Photographer Scott A. Woodward shares his golden rules for pursuing your passion and perfecting your craft.
I was involved with the Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) 2014 this past October and November, participating in a weekend of portfolio review sessions at the National Museum of Singapore and giving an artist’s talk at the library@chinatown.
Tara Sering, the editor of Cebu Pacific Air’s inflight magazine, Smile, was one of the attendees at my SIPF ‘Around the World in 60 Minutes’ artist’s talk a few weeks ago. In Tara’s words, “One Sunday afternoon in November, I listened to photographer Scott Woodward as he told a packed room of his adventures in pursuit of his true passion: to see, feel and capture the world’s many layers. It was too good not to share, and Scott has happily agreed to give Smilereaders a peek into his journey.”
This is my story and these are my photographs as they appear in the December 2014 issue of Smile…
1. “You never know if you never go.”
These were my father’s favorite motivational words. After all, the world rewards curious and sincere searchers, and there’s no substitute for experience. In 1996, I graduated from Queen’s University in Canada with a degree in economics, and not knowing exactly what the next step in my life should be, I decided to embark on a backpacking adventure across Asia. My year-long odyssey in Asia offered me an opportunity to explore and experience a number of exotic countries — places that I had only read about or seen on television. I encountered fascinating cultures and colorful characters every step of the way. This adventure opened my eyes.
Moving from a small community of only a few thousand people to frenetic metropolises teeming with tens of millions of people — cities like Jakarta, Bangkok and Hong Kong — was a truly otherworldly experience for me. And though I’d always been interested in picture-making (because of my father’s influence when I was younger) it wasn’t until this trip to Asia that the passion for photography was truly awakened in me. Carrying my camera with me everywhere I traveled that year, I grew to love searching for, or simply stumbling upon, unique photographic opportunities. It was an amazing experience.
2. Trust your instincts and prioritize your passion.
At a Chinese New Year’s dinner party with my colleagues at the time, someone asked me, “What would you be truly happy doing every single day?” I blurted out, without hesitation, that I’d be happy as a photographer, and that I’d like to travel the world taking pictures. I’d been working in the corporate world for eight years and my answer that night surprised even me.
This told me something very important about myself and about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I decided at that moment, literally just days into 2004, to make photography a more significant part of my life.
I started carrying my camera with me at all times. I began to shoot more often, rather than just when traveling on holidays, and began to edit and compile my work more seriously. I opened myself up by sharing these images with friends, artists, advertising creatives and other photographers, taking their insights and constructive criticism into account while continuing to practice my craft.
3. The learning never ends, so embrace the challenges.
Several years after I left the corporate world to become a professional photographer, I expanded my business into a small studio in a shophouse in Singapore’s Chinatown with the help of very supportive friends. I invested heavily in the space, purchasing the professional lighting equipment required to fill the studio. And I learned — and continue to learn — how to better use this equipment to create and manipulate artificial light. I’m always trying to
explore a different facet of creative photography, to push myself to produce stronger, more evocative and more complex imagery.
This shift in my creative focus has opened a number of new doors for me, enabling me to move into the exciting realm of advertising photography. It’s a different type of creativity, requiring a lot of collaboration with other artists, but it still takes me on shoots around the world and allows me to explore this diverse planet. It brings me a tremendous amount of joy and presents me with endless challenges.
4. Choose your own adventure.
Photography is one of the most accessible and democratic forms of artistic expression. The ubiquity of cameras — from those built into mobile phones and small digital point-and-shoot cameras all the way to large, powerful, digital SLR models — makes it simple to capture fantastic images.
But making great photographs has little to do with owning the best and most expensive equipment. The real secret behind great photography is in how you see a moment and interpret it in a still frame. Ask yourself a few important questions: Are you able to make something ordinary appear extraordinary by showing it differently? Are you able to make the viewer feel an emotion when they look at your photograph? Are you able to transport someone to a moment with you simply by pressing the shutter button?
I once read that a camera is an amazing excuse to delve deeper into a place than we otherwise would. I like this description. Searching for an interesting photograph forces us to look at our surroundings differently, to explore a place further, to look beyond the obvious and hunt for something unique and special. Literally and creatively, I can go in one direction and discover a remarkable photographic opportunity. Or I can choose to go in another direction and find something different.
You must be willing to trust yourself and others. You must be willing to choose your own adventure.