I’m constantly getting back to this thought and feel it’s about time to share something with you that comes very close to my inner monologue. You have been warned. I highly doubt that we all have the same motivations to take photographs but it is interesting to explore my own situation and hear your experience, dear reader.
As far back as I can remember I carry around one camera or another pretty much all the time. I started with different consumer film point and shoots somewhere in my early teenage years around 1994. My motivation then was documenting the world around me. I continued to use point and shoots until technology changed and I got my first digital camera, a very cool Minolta DiMAGE Xt.
Jumping from film to digital didn’t influence my style or intended use of photography – I was still documenting my life and basically my photos were total rubbish ☺
This continued until sometime in 2012 when I found a discarded film SLR: a Pentax MZ-30 with a 28-80mm zoom kit lens in my office’s archive. I tried it out of curiosity and it turned out to be a bit of turning point for me. What changed? For some reason, I started to pay attention to image quality, at least the technical side of it. The main reason (most probably) was my newfound ability to play with depth of field, provided by a combination of the 35mm format and something better than a point and shoot lens.
For my next steps, I started to learn the basics of exposure and over time, more or less mastered it. I introduced myself to fast prime lenses, then got into close contact with digital photography using increasingly larger sensors (APS-C, full-frame). I went all the way to digital IQ perfection, then down the road of “spoiling” digital perfection by using old school adapted lenses. Finally, I got into medium format film.
Welcome to today. At present, I’m exclusively a film shooter using 35mm and 120 film.
Subject wise I still document my daily life, I like to shoot details around me. I’ve dipped my toe into the portraiture genre and participated in a few courses. From time to time I organize and run some creative photoshoots. Where does this all leave me though? I’m an average photo hobbyist with an inclination to portraiture. I work mostly with film and at the same time, I’m quite an educated photo geek with a deeper-than-average knowledge about tech, film and theory of photography.
Contemplating my path, direction and other objective issues. As far as I can see, all stable things are, in fact, totally not stable.
They have a tendency to evolve and change otherwise they degrade, disintegrate and disappear. I feel the same about all hobbies and my photography hobby is no different. Naturally, I feel that my photography has to evolve both in terms of quality and content. But here lies the problem – I know that I won’t become a “great artist”.
Becoming Ansel Adams, HCB, Lee Jeffries, etc., is just not possible for me, I don’t “have data” for it. Yes, I may produce one or few more interesting photos. Yes, I have already travelled a long path and my photography is not exactly “totally amateur” but I don’t have an innate gift to see. I didn’t finish art university I haven’t attended n+ workshops with the best artists, I don’t shoot 10 rolls of film each day…
What I’m trying to say here is that I’m not that devoted and even if I was, my work will never be “the best out there”. But I do look at my photography quite seriously.
Herein lays another problem: understanding that you won’t be the best and that you must evolve could be depressing. It can spoil the fun of a hobby, making it more easily abandoned. Things can get worse if you’re a perfectionist…like I am. On top of all that let’s also add the usual mantra:
“Everything has already been photographed, so why bother?” I would add: especially if you are not able to shoot it better.
Imagine the situation. I have an idea for a photoshoot, I scout and decide on a location, I look for a model and all the other vision-related stuff. I spend countless hours in preparation, do the shoot, get the pictures and…meh. It’s too naïve, it’s not polished enough and I’m nowhere near the vision that I had. Yes, I did what I had planned, but the impression is only modest, it’s not THE BANG I had intended.
The general problem I’m talking about here is goal orientation. On the one hand, being goal-orientated is very important. To quote Napoleon: “Those soldiers who are not willing to be generals are not good soldiers.” But if I think realistically, having a goal to be “the best” can be very destructive for a hobbyist photographer.
I decided that I’m a solder that doesn’t want to become a general. Does that mean that I’m a bad soldier? Well, I like to fight… ☺
What is the lens I try to look at my hobby through and how does that correlate with my belief that things have to evolve? Here comes some “enjoy the ride” philosophy combined with a smaller goal: motivation to be better, not the best. In fact, the goal, in this case is not THAT important. I still try to make my photos as good as I can. I look at and admire the work of professionals who create in my preferred style and try to analyse what they do, how they do it and why their photos have this strong impact. But when I look at my work, I compare it to my former photos and ask myself if I went further than before, or if I’m stuck at the same level of “quality”. It’s easier and more motivating for me.
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One additional bonus for such an approach is that I get away from that “everything has already been photographed, so why bother” problem and that means a lot for my motivation to get up and shoot. To summarise, “enjoy the ride” or , “the process is more important than the purpose” plays a major role in my motivation. I’d like to take this a bit further by breaking down my personal view of the process into different aspects and analysing them one by one:
Photography enhances my ability to see
What I mean by this is that most people are looking but not seeing. We photographers are constantly and unconsciously looking for a scene and when we do encounter one, we have an ability to envision it, frame it and deduct distractions in our eyes and minds, even without the camera. It’s a superpower! ☺ And it gives us, or at least me, ability to find miracles even in ordinary and dull environments.
With that comes the joy of discovery, the sense of elevation at the moment of finding some interesting detail or seeing beautiful light, etc. An additional bonus here: a heightened raised need to explore is very beneficial to health. It results in greater physical activity. A casual walk or bike ride is more motivating because I have an additional goal.
Detachment from everyday life / work / problems
Photography as a hobby is quite a complex one. You have to immerse yourself in it. It takes mind, it takes vision, sometimes it even takes being extremely flexible in order to find the best shooting angle. It’s the switching of activity and quite a deep one. If you are able to catch the “flow” of shooting — yes, it doesn’t materialise every single time but I hope you are all familiar with this feeling — you can totally forget about “the other things” and after some time spent with the camera. You come out totally mentally refreshed. In short, for me, it’s a very effective sort of meditation.
And I’m just talking not only about photography itself but also talking about the connected things as well; while writing this text, for example, I’m “in the flow” and it feels the same as shooting.
Cleansing of mind
This one is connected to my previous point. It’s a more isolated case, which I experience mostly with portrait sessions. Time from time, I come up with an idea for a portrait photoshoot. It will often stick in my mind and I usually don’t rush to implement it because I know that over time, the idea running in the background will develop; I will add some details to it, sometimes it looks like that it evolves on its own. Most of my shoots require some organizational and creative work, so it’s not that easy to create one in just a few hours, but if I don’t do it, it will stay in my mind…
It’s true that one of the most annoying things is an unexecuted vision, it’ll haunt you. But the good thing is that after it’s done, I have a feeling of relief, the feeling that I made something that matters — for me, I’m not saying it matters for the world ☺. And that’s the true feeling of personal achievement, calmness and the idea is cleansed out of mind, cleansed together with some negative aspects that were stuck in my thinking processes, aspects not connected with that particular photo shoot.
To be honest, I like to play with gadgets… Photography is a very good hobby to have an excuse to do just that. I do like the feeling of film cameras. I value the mechanical precision, the craftmanship of camera makers. Some time ago, I was into bike building – not professionally just for my own interest. Building a custom bike for myself was the biggest thing I’d ever made with my own hands. I still use it and film cameras, lenses and related stuff are similar. I enjoy them and this “playing with the toys” thing it goes well together with creating images, like building the bike and riding it.
One thing worth noting: GAS — Gear Acquisition Syndrome — is a deep rabbit hole and sometimes gear can become a bigger hobby than photography. I know that’s not my path. I live with a “less is more” mantra, a greater concentration on shooting and less on gear. For some time I went the route of trying and changing cameras and systems and now, I’m more or less settled in with my minimal set of seven film cameras ☺
At least I know why I have them and when and for what purpose I’d be using, one or another.
I’ve met a lot of interesting people since I got into photography. I keep direct communication with some of them and others I know distantly. The more I got into film photography the more I had the feeling that there is a strong international community and a very positive one.
I don’t want to get deep into that “film” aspect but there is a thing that’s its niche and people, community insiders have a common feeling that unites them: “keeping it real”. The cool thing is that it is possible not only to learn a lot but to teach as well, even for such relative novice like me. Communication, being social and feeling feedback means a lot for people and I’m no exception. Another bonus: knowing how to make photograph means an opportunity to make something valuable for my friends and relatives while enjoying myself at the same time.
The value of documentation
I will not stick on this, but having a photo archive that covers more than 20 years is interesting. Even bad photos that were taken 15 years ago start to become interesting. They might only be interesting for a very narrow circle of people but still have a value, an emotional one.
At this point, I think I have spelled out everything I wanted to say. To sum thing up I’d say two things: a) it’s the way that matters, not the goal, and b) photography keeps me sane and positive. Strong words, but true.
Reader, if this messy write-up gave you pause for thought, if you have a totally different approach, or you just think that I’m crazy, now it’s your time to spill the beans ☺
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