Do you have a vision for your photography?

Simon Carter is a professional outdoors photographer recognised internationally for his distinctive rock climbing photography. Named by Men’s Journal Magazine (USA) as one of the World’s Best Adventure Photographers, Simon has worked professionally for 16 years and in the process has travelled widely and built up one of the best and largest collections of unique climbing imagery in the world.

Nikon & Rock Climbing

It was a lot of fun to work with the crew from Nikon to produce the videos The Rock Climber – Nikon D3S & The Rock Climber – Behind the Scenes featuring my photography. Thanks guys!

And thanks for the opportunity to say a few words on My Nikon Life. Now I could talk about how I used be a diehard film-only fanatic – that is until I took the plunge to digital with the D3 less than two years ago and I haven’t looked back. Or I could talk about how I get asked a lot if I shoot much video and my answer is no, not much, my passion is in stills photography. But after using the Nikon D3S I’m convinced there’s a time and place for everything and it’s amazing how one extra button can open up a world of opportunities. Or I could talk about how the new Nikon 70-200mm VRII has won the battle over several prime lenses for prime real estate in my camera bag. But the gear you need, or techniques you need, might be different from what I need, so I don’t want to get into any of that.

Simon Carter

Instead I want to talk about something rather more fundamental:

Finding my vision for photography

Do you have a vision for your photography? Do you know exactly what you want to do? And why? If so then I think you are one of the lucky ones. I think if you have a positive answer to this, then the decisions you make in your photography, your business, your life, least of all what gear to use, will be that much clearer.

For me, personally, vision is an issue that I have struggled with enormously over the years. It has caused me to lose much sleep, tear my hair out, shed tears of angst, and, on a few occasions, following my vision has caused me to face real dangers and take some serious risks.

Right now, with where I’m at with my photography and in life at the moment, I’m happy to say my vision for my photography has never been clearer. I’m pretty sure about this; I’ve never felt it this strongly. I have in my mind’s eye some very strong ideas about the images I want to be creating, the body of work that I want to be producing. I’m not saying my vision is anything special or ground-breaking, but it’s my vision, I’m happy with it and I’m very glad to have found it. I’m not going to ignore it even if it makes some things harder.

But it was a long and winding road to the point where I’m at now and there were several dead ends along the way.

With hindsight I think the most important, indeed essential, step to finding my vision was quitting my first photography job. That’s right – quitting. This was many years ago now. I had had a childhood dream of being a photographer and so after completing my high school certificate I found a job working in a university photography department. At first I felt like I was off to a great start and I worked in that job for two years telling myself I was paying my dues. But I ended up spending most of my time in the darkroom printing uninspiring images for scientific reports. In the end it killed my passion and I just couldn’t see it leading to the kind of photography that I wanted to do. So I quit the job, and also quit the night school photography course I was doing, and looked to do completely different things with my life.

It probably would have felt like I was giving up on everything except fortunately I also had another passion – the outdoors and in particular, rock climbing. Over the next eight years I travelled and climbed, completed a University course in Outdoor Education, worked in outdoor shops, and travelled and climbed more and more. Eventually I spent eight months full-time climbing, living in a tent at the base of Mt Arapiles in Victoria, climbing every day that I could. No commitments, complete freedom! And a strange thing happened. On rest days I started picking up my long neglected camera again… My friends were some of the best climbers in the country; they were doing amazing things in spectacular places and I started to document some of their feats.

The penny dropped. Even if it was just the beginning, at last I was on the road to finding my vision.

Some people told me it wasn’t possible to shoot climbing professionally in Australia even if it’s not all that you do. Being a climber, I decided you’ll never know if you never try. So the next year I tried, seriously tried. That was 16 years ago now. Balancing business demands and the pursuit of my vision hasn’t always been simple but it has just made it all the more rewarding.

Climbing is very complex, diverse, multi-discipline activity. There are some easy ways to photograph it and there are much harder ways. There are some outdoors shots I know are relatively easy to sell and others nobody will want. All of these factors have at times conspired to make it harder for me to find or follow my vision. But I’ve learnt a few things: The easy road isn’t always the right road in the long run. The more I’ve followed my vision the more opportunities have come along – the more things have fallen into place and allowed me to move forward. And, as we’ve seen, sometimes you’ve got to step back to move forward.

My photography is niche and will probably never have mainstream appeal but that’s not what it’s about for me. My photography now is not a job – it is far more important than that!

What is your vision for photography?

Maybe it is just me who’s had a hard time finding and following my photography ‘vision’. How easy has the road been for you? Has the process been rewarding? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Jump onto the My Nikon Life Facebook page to discuss.

Check out more of Simon Carter’s photography.