One of the things I think all professional photographers struggle with is remaining true to their own photographic vision.
When you do it as a hobby you can point the camera at whatever takes your fancy. When you do it as a living you tend to end up pointing your camera at what takes someone else's fancy.
And this can mean that you often end up working in a genre that doesn't suit you. Sure you can make competent, usable images but there's nothing ground breaking there. Nothing that anybody will remember ten years down the track.
As an artist one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to really feel (notice I didn't say think here folks but feel) what it is that you really want to photograph. Because chances are this is the thing that you will see in a unique way and manage to photograph it as only you will know how. This is where truly inspirational photography can start.
Take this image above. This is Matt Gordon, a jellyfish researcher with James Cook University here in Cairns. I went out with Matt and his fellow researcher Theresa Carrette one morning to photograph them catching and tagging box jellyfish. Now these things are deadly. I mean really, really dangerous. And he leaps over the side of the boat and catches them with his bare hands. Or at least he assures me he would have had we actually seen any!
Had this been a purely advertising shoot I would have had Matt made up, every hair in place, lit up by lots of strobes and looking perfect in every way. And I would have been out of my depth visually. I know how to work the lights but apart from that I'm lost. It's not what I do. I capture real life and for me the subject is more important than the photographer.
I love photographing interesting people involved in their own passion. I spent hours talking to Matt about his research and how he did what he did, and what he hoped to discover and then I sat down and thought of how I wanted to portray him.
When I got out on the water the first thing that struck me was how close they cruise to the shore looking for these things. I mean we were literally feet away from little kids paddling in the ocean, looking for deadly jellyfish. Firstly I wanted to scream to the parents to get their kids out of the water, but thought it probably wasn't a good idea as they'd think I was a raving bloody lunatic. As a photographic story teller my first priority was to show how close we were to the shore because that was the first thing that had struck me.
The other thing I wanted to show was the look of concentration on Matt's face as he scanned the clear, shallow waters looking for mostly invisible blobs floating around. I also wanted to show the lovely blue sky and turquoise waters to show what a beautiful office he has, but at the same time he was in a wetsuit so he was sweating up a storm. So it's a really small point but the beads of sweat on the back of his neck tell the story of how hot he is and what he is going through in this apparent paradise.
And it's that last little detail that separates what I do as a photojournalist from an advertising photographer. The ad would have the sweat Photoshopped out. Too real for comfort. And there's no right or wrong in any of this, but it took me a long time to work out who I am as a photographer. And what I would give my left arm to photograph. And how a few tiny beads of sweat can be so important in sticking true to your vision.