The Right to Photograph

Most people assume they can’t photograph. They think it’s just something other people do and a lot of the fear comes from placing too much emphasis on what they consider “real photographers” do as oppose to focusing on what photography really is. In its simplest form, photography is just the act of observing and being daring enough to capture what others may deem as inconsequential.

I do believe some people have more of a photographic eye than others and for those that are starting off and trying to improve how they see things, the worst you can do is to photograph too carefully. The likelihood that you’ll photograph something you love is higher when you don’t work at it too much. There’s no such thing as getting it right other than pressing that shutter button more often and not waiting for something magical to happen for you to do it.

Over the holidays a good friend had developed enough interest in photography with her outdate point-&-shoot that she asked if I could assist her in choosing something superior to what she had. Judging by the condition and model of her camera, I could have suggested the iPhone 4 and that would have surpassed the specs on what she was currently using but leaving the wise-cracks aside, she was interested in a dSLR. Long story short, she purchased the Nikon D3100.

A good way to measure whether you’re a photography aficionado is take notice in how excited you get when other people buy gear. You may never get a chance to use it but there’s a sense of thrill in knowing that people can develop a greater passion for something just like you did. I asked to see some of the photos she had taken with the D3100 and to my surprise, since the purchase, she had not taken any because she hadn’t “gone anywhere.”

We have the type of friendship where she fails to get easily offended with anything I say but I told her that she’s not a professional chef but that that doesn’t stop her from still cooking and how was not photographing because she didn’t go anywhere any different. Buying new gear normally gives you an excuse to do stuff you wouldn’t usually go out of your way to do but that wasn’t the case with her.

Overall what prompted this entire post was a book I’m currently reading entitled The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. You know how some people have the uncanny ability to relate everything they do to sex? I think I do the same but with photography. There’s a particular paragraph about the process of writing that reminded me exactly on why my friend had not photographed anything. I substituted the word “writing” with “photographing” -

Writing is about getting something down, not about thinking something up. Whenever I strive to “think something up”, writing becomes something I must stretch to achieve….When, on the other hand, I am focused about just getting something down, I have a sense of attention but not a sense of strain.

When you’re out with your camera, you’re not necessarily seeking to invent anything other than to capture something. Some people place the act of photographing in such a high pedestal that they completely freeze up at the thought of doing it. If you’re not in a position where your mortgage depends photographing, then there’s nothing wrong with not taking yourself too seriously and just go out and shoot. Stop placing too much strain in that you don’t know what to photograph and acknowledge that it’s less about the subject and more about how you choose to present it.