A year with my camera proved to be the kick-starter for my main passion. I now record podcasts and run photography blogs as well as plan and shoot documentary projects. Here’s a reflective look at my journey.
Initially, when we pick up a camera or take our phone out we are not even a beginner, but mostly just innocent onlookers. That naivety lets us see the world as we think we see it, and we start to take snaps as we go; people, objects, birds, everything is to be captured as is. Seeing, framing and shooting are almost in unison with a hint of impatience closing the shutter, the third eye. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call this the touristic approach to photography.
When one starts as a tourist, it’s a honeymoon period, there’s no frame of reference, no pretence, you’re simply seeing and responding. There are no internal conflicts with the touristic self, no questions, no doubts. The journey is like your camera is on auto mode.
It’s just like a toddler who is learning to stand & walk. He or she experiments with their leg muscles takes support from the surroundings and begins with some shaky steps. Simple enjoyment and small steps each day. The same happens to us as tourists, enjoying every bit of intimacy with the new muscle. After I spent a year with my camera like this, I was at a crossroads. Should I continue with the same innocence or do something else with my photography?
The push on from a tourist to a beginner can happen very quickly for the curiously minded. In my case, it involved watching YouTube videos and searching out local clubs for lessons. I started downloading tutorials, searched for free e-books and joined a photography club to get to know the camera better and get off auto mode.
With this newfound knowledge, I began to take new steps alone without support and to have a clear sense of which way I was going, so I didn’t fall. I now knew or thought I did, what to look for photographically, what would work as an image and how best to set up my camera. This understanding of my muscle, (my camera), gave me the confidence to click and get what I wanted, rather than what the camera wanted.
Now I had a better hold on the nerves of exposure, shutter speed, and ISO, I felt more confident in myself. This confidence increases with the sense that everything feels (technically) right when I compose and take a shot. With the camera now as an extended part of me, I was able to move through the streets, past everyday life pre-visualising in my mind’s eye what I needed to do. Looking back, that I spent a year with my camera in tourist mode, seemed in retrospect as if I was somebody else.
When you drift from a beginner to an amateur, you move from the confidence of shooting all genres to a basic level, to a new state of deciding your direction. What do I really want to photograph, what do I truly like? Deciding this is a step for the curious amongst us, and begins with researching the broad range of photography genres and the masters associated with each.
Slowly, piece by piece the jigsaw falls into place and the mind is directed to the emotional connections. Is it the calmness of the landscape photography, the humanity of documentary photography, or the quirkiness of street reportage that I gravitate towards? It’s now an easier decision to make as your gut is telling you what to do.
As an amateur, you are about to enter into a long-term commitment with your ever diminishing innocent self and commit to lifelong learning and creativity. It will not promise to give you any material return and takes a lifetime to realise the creative potential that glimmers from within.
And so the journey begins and then shortly after that, our first hurdle and a litmus test to most of us who call ourselves photographers. We suffer a few knockbacks, our excitement wanes and the self-doubts start to creep in. This is compounded by the disconnect between escalating expectations and less than brilliant results. Then the dawning realisation that there is a huge chasm between my beginner’s confidence and what needs to be achieved. Now it seems a long way from the period of innocent bliss, the first year with my camera.
Despite trying to rationalise that it’s not speed dating but marriage I’m embarking on, the internal battle has begun as to why I am really doing this. Is it for myself or others whom I don’t know? The everyday attraction of social media is pushing me to pursue it for instant gratification in the form of likes and followers. Now the bigger question is, was this journey meant to be for self-discovery or external validation?
The self-doubt can be consuming and pushes me to decide if I want to stay or drop it forever. It’s at this point that most of the photography divorces take place and there’s a parting of ways.
It would be wrong to say the masters of photography have never been plagued with self-doubt; we all have our battles with our inner self, but the ones who make the mark are those who have won this battle and pursued their passion with zeal.
They say that photography is like standing in front of a pool of water; it offers the reflection of the true self of that moment. For my own story, I returned with a passion and a more sincere effort to make a mark as an amateur, well equipped with the intent to find myself. I started to give shape to my newly revived relationship by investing more quality time in reading, researching and understanding the wealth of photography that has come before and how I can add myself to that.
So now, I endeavour to build firm foundations that will sustain my passion and in turn, she responds to me with a subtle form of attraction and intimacy to continue because she is timeless…