Success Story: Breaking Through Personal Barriers

Siva is a very talented photographer who amazes people with his epic portraits.  He came to me for coaching on capturing moments and although his business is already booming, he has the drive to get better (which I always respected and required from my students).  What we ended up finding was something else.  In photojournalism, the brain waves have to be managed so it doesn’t hinder with the process of capturing a split-second moment. He knew where he needed to be but could not get himself there.  Here is his side of the story and I am so pleased with what he has achieved.  I am so proud of this friend of mine.



SivaTwo years ago at Foundation Workshop in Texas, I had the pleasure and opportunity to meet Erwin Darmali who was a mentor.  I didn’t know much about Erwin at the time, other than the fact that him and I shared a quirky connection over silly humor.  I was not in his class or group but we would still connect and chat in the foyer and lunchrooms.  As the days got longer and I got beat down by the intensity of the workshop, I would spill my emotional guts to Erwin, and he would sit and listen and say the right words of encouragement.  He didn’t have to; he wasn’t my coach, mentor, or my friend at the time. He did anyway and that stuck with me.

Fast forward a year, I had kept in touch with him on Facebook and he let me know about his new program called Coaching for Photographers. I knew he would make a great fit for me as a mentor and I signed up right away and booked the first session. The first coaching session was great; we spoke about my strengths, weaknesses, the three-step framing process, and many more.  Our two-hour session went over, and I got way more than what I expected.  I took a lot of notes, even recorded the conversation so I can hear it again.  I knew most of what he had told me that I needed to work on and I promised him that I will work on them – that I will become a better storyteller, a better photojournalist.

I had my second session with Erwin. The session felt like a slap in the face; there were no improvements. Zero. Zilch.

Then, the wedding season swung in with full vigor, and I shot weddings after weddings with very little time for anything else. Later on, I had my second session with Erwin.  The session felt like a slap in the face; there were no improvements.  Zero. Zilch.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Why am I not really applying anything?  I see it when he is pointing it out in the images, but when I show up to perform, it’s like my emotions take over and I forget, I fall back on my “familiar” shooting style. After the session I become quite frustrated, I don’t know if the coaching is helping or making things worse. So I silently walked away from the coaching; I knew my problems, but for some reason I was unable to face them. Four more coaching sessions remain, but I forget about them and I travel the world, making portraits and winning Fearless Awards and WPPI Awards, my ego is boosted.  I didn’t need to improve as long as I covered my bases, and I did just that. Why fix it when you can just cover it up with lots of icing, right?

I lived in this bubble for a while till Erwin messaged me one day, “Hey man, your sessions are about to expire, and I’ll give you one more month to use them up”. So I reluctantly scheduled it with him only to cancel it afterwards, because I got sick – or because I knew what he was going to say.  I knew my flaws, what’s the point in hearing them again?  He knew this somehow, he wrote, “I feel like you’ve abandoned me, sir.” I shouldn’t have to run away, so might as well get it over with and out of the way.  So we set a coaching date, I sent him 6000 files from a wedding I shot by myself in Mexico and we sat down for the critique. Like I suspected, we spoke of the same issues, I am good at what I do well, but needed improvement on the moments, which shows that I am still working in my “safe zone”. No improvements still. Zilch. Zero.

You are as good as you want to be dude, so YOU make the call

I don’t remember the breaking point, but I think it was at the end of the conversation Erwin said (I am paraphrasing here) “no offense dude, but I see your portfolio and the images you post, they are really good, then I see the full reel and wonder if it’s the same person”.  Erwin knew my inner problems but didn’t give up on me, he challenged me and told me that if I really wanted to, I could. “You are as good as you want to be dude, so YOU make the call”.  It was a hard pill to swallow, but when I realized that I was simply holding myself back, I was letting my self pity hold me back, my emotions on the wedding day held me back from truly being present.  I was simply too busy listening to myself, not what was happening in front of me. So as per Erwin’s request, I decided to “play” more at my next wedding and started applying what we talked about… It felt like I wasn’t doing the right thing – it felt weird. But I made pictures and worked on making more. I wrote to Erwin that night, telling him I am not quite sure if this photojournalism thing is for me, and I should probably just give up on trying. He wrote back some soothing words and we met again online for the final session on the Tuesday after the wedding weekend.  I showed him the images and we virtually high fived each other, and my worries was somewhat lifted – we finally saw results!  Yes, there is still a long way to go, but we broke through the barrier that was holding me back for over 4 years of my photography.

It’s no small feat, to unlearn a habit, and in its place learning a new one. It’s just as important as a man finally quitting smoking, and replacing that with the gym. Teaching someone to break their bad habits and self-pity cannot be done overnight, which is why no single workshop would have worked as effective as this coaching and mentoring program. I am sorry for not believing right away, Erwin – but I truly appreciate you sticking through with me and helping me this much.  I owe you.

Right now, I feel like I just figured out the matrix.




You can follow Siva’s work here:
Website: Divinemethod Photography