I am fascinated with photography. A picture inspires, tells a story, expresses an author’s view, captures a fleeting moment, gives an aesthetic pleasure. But there’s a way to kill inspiration and make this art forever painful for oneself.
Ever since I’ve purchased my own digital camera 4 years ago I’ve been both blessed and burdened by photography. I have even purposefully abstained from taking any pictures for at least a couple of lengthy periods. Recently I had breakthroughs that have completely changed my attitude and brought the fun back!
At the root of most of my photography problems was an internal conflict between two seemingly contradicting ideas: “enjoy the moment” or “take a photograph”. One part of me badly wanted to take the camera out and put it on a tripod to take a shot. The other part was thoroughly disgusted at the sight of tourists pushing each other just to take an unremarkable shot of themselves. This other part of me reminded me not to become a mindless photo zombie machine. It’s a common sight to see anxious visitors snap a landmark and then almost immediately move on to something else. I have seen the culmination at the Louvre museum in Paris where dozens of people are trying to take a picture of Mona Lisa. It’s ridiculous. Why go to places at all if you don’t genuinely marvel at things? That’s why I often prefer to stop and really “taste” a sight.
Getting a sense of satisfaction from a photograph goes a long way. Realistically, nobody cares about my photos. There are just too many great and amazing photographers out there. Without full-time dedication it is not likely that anyone will become a true artist. I don’t aspire to become one. I do photographs as a hobby and I seek satisfaction from my work regardless of how many people will ever see my photographs. But even with a very limited audience presentation is important. Everyone occasionally makes amazing photographs but the problem is that those pictures get mixed with the rest and lose their charm. For example, after a journey I end-up with 3 truly amazing shots and 40 good shots (lets say out of 500 total). It’s better to separate pictures in sets and present amazing shots individually.
Then there is the feeling of being overwhelmed with options. There are unlimited number of things you can do to a photograph, not even counting limitless possibilities of composition and exposure. You can retouch a portrait, merge multiple photos together, apply various post processing effects and adjustments. Not surprisingly, this sea of options caused me almost an infinite hesitation. Should make a black-and-white picture? Or duo-tone? Or use crazy colors?
The problem with too many options goes beyond software. Hardware. I own two cameras, three lenses and an assortment of accessories (such as tripods, filters, etc). Carrying too much stuff gave me (head)ache for two reasons: hard to decide what lens/setup to use right now and the practical inconvenience of lugging too much stuff around. That’s why now I mostly use a mirrorless camera with a fixed lens. For every occasion I now think ahead of what kind of shots I am after. Limits are good for fueling creativity.
The advent of digital cameras meant that nobody was bound by the limit of 36 frames anymore. The down-side is the actual upside. Instead of having 36 or so pictures one can easily end-up with thousands. It is a chore to go through all these pictures. Even worse, without a usable storage scheme/structure it is virtually impossible to navigate through one’s own photos. I went through 3 iterations before I arrived at a system that works reasonably well. I’ll explain it in a separate post.
Finally, it is the time pressure that exacerbates everything I have mentioned above. Going to an event or a trip with other people means that others expect to see pictures. Of course it’s possible to ignore them and not touch the pictures for more than a year. I’ve done that so many times! Obviously, postponing means that the backlog of pictures will grow to thousands (if not tens of thousands) of pictures. At some point there is a mounting pressure to get over the past photos before touching anything recent. It’s a down-spiral from here. Why take pictures if I have not touched any from the past year?
The breakthrough that has helped me overcome problems is simple. I’ve asked myself what kind of pictures I am taking and why. Depending on the answer I plan accordingly. I keep two major categories in my mind: photos for reporting and photos for pleasure.
The reporting pictures ideally take little to none processing and are mostly for documenting journeys and moments. Rules of good composition still apply but I would not plan on doing black-on-white shots or time-consuming post-processing effects. I keep these photographs as simple as possible. This allows me to share pictures most people care about quickly.
The other kind of photos is for joyous purposes. That includes interesting shooting angles, time-lapses, stitched panoramas, HDR shots and all kinds of fancy processing in software.
The important part is to separate photos into these categories as soon as possible. Then there is no pressure to finish everything at once. I find that having a separate backlog for artistic photos motivating. I return to individual photos and spend time experimenting without pressure. I feel a lot more creative and liberated that way.