Why learn photography? Most people come into photography because they want to capture and remember the moments and the special people in their lives.
That was certainly true for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of a photograph to transcend time and space and reveal an instant, a fragment from long ago. As a child I used to pore over my father’s childhood photo albums. The images where he was younger than me, the black and white photos taken from a Brownie camera (thank you George Eastman) that just showed me a world so different from my own. I understood the idea of a journey, that somehow he had gone from the baby beside a dog to the dad he was now, busy with home improvement projects and the occasional trip to museums.
Nowadays, I think people pretty much have the memory preservation down, especially with social media and digital cameras built into every phone. People are so savvy, they know how to pose and how to flatter themselves, how to compose an image that will garner lots of likes. Sometimes I wonder how much of real life is being preserved, versus a sanitized, prettified version of reality, but does it really matter? People will remember things how they want to remember them, they will tell the stories they want to tell.
Eventually, the urge to take a different type of photograph begins to surface. Perhaps you follow someone on social media, whose feed is filled with a variety of images that speak to you. Perhaps you pick up a book at a bookstore (or one of my favorite photography books from Amazon), and start to learn the language of photography. Perhaps you invest in a DSLR or a mirrorless camera and you want to explore the full range of its capabilities. And you begin to recognize other answers to the question, “Why learn photography?”
Why Learn Photography?
Reason 1. Photography enables you to see the world a little differently, once you understand the language of light and the elements of composition. This language opens up new possibilities. You’ll become more aware of the incredible beauty all around you. Where one person sees a dead flower, you may see texture and fragility. Where another person sees vandalism and graffiti, you may see pattern and color and a story.
You’ll start to notice details and respond to them more intensely — the way the sunlight dances as it filters through the trees, the way the white wall behind you lights up your child’s eyes, the brilliant color of the tulips, the strong lines of the buildings near your office building. It’s transformative, to realize all the ways beauty exists in our world.
Reason 2. Photography teaches you the power of your own perspective. You are the one who chooses the small slice of all that surrounds you to place within the camera’s frame. You choose what to leave in the frame and what to leave out. You get curious, what happens if I try this? Or this? What happens if you frame it this way? Or reframe it that way?
You begin to understand yourself a little better, as you follow your curiosity and notice your responses. Where does your attention go? Why? How can you capture what you see? How can you help others feel what you felt?
Reason 3. Photography grounds you in the present moment of life. As a photographer, you are stopping a fraction of a second in time. You must observe what is unfolding right in front of you. This emphasis on the present moment is very healing and restful for your busy, thinking mind. You lay down your worries about tomorrow and your feelings about the past because what matters in photography is what is right in front of you, right now. Give your mind a break, allow your senses to take over and explore, and have your camera ready to photograph whatever captures their attention.
Reason 4. Photography is a versatile, lifelong hobby, you can start when you are a child and continue as long as your sense of sight is intact. Anyone can be a photographer, whether you are on a tight budget or have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on gear. Photography can be solitary during times you are feeling introverted, or you can easily connect with other photographers during times you are feeling extroverted. There are hundreds of groups and organizations you can join, both in your community and online, and even more classes and competitions and books to help you develop your skills.
Photography grows with you. It’s challenging! It can take some practice and training to take the images you see in your mind’s eye, to take images that show others exactly what you saw and help them feel what you felt. There are always new things to learn, software skills, lighting techniques, how to use the new equipment you purchase. You’ll never be bored.
Reason 5. Photography teaches you that it’s the journey and the process that matter, that make photography fun, even more than the end result. Yes it is immensely satisfying when you create an image that blows you away, but that one image doesn’t quench your desire to take more pictures!
Mary Oliver writes, “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
She may have been writing about writing, but it is 100% applicable to photography. This is what photographers do, we notice the visual world, we are astonished at what we see, and we try to capture it with our images.
So why learn photography? To capture memories, to expand your perceptions of the world, to honor your creative vision, to become fully present, to participate in a wonderful lifelong hobby, and to more fully appreciate and enjoy your journey through life.
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