Photography enhances what you are already doing.
Perhaps you are now only considering getting involved with photography. You are looking at the price tags for cameras and lenses and questioning this. Will it be worth the effort? Will you even have time for this?
You already know I am going to say “yes” so let’s just dispense with that.
But now let me tell you a few awesome things about photography that you may not have thought of . . .
Great Aspects of Photography for Beginners (Even Perpetual Beginners)
For now, let’s assume that you just want to dip your toe in the water, so to speak. You would just like to get a camera and take some nice pictures of your vacations, an occasional dramatic sunset, or the kids playing in the backyard, etc. Great. That actually leads to a really cool thing about photography:
Photography is fun and you can get some good shots even as a novice who only pulls the camera out on vacations or family get-togethers.
It is easy to get started, and even fun when you don’t know what you are doing.
To drive that home, I need to contrast that with other activities, which are typically hard on the beginner. For example, if you only pull out your golf clubs 2 or 3 times a year, your golf outing will be a long, unfun day of searching for golf balls in the woods. (If you are like me, it will also lead to a sore throat from screaming obscenities after each bad shot, as well as a nasty hang-over, but I digress.) With golf, you are either in, and you need to play a lot, or you are out. Most physical activities are like that.
Golf is notoriously difficult and fickle though, and photography really isn’t a physical activity anyway, so let’s try to pick a more fair choice. You could go with fishing, where if you don’t know what you are doing you are very unlikely to catch any fish.
Photography is not hard on the beginner though. This is partially due to technology, because computers help out beginners. But it is also true because you can just incorporate some really simple steps (like the ones on this website) to improve your pictures and make them better than 90% of what everybody else is posting on the various social media channels.
The examples above also remind me of another really cool thing about photography:
Photography is not like other activities where you must stop what you are otherwise doing to do those activities.
For example, if you decide to play golf, you must stop what you are doing and spend half a day or all day playing golf. Other activities must cease during this time (except drinking).
So that you don’t think I’m picking on golf, let me point out that this is not unique to that sport. Most things are like that, whether it is fishing, baking, or playing chess. You must stop what you are doing, then do the chosen activity, and when you are done with that you can resume your life.
Photography is different. For the most part, you just keep right on doing the same things you were already doing, but you just take a picture of it every now and then. You actually enhance your life with photography.
That is true no matter what you do. Are you into hiking and outdoors? That’s easy, just bring your camera along with you and take pictures as you go. Are you into cooking? Photograph your creations. Are you into fitness? I’ve seen people make whole galleries related to that, and you can use photography as an excuse to walk/hike/bike/whatever to a given place. Are you a parent of young kids who doesn’t have time for any hobbies or activities at all? Photograph your kids. You may already be doing that, so just try to elevate your game a little bit.
The point is that there is almost nothing you can do that where photography wouldn’t fit in. Believe me, I’ve tested it. For example, I like nothing more than sitting in bars drinking beer. Useless, right? And totally incompatible with photography. Yet I’ve even managed to combine photography with that on occasion (as shown here).
In fact, some of the greatest photographers in history didn’t even set out to do photography. They just liked what they were doing so much they decided to photograph it.
And after you have done a little photography you might end up with a tangible thing you like. That thing might just be a picture that you pass along on Facebook. Maybe you get enough good pictures that you decide to start a quick website or blog. Maybe you enlarge and frame a print for your house or office. Most other activities just give you a nice memory at the end of it. Photography does that too, but can also net you a nice artifact to keep around.
And not just any tangible item, mind you, but one that you may treasure above all other things. The standard answer to the question of “what’s the one thing you would save if your house is on fire?” is photographs, since they cannot be replaced. These are the things you are making.
The Greatness Increases for “All-In” Photographers
So far, I’ve talked about really cool aspects of photography for the person that is just tangentially involved with it. Now let’s talk about what happens if you decide to get more involved with photography. In that case, you may head out with photography itself on your mind, so let’s look at that.
The best times for outdoor photography are dawn and dusk. You may groan about the dawn part. But it is actually awesome because it makes photography doable no matter what your situation. I’m not suggesting you do this every day, but you have the opportunity on occasion.
Most of us have jobs, for example, that tend to get in the way of other activities. However, most people don’t start working at dawn, so they don’t necessarily conflict. For example, I have been in California for business meetings where I got up and took some coastal shots at dawn, and then made it to my morning meetings with plenty of time to spare.
If you have a family, you know that other activities cost you a certain amount of political capital with your spouse. If you leave him/her with the kids all day, for example, while you go out fishing, you know that you are going to have to make it up somehow. Going out to take some pictures before dawn, on the other hand, and then being home by 8:30 or 9:00 am costs you next to nothing. The family may just be waking up when you get home.
In fact, I know in my case, photography has made our family vacations SO much better because of the timing. Prior to my involvement with photography, here was pretty much every morning of every family vacation: I get up about 7:30 or 8:00 and get myself ready to go fairly quickly. My wife gets up at the same time, but she likes to piddle around the hotel in the morning, and anyway it takes her way longer than me to get ready. The kids don’t get up right away and seem determined not to get ready at all. Come about 9:30 I am tapping my feet complaining about them taking so long. Pretty soon, they are all mad at me in return. We finally leave the hotel at about 10:30 or so with everyone mad at each other (but mostly at me).
With photography, here’s what happens on vacation mornings now: I get up before dawn, grab my camera bag and tripod and hit the door. I go take pictures at dawn, and then walk around enjoying wherever I am, usually having some coffee in the process. When I am done after a few hours, I head back to the hotel, where the family is just waking up. Since I have been out and about already, I am in no hurry to leave the hotel room at all. I relax in the room flipping through my pictures while the family gets ready, and we all head out in a much better mood.
That sounds hokey. Made-up even. But I am telling you the dichotomy is that stark. Just this very scenario (both ways) has played out many times. Now that I think about it, even if I didn’t like photography, I should be doing it in the mornings of our vacations to preserve my domestic tranquility.
It doesn’t have to be vacation-time either. For example, often times on weekends I will head out before dawn and drive to some location to take some pictures. Again, I am usually done and home by 9:00 or so. Frequently, I bring breakfast with me. Nobody missed me, and my enjoyment of photography cost me absolutely nothing.
You know what you would otherwise be doing at dawn? Nothing. Sleeping. Get up and get after it once in a while. I know, life is hard and you get run down, so not every day. Just once in a while.
When you do head out with photography on your mind, do you know where you will find yourself going? Exactly where you want to go. By that I mean that photography just gives you an excuse to go look at the stuff you are already interested in. Do you like architecture? Head downtown. Are you in to nature? Head out of town or just to the park. The examples are limitless.
The camera gives you an excuse to be where you want to be anyway.
Also, on occasion, people will see that you are serious about what you are doing, and will try to help you. I have been given access to places I shouldn’t have been because I am lugging around a big DSLR and a tripod. Sometimes people actually pull me aside to show me things I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see, other times they just leave me alone as I move into a place I obviously should not be. Photographers are, in general, non-threatening to people (except at airports and government facilities).
Before I end this rant, I want to point out something else that distinguishes photography from other activities. Photography is eminently fair. What I mean by that is that you get out of it what you put into it. Not all activities are so (I don’t mean to keep picking on golf, but it is a notable example).
If you walk around with a point and shoot and occasionally pull it out to take a snapshot, you will get some nice snapshots. You input a little effort, and you got a nice little reward. If you pay attention to what you are doing, the reward will increase.
If you upgrade to a DSLR and read the manual and learn how to use it, and put some thought into your compositions, you will take better pictures. No doubt about it. Friends and family will be impressed. You will end up with something to display.
If you study photography and learn advanced techniques, new possibilities will open up to you and your pictures will improve greatly. There are just things you can do with advanced techniques that put these pictures head and shoulders above somebody that is not doing them.
These things will happen. It is not a case of “practice really hard and maybe you will get good at this someday.” No, they will happen, and results will come pretty quickly in the beginning.
Too often, people look at photography as some sort of mystery. I know I did. Many people think it can only be solved by technical geeks who know cameras and lenses inside and out. This notion is fostered by guys that work in camera stores and look down their noses at their customers (no, it is not just your camera store).
Others believe there are people born with some sort of innate artistic sense that allows these people to take great pictures. It is a gift that they have that you don’t have. There is this sense that you are either born with it, or you are not. So you need to be a soulful “artist,” perhaps the sort prancing around in a beret and a scarf with a weird accent, to get great pictures.
Both of these notions are nonsense. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the “technicians” and the “artists” generally take the worst pictures of anybody. They just cover their failures with technical talk and “art-speak.”
My point is not to go into all that, but just to say that:
Good photography is an eminently knowable thing for normal people.
There are learnable techniques. There are fairly simple guidelines and rules. If you learn them and use them (and occasionally break them) you will take awesome pictures. It is as simple as that.
Other activities say to you “stop what you are doing and come do me.” Photography says to you “keep doing what you like to do, and just add me to it.” That’s a big difference. Essentially, photography doesn’t want to replace anything in your life, but just enhance your life.
And photography can do that no matter what level you are, or what level you want to become. It is always doable and fair. You can learn the basics and take some good pictures. Or it can also lead to a lifetime of practice and study. Entirely your call and there is no right or wrong way.
So, why photography? Because no matter how you use it, photography will enrich your life.