2012 proved to be an exciting and challenging year behind the camera. A number of successful workshops made new friends, experienced new shooting locations and further developed experience and confidence in shooting the Canadian Wilds. From the familiar peaks of Banff National Park to a few excursions into Jasper National Park, conducting the workshops offered me an opportunity to test new things behind the camera, test my own determination to be in the middle of nowhere in the winter and most importantly, allowed me to start following through on my New Years resolution of helping others learn and exposing them to the photographic world around us. Spring brought new opportunities to further developing and teaching interested students as the flower blossoms and warm winds filled the city and mountains with color. A number of successful zoo days, cityscape workshops and meet & greets continued to develop the techniques as well as allowing me to pass on more information to those around me. The accelerated learning that comes from working with others cannot be understated. I set out this year to become fluid and masterful in being behind the camera. I never intended for the positive side benefit that it would also allow me to better see the world and deliver ever more refined captures.
In preparation for a summer of travel, I spent spring focusing on increasing my confidence at shooting animals, perfecting panorama shooting, new cityscape techniques and refining the little intricacies of camera operation. Side projects in timelapse sequences, graduation photos for clients and the occasional mountain excursions made time fly by. Confidence levels increased with every passing week as the new gear became more comfortable and second nature to operate. The files coming off the camera were getting better with every outing and I was mentally better prepared for the coming trip than I had been for previous ones. Up until this point, I’d made great progress in fulfilling my photography resolutions for the year. I knew my gear inside and out better than ever, I was shooting more for myself and not just for commissions, I had greater patience and calmness when facing adverse weather and most importantly, I was growing better as a mentor and instructor with better feedback from participants and doing a better job of reaching out to a community eager to learn. Can’t go wrong right? I was on top of my mental world and ready to take on whatever Asia threw at me.
Well, that’s where things escalate to a new level of unprecedented gong show. A summer return to Asia broke the will, determination and confidence of all that I’d worked on in the first half of the year. The mental shot lists I had been putting together for months, the sites I’d planned to visit and the experiences I intended to capture were all unavailable, unwilling to cooperate and generally just out of photographic reach. From logistics, time constraints and most importantly, weather, Asia taught me a lesson in humility. Day after day of trying to get preset shots delivered me memory cards of inadequate light & drama, poor framing and general feelings of defeat. By the time I was standing on top of Elephant mountain in Taipei, I wasn’t really sure what I’d gone up for since I almost lost my lunch in the climb and had to stop numerous times along the way to rest a broken self. I took the photos I needed to and for the first time realized that I wasn’t sure if I had anything. Not that it wasn’t publishable or technically well done, but rather whether I had met my own expectations of what I had set out on this trip to do. The small mountain was exposing a crack in my plans for photographic glory. I had prepared myself technically and exposed myself to the different disciplines I wanted to capture, but I never accounted for how large a part the environment and the circumstances of the day would wreck havoc on the photographic checklist I had. Unlike other trips where I was close to home base or could easily make a return trip, I was at the mercy of schedules, commitments and weather that wasn’t very agreeable to sitting on top of a mountain for hours waiting for the perfect light. I got a very good photo of the Taipei cityscape, I just wasn’t sure if it measured up to what I had in mind. Flying out of Taiwan left a feeling of dread to look at the memory cards full of images that I’m not sure is what I wanted or, worse yet, needed to prove to myself that I was a better photographer this year.
Check out the Taiwan Excursion collection
Hong Kong then. A return to a familiar second home and a chance at redemption. This time I had all the gear, this time it was going to be different. From temples, cityscapes, and majestic sights, I can’t lose. Friends abound, support directly from Canon and a knowledge of the city inside and out. Here is where summer went photographically right and I could make up for an unfulfilled Taiwan. I had some early successes and small triumphs to get my footing back. I did test runs for my Gigapan project and got favourable results. I ate nonstop to the happiness of my belly. Ok, let’s go. Well things have a mighty fine way of going sideways right when you’re ready to do the victory dance. You can check out the gruesome details here of what happened when it came time to finish the timelapse & Gigapan of Hong Kong. While winter and spring were fruitful, encouraging and rewarding, summer is where the wheels came off. The expectation I set for myself were lofty but it wasn’t anything that I knew I physically couldn’t do, but the world around me got in the way of accomplishing what seemed like a perfectly easy, conquerable photo assignment. I’d never up to this point walked away from a shooting experience with a gut wrenching feeling of being empty handed. I had memory cards and hard drives full of images, but I couldn’t tell you that I was proud of any of them at that point.
Compared to all the other trips that came before, this was the first I went headstrong into with such a predefined set of images to capture, a delivery of a magical vista and landscape that’s eluded me for years. I didn’t know how high my expectations of myself were going into Asia this year were and worse, I didn’t realize how badly it would break me and grind to a halt all the progress I had made so far. It took me a month to unpack my camera gear after returning. The salt water, spray, dirt and debris caked on as a gruesome reminder from the final night of defeat at Victoria Peak. I didn’t shoot for almost two months. Not a commission, not a personal project, not even testing. For a while, I secluded myself from the photographic community I’d worked extensively with earlier in the year. I deferred teaching workshops for the remainder of summer to other instructors and I didn’t find an inspiration to shoot for myself. I hid in the corporate world, familiar, simple and comfortable. There was a lingering dissatisfaction with myself that I wasn’t good enough to get the job done after so much enthusiasm and preparation.
Slowly as summer came to a close, the little voice started to come back. Timely events and a combination of friends having recently picked up the camera gave a Day One start. Slowly but surely with small excursions and little confidence builders, mental confidence started to come back. Mini projects began to build up again, workshops became a regular occurrence and most importantly, friends were there to support a return with encouragement and camaraderie. I found a renewed sense of personal development and more importantly, a better mindset to face adverse shooting conditions. Successes in the mountains, under starlight and the peace of capturing the rising sun gave me situations that I’d faced before but only now appreciated for not just the photo but the journey that accompanied the capture. From the workshops under the stars to sunrise in Waterton, a commission for a models calendar, furthering new techniques in environmental portraiture and having my friends along for the rediscovery of a passion, the end of summer gave me a renewed focus to shoot, enthusiasm to learn and a returning inspiration to become better with every project.
Months removed from the experience of defeat in Asia, I was able to finally face all the images and muster courage to review and begin preparing them for publication. I slowly began to sift through images from Asia a little bit at a time. I went through my goals and my shot lists that I’d prepared prior to the trip and worked tirelessly through the files I captured hoping to check off some victory and regain a measure of composure and confidence. Slowly but surely images started to present themselves. Photos of the micro transactions and images of the world in simple, direct visuals. I went to Taiwan and Hong Kong to capture a landscape and present architecture and cityscape on a grand scale. Although I managed just a few of those compared to what I had in mind, I realized that subconsciously, I was shooting away at a far more interesting story. A story of the human experience and the interaction of the people that inhabited those cities, the cultures that permeate and characterize the architecture and most importantly, that unlike a tour-book like collection of sites and landmarks, I had a complete visual narrative to share about my journey, the places I visited and most importantly, the people that made the journey unique. Looking back on it now, The Hong Kong Diaries gave me what I didn’t know I wanted – a personal project that showed me what it meant to capture life and the world that surrounds it. It’s not the most comprehensive of works due to the challenges discussed, but it is a defining moment in learning to see the world around me and breaking away from just the commercial ready fine art landscapes.
Check out The Hong Kong Diaries
I don’t think I became a better photographer this year. Smashed gear, missed captures and circumstances beyond my control took away the most dramatic of planned shots. In hindsight though, I think 2012 was the year that I finally became a more complete photographer. Complete in the varied disciplines I’d strived for so long to learn, the reinforcing confidence that comes with teaching and most importantly, the experiences of success and defeat. In some ways, 2012 was a long year with very hard lessons and experiences, in others, it was too quick and not enough time to enjoy the small successes that came with progressive lessons. As it draws to a close though, 2012 proves to be the most personally rewarding yet behind the camera. I set out with some resolutions, generally fulfilled them, experienced a deflating and defeating trip after setting such lofty goals and eventually found the energy and inspiration to get back behind the lens.
I look back on 2012 and I’m thankful for being able to assemble a body of work throughout the year that I’m proud of. The year didn’t go according to the plan I had in my head. But at the end of it, I learned more and came to value more about being behind the camera than I had in years past. More importantly, I learned what it takes to push through the difficulties of uncontrollable circumstances and come through with a new appreciation for the opportunities we have every day.
For all the friends and supporters who continue to frequent this site and share the content, this past year marks a new beginning. I look forward to compiling a new set of resolutions for the coming year which I’ll share with you all. Until then, happy shooting and thank you for the support and encouragement.
Check out these selections from the 2012 journey – The Hong Kong Diaries | A Taiwan Excursion | Let The Sun Shine In | A Workshop Under the Stars | A Reminder to Enjoy Summer | We Photographed a Zoo 1 & 2 | Light the City Workshop