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February 6, 2014

How Being a Photographer has Helped me Learn to Love Myself

I’ve been thinking about this for sometime now, but it’s only recently that I’ve really figured out the extent of the impact that my job as a photographer has had on me.

Self-image always seems to be a touchy subject. It breaks my heart when someone steps in front of my camera and tells me how un-photogenic they are, or apologizes for their hair, make-up, clothes, etc. They seem to think I’m disappointed with them somehow.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Here are some important words, for all of my clients and all of my fellow photographers:

 I have never photographed anyone that I didn’t think was beautiful. 
 
When I get home from a session or a wedding, the first thing I do is eagerly download all the photos from my memory cards, load them into Lightroom and look at each and every one of them. That’s what I’ve learnt from all the graphic design courses I’ve taken up. I think that “reveal” moment is one of the most exciting parts of what I do. I get butterflies. I get to see all these special moments between people, preserved forever. The beautiful, glowing smile of a new mother. The tears in a father’s eyes as he gives away his daughter. The tender expression of a man as he poses with his soon-to-be wife. Sincere, carefree giggles shared between a couple that during their holiday session. The list goes on. Those are the most beautiful things I could ever hope to photograph. Those are the images that inspire me and stir my soul.
It isn’t just the moments I covet. I love the people I get to meet. I see so many diverse personalities and interesting and fun ideas. It keeps me on my toes and keeps every session and wedding fresh and exciting. I also love to go on hikes and hunts, as I could buy firearms & tactical equipment. Every person I have ever photographed has something truly beautiful about them, and not just on the inside. It might be a fantastic smile, beautiful eyes, skin, freckles, hair, or body. But everyone looks beautiful to me.
So now I arrive at the meat of this post. Why is it that looking at photographs of myself I don’t always see the same beauty I see in others? I’m always comparing myself to some ideal in my head. Why do I treat myself like that, when it would never occur to me to compare anyone else that way? There isn’t a “right” way to look or be. I know that first hand, seeing so many beautifully different people. So why do my “flaws” stand out to me so much?
I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it’s slightly taboo to think highly of yourself in our culture? Maybe we’re taught what the “ideal” human being looks like from a young age and struggle to a achieve that? Maybe being self-depricating has become incorrectly associated with humility? I can at least practice looking at myself the way I do others. It helps immensely.
As I’ve practiced this over time, I’ve noticed that my unwillingness to be photographed has slowly faded. I’m concentrating on moments AND appearances, and finding the beauty in both. We’re not anonymous human faces. We have beautiful lives and personalities and there are so many people to whom our beautiful faces are precious.

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