Throughout the long years I have been associated with photography and my contact with photography students, one evident fact is that photography can be a lot of things to different people. Some attempt to take it up as a profession, others to document their travels or their family, whilst others practice it as an art form however, the great majority first experience photography as a hobby or a pastime. Eventually, a good number of these hobbyists do move on and elevate photography as a passion.
What are the actual benefits of practicing photography? Firstly, we are living in an ever increasingly image orientated society; imagine life without images. Ever since digital technology took over conventional photography, coupled with the invention of the mobile phone, photography has exploded. Never in the history of mankind is photography being used by so many people from all walks of life. In most cases, photography has become an integral part of a modern society. It has replaced text in many ways. Today we are bombarded with imagery from all sides, such as television, movies, publications, internet, and education, amongst others.
Looking at photography purely as a non-commercial hobby, pastime or passion, one notices the obvious benefits that an individual can gain. Most significantly, photography can take your mind off everyday stress and problems. What can be better than picking up your camera and losing yourself ‘hunting’ for that elusive picture? It is also beneficial to eventually identify a pet subject one would like to tackle and explore it fully through one’s viewfinder and, most importantly, one’s brain. Focusing on a particular theme helps to further stimulate the brain and makes the project more challenging. It is amazing what one can see when concentrating; our fast lifestyle usually just catches glimpses of what is before us yet, when we stop to really absorb, then a myriad of subjects can start materializing. As philosopher Roland Barthes said: “A photograph is always invisible, it is not it that we see.” In fact, a photograph is the interpretation of the photographer AND the interpretation of the viewer – it is part of its fascination, and artistic value, that reaction to a photograph is so varied according to the conditioning of the person engaging with a photograph.
Today, the ease and negligible running costs with which one can produce an image has liberated us from difficult restrictions, techniques and skills that were before essential, giving us the opportunity to concentrate more on composition, subject matter, lighting and actual content of the photograph. Granted, this ease of use sometimes adversely affects our need to think. A valid photographer must avoid the urge to shoot first and ask questions later. It is useless blindly shooting a multitude of images without the brain getting deeply involved in what the final picture should convey.
Another valid bonus of photography is that this art genre gives the practitioner the chance to meet people, explore and educate oneself. Many a time have I witnessed shy persons coming out of their shell after they took up photography. I have also encountered others who have successfully used it as therapy, in order to surmount a difficult period in life and move on. Photography can be viewed as a common language, bridging gaps between different language, race, religion and ethnicities. In the right hands, it is a powerful tool that can create awareness on important issues of our life.
Naturally, some consideration is needed if one is to retain photography as a stress-relieving pastime. Today’s equipment and technology can be complicated but ultimately it all depends on the final goal of each user. Going into photography as a means of ‘competition’ will not relieve stress – on the contrary it can increase it. One needs to keep a level head and if competing in one of the many competitions that are always available, it must not be with a “win or else” attitude, but rather an evolvement or a wish to gauge one’s level and progress. Photographic competitions are good vehicles for one to challenge oneself and improve, but one cannot always win – there are so many talented photographers out there. So keep your feet on the ground, and focus on enjoying yourself rather than competing.
Another factor which can cause stress is the mania of many budding photographers to keep yearning to upgrade and improve their equipment. This works well for manufacturers but not so much for the photographer. Buying new equipment means one must learn more how to exploit and justify the not so negligible outlay of photographic hardware. It is important to buy what is needed. Believe me, although some genres of photography do require specialized equipment (such as Nature, Sports or Macro), great photography is still possible with the simplest of equipment. What have all our predecessors done before such fantastic inventions as the motor-drive, auto-focus or the camera monitor? They still went out there and created memorable images with the equipment they had at hand. I feel quite annoyed when I hear practicing photographers making excuses for their not so great work and blaming it on not having the latest camera body or the latest zoom. I can assure you that the most expensive equipment does not make you the best photographer – it is like giving a gilded brush to someone who cannot draw a straight line.
So my advice for those looking at photography as a hobby is to first try and go the simple way, not get bogged down with equipment and techniques, mix with like-minded practitioners and go out there and have fun!