Let’s Have a Chat About Setbacks

This will be fun to write.

As a fun little challenge, I wanted to write a list of setbacks big and small that have happened throughout my photographic career thus far..

Disclaimer: I have done a lot of stupid things over time. Some of which I may laugh about now but some I truly regret. Never put the well-being or safety of you, others, or your gear in harms way. Follow any trail and park rules and have fun! But think before you act.

In no particular order and without further ado, let’s get started..

  • I dropped a camera and lens a couple feet above concrete in a parking lot. (it fell straight down lens-first too.) An attached CPL Filter took all the fall and damage away from the lens and camera.
Amazing how an $8 filter can save hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of gear. I glued and mounted this to a small square of matboard as a reminder of what could happen with negligence.
  • My Canon 75-300mm telephoto fell out of a lens pouch strapped to my pants while doing some impromptu rock climbing after dusk to get to the car. I was hoisting my backpack and tripod up as I went. Yet it rolled and tumbled all the way down to the bottom of the slope however luckily avoided any big stones on the way down. Leaves seemed to blanket the rolling as well and no damage was done. I just had to move all the way back down to retrieve the lens..and this was the end of a very long day outdoors so exhaustion was at its peak.
  • I tried to photograph lightning from a distance only to not realize how fast approaching storms move. I biked (this was before owning a car) very energetically and fearfully home as lightning was striking in the clouds above me.
  • I slipped on the slanted exit ramp of a fiberglass boardwalk that had a layer of snow on top. The battery grip took all of the impact in the fall and so it was totaled.
Video excerpt from the photo op right after it happened.
  • While hanging up my first gallery exhibition, a 5×30 panorama fell and shattered the glass which also scratched the print. Due to my own self-imposed deadline I had in replaced within the week. This time with plexiglass…
See the scratches? The glass really messed up this print.
That’s a canvas texture finish I added when ordering.
Now this print resides on my bedroom wall.
  • Wandered into a public hunting area (more than once) during hunting season without wearing brightly colored clothes. Nothing scares me more than hearing gunshots or walking around a corner to see a fully camouflaged man sitting there looking at me.
  • I have lost numerous smaller items out in the field, such as lens caps and the rubber viewfinder cover. Lens caps have fallen out of big pockets when hiking around. In another instance I had a DSLR mounted on a tripod externally on my backpack. A bare twig must’ve snagged the viewfinder cover right off the camera and with several miles hiked in between the last time I saw it, I was hard pressed to go backwards and try to find it. Fortunately these are small and affordable replacements. I have even resorted to making DIY lens caps out of foam board and electrical tape. Anytime I lose something, I get frustrated trying to retrace my steps to where it went off to. It is best to hook and clip everything onto your person, have smaller keepsakes in zippered pockets, and make sure everything is secure.
When hiking out in the field alone, you’ve got to keep your wits about you and make sure all items stay with you at all times.
  • I use a very affordable wired cable release I have had for over three years now. Miraculously, it has survived well over a dozen dips into water when it slipped out of my hands photographing long exposures. While I don’t recommend field-testing your cable release like this (these have all been accidents) I am surprised how resilient and durable this little plastic stick with a button has held up.
This lovely $10 or so cable release is a piece of kit that stays with me at all times. Due to my shaky hands, I use this for water long exposures, landscapes 
and everything in between.
  • A million and a half times I missed amazing shots due to simple operator error. E.g. wrong exposure settings, lens cap was still on, camera wasn’t even turned on or out of my bag, too distracted from reading a magazine/book (NEVER do this!), or plainly just zoning out.
I had this shot lined up perfectly with a vulture soaring right by the moon yet after shooting off a round of images. My settings were all overexposed, leaving results that simply couldn’t be recovered. 
While I still like the image alone, the bird in flight would’ve been icing on the cake!
  • Countless times I accidentally spooked and scared wildlife away. Get as close as you can without disturbing them!
You should never stress wildlife or put them in dangerous situations just for an action-packed photograph. Do your best to learn the signs that they may be distressed and avoid it.
  • In 2016 which was early on in my photography journey, I somehow ended up deleting my entire photo library when resetting my laptop. I never backed it up anywhere, had no recovery software to retrieve it, and was absolutely devastated. It had some of my first images on there from when I started. I frantically visited a few locations where I knew I could recreate them and got it redone, but some were long gone. One was of a very patient toad on my front porch that I wish I still had. This is an important lesson I would argue everyone needs to go through. You’ll understand why it is important to have both local storage backups and cloud storage off-site. Find ways to keep your files in different areas. I have two local hard drives that sync with each other, my website backs all of them up in the cloud, and other social media sites have a few copies of images I’ve uploaded in case all else fails. You can never have too many backups.a
  • The infinite amount of times I have gotten lost before, alone, sometimes without a map/compass or any form of emergency communications and after sunset as well. From now, I carry a compass with me at all times. I usually have a physical map (in case phone battery dies) or a PDF of the map on my phone. I would even recommend that you tell someone of your plans, your start/end times, the location, etc if you’re going alone. Almost all of my trips have been by myself, I simply prefer to work alone. Sometimes you have to get creative and keep your wits about you. I ate snow (the white kind) just to keep myself hydrated once. Have a basic understanding of bushcraft and backpacking/camping skills if you ever find yourself in a true survival situation. Although I’ve never gone in the backcountry (yet) I have ended up in some could-be dangerous scenarios. Be safe when you get out there.

Now, having said all of that, take the list and reread it. Have some humility and chuckle a little. Life doesn’t have to always be so serious.


Throw it away.

Yes, trash it, toss it, remove it, burn it, whatever you gotta do.

Just let it go.

Forget it all.

Now, the next step.

Starting anew, write a list about all the accomplishments and achievements you have made in your photographic career or whatever your profession is.

Allow me to start…

  • Built a massive portfolio over several years (and counting!) of hundreds of unique images, documenting and experiencing beautiful moments.
  • Tirelessly worked on putting together my first gallery exhibition and had a successful reception night.
  • Hiked countless miles across Southwest Ohio. Exploring tooth and comb what outdoors has to offer in the Buckeye State. To say the least, this state is amazing.
  • Met many amazing people, both on the trails and elsewhere, who have helped out or gave advice. Thank you so much!
  • Found my passion (or maybe it found me) from which I wanna spend the rest of my days living for.
  • Created a website from the ground up and designed to my liking.
  • Putting all my savings on the line to pull off this living, and I can already see the payoffs beginning.
  • Overcame personal hurdles (ex: fear of talking in front of camera) in order to produce video content.
  • Used social media to communicate with other photographers to share advice and questions.
  • My love and appreciation for nature has only grown with time. Caring about something bigger than yourself helps you grow as a person.
  • I’ve learned how self-sufficient and mentally/physically resilient I need to be to work alone.
  • Like mentioned above, lessons learned in how to shove aside setbacks and press on anyways.
  • Enjoying every single second of the process, all of it. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

I’ll stop the self-indulgence right there but you get the idea. The best thing about all of this is the list will evolve and expand with time.

So I’ll leave you with just this phrase..repeat it as a mantra if that helps. Perhaps every morning.

“What you choose to focus on grows.”

Make sure what you do today is something that the ‘future you’ will thank you for. No matter what you choose to do in life, always remember that.

Keep that focus, don’t settle.

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Why Is Photography Important to Me?

November 2017, Indoors Self-Portrait

This question was begging to be answered. I suddenly had a burning desire to know “the why’s” for which I do what I do. Even though I had an idea of why, did I truly know the reason?..

Why does photography matter so much to me?

Why do I even bother waking up before sunrise? Is it worth it to brace whatever weather may come? The dry humid summers, the bitter cold winters and everything in between? Putting it all off and sleeping in is much more attractive.

To be completely honest, my inner-critic talks me out of getting outdoors with the camera: every. single. time. You wage war with yourself just to stay at home once again but until you overcome that hunch, you’re creatively deadlocked and will never further progress as an artist.

I don’t believe I have ever truly regretted going out to photograph. A lot of days start out with me being tired and cranky, but by the end I am still tired, yet fulfilled and satisfied. Big difference for sure.

When life tries to derail you, remember why you started in the first place.

In order to nurture this symbiotic relationship with the art-form and life itself. I sat down for about half an hour and jotted away in my journal. Paper and pen seemed to be the best medium in which to start this journal prompt before being translated to the keyboard and screen. I had to strike a delicate balance between my thoughts racing to “throw up” on the page before my hand could even keep up. Once I started, there was really no stopping..

Four pages later, I had a sufficient enough response. Here it goes.

“Photography is important to me in that it gives me an excuse to get off my behind and explore the outdoors. This hobby seemingly overnight carved a divine and special niche in my psyche to where it is now a lifestyle. No other artistic mediums have quite dug deep enough into my soul as this one has. Through photographs, I am given a second chance to cherish and relive those would-be forgotten memories I have experienced. A new appreciation is gained for how small and insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things. Putting ourselves into perspective of which we must be eternally grateful every passing moment from which we breathe.

Photography gives me a voice and a platform of sorts from which to speak and share. Photography gifts me with better vision, both in the spacial/seeing sense as well as the acute mental awareness. The world we inhabit is perfect in its’ imperfections, beautiful as it is ugly. Therein lies the solution: the actual act of pressing the shutter is a combination of numbers and technical know-how. The other side of the coin is the creative inspiration and driving motivation to express your ideas.

Photography seems like it should be work. Don’t get me wrong, this is perhaps the most challenging task I have endured in my entire life. The stress and decisions made everyday want me to throw in the towel. For some reason, photography still feels like play. More than it should, drop me in a natural setting and my eyes widen up like a child in a candy store. How is it that something so mentally-taxing and draining be so creatively and existentially rewarding?

Photography harnesses a possessive undertone between the capture; this is my photograph, my unique vision and ideas poured in and bleeding into fruition. Literally no one else can produce the same image. A dozen other photographers could attempt to capture the same scene and their sets of eyes would automatically see something different. The collective results would be so far removed from one another! If I’m quite honest, there is a sense of ownership and entitlement in that sentiment. This isn’t to say my work is any good or particularly better than anyone else’s. It means that “I created this” from which there is an obligatory responsibility to own up to the artwork produced.

Photography for me is to acquire an intensive thirst to explore and an innate curiosity to learn. To go on an adventure, one does not have to travel far away to realize these desires exist. If you are strong-willed enough, you will make this become your reality. A backyard can quench this thirst with a myriad of photographic subjects. I could spend all my time here and still would have more than a lifetime’s worth of inspiring photos! Think about this: we all have 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year. The only exception being is the different stages of age and life we may be involved with. For me, photography fulfills this existential craving to preserve my memories, to preserve some sort of legacy. Once again, not because I am an idol but rather a legacy to prove my own inner worth. I may very well die with a camera in my hand and would full and well accept that possibility. Regardless of subject, barring any self-imposed genres or labels. At the end of the day, I feel internally invigorated everytime I get to hold a camera, no matter where it may be pointed at.

Photography is an art using mechanical tools. This little box with folding mirrors and prisms somehow becomes an extension of my life. Sometimes you don’t need a reason. No one is forcing me to travel down this path…this path chose me. The ball is in my court, and I took it and ran with it.

Photography showed me the lights and shadows of my existence without me asking for that guidance. In return I will show the camera the best use of what light and shadow is given.”

I could’ve wrote ad infinitum about this topic but there needed to be a finite ending of sorts.

Collage of various images taken over the years. Each one is a different and unique experience I’ve had that amounts to a life well spent..and we’re just getting started.

I would insist that you go on a reality check every once in a while with this question. This has helped “ground” me more and more in what I do. Ask the difficult questions: Are you still having fun? What could I do to improve? What do I not like shooting? Etc.

Listen with both your heart and mind as you click that shutter, and you will certainly never be wrong.

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