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In this first episode of the smartphone photography club podcast, I provide the backstory of Smartphone Photography Training. This provides the context of who I love to help and how I am a little different from every other photography educator out there.

My backstory:
I was a professional photographer working in a very technical industry for over 20-years. I ran training programs for 100s of attendees on how to get the most out of the latest, expensive gear. They were there for two reasons, professional development and to gain a competitive advantage over others in knowledge and credibility. You can imagine how fun those technical training days were!

A quality photo was all about it being tack-sharp focus and highest resolution to zoom in close and still have great detail. It was not about creative expression, aesthetics or the viewer experience.

At home, I was called upon for the family photos because I had all the gear. I was that perfectionist photographer that had to have everything perfect and annoyed everyone. You know those people. YOU may even be one! Outside of these occasions, I never took photos. I did not have a passion for it at all. In fact, I really did not like photography at all. Taking photos felt like I was at work. The camera was a tool of the trade. It is a bit like the mechanic's car is falling apart or the house cleaner who cannot bring themself to clean their own home!

In 2015, everything changed when my mother passed away.

You may have experienced that feeling of loss and incredible pain of losing a loved one. I really struggled. I had the additional responsibility of preparing a eulogy. As part of that process, I went searching for photos and video. I have 3 children and my daughter was 9 at the time. In those last 9 years, I only had 6 photos of my mum... and no video.

It was then, that I realised that photos of us are not about us. They are a gift for your loved ones after we are gone. Growing up, I remember my parents having some amazing experiences. Looking at their photos, they were all the locations and never of them in the scene. They are not worth anything. If I had mum in those photos, they would mean the world.

My mum lived for us, her family. She was quite ill for years and we were privileged to be able to say goodbye. My mum asked me to help my children remember her. Discovering so few photos of her, I was overwhelmed with guilt. Mum like many of us did not like having her photo taken and would run on those family occasions when I had the ‘big’ camera out. I have felt the same for many years. I was so much more comfortable behind the camera.

After this regretful realisation, I started using my smartphone more to capture my family and myself. Mums passing hit me quite hard. Smartphone photography surprisingly became my escape and passion. Photography forced me to slow down and study the intricate details and beauty of our immediate world around me.

This became an obsession wanting to become creative and explore photography as a hobby. My photo subjects started to include flowers and nature before I explored other genres. Following photographers on social media for the first time, I was blown away by their creativity. 20-years in photography, I realised most of my knowledge just did not apply to smartphone photography.

I searched for all the apps, techniques and tips to replicate what I could achieve on the ‘big’ camera on my smartphone. After downloading more than 100 apps, I whittled them down to my favourite 6. However, the camera and the best apps did not make my photos better. After all this time researching apps, I realised I was searching for just more tools for expanding the smartphone camera capability.

Being an expert on the technical side of photography came at a cost. I never considered myself a creative type. I felt I didn’t get that creative gene that my Dad and sister have. They can draw and play instruments. I can’t draw stick figures or even play the kazoo! As kids, we are all creative. Then we get older and different external and internal influences lead us to self-identify as creative or not.

I knew how to use techniques and apps to achieve sharp images and correct colours – all the technical stuff. I just did not seem to have the vision or creativity that everyone else had. They still did not have that WOW factor that I wanted.

I just did not get it. I was so frustrated because I was in the top 1% of the photographic industry, I worked in. People invested in me to design and deliver photography training. In my hobby photography pursuits, my photos looked flat, lifeless and just did not have any impact or engagement. My 20-year career seemed to only give me an advantage of knowing to hold the smartphone steady and the value of enough good lighting. My photos were just very good recordings of what was in front of me!

I would read the same buzz words ‘storytelling,’ ‘chasing the light,’ ‘aesthetically pleasing’ and ‘emotion.’ I didn’t see how any of it applied to my new pursuit of taking landscapes, flower photos or anything I was capturing. I just did not have the vision, the gift, the creativity to see photo opportunities or make them engage.

As much as I felt like I had made progress, my false belief of not being creative just took over. I started to lose interest in photography again. My self-critiquing and not feeling satisfied with what I was producing almost led me to quit photography as a hobby.

My iPhone took great snapshots. The camera captures natural colours, balances light in shadows and bright areas and sufficient sharpness. It was great to accurately record what was in front of me. The simplicity of the camera democratises photography, making it accessible to everyone. What it did not do for me was tell me what to capture or how to take interesting photos!

All the blogs, YouTube and courses available repetitively shared the same basics tips, were outdated or not smartphone specific. Photo editing courses available online were all desktop-based and I had no intention of going back to being behind a computer.

I could not find any decent education out there for the smartphone photographer.

Then, over a coffee after an early morning coastal photo session with one of my best friends my creativity and photos changed forever.

Kyle from 20 West Photography is a professional landscape photographer. His images are consistently extraordinary. I always attributed the results to his specialist landscape photography gear because my photos did not come even close.

One that morning, I wanted to trial a new long exposure app. I turned up with only my iPhone and tripod. Kyle was so shocked and to his credit, did not mock me. I was expecting it!

As we normally did, Kyle and I would head off and alternate different locations and take photos, careful not to be in each other’s frames. The long exposure app created some lovely silky smooth water results. However, they still did not look that interesting.

After the photoshoot, we headed to town for a well-deserved coffee. Kyle again captured beautiful photos that I could not believe we were in the same location as mine. He knew something I did not.

I finally admitted that I was frustrated in my photography and struggling to be creative. Having mutual respect in professional photography, this admission was like the permission Kyle needed to share some absolute gold nuggets of information. He truly transformed my photography and changed the way I now approach any photo.

Kyle explained that his creative journey involved initially following photographic principles and guidelines. As he became more experienced, decisions and selections of techniques became automatic sub-conscious decisions.

The key is a comprehensive understanding of the fundamentals. Anything that is solid and reliable like a house, food menu or business needs a good foundation, a good structure and framework.

The big AHA moment for me was when he explained photography from the perspective of the viewer. When he positioned his camera, he was always thinking about how the viewer would read and interpret the photo. He looked at what would attract, hold, guide or detract the viewer’s attention. Storytelling was controlling the viewer’s attention in a way that we encourage them to notice elements in a sequence that communicates the main subject then the extra stuff in the photo provides the context. He started to explain all these photographic principles and guidelines that I had never heard of in 20-years working in photography. I felt like a fraud all this time!

The WOW factor I was missing was pausing to identify the photo intention, setting up the elements in the photo and strategic editing to enhance the viewer’s experience. It is our job to provide all the visual cues (form, shape, lines, colour, tone, texture and subject) in a way that the viewer is engaged and interprets the image in their own unique way.

I was so excited. What I thought was holding me back could become my superpower and create a systematic and formulaic approach to my photography. I could follow the principles and guidelines. I just needed to learn what they were. That day, I started my obsession with researching all the photographic guidelines and principles I could find. I even researched other design artforms from painting through to landscape design!

My results accelerated like never. My photos had a purpose, they had emotion, they communicated something, they were special and meant something. Gone are the days of just simple snapshots recording the scene in front of me.

My prejudice of the smartphone camera caused me to miss out on special memories and not experience photography as a creative outlet. I wanted to help others develop their photography on their existing device.
At the time, I could not find any training businesses that was exclusively all about smartphone photography.

For me, this was not an opportunity for workshops to support my photography business. This was my business and became my obsession to help others have the same transformation as me and not miss out on capturing precious moments and enjoying all the benefits of a creative outlet.

Over 4-years I had hundreds of workshop attendees helping photo enthusiasts, small business owners, won an innovative business award and presented at many photography clubs. The biggest enjoyment for me was witnessing the same AHA moment in others and the extreme satisfaction of creating photos they did not think possible on their existing device.

One attendee Nancy and friend were both studying a Diploma in Photo Imaging. This costs thousands of dollars in Australia and is a 2-year full-time commitment. They were surprised how much they could achieve on their phone.  Nancy said “you showed us more practical stuff in one hour than we have learned in six months at XXXX. I don’t want to finish my course now! I had no idea I could do almost anything Photoshop does on my iPhone!"

Combining my passions for teaching and photography is amazing. I never feel like I am working. As Kyle had mentioned to me over that coffee, our creative processes can become second nature and automatic. Training forces me to continue breaking down all the steps involved in my thinking process in response to the photo intention and all the factors around me.

I love breaking down sometimes complex theories and principles and make them relevant and applicable to the individual. Once I moved my training online to reach the growing online community it became difficult to make the training suitable for everyone. Copying and pasting my in-person content into a course did not work. Completion rates were very low and more tragically for me, I was not seeing those same transformations I could achieve in-person.

The challenge was that I had so much to share and wanted to fill students heads with everything I knew. I thought this was how to provide value. That was the way I used to train the ‘big’ camera courses. People invested in me to learn what I learned through my close relationship camera and lens manufacturers and tap into that credibility I had developed over many years.

What I did not realise was training is all about the transformation. Less is more. There is no value in delivering 40 hours of training videos. I needed to deliver the most value in the shortest amount of time. Needing to be different from other photography trainers and being an advocate for professional development, I attained a Diploma in Training Design and Development. This was a massive 2-year commitment with a young family of 3 children, working full time and running a business

After investing 2-years in Instructional Design qualification, I created the ‘Complete Smartphone Photography Transformation: 4-Step System.’ Each step has its own step-by-step system: Step 1 – Photo Intention and Storytelling; Step 2 – Composition Stacking; Step 3 – Blurry to Tack-Sharp Photos (available here) and Step 4 – Mobile Editing to Enhance the Photo.

This has helped my own photography immensely. Instead of being distracted with the latest YouTube video or set of Lightroom filters, these step-by-step systems allow me to consistently apply the fundamentals to become the confident and creativity smartphone photographer I desired.

This system means you can study photos you admire. You will be able to break down the elements, identify what the photographer did and model it in your own photos – essentially becoming a Photo Hacker! Smartphone photography is fun, good for the mind, body and soul. You too will have less self-doubt and insecurities about your photos, more self-esteem and feel motivated and inspired.

This systematic approach to photography provides the fastest transformation in the shortest time. No more duplicity of information, watching 20-minutes of video for 30-seconds of valuable information, feeling frustrated by not completing a course or spending money on photo editing subscriptions.

Supported by an amazing community, feel connected as the learning continues through social and project-based learning. This system has been tested and developed on hundreds of paying students at a fraction of the in-person cost.

The transformation that I had, and you will experience means you too can become the smartphone photographer you deserve to be.

You will start creating gorgeous, impactful and engaging photos in any location, any time of day and never run out of things to capture as you create works of art to print and proudly hang on the wall.

You will be creating photos so much better than most people with ‘big’ cameras, without upgrading your existing smartphone. Your photos will grab, direct and hold the attention of the viewer communicating the story, emotion and context instead of flat, washed out, boring snapshots.

One of the best parts of these systems is you can go back to your photo library and enhance those precious memories of loved ones, travel and moments captured. The mobile photo editing process is simple, deliberate and dramatically enhances even some of those throwaway photos!

You will be able to study photos that inspire you, break down the elements, identify what the photographer did and model it in your own photos. This process is what I like to refer to as ‘photo hacking.

For me, the benefits of feeling more creative overflowed into many other areas of my personal life. I was feeling more fulfilled in my downtime and more present when with my family. Being a smartphone photo enthusiast encourages so many positive attributes and behaviours like patience, being open-minded, motivated, inspired and curious.

Creativity is fun, good for the mind, body and soul. Compliments from friends and members inside the Smartphone Photography Club community confirm my satisfaction with my photos. You too will have less self-doubt and insecurities about your photos, more self-esteem and feel motivated and inspired to participate in the regular photo challenges.

And in the end, your transformation from these photography systems will result in you being able to deservingly and proudly call yourself a ‘Creative’.

The direction of this podcast will be guided by you, the audience. Your comments and reviews provide direct feedback on what you want more. This is not going to be a smartphone camera review or technical podcast. I will be concentrating on solid photography principles and make it relevant to you using your existing smartphone... Android or iPhone.

Passionate - Creative - Curious

- Mike

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