“You’re a very gifted photographer,” is the comment she left on a set of my images. I’m sure she meant it in a nice way. I’m sure it was her way of saying that she appreciated my art and my ability as a photographer. I’m certain it was a good-natured compliment, but the more I read it, the more I had a problem with it. The statement was inaccurate and highly misleading.My photography isn’t a gift. I didn’t wake up one morning with this ability. Nothing reached down from the sky and gave it to me. In fact, it didn’t happen in a matter of days or weeks, but years. It took hundreds and hundreds of hours of learning, practice, and hard work.  It wasn’t a talent that I magically possessed one day. It was a process of working hard to go from knowing nothing about photography and processing to where I am right now. Believe me. I sucked when I started this process, and I failed a lot, far more than I’ve succeeded. It wasn’t a matter of fate or something special in my fingers or eyes. It’s literally the result of pouring my heart, mind and muscle into my work over a period of years.

There are no gifts. If you want to be good at something, you have to work at it and practice. Talent isn’t inherent. It isn’t born of nothing or magically installed at birth. What you call talent is the result, not the cause. What you recognize as talent for something, is the result of interest in something, interest that caused the “talented” to dedicate themselves to the task in a way that others don’t. That dedication and effort in learning and getting better at the task push the “talented” ahead of others performing the same task, whether it be drawing, math, science, basket-weaving, photography or whatever. No one is naturally better at something than others. Everything was learned at some point, and those who find something they love to do will dedicate themselves to it through hard work and practice. They will learn faster and do more than those who do not work and practice, and they will eventually be mislabeled as “talented” or “gifted.”

It’s not a gift. No one gave it to me. Nothing magical happened to me that could not happen to you. You just have to want it and work at it. Love it and live it. Practice it even when you don’t want to. If you do, you, too, will excel. You will be better at it than others, and I hope that when you are, you will own your hard work and shun the notion that it was a gift. It wasn’t. You earned it.

Andy Armstrong is a 12-time international award-winning Master photographer based in Knoxville, Tennessee. He specializes in commercial and portrait work. You can see more of his work at http://andyarmstrong.wpengine.com, and you can follow him on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/armstrongphoto