Dumpster Diving…and the Things You Do for Passion


A few weeks ago, a regal woman with grey hair raised her hand at ALT Summit and asked me a question. An hour into my presentation, and I was still nervous. My hands–which I conveniently hid behind the podium–shook like aftershocks to an earthquake in my chest. She raised her voice and asked, How did you learn photography? I paused because I didn’t know how to exactly answer.

And then I thought of my mother.

The distinct memory I had was her dumpster diving. Yes, my mom dug through a dumpster behind a local elementary school. She homeschooled and couldn’t afford to buy her kids text books, so she dug through end-of-year discards to later move pages from various books and reassemble a complete book. This book–taped together at the seams–was how she taught me to read.

During that same time, my mother took me to the grocery store and taught me math. Weighing fruit became an exercise in kilogram to pound conversions, using coupons became an exercise in percentage discounts.

My mother taught me how to teach myself with what I had…and years later the same played out for me again. I read tons of photography tutorials on Google, joined photo forums (if you’re looking for a great place to connect on the web, check us out here), and fell asleep reading my camera manual most nights. I gave myself homework assignments on a weekly basis (is this as dorky as it sounds?) and ensured I was practicing three times a week. Yes, I forced myself to shoot anyone/anything I could get in front of my lens.

There are moments I wish I went to a distinguished photo school, the same way I wished for a new text book as a child. But at the end of the day, I learned to read from crumpled pages and I learned how shoot from the benevolence of others on the web.

If you want to learn something–anything–your determination to see past things you don’t have will set you apart. Don’t let the shortage of physical accoutrements or fancy diplomas get in the way of your dream. If you want something bad enough, you won’t be above dumpster diving for it. You can thank my mom for that lesson.