Life Lesson 7: Go Big Or Go Home
This is the last in a series of 7 videos discussing important life lessons that photography has taught me. And this one is arguably the most important.
Ok, I know that is one egregiously cheesy title: Go Big or Go Home? It sounds like something a drunk frat boy would shout before downing another shot of Jaegermeister and jumping off the roof into the pool. But if we look a little closer we’ll find that there is substantial meaning there.
For me that phrase means to do something all the way or not at all. Whatever you’re doing, do it as well and completely as you can. In short: do it right. If it’s something that represents you personally or professionally, don’t half-ass it, and don’t quit if you know it can be done better.
Another way to look at it is this: is it Good Enough, or is it actually Good? After all, there is a huge difference between the two. I can’t tell you how many prints and mats I’ve had to scrap because they had some tiny flaw; something I know my customers would never notice. But I knew it was there and simply couldn’t sell something to a customer that wasn’t perfect. It might have been Good Enough, but it wasn’t Good.
But why not settle for Good Enough? The reason is when you care about something enough to do it right, to try as hard as you possibly can to make it not just Good Enough, but well and truly Good, that’s when you start to push your own limits, to produce remarkable things, and to make people stand up and take notice.
Let me give you an example: the first time I visited New Zealand exclusively for photography was in 2007, and I was still learning the ropes of the craft. I also had a Good Enough attitude. I had visions for shots that I wanted, but that might be difficult or uncomfortable or expensive to achieve.
“Eh,” I told myself, “when I’m a professional then I’ll get that shot. When I’m a professional I’ll stand in that freezing cold stream to get that composition I really want. When I’m a professional I’ll start hiking at 3 am to get to that lake by sunrise. When I’m a professional I’ll pay for that helicopter ride to the top of the glacier. For now I’ll just settle for where I’m standing. It’s good enough”
It took a few years but I ultimately realized that I had that sentiment completely backwards. It’s not as if someone bestows upon you the title of “Professional Photographer” and you are all of a sudden then endowed with magical abilities to scale mountains, stand in icy streams, and afford helicopter rides.
Rather it’s the opposite: it’s your commitment to your craft that makes you a professional. It’s your dedication to an image that makes you wade into that frozen river. It’s your drive to get up early and hike long miles to capture an amazing vista. It’s your willingess to go the extra mile to fly to the top of the glacier that results in unique images. It’s all about doing it right. Being Good, not just Good Enough.
So when I returned to New Zealand in 2012 for a month-long photo adventure it was with this mindset: whatever it took to get the image I wanted, that’s what I was going to do. I wanted to photograph the Southern Alps from the air, so I spent the money on a scenic flight.
My result was this intimate landscape shot of the Godley River and Lake Tekapo; it’s now one of the most unique photos in my portfolio.
I wanted to photograph a glacier, not just from its face, but from within the glacier itself.
So I took a heli-hiking tour on the Fox Glacier, and was able to capture this photo from within the heart of the ice itself.
I envisioned a shot of the icebergs in Hooker Lake, so I purchased a pair of hip waders and spent two nights in a row freezing my legs solid in the lake, and hiking the miles there and back in the dark in order to give myself the opportunity
And I came away with this photo, which is now one of my personal favorites.
Needless to say, these are photos that wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t done what it took to follow my vision to its completion.
And I’m not trying to make myself sound like the baddest dude who ever lived (cuz I’m pretty far down that list), but rather just to illustrate the mindset I now have when approaching my photography, as well as the other things I care about: figure out what it takes to do it right and do it. Don’t half-ass your life because you’ll only end up with regrets, and in the end you won’t have a chance to do it over.
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