For Yourself

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We spend so much of our lives trying to please others, and that includes our photography. We often think we're taking photos for ourselves, when it's really for someone else.

Does the photo of that famous landmark you just took on your phone really move you? Will you look at it later and feel good? Proud? Anything? Or are you taking a photo of a famous monument because you enjoy getting likes on your social media accounts? Perhaps you're trying to impress your friends by showing them that you were there?

Often times we take pictures just because we think other people will like them, or be impressed, or be jealous. I know I do (we all do), and I'm trying to do it less often. Instead, I'm trying to take more pictures of the people and things that matter to me the most.

My friend Sasha would soon be leaving Oman. He invited me over for a barbecue at his house to say good bye. He's one of those guys who tells it like it is, stands up for what he believes in, and never gives up. His determined, but good-humored effort to get the coals started reminded me of his personality. 

The people close to me will (understandably) get irritated with me occasionally, thanks to my relentless photographing of them. But my girlfriend Laura has come to appreciate it, I think. She will sometimes scoff, but mostly smiles. I love capturing that smile.

Of course, we all want to impress sometimes. I'm not saying it's bad, or that you should never take photos to show off where you've been, or to get likes on the insta-space from time to time. We all seek a little validation. What I am saying is that we should try to find a balance: shoot photos for yourself, photos that really mean something to you, too. Make images other than just those you think will impress your friends back home.

What kinds of images? In general, I would say forget about everyone else. Forget about getting "likes" on social media, and forget about showing off. Photograph what you find genuinely interesting, or beautiful, or meaningful. If you couldn't show your photos to anyone else but yourself, what would you photograph? What would you focus on? What would you want to remember? Which of your photos moves you when you look at them?

He ran up to me. He liked my sunglasses, so I asked him to try them on. He did, and he smiled the biggest smile. I told him he could keep the sunglasses, and his laughter made me smile too. 

 He said to me, "I sleep on park benches. A lot of people think that's pathetic. But I've been to every state capital, and every port in Mexico. I go where I want, and I don't follow anybody's rules. People think that because I'm poor, I don't appreciate anything. But they're wrong."

He said to me, "I sleep on park benches. A lot of people think that's pathetic. But I've been to every state capital, and every port in Mexico. I go where I want, and I don't follow anybody's rules. People think that because I'm poor, I don't appreciate anything. But they're wrong."

Figure out which kinds of photos make you feel something, anything. Whether they make you feel nostalgic, happy, angry, scared, intrigued, worried, interested. Ask yourself which photos make you feel these things and, from time to time, focus on making photographs like that, instead of (or in addition to) the pictures we make of the "more impressive" stuff.

Taking photos for yourself might mean you photograph your friends and family a lot; that's what it has mostly meant for me, with a few exceptions. It might mean you take tons of pictures of your cat. It might involve taking photographs of the quirky houses in your neighborhood, or the shapes the early morning light creates on the ground when you walk to work. It genuinely doesn't matter what you shoot, as long as it's something that means something to you, that makes you feel something.

I hadn't seen my friend Beto in almost two years. But, like any friendship worth its salt, we picked up right where we'd left off, as if we'd just seen each other yesterday. Friendships like that are hard to come by; if you have one, don't give it up.

I don't see my brother as often as I want to. And I'm working on it.

My mom has one of the most sincere smiles I've ever seen. She almost doesn't know how to fake smile. She just smiles with her whole face, and laughs. I hope she never loses that smile.

In any case, don't let anyone (myself included) tell you what, or what not to photograph. Don't we spend enough of our lives pleasing other people? Take photos for you. Take photos that, when you look at them later, will remind you of something meaningful.

Thanks for reading, and happy shooting.

Images taken with the Canon EOS 6D, the Tamron 35mm f1.8 Di VC lens and Canon EF 50mm f1.4 lens.

Sometimes I have to photograph something just because. This blind man was standing right in this doorway, between two stone and pink walls, playing the saxophone for passers by. He didn't have a collection plate or a hat out on the ground, and didn't seem to be expecting any money. He just played, swaying back and forth, and I thought it was beautiful.