Photographs help me to look back with fresh eyes. I take pictures so that, later, I can remember my experiences, my travels, my friends, more clearly. So that I can remember the sound of sand swept away with the tide, the burning fire of sunset, the smile of a stranger. It also helps me look back on how I see the world itself, and how the way I see has also changed.
2016 marked the tenth year since I first picked up a camera with the goal of actually taking pictures for myself. The images I've shot over the past ten years have shown me how much I've learned, as well as all the ways in which I still have to improve.
In the Beginning
My first forays into photography were decidedly beginner's fare. My equipment was very basic, and so was my technique. I didn't even know what composition was, let alone how to do it effectively. But what I lacked in knowledge and skill I made up for in enthusiasm. Almost every photo I took was exciting to me. I relished in the mere act of photographing, and the prospect of capturing something interesting. I also relished in looking back on my photographs.
As the years passed I lost that enthusiasm, little by little. I became bored with photographing the same things over and over again, and I lacked discipline and knowledge. I soon lost interest in my hobby. I actually went an entire year (2010) without photographing at all, simply because I wasn't interested.
Back at It
At the urging of my brother, in 2011, I picked photography back up again. Again, my initial enthusiasm was palpable. I went out and shot almost anything I could, and anyone I could. I enjoyed the process. But I fell prey to the temptation of only photographing when I was traveling, and knowing new places and people. For months at a time, I wouldn't even touch my camera, because I thought that my regular surroundings were too boring.
As a result, 2011 and 2012 were very sparse years for my photography. I only took a few hundred photos each of those years. And when I did, I wasn't paying attention. I let my skills and my enthusiasm languish. It wasn't until 2013 and 2014 that I started to become more purposeful. I started to go out to take photos simply for the sake of taking photos, even when I wasn't traveling, or doing anything particularly exotic. But I still wasn't disciplined about it, nor did I feel that I had to be. I was having too much fun.
It was finally in 2015 that I started shooting much more often, with more discipline, and paying more attention. I started to be more present in my photography, focusing more on the light, and on unique moments, instead of on a specific subject or landscape. I was less distracted with pretty things, places, and people, and drawn more to what I found interesting. Most importantly, I started shooting even when I wasn't traveling. I became more interested in my everyday surroundings, and tried to find beauty there.
What Really Matters
2016 was another turning point. It was the year that I really started shooting more prolifically. This was the first year when I took more photos than in the entire previous nine years combined. Quite literally, I couldn't put the (damned) camera down. This was also the year that I started actively seeking feedback from knowledgable photographers about my work, and taking their advice seriously. Finally, 2016 was also the year I started a website, and this blog. I don't think it's an accident that all of these things happened at the same time.
Most significantly, I have become much more interested in photographing people. Whether my own friends and family, or the random people I encounter in my neighborhood and on my travels. Though I still occasionally photograph landscapes, cityscapes, or objects, people have become my main focus. I have found that it makes the entire enterprise more meaningful. That's especially the case when I have the opportunity to photograph the people I care about. And that has continued to motivate me to shoot more, shoot better, and share more widely.
And at the end of it all, my photography has helped me to connect more with the people I photograph. Whether it's with people I already know well, or to complete strangers I'm meeting for the first time, photographing people has allowed me to get to know people better. And, in a way, photographing people has also helped me to know myself better.
Ultimately, whatever you choose to photograph, I invite you to reflect on your images. Make your images about more than just evidence that you traveled to a particular place, or that you met a particular person. Make it even more than just a memento or a memory. Use your photographs to get to know others; use them to get to know yourself, and help others do the same.
Thanks for reading, and happy shooting.