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The PRO-Files: The First Step To Making It As A Photographer

Measured by practically any standard, Sony Artisan Caroline Jensen’s photography career is enviable. She lives where she wants and works from home, at a pace of her choosing. She’s highly selective with the assignments she accepts, which she carries out on her own terms. Most important, she’s able to dedicate much of her time to pursuing her passion for mentoring up-and-coming photographers.

Whether she’s talking about overcoming the obstacles in her own career or helping students master theirs, she regularly returns to the concept of the power of thought—namely, the importance of eliminating negative thinking. The way we think directly influences our successes and failures, she says. To paraphrase a popular aphorism: whether you think you can or you can’t, either way you’re right.

“That is a big part of my professional life,” Jensen says. “I’m honest with myself about what I want to do and I don’t talk myself out of those things. I see the reverse of that constantly! People will say ‘I live in too small of a city,’ or ‘I don’t have the right camera,’ or ‘my lens isn’t good enough for what I want to do.’ And while there are real benefits to having the latest technology, there’s also somebody out there who’s in the same situation who has done whatever it is you want to do with the gear you have or less. If you allow those negative thoughts to continue,” she says, “you’re not going to move past it. It’s just going to be this big roadblock you keep hitting. You need to reframe it.”

Don’t Wish, Take Action

Jensen says it’s not that simply wishing for success will manifest blessings, but rather that how we think about our challenges changes how we act toward finding a solution.

“Sometimes it just takes time and a few interim steps to get where you want to go,” she says. “Don’t cut yourself off at the knees by saying ‘I can’t do this,’ or ‘I can’t produce work like this,’ or ‘I don’t have the right kind of client,’ or ‘I really want to travel but I can’t afford it.’ You can reframe that and opportunities will come—and often in ways you don’t expect. At 14, somebody gave me some words of advice: ‘what you think is what will happen.’ It really stuck with me.”

Jensen began to study the reframing of negative thought, and it’s been instrumental in her professional life. “I was very specific about my goals,” she says. “Being very specific about what defined success was huge for me. I work from home. I make images on my own schedule. And I work at times of the day when I can be productive; I can work at 3AM, or I can skip days, I can take vacation.” She defined success on her terms and then made a plan to achieve it.

The Power Of Positive Words--It's Backed Up By Research

Many books have been written on the topic, but Jensen says a few in particular have shaped her understanding of how mindset can manifest in reality. These are iconic works of 20th century self-help literature—such as Napoleon Hill’s 1937 book, Think and Grow Rich, famous for encouraging perseverance and focus via the oft-quoted phrase, “A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.” Another classic is Florence Scovel Shinn’s The Game of Life and How to Play it, from 1925, which includes much on the power of the mind to influence life events.

“I don’t always agree with everything all these authors say,” Jensen says, “but I do believe they’re touching on principles that are like laws of the universe—like gravity or the fact that when it gets cold we freeze. And I really believe they are hitting on the power of words, the power of thoughts and how to use them positively in your life.”

One of the most popular books on the subject taught Americans that “attitude is everything.” Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 book, The Power of Positive Thinking, makes the case for relentless optimism and daily affirmation as the foundation for positive outcomes—whether confronting a personal challenge or a business obstacle.

Peale also believed in the power of speech to influence the mind. He suggested daily affirmations be spoken aloud, because the words we use do more than just reflect our thoughts, they also shape them. “Watch your manner of speech,” he said, “if you wish to develop a peaceful state of mind. Start each day by affirming peaceful, contented and happy attitudes and your days will tend to be pleasant and successful.”

Jensen agrees. “I never want to use a lot of negatives in my thoughts,” she says, “because our subconscious is very impressionable. And the subconscious tends to take things very literally.”

Peale’s critics accused him of cultivating false confidence via self-hypnosis, but his adherents—including several U.S. presidents—cite his focus on positive virtues including hard work and personal integrity as instrumental to their success. Today Peale’s teachings, as well as the concepts of positive thinking in general, are more broadly endorsed. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study of the ability of self-affirmation to buffer stress and found in fact that such affirmations improved problem-solving performance in chronically stressed individuals and could be shown to boost academic achievement.

Writing for The Huffington Post, psychiatrist and author Walter E. Jacobson, M.D., says it should be no surprise that the way we think impacts how we live.

“When we feel good about ourselves and have a positive attitude,” he writes, “our lives tend to run more smoothly, with fewer obstacles, less chaos and drama and greater cooperation and support from others. When we feel bad about ourselves and have a negative attitude, we tend to resist healthy choices, engage in more risky and impulsive behaviors, behave in a variety of self-sabotaging ways and put up walls between ourselves and others.”

Rephrase And Reframe Constantly

Jensen agrees that limiting thoughts are akin to personal and professional sabotage. And the way to fight them is to first be mindful of the thought, then rephrase and reframe it into something positive.

“Giving yourself permission to be amazing at something you know you can be great at is so affirming,” she says. “One student came to me the other day and said, ‘I would love to photograph flowers but Instagram is full of them so I avoid that.’ I told her that doesn’t matter, there are billions of people and billions of people taking pictures of people, but that doesn’t stop photographers from taking people pictures. Don’t limit yourself because you feel like something is overdone! That’s a self-limiting thought that’s cutting you off from the start. Focus on why you want to do what you do, and then just do that. Taking a picture of a flower may result in something sold through stock, and, more importantly, it’s getting you out there. And if you’re resonating with an image that you took, probably someone else will. And it’s all about networking.”

“You simply cannot entertain limiting thoughts,” she continues. “Reframe it. Tell yourself ‘I don’t know how it’s possible, but it’s possible.’ That’s a huge thing. Limiting thoughts stop invention. Limiting thoughts put the breaks on ingenuity. I come from a long line of inventors. Having an inventive spirit means that you’re bucking the negative spirit that people have. An inventor makes things possible. Having that mindset, stopping those limiting thoughts is hugely important. Don’t say you can’t do this. You just say, ‘I know this is possible’ and envision the answer coming to you and don’t entertain those negative thoughts.”

“Obviously, I’m pretty passionate about this,” Jensen adds, “but the key thing for photographers is making goals and then not just leaving them on paper. Repetition will do that over time. Constantly saying things like ‘well I want to be a city photographer but I live in the country’ is not going to fix that problem. But taking the bull by the horns and saying ‘I’m a great city photographer so I’m going to travel to different cities and take photographs and make it happen’ is. I’ve seen it time and time again. When you control those limiting thoughts and really speak positively over your situation, it’s amazing what can come to you. There’s no stopping a photographer who is pursuing their goals and true passion.” 

About the author:

William Sawalich made his first darkroom print at age ten. He earned a Master's Degree from The Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. Along with portraiture, still life and assignment photography, Sawalich is an avid writer. He has written hundreds of equipment reviews, how-to articles and profiles of world-class photographers. He heads up the photo department at Barlow Productions in St. Louis.



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