6 important lessons my vegetable garden taught me about becoming a better photographer

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There is an old Sicilian proverb: “From caca good things grow.”

This summer I decided to plant a veggie garden. Leading up to Christmas, my mind and body were completely fried. I’d been working crazy hours finishing my book and online course – plus travelling and lots of photo shoots. I felt like I just needed to recalibrate my system by going back to basics. I wanted to switch off, step away from the computer, put the camera down and chill.

There is something incredibly restorative and relaxing about gardening. Firstly it brings back awesome memories of my father who always said that he felt most alive when he was working in his garden. (I feel the same way when I’m standing behind a camera.)

There are also many lessons that gardening has taught me. To grow anything from seed takes a great deal of effort and patience. For a long time it feels like there is no return. The seed is planted in the ground, watered everyday, fertilised and then nothing happens for ages.
If you’re looking for instant gratification, open a jar of Nutella. If you’re looking for deeper and more meaningful life lessons, then give gardening a go!

So while I dug the soil, sowed the seeds, watered, weeded and waited, I thought about all the lessons gardening had taught me over the years and how I can apply these lessons to help me improve as a photographer. Here are my top six.

1. Trust

One of the main reasons people become discouraged learning photography or starting a photography business is because success doesn’t come quickly enough. Working hard and not seeing immediate results is frustrating.

Gardening teaches you to trust in the knowledge that all the hard work you are putting in will eventually pay off. When you first plant a seed, it can take weeks, months or even years to sprout. All the hard work is going on under the soil. Strong roots are being created so that by the time the seed has sprouted, it’s able to withstand strong gusts of wind or extreme weather.

Here’s the really cool thing: once the seed has sprouted, growth accelerates. Just like plants, a similar thing happens when learning photography or growing your photography business. There will be a period at the start where very little happens. The secret to success and achieving your goals is to push past this point and trust in the knowledge that all the hard work you are putting in will pay off BIG TIME.

When I first started learning photography, I struggled getting my head around the basics like understanding manual mode and the concepts of lighting. It took me a long time to grasp the basics. It was frustrating because I knew how I wanted my images to look but never really felt like I was getting anywhere.

Then one day everything just clicked. It all made sense and my photography style evolved and developed at a rapid pace.

Trust that all the hard work you are putting in is laying the foundation for a rapid growth spurt. Not seeing immediate results doesn’t mean they won’t come.

2. Discipline
Once the seed has sprouted it will wither and die if you don’t continue to water it regularly. The same can be said for your photography practice. Many new photographers become complacent and once they reach a certain point switch to autopilot.

Like plants creativity needs to be constantly fed and nurtured otherwise your work will become stagnant.

Look for new sources of inspiration daily and water your creativity. Go to galleries. Do workshops. Read books and listen to podcasts to keep your creativity well hydrated.

3. Support your growth
My tomato plants grew from a tiny seed to a 1 meter tall tomato shrub in just over a month. Even though it was loaded with lush green leaves and lots of beautiful Roma tomatoes I needed to add wooden stakes to the plant to support it otherwise it would break if there was a storm or not be able to support the weight of all the juicy tomatoes that were being created

Once your photography starts to bear the fruits of your labour, it’s crucial to have people around you who can support your growth. Mentors or communities of like-minded people are like the stakes that help keep my tomato tree strong and withstand any challenges that come its way.

4. Keep the weeds and pests away
Once my garden is established I need to keep the garden beds clear of weeds and pests. Weeds take valuable nutrients away from my vegetables and the pests eat the vegetables before I’ve had a chance to enjoy them.

What are the weeds and pests that threaten the growth of your photography? It might be a negative mindset, friends and family or time suckers ( I’m looking at you Facebook and mindless TV watching) that may sabotage your best efforts of staying on track. Look out for these weeds and pests and keep your garden beds clear.

5. From caca good things grow
This is an old Sicilian proverb my ma taught me. Good things always grow when you add caca to them. The secret to an abundant veggie garden is to add fertiliser to the soil. This gives the soil all the nutrients it needs to produce a bumper crop.

Whilst it never feels like it at the time, it’s dealing with the caca in our lives that makes us grow strong and resilient.

When I started my photography career I did everything in my power to avoid making mistakes. I played it safe and stayed in my comfort zone. I didn’t want to fail so I was reluctant to try new things. It’s not until I started to put myself out there, make mistakes and learn from them that I really started to evolve.

Don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. Learning and growing from the caca will make you a better photographer

6. Share the fruits of your labour
The greatest joy of my veggie garden is being able to share the fruits of my labour with my family and friends. Now just because I love tomatoes and could eat them morning noon and night, doesn’t mean everyone else will and that’s OK.

I focus on the people who love and appreciate my tomatoes and don’t worry about the people who don’t like tomatoes. It would be a real shame if I went to all the trouble of growing my beautiful tomatoes and then left them on the tree and didn’t give others the opportunity to enjoy them.

The same can be said about putting lots of effort into creating beautiful photographs and then leaving them hidden on your computer.

Imagine if Mother Nature thought like this and hid the sunsets and flowers from us because she was too shy to share. The thing I love most about Mother Nature is that she keeps putting her work out there. Sometimes her sunsets are incredible and the world applauds and other times the skies are grey and they fizz – but she still puts herself out there.

So what are you waiting for? How’s your garden today?

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Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE