I’d been looking for him for months — this bald guy with an earring and a camera.
I searched online. I joined camera clubs. I signed up for a workshop with this woman from New York. And just as I was about to give up, I finally found him drinking Cuban coffee next to a tiny stand in Little Havana, Miami.
Thirteen years ago, I knew nothing about photography. I had a tiny point-and-shoot camera. Digital SLRs were new and very expensive. And most of the pros thought they’d never last — they said film would be here forever.
I needed a photography instructor who could teach travel writers how to take better pictures with a digital point-and-shoot and sell them to magazines.
Back then, no one thought it was possible. Film, they said, would never die. Magazines, they said, have staff writers and photographers… they don’t want pictures from no-name writers with point-and-shoot cameras. But I held on.
Because many of our most successful freelance travel writers were including pictures with their stories. I knew it could be done. I just needed to find the right person.
So I signed up for a workshop with a New York Times photographer in Miami, imagining I’d hire her to teach our classes. She hated the idea, criticized my photos, and made me feel like I’d never be as good as the pros. She wasn’t the right person.
But then this photographer in the class came up to me with his Cuban coffee and offered to share it, which is what you do with Cuban coffee in Havana. Each person gets a sipping cup about half the size of a standard mouthwash cup or double the size of a thimble. You take turns buying more and dividing the larger cup amongst all your friends with smaller cups and when it’s gone after a few sips, someone gets up to buy the next round.
Over our newly-learned coffee ritual I told him what I was looking for, and he said he couldn’t help (he’s not an instructor, he explained).
Rich was his name, and he was just there to find great locations. He was already a pro. And he took me under his wing and showed me some of the simplest tricks I’ve ever seen. “Move to this side of the fountain and take another shot,” he’d say. Or, “What’s your main subject? Put that on a Rule of Thirds line.”
It was like magic. My photos were transforming before my eyes into shots that any of the others with more experience in the class could have taken.
That journalist wanted me to believe that what she was doing would be impossible for me. But it wasn’t. I just needed someone to tell me exactly what to do.
Rich was the person I was looking for all along. I convinced him to lead our first overseas expedition and we spent many years traveling and teaching everyday folks how to shoot and sell their photos. It was a lot of fun.
Rich is retired, now, but his methods for training new photographers are still the methods we use today when you come on one of our photography trips.
Together, we always used to say: The most important part about getting started in photography is just knowing you can do it.
Easy tricks like The Rule of Thirds, diagonal lines, leading lines and framing will revolutionize your skills and transform your photos. And after that, processing your photos on your computer plays a big part, as does the lens on your camera when it’s time to upgrade.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about those starburst photos I was playing with. And yes, we’ll definitely be taking groups to Namibia and Botswana next year.
For now, I’ll leave you with this shot taken withrom my iPhone…. How far from the days of film we’ve come…
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