Who's to Say We Can't?

Three years ago I attended an informational seminar at National Geographic for amateur travel photographers, hosted by three of their photographers. Jam packed into Grosvenor’s Auditorium sat 384 ‘real photographers,” who asked technical questions about Nikon vs. Cannon, photo editing software, the best camera settings for different scenes, photo cataloging. I had absolutely NO IDEA what they were talking about (all I had was a Fuji point and shoot I’d purchased on sale at Costco for $70), but I was enthralled. I literally could not keep my eyes off the stage for the eight hours I was in my seat. I goggled at every photo slide, I wrote down about 50 pages of notes in my journal and I hung on every word the speakers said.

There is only one thing I remember from that day however. It was during one of the photographer’s Antarctic presentations that an audience member asked the question, “You are so young and successful, you must’ve picked up a camera at age three or something. When did you start?” His answer amazed and inspired me. “Oh, thanks for the accolade, I only started shooting about 15 years ago. I didn’t even study photography in college. I picked up a camera at age 23 on a hiking trip and enjoyed it so much I decided to teach myself. I met the right people, asked the right questions and fell in love with the art. I became obsessed with teaching myself the ins and outs of my camera…and that’s how I ended up here I am I guess.” Laughter broke out followed by applause. “Don’t get me wrong, I worked HARD and was lucky. I had wonderful mentors. But if I can do it, who’s to say you can’t.”

WHAT??! This guy was my god.  Who was to say I couldn’t? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

I left that day feeling the most motivated and determined I’d ever felt. I started taking stock photography for my clients’ Living Social deals and found a local photography school in DC. My boss was supportive and encouraged me to switch to working part time while I obtained my certificate in professional photography.

Fast forward three years to last February, I’m sitting in that same auditorium as a freelance commercial photographer.  This time this time surrounded by over 500 real National Geographic photographers, photo editors, and journalists at their annual reunion lecture. Steve McCurry is getting his coffee right next to me during the break. Brian Skerry shakes my hand. I’m with Paul’s Nicklen’s son and eight other wild life/adventure photographers. I’m on the Mount Olympus of photography.

Never mind that an insider had to Photoshop me a fake ID to get me into the event. I got to be one of them for a day.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have gotten to converse with Steve McCurry…passing off as a colleague.

So here we are in April and I am continuing to work towards making a name for myself. Stay tuned for my first assignment.

Mary Pat CollinsComment