As I sit on the softball bus on the way to Choctaw Central, I can’t help but think that this whole AHS photography experience is quickly coming to an end. I have experienced some absolutely insane things, had some of the best times of my life, and would have done several things a little differently. That is why I find myself writing this letter to you, the future “Luke Flippo,” the next photographer.
Let me explain how it all began. Ever since I was 3 or 4, I have hated photos and cameras. I hid from the photos and covered my face in all of them. I got to high school with much of the same mentality. I got a girlfriend, thanks to a little help from Davis Helton, and she was on the yearbook staff. She brought me to a basketball game that she needed to cover, and I carried my mom’s cameras along because she was a hobby photographer in my brother’s childhood and had good equipment. I turned out to be pretty decent at taking those basketball photos. They circulated around the school, and soon everyone was asking me to be at every game. Before long, I was on the team buses and even dying my hair blond with the baseball team for the playoffs. Creating and documenting these memories has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I transformed my personal identity. No longer was I just a tennis player: I was a baseball player in the dugout in the playoffs, I was a soccer player in the hotel the night before the state championship, I was an actor at the first AHS stand-alone play in years, and the list goes on. Photography allowed me to step into the shoes of so many people that I never could have been able to relate to otherwise. I have been able to experience high school from so many different angles, and it has changed the way I think, act, and interact.
This whole thing has gone by so fast, and it will for you too. This letter is simply going to list some of my personal experiences and fast tips to enjoying the most fulfilling time of your life.
Whenever I started taking photos, I tried to stay as third-party and neutral as possible. My whole idea was to simply document what was going on. I never wore Amory colors, and I tried not to associate too much with the players. I thought I could get better photos that way. I was wrong. I couldn’t keep that mentality for long. This whole photography thing just isn’t as fulfilling if you aren’t in tears after a tough baseball playoff loss in Kosciusko. Don’t just be a shell of a person with no emotion. These are your friends, and this is your school. Let those losses hurt, and let those wins be fun. And take pictures of every single bit of it, even if it is through tears.
Live a Little
You have a good camera, and you have some photography skills. With that being factual, it inevitably will become a part of your identity. You will get invited to some parties, and some people will scoff and beg you to take photos. Although the memories are fun to look at, don’t live your high school life exclusively through a camera lens. I was obsessed with quality, and I tried to avoid phone photos. So, I would take my camera, which was just a hassle. When this is all said and done, you will relish the memory, not the quality of the photo. Just take a quick photo with your phone and live those crazy HOCO, Prom, or party moments. In these moments when everyone is dogging you for not having your camera, I promise you will learn who your real friends are and who really cares about you. They will be the ones telling you to “put the camera down” every time. People will live without your photos, you won’t regret not taking a photo of two high-schoolers at a party. You will regret not enjoying the experience for yourself. I promise.
Avoid Comparison (INDIVIDUALITY)
You inevitably will try to find people who are doing work like you are doing it. You will look at professional photographers in our area that are killing it, like Clint Parish, Laura Gibson, and Randy Williams. You will see the great photos taken with equipment that is probably way stronger than yours, and you will wonder if what you are doing is even worth anything. “Am I even good?” will pop into your head every time you scroll Instagram. Avoid all of this as best as you can. I fell prey to this trap. I saw great state photographers putting out great action photography work of several hundred photos per game. I started to do that to try and compete with them. Suddenly, all individuality was gone. Every photo looked similar, compliments dried up, views dried up, and I had no fun doing it. You see, what you are doing is inherently different than these other great photographers. This is deeply personal for you. The kids you are photographing affect your everyday life and are your best friends, and you live in the world and atmosphere you are trying to photograph. You spend your time playing a different game by different rules than they do. The players associate with you on a different level; always take advantage of that. You might not be able to beat the other photographers’ quality, but you can and will bring a different viewpoint and emotion to your photos that people will hold on to forever. Remember that when you are editing at 2:00 in the morning, curious as to whether you are good enough.
Don’t Always be Perfect
You want everything to be perfect, it’s inevitable. Something great will happen in front of you, and you will want to throw up because you missed focus by just a little bit. Or maybe it had too much contrast or was underexposed. There will always be a wide variety of issues you will create, substantiated or not. Learn that in this line of photography, there is rarely such thing as the perfect photo. Life isn’t perfect. Your world isn’t perfect. The school isn’t perfect. The people aren’t perfect. Your photos shouldn’t be perfect all of the time. If they are, you’re not being real. Don’t be afraid to share that celebration shot that is a little out of focus. Everyone will still love to see it and will be thankful that you took it. Accept that fact that you are showing a side of life that isn’t perfect and can be pretty rough sometimes, and you will learn to love that your photos can be rough too.
You are in high school just like the people you are photographing. That means you will have the same tests, homework, and academic obligation that others who don’t spend 6 hours a night editing photos have. You are going to miss a decent amount of school, as it just comes with the territory. Do your absolute best to make the grades you need/want, and if one or two things don’t go quite right, DON’T FREAK OUT! You will have teachers that will look at you sideways, but they will always be willing to help you. Handle your work and keep creating. As someone who strives to attend a top Ivy League school, I can tell you that I have learned immensely from my photography. Experience will always win. What you are doing is important, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Make the decisions you will regret the least when you are 90, and everything will work out.
Take Nothing for Granted
It’s very easy to relax and chill simply because you don’t feel like doing it. That’s fine. But never ever feel as though something is inconsequential, or that you have a ton of games left so it will be okay. Every event you cover at AHS is one event closer to your last. These years are the only ones where it will be exactly like it is. The people are genuine, the emotions are genuine, and you have a personal attachment to them. Soon you will be just like me, on the way to a playoff game in your final slow-pitch season, wishing you had more time.
My time is quickly coming to an end in high school, while your photography journey may just be beginning. Remember to embrace the good times, the bad times, be yourself, and buckle up. These days will be the ones you never forget.