I've always been shy if I'm out of my element. Put me in a room full of my friends, I'll talk your ear off and crack jokes at a mile a minute. Put in me a room full of strangers and I'm more likely to be cowering in the corner hoping that no one talks to me. It's a wonder that I have friends at all. I've worked hard over the years to stiffen my fear of rejection and new situations, but make no mistake, it's been hard work for me. When I got my first real job working as a news photographer I could hardly believe it. This was my DREAM job and here I was actually living it out! But I was still in college (I worked as an intern then was hired as part time staff) and felt incredibly inadequate working at a Pulitzer Prize winning paper. My co-workers were talented, experienced and good at what they did. And if there is one thing to succeed as a news photographer, it's experience. How could I possibly do well, let alone compete, in such a competitive and talented field?
My first assignment at the paper was to photograph damage of a flood. I brought my images back to my mentor/employer and I thought I might die. I did NOT want her to look at those images. Bluntly, my fears realized, she told me exactly what she thought and quickly. That was her job as an editor after all. Surely she would fire me on the spot I thought. But instead, she told me what worked, what didn't and then told me to go out again. Shoot more. In other words, go find my voice.
Despite my insecurity and lack of experience, my editor saw something in me. A shy, inexperienced photographer, who lacked confidence in herself and in her work but who had a passion and a desire to grow. Slowly, but surely, I worked hard. I challenged myself and I began to find my voice. I began to find confidence. Four years after my editor first hired me, she pulled me aside.
"I remember when you first came to us. You were this shy quite girl. And now here you are, winning awards, going after stories, confident."
I'll never forget that conversation. Because she was right. Being a news photographer gave me a confidence in myself that I had never experienced before. I had to talk to be people, I had to be forward, I had to encounter awkward and difficult situations. And the more I had to do that, the more sure I became of myself and of my work. I had found my voice.
But when I decided that I wanted to be a wedding photographer and small business owner, that all changed. Once again I felt like a fish out of water. Here I was drowning in a sea of other photographers. Photographers who were all talented, experienced, and good at what they did. How could I possibly do well, let alone compete in such a competitive and talented field? At times all I wanted to do was cower in the corner and hope that no one saw me.
And if I'm being totally honest, there are times, lots of times, that I still feel this way. I am learning that I have to re-find my voice. Because I thought that when I moved from being a news photographer to wedding photographer that, that confidence, security and self assured-ness would translate over. And while some of it has, there is a BIG part that I still have yet to re-discover.
What I've realized is that finding your voice doesn't happen over night. It's a gut wrenching, long, process. But that's ok. There is beauty in that and lessons to be learned along the way. I'm still on my way to finding that voice as a wedding photographer. I see glimpses here and there of the photographer I'm becoming, but I know that there is still much to be discovered. Take the risks, feel the pain, enjoy the journey of finding your own voice, your own way. Because once you discover it, it is beautiful.