The Hopeful Photographer

Apogee Photo Coach Jimages

How does being hopeful help your photography? Apogee Magazine Photo Coach Jim Austin offers three intriguing ideas. First, we explore hope. Next, we take a look at knowledge of subject. Finally, play is a key part of the game.

Our images reflect our hopes. Subject knowledge informs our pictures. When we understand our subject in detail, we make more compelling photos. To keep the passion in our photography over the years, it helps to have hope.

1. HOPE: Having Optimism, Photographers Excel

“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.” Vaclav Havel, Czech Writer, Politician.

How can hope and optimism ignite our visual efforts? For two reasons. First, they let us give our inner critic a time out. Second, they propel me away from my small screen and out into a brighter world.

Having hope, I am assured that doing daily photography practice has meaning and value, whether or not an image is interesting. Each of us has our own variety of hope; mine is practical and persistent.

Having optimism, photographers can excel. Sure, gear is good, but hoisting it with hope is vital to keeping a spark in your creative vision.


“It is important to learn hoping. The emotion of hoping expands out of itself, makes people wider instead of narrower; insatiable, it wants to know what makes people purposeful on the inside.” – Ernst Bloch, Philosopher, The Principle of Hope

Hope and optimism are also essential for solving problems of creative seeing. To be hopeful about making pictures, we can believe: “my best picture ever will be one I take today.”

“ …creativity requires a mixture of faith, confidence, conviction and hope. The creative soul is convinced that a solution can be found, that beauty exists, and that we can make the most of what we have.”

– Chris Orwig, The Creative Fight

We all have met photographers who own pricey gear yet complain about their circumstances. Lacking optimism, they bemoan the weather, or blame a lack of subject matter.

Clearly, a $10,000 lens in front of the camera is useless without hope behind the camera. A student in my college photo class who photographed with inexpensive gear but always did her assignments with a bright outlook.

Her success further nourished her optimism and hope after she won a national photo contest and got her work in print. The point is to let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your photography.

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Having a hopeful frame of mind is vital for successful photography. Expectations of making a good picture will change how I behave as I photograph.

Watch a successful photographer work. You’ll see something special about how she hopes, plans, smiles and enjoys her work.


“I almost believe we don’t see anything until we understand it.” – Berenice Abbott, Photographer.

“We turn the wheels on our cameras when the wheels we must turn are within us.” – Jim Austin

One of the many paradoxes in photography is that expressing the universal emerges from knowing the specific. When photographers know small details extremely well, keen images emerge. Looking at the work of photographers Sternfeld, Sudek, Sommer, Stieglitz, Salgado or Smith, we learn that each of them spent weeks or years getting to know their subjects in detail.

But their photos did not just happen, First, these masters had to change their minds, and hearts.

Knowledge is more than intellectual understanding. It requires change within. Knowing how to turn the wheels on our cameras means nothing when the wheels that we must turn are within. It can take a lifetime to turn these wheels, getting to know a person or a sport that we love. A brief story…


The Water Ski Flip

When I was 11, I went water skiing in Florida. Since then, I’ve also skied on Utah’s Lake Powell. While skiing, a flip is the hardest move for me to do. Awhile ago, in the Florida intracoastal waterway, I saw a skier repeatedly doing a flip, using his boat wake to get himself airborne.

Watching his sequence let me know what he was going to do. As we continued, I noticed an uncluttered background and waited for him to pass in front. The image caught this acrobatic flip in 1/4000th of a second.

So how does knowledge fit in? Our mind-body stores vital knowledge and memories of the sports we’ve learned. Know your subject. Go back to it again and again if you can. It matters, because your photographs will show what you’ve learned.


“This is the real secret of life: to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” Alan Watts, Zen Author

Play frees us to experiment, without a goal. Even on assignment, I set aside play time just for laughs. Recently, inspired by the thoughts of photographer John Paul Caponigro, I played in island waves to begin a new eries of assymetrical images, shown below.

Hope empowers your photography life. Knowledge of your subject always matters. Play frees you to discover. Know your subject, dare to be playful, and keep your hopes alive.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein
Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Desmond Tutu
Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.” Samuel Smiles


About the Author: Jim Austin MA is a photography author, magazine publisher, and photo workshop instructor. He lives aboard the Sailboat Salty Paws, currently on assignment in the Bahama islands. His next book is Seaing:  Alive Aboard.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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