Sometimes, something very small can inspire something much larger. Such is the case for photographer Rob Corpuz, who was so inspired by an image he had already seen dozens of times that he decided to devote his time to one of his passions — photography.
If we could count that high, the number of people in the world who love to take photographs and also own cameras would be staggering. On one hand, the prevalence and widespread use of photography creates more opportunities for the creation of inspiring art. On the other hand, it makes it more difficult for aspiring photographers to stand out in a crowd.
We spoke with Corpuz to find out how he got involved in photography, what surprised him the most about turning his hobby into his career, and what sort of advice he has for those considering a similar career path.
How did you become involved in photography?
Like most people, I’ve always enjoyed looking at and trying to take cool photographs. But the first time I really became aware of the power of photography was about the hundredth time I saw “Afghan Girl,” the infamous portrait taken by National Geographic shooter Steve McCurry. I finally took a moment to really look at it, and figure out why it always seemed to catch my eye. Of course, there’s no denying that those bewitching eyes of hers dominate the image, but there’s more to it than that.
At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about exposure, composition, lighting, etc., but I did suspect that even if someone were to place this stunning girl in front of me and give me the best camera in the world, I still wouldn’t be able to make such a powerful image. I immediately resolved to learn how to take great pictures, and then spent the next few years not doing that at all, until I found myself living in the outskirts of Moscow with a lot of time on my hands and nobody to spend it with.
The girl I had just moved to Russia to be with was insanely busy attending her last semester of university and working, and I hadn’t made any friends yet, so I focused my energy on photography in my spare time, and very quickly realized that I’d finally found a hobby I was truly passionate about. I received my first digital SLR as a birthday present and from then on, photography became something between a healthy obsession and an addiction for me.
What training or schooling prepared you for your career?
I majored in English Literature and minored in Philosophy, a combination that provided all the tools necessary for crafting a deep, intricately woven tapestry of thoughtful prose describing what it’s like to be unemployed. However, if my university had offered a minor in art I would’ve had more than enough credits, and I think the classes I took in art history, drawing, design, and painting provided a foundation I would later build on when making photographs.
Everything else I’ve learned by scouring the amazingly abundant educational resources available on the internet, by studying the work of photographers I admired, and buying and reading the books they’ve written, and probably most importantly, by actually making photos: carrying my camera with me as much as possible, and setting up personal projects that interested and challenged me.
What surprised you the most about being a photographer?
That as a photographer you spend approximately 10 percent of your time taking pictures, and the rest of your time is marketing, paperwork, negotiating with clients, post-processing, and tracking down your pay.
What was the most important thing you learned in school?
To be open to new ideas and opinions, view them with a critical, objective eye, and be willing to challenge and alter your belief system when solid evidence suggests that you should. That, and the simple yet incredible power of love and friendship.
What aspect of your education/training did you find the most useful?
Learning how to communicate. No matter what your profession, being able to take your thoughts and either speak or write them in a coherent, succinct, and convincing way is a crucial and underrated skill.
What is it that you enjoy the most about photography?
Photography is all about compromise. You try to find the balance between creative expression and technical prowess; between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO; between ambient and external lighting; between carrying all your gear with you to be prepared and limiting yourself for the sake of mobility; between catching truly candid moments and engaging your subject in the hope of something more personal; between realizing your client’s expectations and protecting your artistic integrity; and between maintaining your standards to protect your brothers and sisters in the industry and lowering your prices enough to actually get the job.
It’s this element of compromise that keeps things interesting. There is no right answer. You’ve got to judge for yourself, and every situation is different. While other genres of art certainly require balancing both the left and right halves of the brain, I find that photography strikes a particularly lovely balance, engaging both my love for shiny, technical tools that push the boundaries of what is actually possible, as well as my desire to create something that moves people, that inspires them, that asks them to look at something from a new angle or point-of-view, and maybe even challenges the way they view the world.
What advice do you have for someone interested in an art career?
Well, I really should clarify that I’m still getting my feet wet in the industry, and learning something new every day, but everything I’ve read and done so far seems to verify the following: As cliché as it sounds, create from your heart, listen to constructive criticism, always try to push yourself to the next level, research ways to promote your work, and if what you’re doing is good, it will resonate with people. And if it doesn’t, keep doing what you’re doing, but continuously and steadily improve what you have to offer, step up your promotion, particularly with social media, and seek out the people that will love your work, because they are out there.