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How to Stick to Your Vision (Photographic or Otherwise) and Create Your Own Luck


Happy International Women's Day! To celebrate, we asked our photography instructors and staff three questions:

  1. What advice would you give your younger self?
  2. Is there a woman who's work you are really loving right now?
  3. Is there a woman photographer/videographer you look to as a hero?

Here are their answers!

Don't Be Afraid To Go Out on a Limb and Take Risks

Marie Gardiner said: "I would tell myself not to be afraid to go out on a limb and take risks (I was way more cautious when I was younger) and that it's possible to do what you enjoy and be paid for it, if you work hard and build good relationships.

"This sounds really naff and stuff but genuinely I'm a big fan of Dawn's work! I think her articles are different from the norm and I enjoy reading her stuff."

Audrey James standing on the hood of Helen Salkelds station wagon taking a photograph of the prairies southern Saskatchewan August 8 1954
Audrey James standing on the hood of Helen Salkeld's station wagon taking a photograph of the prairies, southern Saskatchewan, August 8, 1954. Rosemary Gilliat. Rosemary Gilliat Eaton Fonds. Library and Archives Canada, e011161195.

Trust Your Gut, Feed Your Passion

In turn, Dawn Oosterhoff said: "Trust your gut, feed your passion, and take risks. If you don't, it's never too late: try again.

"Hero photographer: I have two—sometimes more! I admire Ruth Bernhard's use of light and shape with both nudes and inanimate objects. I love letting my eye flow and slide along the lines in Bernhard's compositions. When I need to be reminded not to take myself so seriously, I look to Frances Benjamin Johnston. A few minutes with her self-portrait is all I need.

"Work I'm loving right now: Mine. Ya, really. It's easy to look outward and find work to admire or to inspire, but when was the last time you spent some serious time going through your own body of work? I'm finding photographs from five, ten, and fifteen years ago—some even older than that—and I'm surprised how motivating that is."

Create Your Own Opportunities

Our next three answers come from Shruti Shekar. Shruti said: "It’s important when you’re starting out that there are hundreds of other people trying to do exactly what you are doing. So instead of waiting for opportunities to present themselves to you, make them yourself. If you’re working with a team and you are interested in something, speak up and do it! If you’re a freelancer and you have an idea, just do it! People will appreciate your initiative and hard work.

Anna Brown photographing horses Eston Saskatchewan
Anna Brown photographing horses, Eston, Saskatchewan. August 9, 1954. Rosemary Gilliat. Rosemary Gilliat Eaton Fonds. Library and Archives Canada, e010973581.

Don’t Take Anyone’s Bullshit

"Whether you’re a freelancer, or if you’re part of a team, know your rights, know your worth and don’t ever take anyone’s bullshit. You are strong, you work hard and you’re smart. Don’t ever forget that. The minute you feel devalued, or you don’t think you’re not getting recognition for your ideas, speak up! If you don’t, people will dub you as the person they can walk all over.

Take Care of Your Health

"You may not notice it right now, but you will eventually, that working a day job, freelancing and doing multiple tasks can take a toll on your health. From the get-go, build a routine, drink plenty of water, exercise, and keep your body moving and the blood flowing. Eat healthy, stay positive, and be happy. Remember you can only achieve your goals if you’re healthy."

Being a Woman is a Privilege and an Asset

Amy Touchette said: "Being a woman is a privilege and an asset. Because women understand anatomically how it feels and what it means to literally allow someone into our body, we are deeply in touch with the emotions of vulnerability and trust and all that circles around them—more so than the majority of men, simply due to this physical circumstance.

"This exceptional knowledge of sensitivity, loss, and profound connection is invaluable, something to be celebrated and shared. There is so much men can miss for playing the part of the aggressor. This distinct female perspective is far from a disadvantage. It can help heal the world—in big ways and small—and it also provides the foundation for a fulfilling life and artistic career.

"I am always really loving Diane Arbus, because my understanding is she photographed to have an experience first and make a picture second. Although I didn't know of Diane Arbus when I began photographing, the notion of creating a meaningful experience through photography, rather than simply using it as a means for self-expression, is what led me to this magical medium and keeps me enraptured with it all these years later.

"Helen Levitt (1907-2009) made one of the most significant and empowering contributions any individual could make to this world: she spent her life finding and reflecting the joy of everyday living among everyday people."

Beaver Traces and Anna Bow River Alberta
Beaver Traces and Anna, Bow River, Alberta. August 13, 1954 – Calgary, Alberta. “We walked along a path beside a sort of canal, where [a] beaver had been working. [It] had felled a huge cottonwood right across the water. The others saw a young beaver sunning himself on top of the beaver house, but Anna and I were left behind taking photos.” Rosemary Gilliat. Rosemary Gilliat Eaton Fonds. Library and Archives Canada, e010974606.

Stick to Your Vision (Even if That Means Being Wrong Once in a While)

Tiffany Brown Olsen is a video journalist and Envato Tuts+'s media producer: our in-house mentor, coach, expert, and resource for all things video production.

Her advice for her younger self: "Make clear choices and stick to your vision (even if that means being wrong once in a while). Be curious and open but never substitute someone else's judgement for your own. The most important thing you have is your unique perspective on things. Don’t give that up.

"I love seeing how online video journalism is developing. Kassie Bracken makes short documentaries with a human focus for The New York Times and I really enjoy her work. In the short online documentary The Men of Atalissa she tells a complicated story with compassion and intimacy.

"Lynsey Addario is an amazing conflict photojournalist who was in the news last year talking about being pregnant while working in dangerous locations. I admire her work and I admire her commitment to the job."

Make Sure You Want to Run Your Own Business, Then Go For It

Kate Hunter is Envato Tuts+'s Envato’s Organic Search Manager, and an invaluable resource for getting our tutorials to as many of you as we can. She's also a crack documentary and music photographer!

Kate said: "Make sure you want to run your own business. Photography/videography is freelance, and if you’re not prepared for running a business then rethink what you want. If you are prepared, upskill yourself in business development and small business admin needs.

"A woman who's work are you really loving right now? Averie Cole—this girl exudes happiness. It’s in every part of her work and it’s infectious.

"Ros O’Gorman has been a staple of Australian music and entertainment photography forever. When I was first starting out, I emailed every photographer I liked (probably 50) to ask them for their advice on starting out—Ros O’Gorman was the only one who ever replied:

Hi Kate,
Thanks for your email. I had a look at the photos you sent and also at your sites. You do very good work! I'm sorry I can't offer you anything with Undercover at the moment as we don't currently use freelance. I will keep your details and if anything changes (or I hear of any jobs), I will contact you. I know it's difficult to break into music photography but opportunities do arise from time to time - keep up the networking!

"Over the years, eventually, I started getting great jobs and have spent recent years as her colleague in the ‘pits’ of many gigs and festivals. It’s very humbling."

The shadows of Rosemary Gilliat Anna Brown Audrey James and Helen Salkeld possibly at Similkameen Valley British Columbia
The shadows of Rosemary Gilliat, Anna Brown, Audrey James and Helen Salkeld, possibly at Similkameen Valley, British Columbia. August 27, 1954 – [Similkameen Valley?], British Columbia: “…then sun came up and suddenly it was a fine day after all, the sun dazzling us…” Rosemary Gilliat Eaton Fonds. Library and Archives Canada, e011161175.

Don't Wait for Permission

Finally, Chamira Young said: "Just go do what makes your heart sing. Understand (and expect!) that you will make mistakes along the way, and that's part of the learning process. Life is a journey, and along with bumps and bruises, it should also be a fun ride!

"Questions two and three: I'm really digging Dawn Davis, who is one half the of the dynamic duo from BobandDawnDavis.com. They both rock, actually. They are a husband and wife photography team specializing in weddings, and while their work is awesome, it's their passion that really strikes me.

"Dawn, in particular, has passion and enthusiasm that spills out from the stage (I've heard her speak in person). She is hyper-aware that photographers are in the business of selling themselves, and that we should always be our true, authentic, flawed selves. She's also big on cultivating relationships not just for business, but in life with family and friends. It's a holistic, authentic approach that really resonates with me.

"To tie my answers together: Don't wait for permission to be your authentic self. Just be the awesome you that you are, and let your work follow."

Now It's Your Turn!

Mentorship is one of the most important parts learning, period, but mentorship is doubly important for women. We work in professions—and a world—that isn't as nearly as hospitable to women as it should be. How would you answer our three questions? What advice could your younger self use? What advice would you give women starting out in photo and video today? Who's work energizes you, and who are your heroes? Has a mentor helped you reach your true potential? Let us know in the comments.

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