Focusing on the Why

Years ago, I only used to worry about the "how" of photography: which settings I should use, how not to blow out my subject or how to get that background blurred.   I got excited when I could create something that I set out to do, and started to feel like I had a little control over my camera and not the other way around! 

But as I've advanced, I have also found myself frequently feeling down about my photography skills.  As photographers, we have access to so many amazing sources of inspiration online, where we are bombarded with images of what other people are doing, and what they are managing to capture. Whilst this can sometimes be wonderful, and be the impetus we need to try something new or just make us want to pick up our camera, many times it also works the other way. I know for myself that looking at the endless talent of others can sometimes make me feel disheartened about my own skills or creativity, and this comparison can completely suck the joy out of photography if I let it. 

I think everybody does this - I really couldn't tell you a single photographer who has never said they felt discouraged or have measured themselves against someone else. As human beings, it is natural for us to compare - we do it all the time, many times without even thinking about it.  Of course one solution to this comparison problem is just to shut yourself off from other's work, by ignoring Instagram or not stopping by your favourite photographers blogs, but I for one don't want to do that - for when I allow them to inspire and motivate instead of using them as an internal measuring stick, it's amazing.  

It might not work for everyone, but when I feel like this I know I need to take a step back and remind myself that photography is not only about the "how" but also about the "WHY".  I didn't start my photography journey with a desire to become an inspiring photographer with work in a gallery or win any awards.  I wanted to learn so that I could capture moments that I would otherwise forget, to enable me to look back on in years to come. I also wanted to use photography as a way of finding the beauty in the everyday, so that I can feel and appreciate life in the here and now, and not just with hindsight.  When I think about it like that, the reason why I was drawn to photography in the first place, I can see how far I have come, and how actually I am achieving what I set out to do. 

Take this image below. Technically, there are a lot of things wrong with it. The lighting is a little bland, I haven't moved distractions from the scene, it's a little soft, and the composition is pretty standard. No awards there then.  But when I look at it, I see the fun my little boy has with his Daddy after work (playing Superman!) and I'll remember his quirk of using any excuse to wear a helmet, and the fact that at this point in his life he was into Star Wars in a big way (That's a Darth Maul helmet to you Star Wars virgins)  If I chose only to look at this image from a "how" perspective, I can think of lots of things to change and improve on, but if I look from the "why" side - well, I've done my job. This image was picked at random out of hundreds of images that technically could be improved, or that wouldn't win any awards for creativity, but that speak to me nonetheless. 

Another example. This image below was taken early one morning when I was putting out the papers for collection - it's of a spiders web that was catching the early morning light.  It's a good enough shot, but the macro shots that i took of it later are technically better. However, it's this image that speaks more to me. It reminds me of the quiet feeling I got that morning - stopping in the middle of a mundane, everyday chore to appreciate what was around me. It's hard to explain in words, but I guess it was "stop and smell the roses" kind of a moment, where everything gets put into perspective.  I bet most people looking at this image wouldn't even know what it was of, let alone get that feeling from it, but it is the one that allows me to remember that moment and feeling with an amazing clarity.  

Of course I believe there is still huge value in learning and improving the "how" of photography: knowing and understanding the myriad of technical and artistic tools available to us can help us tell our stories better - even if our only audience is ourselves.  However, when I feel down on myself after a comparison-fest, this stepping back allows me to move the focus from what others are able to do, to what I want to do, and that makes a world of difference.

I know I've rambled on a bit here, and even then I don't think I've fully managed to convey what I mean,  However, I share this in the hope is that any new photographers feeling discouraged will realise that it's not just them - that this is something we all do, and at every stage of our photography journey.   (We all know not to do it, but we all still do) I do believe measuring against yourself is the only way forward - either against what you originally wanted to achieve when you first picked up your camera (YOUR why) or against where you were 6 months ago.   Whatever takes the focus from what other's are doing, and puts it firmly back to you.  

And if all else fails, avoid Pinterest. 

Right, I think that's quite enough deep thoughts for a Thursday, don't you?!