What Am I Doing?

Stardust neon

Pablo Picasso said, “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”

I firmly believe that to be true.  Questions are what drive us.  What is beyond that hill?  Will that beautiful girl ever talk to me?   Where can I go to find myself?  When will this day ever end?

Why am I here?

I explored that last question in a previous blog, but it got me thinking about another important question that photographers need to ask themselves.  Other than, “Why Am I Here?”, I think the second most important question a photographer needs to ask is, “Why am I taking this picture?”

If you are standing on a beach in front of a beautiful sunset, do you take that picture?  Even though there are millions upon millions of sunset pictures, is it wrong to take one more?  Do you do it for practice?  For documentation?  For your own pleasure?  To make your neighbors back home jealous?

What happens if you see a rose in bloom?  Or a new born puppy?  A cool car?  An old sign?

Why are we pulling the trigger on all these shots?  Are we making art?  Making money?  Is it worth it?

When I first started to get back into photography, I had a point and shoot camera, and I would go on these photowalks where I would take hundreds and hundreds of photos.  It was cool, in a way.  Everything was up for grabs.  Before I left England, I walked around Norwich, the city I was leaving, and did two different photowalks over two different areas. The sets are posted on flickr, one has 500 pictures, the other has 471.  If nothing else, I love these sets simply as snapshots in time, documents of how that city looked back in 2009.

As I get further and further into this, I find myself shooting less and less.  Now, I don’t think I could post 500 pictures from one photowalk if I tried.  Mostly because I’m expecting more and more from myself.  And my work.

Another person said that all of photography is about trade offs.  You drag around professional grade 24-70mm and 70-200mm zoom lenses, and you get amazing quality, amazing range, but you are weighed down with that gear.  Carry one small prime lens, you have more freedom, less range.  Shooting quantity vs quality is that way as well.  Unless you’re shooting weddings, I guess, then you have to deliver both.

It’s a cop out to say there are no right answers.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.  If you get pleasure from taking a picture of a sunset, then shoot away.  That’s your motivation, and nobody should take that away.  But, I believe, you need to know that that’s why you are doing it.  You need to know why you’re pressing that shutter. Maybe the light is falling on the mountains a certain way that you’ve never seen before.  Maybe you are taking a picture of an elderly relative.  Maybe it’s a building that will be torn down soon.  Maybe it’s the best sunset you have ever seen.  Ever.

Otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels.  And I am confident you’re not producing anything anyone would like.   If you can’t answer this question, “Why am I doing this?  Why am I pressing the shutter?”, then maybe you shouldn’t.

Why did I take that picture of the Stardust neon sign above?

Because it’s bitchin’, that’s why.

And sometimes, that’s all you need.


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