Speaking specifically about photography. I find myself posing this question to myself more and more as time goes on.
What I believe it should not be about.
- Social media likes.
- How many people agree with you.
- The value or “cache” of the gear.
- Exotic locations.
So what do I believe it should be about? Well.
That which brings you joy.
Absent of any external stimuli or validation. Not what pleases or impresses others. But that which brings a smile to your face. I will take a walk through the bullets above.
Social media likes
The issues with this one are plentiful.
What would be enough likes? I imagine the more you get, the more you would need, like some heart-shaped icon or like button dopamine hits. This is a precarious measure. What if the lack of attention has more to do with fewer people seeing your post due to not satisfying the mystery algorithm of your chosen platform.
How many people agree with you.
Some folks may have had a bad day, bad week, or are just miserable folks. Recently, someone stopped by one of my social media pages to rain on my parade. The swipe was not actually pointed at me, but the camera. What was left was criticism that could not be further away from constructive. It dripped with mean-spiritedness. I do not necessarily disagree with the base conceit. But the delivery was all wrong. A “Not what you said, but how you chose to say it.” affair. Using language that would knock a vulnerable self-esteem down. I stared at it for a moment, unsure what to do with it. Imagined the outcomes of a few options and settled on blocking the person. No malice. Just did not want their negativity living rent-free in my small corner of social media. Saw no reason to respond. Moved on.
But that reminded me that social media is a terrible place to source one’s self esteem from. Just like I do not make too much of the occasional post that goes my way, I also do not take it to heart when it does not.
The value or “cache” of the gear.
Sure, I understand the allure of expensive things. I have fallen prey to this as much as anyone. But I can say this without hesitation. The value of the gear has little to do with how much satisfaction I get out of using it. I currently have access to what some argue are the best lens and camera combinations a modern mirrorless camera company has to offer. Not the most expensive items on the market but also far from the least expensive as well. A more niche manufacturer with quite the following that rhymes with Micah has camera and lens offerings that cost more than many other less exalted brands on the market. But what do I enjoy using most? Neither of those two options. Given my druthers, you will see me rocking a top plate dinged over 10 year old camera body from the latter manufacturer with a lens that costs relative peanuts.
Not only do I enjoy using it. I enjoy the images it produces and the fact that so much joy can be derived from something so limited in features for an asking price far below the options discussed above. And there are other options that cost less that I would be quick to reach for. The same applies to film gear as well.
For a brief time, I lamented that I had not started taking photography a bit more seriously while I was living in NYC.
For years, I had access to the street photography mecca of the world, and I did not step up my photography until we had relocated to central NC. But here is the thing. While living in NYC, it was where I lived. It was not necessarily seen as exotic to me at that time. Make no mistake, I thought it was and still believe NYC to be awesome and like no other place. But even the spectacular can be normalized after constant exposure if we are not careful. I once worked in 1 Penn Plaza right near the Empire State Building. Oftentimes, at lunch, I would walk by it and say that I need to go to the top. But what happened when the day ended? I scooted down the escalators, jumped on the subway, and got out of dodge headed to The Bronx. It was time to go home.
I realized that, while ideal, exotic, or traditional photo capturing locales were not a requirement for my photography. I instead focused on capturing what was before me, and I have found that to be very gratifying. Have even had a friend applaud my capturing of “Americana.” Interesting. No slight was meant at all, but my first thought was that NYC is Americana as well. But that is another discussion altogether. I get what he was saying. In my humble opinion, there is value in capturing ones own environment in ones own way. Have learned that every place and every scene is valid and worthy of capturing. For me personally, it brought an added benefit. I will admit that interesting scenes can be fewer and literally further in between compared to NYC, where there seems to be a potential composition at every swivel of your head wherever you are. This has taught me to be on it and more intentional because if I do miss this shot, who knows when another may appear.
I believe this has heightened my alertness and my reflexes. As a result, I have been able to maximize my successful captures when I do return to NYC to visit. It has been a while since I visited NYC last now (A blog series about that trip.), but I created more work in those few days than I would have created in months had my senses and reaction times not been sharpened elsewhere.
This was unexpected honestly. But very rewarding.
Back to the topic at hand.
So what brings me joy? Well. As alluded to above after thinking about this a bit, it has nothing to do with gear used or where I use it. This was surprising to me, if I am honest. If I were so inclined to make use of a phone camera, that could do it. I am not, but that is my own affliction, and I will own it. I could be perfectly happy capturing images nearly anywhere. So it comes down to this for me.
That is it. Not what is captured, where it is captured, or with what it is captured. Stopping moments in time makes me happy. In the interest of full disclosure, I had not had that sorted out when I started this blog post. I expected to end on a “I have no idea.” note. But there it is. Proof yet again that there is value, for me anyway, in writing down the machinations in my mind. Not only does it clear my mind, but it helps me think and come to conclusions I would not have otherwise as well.
I started this blog to save my patient and loving wife from the full brunt of my ramblings. But years later, it has proven to be much more beneficial to me than I would have ever imagined.
If you have not tried it, I highly recommend it. It may benefit you as much as it does me. It need not be about cameras. Share whatever you feel passionate about. And there is the added bonus that what you share may help others as well.
Happy capturing… and perhaps happy writing to you.