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Sue Bryce: I Am What I Am Because Of The Lessons I Learned

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
photo & video

Learning is a lifelong pursuit. Regardless of your skill level, your formal education, or how many years you’ve been in the game, there’s always something more to learn. Whether you actively pursue it, by attending classes or reading up, or just learn by doing, paying attention to what you’re learning is crucial not only to your personal growth, but to the success of your business.

Portrait photographer Sue Bryce has an enviable career — her work is exceptional, her clients love her, and her self-employment as a photographer has allowed her to travel, to meet fascinating people, and to change lives through portraiture. And even though she, herself, has taught countless students about the business and art of photography, she says that the entire process has been a journey and that, though she is largely self-taught, she’s also been shaped by other people.

“Part of me will defiantly say no one [helped me],” says Sue. “I clawed my way alone and frightened, but I had drive and determination. But the wiser me realizes everyone helped me, whether it was inspiration or criticism or rejection or support. I am what I am because of the lessons I learned.”

Education, says Sue, can come in many forms — and self-education can be hugely valuable. But often, we look down on autodidacts.

“I didn’t finish High School so for the young part of my life I felt like a loser,” she explains. “That was the way people with no education are treated.”

That feeling — feeling like a loser (hello, Impostor Syndrome!) — is often enough to dissuade individuals from pursuing the kinds of careers they want. However, says Sue, for her, self-education was the way out.

“I learned to be better with money. I learned to run a business,” she explains. Instead of taking out loans to go to school, she learned by doing.

“Learning was a way to better myself to master my craft to change my value and my worth. Learning is everything!”

sue bryce advice

Additionally, says Sue, a large part of learning comes from teaching. And while many photographers keep their trade secrets close to the vest, Sue is an open book.

“You own nothing in this world. Nothing you have is an original thought. Someone on the other side of the world is already thinking it or doing it. Creativity channels through you and goes out. If you hold on to it, you are saying that there is not enough. There is not more. As soon as you let go of ownership of creativity and just enjoy the expression of it, you feel rich and then others take part of it and experience it. And then go back and get more.”

To new photographers, she has this advice:

“You are enough, there is nothing wrong with you, you are just learning. Turn ‘wanting money’ into ‘giving service’ and watch that situation change. You will conceptualize that you have to do this thing to get paid, but your heart will want you to do this thing over here and you will be tormented for most of your life over this idea. But what you need to know is this: Just because its not easy doesn’t mean it is not possible, and your heart is the only thing you should listen too.”

And what advice does she wish she’d heard when she was just getting started?

“Shut up and get out of your own way. What do you to be? Go do it.”

Sue says she has “no regrets” about her experience, but does admit that she’s envious of today’s upstarts: “I wish we had had online training back then,” she says.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.