What are our motivations for making photographs? If you ask around, among friends and neighbors, you’ll quickly find that many photographers harbor dreams of making money or becoming known for their art. But are those the right reasons for creating photographs?
I don’t think they are. Sure, a photographer of reasonable skill can make a living with photography, but will you make millions? The chances of that are very, very slim. Just as slim are the chances that a photographer will go on to become a household name.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have dreams. But sometimes, it is better to think of photography as something other than a path to fame and fortune. Perhaps we should be making art for art’s sake, or maybe even to pay the bills, but not with the goal to become rich and famous. After all, such a pursuit can take a bit of the joy out of the art.
So, if not for fame and money, then why do we make photographs? There are many reasons, as I’ll outline below.
Photography is a never-ending learning process, and it has so many small steps that go into the creation of the actual image. From brainstorming ideas all the way to making the prints, photographers should enjoy most, if not all, of these steps. Even though there are other reasons to take pictures, the fun of it all should be reason enough to be a photographer.
Life without challenging aspects would be bland. As I mentioned above, there is a lot to learn about photography. Even experts are still learning and growing, and that, in and of itself, is a challenge.
However, a larger challenge exists, and that is the challenge of producing an art-worthy photograph. Many photographers become discouraged when shot after shot just doesn’t seem good enough. However, I view this in a different way. Sure, a majority of photographs aren’t perfect. It is a challenge to create a photograph that is perfect, and once you’ve met that challenge, the reward feels so much sweeter because of all the hard work that you’ve put in.
When you think of something unimaginative — like an uninspired meal, or some other bland thing — you realize something. Unimaginative objects are boring. In the same way, an unimaginative life can be boring.
Photography forces you to break away from that dull, unimaginative lifestyle. Everywhere that you go, you’ll find yourself thinking, photographing and creating. What’s more, we can’t all travel to exotic locales to take photographs that defy the imagination. So, we must make do with the surroundings that we have, and that requires a broad imagination in order to create new and interesting photographs. By necessity, your imagination will expand, which is never a bad thing.
In this day and age, when it seems like almost everything has already been discovered, photography offers you a way to keep on exploring and discovering beautiful new things. It is one thing to go out and look at the world but it is quite another to go out with camera in hand, looking for all the beautiful minutiae that can be turned into beautiful photographs. When you take an interest in photography, you’ll soon find that ordinary, everyday photographs will never do. You’ll need to become an explorer to find the hidden aspects of ordinary subjects and capture them with your camera.
With this, I’m not talking about sharing your photos on Instagram or Facebook — although you certainly can, if you like. When I talk about photography as an easily shared medium, what I mean is that you can make prints or put albums together. Then, when family or friends visit, you can share your art with them. The thing about photography is that just by existing, and being in a place where everyone can see it, it is something that people are naturally drawn to. So, when you hang those images on your wall, you won't even need to ask for people to look at them. They'll be drawn to your art simply because it is interesting and they are naturally drawn to it.
Those aren’t the only places to share your photography, however. If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, try entering local, regional or national photo contests. Join a photography club and share your work with your peers. Submit your best images to galleries, magazines, newspapers or other publications. Once you start sharing your work to a wider audience, you’ll soon see that the possibilities for spreading your artistic ideas are endless.
You can always keep a record of your life by writing a journal or a memoir. But these things just cannot compare to a record of your life in images. Not only did you experience a wide variety of interesting things, but you have the photographs to prove it. These images not only tell the story of your life, but they tell it in an easily accessible way. It is something that your children, their grandchildren and anyone else can look at and immediately understand what you experienced.
Even if photography isn’t something that you share — and I highly recommend that you do share it — then it is something that you’ll always be able to look back on. Imagine, 20 or 30 years in the future, being able to not only imagine the things that you experienced earlier in life, but being able to experience those things all over again through the photographs that you have taken.
As you can see, there are many, many reasons to be a photographer. The reason that so many of us take photographs isn’t solely the idea that we’ll become rich or famous. Instead, we do it because we enjoy photography and everything that comes along with it.