Great Photography Needs This One Thing
After a few years of taking photos for fun and as a professional, I’ve slowly learned that the one thing every great photo needs is…
A sense of adventure.
I remember the first camera I ever had and what it represented to me. It represented a reason to be curious. It was a tangible thing in my hand, reminding me that I needed to see amazing things and not waste time not doing something great.
It was a reason to experience the world; to go on adventures. And I was to take pictures along the way.
As time went on (a.k.a. “growing up”) and I got a bit more serious with taking pictures, I lost sight of that reason.
Instead, I started caring too much about the equipment I had. I started to torment myself about theory and the technical know-how involved in making “a good photograph.”
Then, eventually, when I started to get paid to take photos, I started to feel a sense of dread whenever I was working. It felt as though my photos were pointless and, to an extent, maybe even a waste of time.
The routine-ness of my photography made it seem like I was a big, fat fake. Like all I was really doing was pushing a button.
I now know the reason that was happening was because I lost sight of what photography meant to me in the first place. In the midst of trying to be a “real photographer” I somehow lost sight of what it actually takes to be a real photographer.
I forgot to go on adventures with my camera.
Photographer = Adventurer
Looking at the photos taken by people whose work I admire, it suddenly became apparent that no great photos have ever been taken sitting in front of a TV or by watching videos on YouTube.
No one has ever created a great photo while just talking about how they would do it. They just did it.
Actually, it seems that all the great work that’s been done in the last century and a half of photography were done by people with a great sense of exploration and adventure. They had a real drive to see and do more. The camera was just the tool they used to document their adventures.
Even in my own experiences, I’ve found that the best pictures I’ve ever taken — or at least the photos for which I’m most proud of — were from when I was just starting to take photos. They were the ones where I was in unknown, unfamiliar, uncomfortable situations.
I remember feeling that need to take a photo because I was in a really cool place, and my camera was going to help me tell a story of what I saw there.
Could I have used some tips on how to get proper exposure or how to compose my shots and how to choose my subjects? Sure. But in those moments, when I was in the thick of things, it didn’t really seem to matter.
Then I think about all the fashion or commercial photographers who take their photo shoots to incredible locations, working with an army of people, just to get that perfect shot.
I think about the nature and landscape photographers who climb mountains just to be able to take a photo from its peak.
I think about all the photojournalists entering war zones to document what’s happening in the world.
Or the street photographers who go into dark alleys and unfamiliar streets hoping to find something interesting.
I think about the different types of photographers and I realize that what they have in common isn’t that they have cameras. It’s that they’re all having their own adventures.
It’s almost as if the act of taking the picture becomes an afterthought. The photos they’re able to take are merely representations of the adventures and experiences they’ve had.
Do it for the Story
When I first started taking pictures, it wasn’t about trying to see if I could get paid to do it, or getting recognition.
I took photos because it was interesting to me and it gave me a reason to push myself to do something great; to see something amazing; to have an experience.
It was just about taking a picture and telling a story about it.
Somewhere along the way, I lost that sense of adventure. And I now know it’s something I need to rediscover in my work as a photographer.
As I was writing this, it occurred to me that this might not just be for photographers. As creatives, shouldn’t adventure be a part of our lives? Adventures — big, epic ones or even tiny ones — force us to experience the unknown and the unfamiliar in our lives. Doing so, in turn, gives us new insights and opportunities to be creative.
That’s why when adventure comes knocking on your door, answer it willingly, and accept it no matter how perilous or uncomfortable it may seem.
If anything, just do it for the story.
Tell us about some of your past adventures, or adventures you’re planning to have, in the comments section below.