Dear Twenty-Two Year Old, Wanna-Be Photographer Me,

You’re cute. Like, really cute.

boy playing on the porch photograph by Lissa Chandler

I’ll be honest, I am kind of jealous of how cute you are. Right now, five years ago to this day, you have been married for two months and five days and, this very week, your husband has bought you your very first DSLR, a Canon 40d with a 50 f/1.8 and a zoom lens you found used on Amazon for $110. You’re not sure what a 50 1.8 lens is exactly, but you are going to be dancing a happy dance around your apartment for the next three months because that camera is going to put you over the moon with happiness. You think that refurbished camera is the best thing that has ever happened to anyone.

Right now, you are giddy. You are happy and you are excited and you are so confident that it seeps out of every pore of your body, every step that you take, and every time you bounce your hair. You’re a photographer! You don’t know yet that your camera can come off the “P” setting – you’re going to think that you broke it when you switch it to “M” and every image the camera takes comes out black – and you are going to blush really hard when you say you love photography and people say words like “aperture” and “shutter speed” but, ultimately, you’re going to just smile and say that you don’t really need to learn the technical stuff. You’re an artist!

At least… you think you’re an artist.

dad holding son picture by Lissa Chandler

And my friend? You are so, so wrong. You will be! You really will be! But, before you become one, you have so much to learn. See, since we are the same person and I have a whoppin’ five years on you, I can say with absolute sincerity that I know exactly what you feel every time you pick up that camera. Your hands shake a little bit and your heart races a little faster and you feel so happy every single time you pick up that black box. You’ve felt that way your entire life – from the first time your mom let you use your allowance to buy a disposable camera to the time you touched your very first film SLR in high school to the time that your friend Sean let you keep his digital camera for an entire semester your freshman year of college to the time that you received the 5d Mark III in the mail – you feel the same way every time. For you, holding a camera lights a huge spark inside of you. It’s always been that way for you.

When people ask you about your first memories, you talk about running around the pink house you grew up in and battling with your brothers over Legos and meeting your little sister the day she was born at the hospital, but you usually leave out the most vivid memories: the mornings and the afternoons and the late nights where your mom would let you sit on her bed and flip through the three-ring, brown binders with sticky paper holding together thousands of memories. Some of the memories you remembered yourself and some of the memories happened before you were born, but none of that really mattered – you just loved the memories. You loved those books so much and, every time you hold a camera, you feel that little lunge in your chest every single time.

You know all of this. You know how photography makes you feel.

child crawling through tunnel photo by Lissa Chandler

But! You don’t know everything and, in a year, you are about to start a crazy journey of learning and shooting and processing and learning and shooting and processing some more. Right now, you think that photography is a natural skill – that you have an eye of sorts and, because of this, you’re going to be really confused when your photographs don’t turn out how you imagine. For you, the next five years are going to be a flurry. You have some amazing years coming up for you and, while there’s a ton of things I could tell you to be better at, when it comes to photography, it boils down to this:

  1. Never lose that feeling that you have whenever you pick up a camera.
  2. Never, ever let your confidence get away from you.

You see, learning photography is going to be a lot more difficult than you imagine and, because of this and the fact that you won’t be able to learn everything overnight, you are going to be frustrated and you’re going to take a very lonely journey learning the right way to manipulate your settings and the right way to talk to your clients and the right way to be yourself while holding a camera. But! After you get through this, operating a camera is going to be second nature to you and, in all sincerity, it is going to be so, so worth it. It’s going to be crazy and there are going to be times that you look at your husband and say “I give up!” when you don’t understand something but I am here to tell you that perseverance is so worth it and that today, you’d go through the same thing five times in a row just to learn everything you have learned (and, today, I still have SO much to learn it’s mind boggling!).

child sleeping pic by Lissa Chandler

So! Just hold on to that feeling of love and excitement and nostalgia and happiness every time you think of photographs. Hold onto that feeling and you will do amazing things.

Love,

Your Twenty-Seven Year Old, Knows-How-to-Work-a-Camera Self