The key ingredients to embracing your craft.

 “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are” –e.e. Cummings

Each week we share a piece of us on our photographic journey. We have titled this series, “Courage to Grow”. We hope that our own soul searching will inspire similar introspection in our readers and that together we can make our best art and live our best lives.image421-sydneyphotographer (1 of 15)

Life lessons arrive from various sources. Sometimes it is a book, sometimes it is a person. Sometimes we need to hear the message a few times. Rarely, it is a television show but lately I have become addicted to Masterchef. I don’t watch much TV, and don’t have a huge list of must watch shows.  Photography and a large family take up most of my spare time. However,  I like to sit down with my family and watch Masterchef. It is hard to find a show we can all watch on our house. There is a 10 year age gap between my youngest and oldest, and finding a show we all like is an almost impossible task. Masterchef has become a  favourite with all of the family as it something we can all watch.

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While I love the cooking, and just let me tell you that baking is a second passion of mine, it is not why I watch the show. The real reason that I watch the show is the passion they have for cooking. The passion the chefs, and the contestants have for food, and the skills they require to create a beautiful plate. Sometimes, I am moved to tears. I feel this same passion for photography, and see the skills that I need to embrace my craft. And after watching probably way too many episodes of this show, I have a list of key ingredients.

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Keep it simple: As we learn our craft, we often overload our plate with flavours that compete with each other. We feel the need to show all of our skills in one dish, but then the balance is wrong. It is too sweet or too salty, and it doesn’t taste right. The advise the experienced chefs often pass on to the contestants is to keep it simple. To stick to the key ingredients, and let them shine.

In photography, our key ingredients are light, colour, shadows or emotions. Your list will be different to mine. Write out your list, and keep them handy. Post them on the fridge door with your child’s artwork. They will be at the become part of your everyday. However if we try to include all of our skills in one image with freelensing, panning, backlighting and shallow depth of field, we lose something. The details are lost, and the story is confusing. We need to focus on our list of key ingredients, and let them shine.

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Be Bold: If 20 chefs are given the same ingredients, and only 3 of the finished dishes are tasted, how do we stand out? Be bold. If we create something sweet when the rest of the crowd is making a savoury dish, we stand out. If we combine flavours like bacon and apple in a sweet dish, we stand out. If we step outside the box, we stand out.

If 20 photographers submit to a themed photography blog, and only 3 are shared, how can we stand out? The same principle applies. We need to be bold. We need to take a fresh canvas, and look outside the box.  What is unique to you and your story?  If we step outside of our comfort zone, we can be bold. It is scary, and unnerving but we  grow as artists when we push ourselves to be better photographers.

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Know the rules, and then break them: As up and coming chefs,  the contestants need to know the many techniques to create an amazing dish. Sauces, cooking times, and flavour combinations that work. They need to perfect their skills until they can make a jus without thinking about it. Then they need to step outside the box, and create. A toffee apple can be an apple on a stick that is covered in a jawbreaking toffee. A toffee apple can be apple jelly spheres covered in a caramel toffee and served on a plate with homemade ice-cream and apple snow. Our imagine is our best tool.

As photographers, we need to know the tools of lighting, exposure, aperture, and composition. We need to move from auto to manual, and we need to practice until we can set our camera without thinking about it. Almost instinctively.  Then we need to play and create. We need to blow our highlights, shoot into the light, miss focus, or lose the details in the shadows.  We need to blossom and grow by breaking the rules, rather than feeling restricted by what we are supposed to do. If we stay too long learning our craft, we will become a technical photographer. If we use these techniques and create something new, we become an artist. We need to create art that speaks to our hearts, and tells our story.

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Create from the heart:  One piece of advice that the experienced chefs pass on to the amateurs is to cook from the heart. Often the contestants start down a path they think they should be on. They feel the need to impress, and start cooking for others. Inevitably, they stumble and fail to create a perfect dish. They are cooking for the audience rather than for themselves. However, when the cook from their heart, they share themselves. They create “me on a plate”. It is their story, their history, and their face shines with real passion.

This happens as photographers as well. We start down a path because we see other photographers achieving some success. We are directed by likes on Facebook or instagram. We want to try something new, and get stuck. Inevitably, we stumble. We feel uninspired, and stuck in a rut. We can be happy artists by directing our passion, create our art from the heart and not for the crowd. When we shoot from the heart, we have goosebumps. We know what it means to shoot from the heart. We feel  exhilarated, and a creative buzz that fills every cell.

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Dream big and work hard: We need to dream big, and shoot for the stars. We won’t achieve these dreams unless we work hard. There are no short cuts or easy roads. It is constant and consistent effort. Whether our passion is to bake cupcakes, or shoot a wedding in fiji, we will only achieve this dream by working. Some may achieve their goals quicker than you. It may feel like they are achieving more ticks against their to-do list, and you are lagging behind. But remember that is their journey. That is just noise and a distraction. You have your own journey, and by focusing your efforts on your path, you will reach your goals. Not someone else’s goals,  but your goals. How exciting is that!

After watching so many episodes,  I was inspired to bake a Flourless chocolate cake. I am no Masterchef, how could  I share a post about my favourite show and not bake a cake. These are  cupcakes are simple and divine. You can find the recipe here


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Cindy Cavanagh is a Sydney Lifestyle photographer who loves to capture the ordinary moments in our family life. This is family photography that is unposed, relaxed, and in the moment. She is a Mum to five gorgeous children, who have taught her all she knows about documenting our story with images. She loves colour, light, and details. She enjoys baking, and coloring-in with her daughters.

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