We all read a good deal of information about the technical components of photography hoping to perfect our photos or, at the very least, make them look as good as the images we’ve seen produced by our favorite photographers. I am quite sure that, when assessing our own work, many of us have a mental checklist of things that need to satisfy us before we’re willing to label our work as being suitable for others to see.
- Composition: check.
- Exposure: check.
- White balance: check.
- Focus: check.
But have you ever found yourself successfully reaching the end of your checklist, yet still feeling somehow dissatisfied by your photos? I believe something similar happens to us all at some point and may even be an intermittently recurring problem, which is wildly frustrating. You first instinct might be to re-check your checklist; not a bad place to start but the “problem” may not even be an item that appears on your checklist in the first place.
Think back to when you first started out in photography. Were you doing it just for fun? Were you any good at it? If you weren’t very good, how much did that bother you? Not to say that you didn’t have any desire to improve, but what drives so many new photographers is the sheer thrill of photography. You’ve yet to become transfixed on some otherworldly idea of perfection. Despite the technical deficiencies that accompany much of the imagery produced by novice photographers, the thrill and sense of adventure one feels is undeniable.
No, “thrill” may not be a quantitative characteristic, but quite often it is the intangible things that matter most. Recall what your very first camera meant to you. While a camera is indeed a tangible, material item, what your first camera represented in relation to your creativity matters so much more than what kind of camera it was. Your first camera was intimately tied to the thrill you experienced each time you clicked the shutter button; your first camera represented freedom and adventure and it stoked your curiosity, compelling you to rediscover the world and all the interesting things and people in it.
Unfortunately, what happens along the way for far too many once bright-eyed enthusiasts is that they gradually morph into “serious” amateurs or jaded professionals who seem to have lost the thrill of photography. They become equipment oriented and spend more time in front of a computer screen reading reviews than they spend behind a camera making photos. They anguish over the bit depth associated with a particular camera and obsess about all the varied aspects of photographic theory, perhaps in an ultimately futile attempt to be the best.
Caring about your gear and understanding the technical aspects of photography aren’t bad things. The problem is an overemphasis on such things can easily poison the purity of photography you experienced when you didn’t have to worry about clients or equipment upgrades or monitor calibration. When photography becomes a hassle or a routine, is it any wonder that you would have a hard time getting excited about it?
Not a single great photo exists because someone simply read about a great camera and then decided to buy it. Great photos happen because people with cameras go out and make them. There are those who have, for various reasons, grown weary of the idea that the best camera is the one you have with you. But, at the most primal level, this couldn’t be more true. In this sense, your camera should be an afterthought; your primary concern should be experiencing a moment and then using your camera to communicate that experience.
It’s all about the thrill of photography. If you’re finding yourself dissatisfied with your work and can’t seem to find anything lacking on your checklist, ask yourself if you’ve lost the thrill that photography once provided you. Just for a moment, forget about trying to create the perfect photo, forget about trying to make a buck, forget about the potential for recognition. Just do it for the thrill.