Why do you shoot?

"Why do you shoot?"

I’ve been pouring through thousands of photos, tens of thousands actually, searching for just the right ones to tell the complete story of my son who recently graduated from high school.  It’s a family tradition, that during the party with family and friends, we unveil a commemorative slide show, complete with intro and tail video segments, all designed to disclose a visual summation of the graduate’s life.  In reality, for my kids, it’s all designed to show them how much they’re loved and cherished.  It’s a nostalgic pursuit, full of emotion and reflection.  It’s a labor of love.

My photo library approaches 45,000 images strong.  My wife’s is close to 6,000.  But of the images we ultimately selected for the presentation, nearly 90% were drawn from her collection.  And that got me to thinking.  What is it about photography that draws me in?  Why do I continue to walk around carrying a camera these past 36 some odd years after Ed handed me a semi-working Petri rangefinder camera as a young teen?  Why do I shoot?

First, a word about my wife.  She would never in 6,000 years describe herself as a photographer or photo enthusiast.  For her, photography is merely a means by which the daily events of life can be recorded and memorialized.  She is a documentarian and thank goodness for that, otherwise so many of our key moments, so many of the images needed for the graduation slide show, would not exist.  And here’s the thing – though she doesn’t consider herself a photographer, she’s actually quite good at it.  And unlike some of us, she’s content to keep the same camera year after year, only giving in to acquiring another when it gives up the ghost and stops working altogether.  Otherwise, she’s content.  It’s just a tool.  It gets the job done.

As I considered my own library filled with landscapes from various trips and abstract images overflowing with mood and subtlty, I wondered: why are the great moments of my life not in there?  Instead, I see trees and oceans, mountains and vistas, street scenes, still lifes, athletes in motion, wildlife, beaches… and everything I’ve ever captured on film and now a digital sensor.  But what’s the point?  Why am I doing this?  And that’s what prompted the ruminating and honestly stepping back… and appraising.

Here’s what I came up with.  For me.  The applicability of this may be limited and so I’ll close this post with an invitation to 2 Guys Photo readers to ask themselves the very same question… and to share their thoughts with us if willing.

I shoot for two reasons, primarily.  I could add a third, which is to say that I shoot as a creative outlet.  As a way to unlease the inner artist and all that blah, blah, blah.  This reason is so universal, however, that I think it best to leave off the list.  I’m focusing on the specific, the personal, the unique reasons why I shoot.

Here they are:

First, to capture and to savor the beauty that surrounds me.  I’m frequently halted by the abundance of the beauty in all of creation, some of it apparant and some of it less so.  When I think about photographing this beauty, then I can see it more clearly.  Conventional wisdom may suggest that those who see the beautiful will attempt to net it and pin it down on a recording medium.  For me, it’s the very act of walking through life with such a medium that enables my seeing it in the first place.

Second, on my own personal trek of self-discovery and meaning-making, I shoot so that I can locate outside of me what I’m looking for within.  If the current theme within is anger or doubt, joy or peace, then that’s what I see… and that’s what I shoot.  In this sense, my photographs are more mirror than window.

But that’s just me.  How about you?

Why do you shoot?

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5 Responses to Why do you shoot?

  1. Mark James says:

    Nice article Rey,

    I was never into photography. Yes I had a P&S when digital came out and took some snaps through the years, but only as an afterthought and never with the intent of creating something visually appealing.

    As a scuba diver years ago photography was best left to the pros as film is expensive and underwater photography is not easy. Then one day I found myself holding my first interesting camera, a Sony 707 P&S. After talking to a housing manufacturer (Ike from Ikelite) I sent my camera to him and he made a custom housing for it. At that point I had a goal to share the wonders that I experienced while diving that most of my friends and family couldn’t see from the surface. In the early days it was more clinical and all I really cared about was getting a photo of something interesting that was clear and didn’t have a lot of scatter.

    When people first saw these they were impressed, even other divers that had little luck with their attempts. I enjoyed having people appreciate what I did and I was content to take photos this way for years.

    When my last P&S (Oly 8080) died I didn’t get another camera right away. I knew for years I wanted a larger sensor but in a small camera not an SLR so I waited about 6 months until the Panasonic GF1 came out. I made sure someone was going to make a underwater housing for it (10Bar) and then got my first ILC.

    I think it was the financial investment that made me decide it was time to learn how to take better photos. I had to justify my purchase and get my moneys worth out of it. I also found it much more enjoyable to have a camera that was responsive. I started reading and practicing and entering some challenges on DPR. All of this has taken me from a snapper to a entry level amateur. I now enjoy being able to give people something that allows them to remember a good time in there life. It is fun to see friends and acquaintances both using my photos fro their FB profile.

    Sorry for the long winded response. I’m not even sure I answered the question, but I had fun revisiting my photography path.

  2. Prentis Drew says:

    Clearly the focus (no pun intended) of this blog and ones like it is on photography for the sake of making interesting and/or artful images. There is no question that one of the major functions of taking pictures is to chronicle one’s family as they grow up, take trips, and have significant events. But one does not need to be an excellent photographer to accomplish that (although it helps). You just have to be there with a camera and remember to take those pictures.

    But the question you pose is one that I ask myself every time I go out shooting. It is always gratifying to come home with an image that pleases me, and (if I am lucky) pleases others. It doesn’t happen very often and I study books and websites to learn how to make it happen more often. And, Rey, I agree with your premise that when setting out to take photographs it makes you look at the world in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise. So that is the personal and internal thing going on and to be honest there is some ego in there somewhere.

    But as for the photographs themselves….

    I check into the website “www.smugmug.com/community/DailyPhotos” most days. It is fun and interesting to see what other folks are shooting. What strikes me is that the photos that routinely catch my eye are those of people. The landscapes and still life shots are interesting and are occasionally stunning but I tend to quickly go on to the next. I have been more and more interested in portraiture and lighting for portraits. I’ll have to say I find it very difficult. There is so much to know in taking a good portrait. Landscapes just sit there. People interact. I think that is what makes people pictures so interesting.

    I recently had the experience of reducing 7 flip-top boxes of photographs that had been kicking around for years down to one to make room in a closet. They are the collection of photos from my wife and me and our parents and their parents. In doing so the still life shots and landscapes were the first to be thrown out. They meant more to the photographer that took them than anyone else. There were a few “suitable for framing” but they were few and far between. After a full week of work the remaining box of photos ended up to be 99% photos of people. So, Rey, your wife is doing the important stuff when it comes to longevity of your images.

    So here is my reason for shooting (over and above the family snapshots). Yes, as you pointed out it makes me look at the world around me. But it is also about the enjoyment of the quest for the interesting photo, the soulful portrait, the mastery of the equipment, displaying my “keepers” to others, and learning something new every time I press the shutter,

    Photography is a wonderful open ended hobby. As a job it might become a drudge.

  3. Rodney says:

    Interesting question Rey. Not sure if there can be just one answer, but for me I mostly take photos for other people. I have traveled a bit over the last 18 years (as a traveling nurse, thanks Ed) and the first 6 years or so I didn’t take any photos. Not one! My friends and family kept asking me to take photos, because they wanted to see the places I was living in and exploring. With digital and online photos, that became easier. So I started to take photos just to show my friends and family where I was at any given moment. It was fun and satisfied my family and friends. It is probably the main reason my “albums” have so many photos. I may have 3 photos of the same scene, because I have a diversity of friends that each one will appeal to differently. I do try to limit them though, as to not overwhelm folks who don’t have the freedom of time that I do… but I digress.. After a few years I started realizing it was fun FOR ME too… so I started taking photos for me and others. I still think about what my friends and family might want to see when I am traveling, at an event or whatever.. but occasionally I think, “What would be fun for me?” and so i shoot for me. It is definitely a fun hobby, one I am glad I got into, but not one I would ever do as a job I think? But who knows… Hope that answers your question. It is fun to read other answers, like Drew’s and James’s… so hopefully others will answer on the blog as well. Thanks for posing the question.


    • Rey says:

      Mark, Prentis, Rodney – thank you all for sharing your thoughts on the question I posed: “Why do you shoot?”. Each one could be the subject of its own post as each gives some insight not only into how you got to this current point, but also what motivates and inspires you. It was interesting hearing about your respective “photography paths”!

  4. Fred says:

    Great read Rey. I am not a photo person … takes too much discipline! But I like to look at photos. I too (as are most) am attracted to beauty and therefore the photos that reflect it. There’s a saying attributed to Teilhard de Chardin sj – “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” The first time I read that … I knew that it was true and real. As I read the first reason you shoot, it dawned on me that Joy is just one of the many infallible signs of God’s presence … surely Beauty shares that role … and Peace … nothing shows us God more than Peace – for that brings Joy and heightens our perception of Beauty and all that is Good.

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