We live in a time where the wisdom of the ages is spoon-fed to us through the oracle of internet memes. If you use Facebook or another social media platform, you’ve undoubtedly seen and shared wise, funny or utterly bizarre statements pasted over a photo — often of a confused looking cat, oddly enough — that tug at the heartstrings or strike the funny bone.
A lot of these wisdom bites are throwaways, but occasionally one comes across the crawl that sticks with me. I recently noticed this one: “If one lights a fire for others, it will brighten one’s own way.”
According to some half-hearted internet research, the original quote seems to have come from a letter written in the late 1200s by a Japanese priest and spiritual leader named Nichiren. I’m not sure that the honorable Nichiren would have cared that his quote was passed around on Facebook, but I’m grateful for the insight, regardless of the messenger.
As photographers, we work hard to learn about our craft. I think it is fair to say that accomplished nature photographers spend hundreds of hours becoming intimately familiar with their camera gear, improving their photographic vision, and learning as much as possible about their chosen subject matter. As a result, it can be easy to become possessive about carefully cultivated skills and image-making processes. It’s tempting to think: I had to work hard to get to this point, so why should I just give away my knowledge to someone else.
If I’m being honest, there was definitely a time when I felt that desire to keep such things to myself. Fortunately, not too long into my career, I realized that everything that I know about photography and the natural world came as the result of the efforts of many others and that there are a whole lot of other people out there way smarter and more talented than I am. Going a step further, while we all undoubtedly photograph nature for a variety of reasons, all nature photographers are united through their attraction to the natural world. By sharing knowledge with one another, we not only strengthen our community but give back to the subject we hold dear.
As Nichiren points out, the other important benefit of giving back to others is that we also receive personal reward. We are warmed by the fire of goodwill and friendship, and by lifting others up, they will in turn lift us up in our time of need.
If you’re in need of an injection of community, fellowship and fresh photographic inspiration, I hope you’ll be able to join us for NANPA’s 2017 Nature Photography Summit on March 2-4 in Jacksonville, Florida. This year’s Summit features presentations and learning opportunities from some of the top names in the craft. You’ll be certain to catch a spark of inspiration and a rekindling of your passion for nature photography.
Visit www.naturephotographysummit.com to learn more and sign-up.