, lights, struggles. None of it matters compared to the photo. If you want to be a photographer, become one. Take millions of photos. Show them off to people. If you get to charge for your art one day, great. If not, it’s all about the photo. Remember that. The perfect photo is the culmination of a lot of different factors. The biggest is your experience. The smallest is your camera. Don’t switch them.

That’s a lot to take in. And you sound slightly angry. Are you sure you still want to be a photographer?

I was going for passionate more than angry. And yes, yes I do.

What are we selling again?

“Dad! Dad!” Conner screamed, waving a piece paper in my face.

“What?” I asked.

“We have to sell things for school and we get prizes. If I sell 10 I get that little spinning toy!” he exclaimed.

“Conner, that little spinning toy isn’t worth a quarter. It’s not worth bothering a bunch of people we know to try and sell stuff.”

“But I really want it.”

“Conner you could not sell things, I’ll give you a few bucks and you could buy a ton of those. Nothing on this sheet is worth working for.”

“But I really, really want it.”

“What were you supposed to sell anyway?”

“I don’t know, old shoes or something?”

“What?” I asked, “Old shoes?”

“They are selling cookie dough,” Becca cut in.

He just shrugged at me, with an innocently confused look on his face.

“Conner, how did you get old shoes from cookie dough?”

Promises in progress

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
(Genesis 17:4-5 ESV)

The verses above are what jumped out at me when I was reading this morning. Notice how in verse four, God says to Abram, “you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.” Future tense. You will be. That’s a promise from God. Then, one verse later, God says, “for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Past tense. He has already fulfilled the promise.

This really speaks to the faithfulness of God. In his mind, if he promises something it is already done, whether we can see it or not. If God promises something, it means he has already been working out the million different events that have to happen through history to make that promise come about.

Today, to me, is the first day of a new journey for us. I think a lot of that journey is going to be discovering what his promises for me and my family are. The great things is, even though I might not know exactly what those promises look like, they are already in progress. God is already knitting together the fabric of our story with countless events around us that we don’t even see or know exist.

The end of me

Tomorrow will mark our three-year anniversary in the Austin area. Three years ago, I was probably on the phone with the U-Haul place, booking our truck. I was surrounded by towers of brown boxes. All of our life had been packed into those tiny cardboard transports.

There was excitement and anticipation. A new city. A new house. A new church. A new everything. Just like the beginnings of any new adventure, possibility is the fuel behind it all. There is always some doubt, but challenges are there to be overcome.

And now, three years later, I sit in the house and the city. If I had to describe the last three years in one word, I would describe it as a beating. Physically, financially, spiritually, emotionally, we’ve taken a beating. We’ve had our victories, but they seem small and pale in comparison to the darkness of the defeats. I thought last year was the culmination of the rough ride. I thought the entire year was as bad as it could get. This year seemed much better, until August rolled around and we endured 60 days that were like no other. It’s hard to describe all the things that happened. All the heartache and despair. But, it’s also hard to describe the way God moved in those times. The way he pulled us closer to him despite the storms raging all around us was beautiful.

I’ll be the first to tell you we didn’t enjoy the events of the last two months. I’ll also be the first to tell you that God orchestrated every second of every one of those events. He did it to bring the end of me. He did it to show that I cannot operate under my own power and make it. I don’t believe that just because God tells us to go somewhere it’s to bring us success. He’s not all about wealth and health. He’s about cutting to the center of our hearts, so that we would be dependent on him and he would be glorified through it. Sometimes that means taking us into the desert and pushing us beyond ourselves. He brings about events that we can’t face on our own.

I have no doubt he wanted us right here in Austin, right here in the church and right here in our lives. In his mercy, he strips away what we don’t need to give us what we do. What I’ve needed is him and a dependence on him. What I don’t need is pride, arrogance, ego and confidence that I can make it on my own. He has brought the end of me, and I pray from here on out, I operate under his power.

This Sunday, Tony had the staff of Legacy Fellowship stand in front of the church as he thanked us for our hard work. Standing there with that amazing group of people, the spotlights warmed my face, but inside I was fighting back tears. He was thanking us for all the hard work we’d done in the past year, but I knew the truth. I had resigned as a staff member this last week. I was abandoning the people I thought I never would.

When we were considering a move to Austin, we had a choice in front of us. We could either move to the DFW area and attend the Village Church or move to Austin for Legacy. The Village represented a place to heal and rest after a very long and hard few years of ministry. Legacy represented a church where I felt we were needed. We could help out and work toward growing the church. Honestly, it felt good to be wanted after such a tough few years of feeling like we weren’t. We instantly connected with the staff and loved it there. To this day, it remains the friendliest church I’ve ever encountered. The strength is the people and their amazing connections. We made our decision to put off the rest we probably needed and dove back into service for a few more years.

Church for me has always been about service. Since I was 18, I’ve been working in a church in some form or another. This service has represented so much of my faith. At times, I’ve let it replace a true connection with our great King. In those times, he pulls me back and shows me what I’ve been doing.

I feel like God has something huge out there for us in the future. I really don’t know what it is, but I know if it came along today I would not be in a healthy enough place to take it on. Starting at the beginning of the summer, I began to feel like God was calling us to step way from working at Legacy to focus on us. Our crazy travel and work schedule this summer just made that feeling stronger. I was worn out by August. Then it hit, and I reached the end of what I could do.

I don’t know how long God is putting me on the sidelines. I know it’s for my good, the health of my family and the good of Legacy. Resisting the call to ministry is like resisting gravity for me, but I’m fighting the fight for now. It seems so odd to me, because I’m always the one preaching that you have to get out there and serve. I still believe that. But, you have to serve out of strength God provides, not your own. I need to recover my strength. I’m on a quest to really explore my relationship with God. My first inclination is to already start looking to the future and trying to discover what the light at the end of the tunnel is. I have to stop that, though, and just focus on God and his voice. That will be a difficult change for me, but it is needed.

Practically, what does this look like? Well, of course, I’m no longer a pastor on staff at Legacy. We have a lot of traveling to do in the next few months which means we wouldn’t be here too much anyway. In that time I plan to explore other churches and just seek God wherever I can find him. I love the people of Legacy desperately, but I also have problems worshipping and resting in a church where there are so many things that have to be done. So we’ll see what that looks like. I honestly don’t know.

When I think of this in terms of my own ego and self worth, it feels like failure. But when I think of it in terms of God’s calling, it feels like victory. God has been gracious to us in the last three years. Even with the challenges, he has surrounded us with people that have become great friends and supporters. Tony and Kandy especially deserve credit. God has used them as an example to me that I’m thankful for. There is nothing they wouldn’t do for us and that part of this breaks my heart.

Through it all, God has been there as our comforter and I’m really excited, for the first time in over a decade, to just rest in him. All it took was finally reaching the end of me.

Spiritual gut check

I find more and more, I have to have a spiritual gut check and ask myself a really important question.

Am I doing this because I love God, or because I want him to do something for me?

I ask that question a lot and, sadly, it often comes up with me wanting God to do something for me. I have to remind myself, he is not my cosmic vending machine. I can’t just hit H6 and get a bag of peace, or press D4 and get that new business opportunity I want.

He has to be enough for me. In my heart, I want to be close to him. Unfortunately half the time it’s because I love him and half the time it’s because I need something. Needs and wants demonstrate that we have limits. They show that we are in need of a savior. But, it seems like my sinful heart always wants to latch onto those desires more than God.

Writing something

My blog stares at me, beckoning me to write something, but the words just aren’t there right now. I have few rough ideas for future posts, but they’ll have to keep for now. The last weeks have been, well, crazy.

We finally arrived back home last Thursday after Bryan’s funeral. The weeks leading up to it were tumultuous to say the least. Now that we’re back, I’m discovering it will take a lot longer to recover from than I first thought. Something like that is traumatic on a lot of levels that I didn’t recognize until the storm had settled. My grandma passed away just over a year ago. It was sad, but not unexpected. She was in her 90s and was suffering from Alzheimer’s. Something like Bryan’s case, so young and so quick, that takes a little time to figure out and recover from.

I’m also writing a short book about the last two months. It’s partially our story and partially my way of expressing what I’ve learned about suffering in that time. Writing is very therapeutic for me, thus the existence of this blog in the first place. But, all that means I don’t have a lot of words left in me for the blog for the foreseeable future.

Add to all that a trip to the emergency room last night. The doctor feared Colton had pneumonia, so we had to do all the various scans and test on him. It seems like we dodged the pneumonia bullet for now, but we still need prayer that he gets better and it doesn’t spread to the rest of us.

While we were in the ER, I posted on Twitter, “God loves us and is in control. Sometimes that has to be enough because sometimes that’s all we get.” That really sums up what I’m feeling these days. I’m tired, and a little punch drunk from all the disasters happening. But, underlying all the pain, sadness and worry, is the understanding that God is in control. His love of us means this is all for our good. It’s the cool current flowing beneath the stormy seas of our lives right now.

We just opened the window in my office. The cool breeze is blowing in and I’m hopeful for what the next few months holds.