7 Ways Photography Shaped Me into a Leader

Artists sometimes get a bad rap. Flighty, flaky, disheveled, disorganized, in-their-own-world, temperamental, opinionated, and prickly could be words to describe the creative nearest to you. Do you know one? Those aren’t the words to describe a leader, wouldn’t you agree?

In today’s world where you need to be on top of things in order to earn respect, an artist needs to be organized and sensible. They need to transcend the typecast of a creative, and somehow learn things that make them worthy of following. As a self-proclaimed wanderer (which to me encapsulates being an explorer, photographer, and philosopher) here are a few ways that I’ve grown into being a leader.

1. I may wander but I still need a plan and a road map to get there. Wandering is a beautiful thing, but by definition it means moving from place to place with no fixed plan. Wandering allows you to find the hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path jewels…a major pay-off. But to be successful in finding the images that move people’s emotions, I need to research and plan. Ultimately, I need to know how to get there. Putting in the time to create a good exoskeleton of a trip still allows the space for the spontaneous. A leader embraces the tension between execution and improvisation that allows a plan to succeed.

2. I’ve learned to be OK with uncertainty. On many a trip through Europe, there are days when I don’t know where I will be sleeping the next night. I’m not super big on that kind of uncertainty, but it comes with the territory. Once I’ve nailed down a spot, I usually relax and start exploring. Looking back, I never had a sleepless night shivering in the cold. Everything turned out just fine. I’ve had to grow in being OK with uncertainty. A leader needs to confidently live in the tension of uncertain resolutions and organizational direction.

3. You may make a plan but still need to be flexible. Too many times to count has my planned itinerary been altered for some reason or another. It’s great to have an agenda on what you want to see and in what order. But hold that loosely. Having a flexible attitude that rolls with it when you are thrown a curveball can make the difference between a bad and a great day. A leader has the capacity to flex and change direction when obstacles appear.

4. It forces you to be adaptable in a wide variety of circumstances. I thought I would be staying in a guest house, but ended up staying at the house of a co-worker in urban Uganda. Quite the difference I’ll have you know. Especially when using the latrine. Being a traveling photographer has landed me in a huge variety of situations, some not very pleasant. The ability to make the most of every situation, smile and be gracious endears you to the people you find yourself among. A leader’s ability to be graciously adaptable in every circumstance raises the level of follower’s respect.

5. You learn to make decisions quickly. Sometimes this is as simple as where to stand for capturing the best shot. You need to evaluate and make a choice. Sometimes it is more complex like where to go and not to go for your own safety when traveling in foreign lands. Frequently there is no luxury of time, it’s just “take in the options” and choose. I wanted to catch the sunset on Eileen Donan Castle in Scotland, but it meant not crossing the bridge to the Isle of Skye. A hard decision, but I turned back and captured one of my most memorable images (see below). A leader continually weighs the options and makes decision that bring success to the team.

6. You learn that you’re not really in control.  A strange thing happens in photography, clouds and people keep getting in the way. One person asked me how I always capture images without people. I answered, “I wait.” Many times I’ve waited a while, because you can’t just go telling tourists where NOT to stand. I’m not that patient, but this has developed humility and restraint in me. Oh, I have flung my hands in the air in frustration, but I’ve also learned to endure not being in control of the environment. A leader develops composure and poise to persist while managing scenarios that can’t be entirely controlled. 

7. You learn to enjoy small victories and happy accidents. Have you hear that term “a happy accident”? the Urban Dictionary defines it this way, “when something unexpectedly good comes from what would otherwise be considered a mishap.” Not every cloud has a silver lining, but sometimes a great outcome arises from the ashes of disaster. A small victory could be getting one great shot out of 100, or the light being perfect on someone’s face just as someone else moved their head. Rejoice when the perfect moment happens, even if they don’t happen often. A leader finds joy in little successes and shares that joy with her team. 

A Photographer is an observer by nature, but they also need to be a learner. The Environment’s we find ourselves in are constantly changing…people move and light shifts by the minute. So success is predicated on evaluating and adjusting moment by moment. A leader learns from their environment. They are constantly taking in and making informed decisions based on what they see. Perhaps you can now see how the challenges that face a photographer can develop leadership qualities. I’m grateful for how every challenge and majestic experience has helped shape me. And maybe, just maybe, I have transcended the stereotype of the flighty, disorganized creative.

The featured image is at Cape Point, South Africa. | Shot digitally on Canon 7D, 2010

3 thoughts on “7 Ways Photography Shaped Me into a Leader

  1. Mick, great thoughts. Just wondering, did you have any type of filter or edit later? The castle, on my computer screen which isn’t the best, seems to have just a slight haze. Just curious.


      1. I like it the way it is, especially since the rest of the photo is tac sharp. It’s makes the castle stand out just a little bit more, just enough. Beautiful shot.


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