Is your photography healthy?

It is raining right now, the kind of grey, wet day that Vancouver is famous for.  I am sitting by the water (well, in a pub, but there is a really big window) killing time for an hour until I meet up with my friends from Fujifilm Canada for dinner.  I was going to launch a new five part instructional series this week on the blog, but a recent conversation has me thinking about why we do this crazy thing called photography and I’d like to write about that for a bit…

One evening, a few weeks ago, I was set up for a sunset shot in Hawaii and was waiting for the right light for the image I had in mind.  The air was still warm from the sunny day, there was a slight breeze, and the only sounds I could hear were the waves crashing into the rocks below me.  It was one of the most peaceful moments I have had in a long time and it really reminded me of why I love photography so much: it is a vehicle through which I can be mindful and present.

Mindfulness is something that is easily defined, but it is hard to do.  We are all so busy these days, our minds constantly filled with schedules, shopping lists, dinner plans and all of the other things that keep our lives moving forward.  Distractions abound:  We work on laptops while watching a movie and we check our phones when out for coffee with friends.  It’s kind of crazy when you think about it and I’m just as guilty as the next person for doing it.  More guilty than most, probably. 

But, when I pick up a camera all of that fades away.  The only thing that matters to me is being present in my environment, being present with my subject, and being an artist.  When I am on the street I can spend 12 hours, walk 15km, take hundreds of photos… and the time just melts away.  When I shoot weddings I am “in the zone” for hours.  You have to be, there are too many precious moments to be captured, once in a lifetime kind of moments.  During times like this evening in Hawaii I am simply in awe of my surroundings and I want to take it all in:  the sights, the sounds, the smells… I want to wrap myself in the beauty and peacefulness of a Hawaiian sunset and try to remember it in ways I know a photograph alone can’t always capture.  The benefit of all of this is that I am re-charged after I shoot, better able to manage life’s day to day tasks.  My photography makes me a better person and brings me joy.  It is “healthy”.

The truth is that every success I have had with my photography: every new client, every successful workshop, every print I sell, every everything really, has come from the simple fact that I love what I do and I am mindful when I am doing it.  I don’t follow trends, I just shoot what makes me feel good because I want to be genuine in my work.  I don’t think I could work any other way to be honest.  

Now, this is an article about what motivates you to take photos, and not one about social media, but I think this story has relevance:  I recently had a conversation with a young photographer, someone who contacted me and asked me to review “the plan”.  “The plan”, as it was laid out, involved dedicating 2 hours per day to a website and to social media.  It laid out a schedule not only for biweekly blog posts and daily Instagram posts, but also had a list of “influential” photographers whose social media accounts would be commented on every day.  When I asked the photographer what the purpose of “the plan” was, their answer was that they wanted to be a successful photographer (which to them meant having a large online following and being asked to represent brands).

My next question, which went unanswered, was:

“Ok… and then what?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media.  I have made amazing friendships from it, met new clients through it, and have been inspired by work that I have seen on it.  I always strive for a balance when using it though:  I tend to write one or two blog posts a week, I usually only post two or three Instagram photos per week and days often go by where I don’t post on FaceBook.  I think social media can be an invaluable tool and a wonderful way to meet new people, but I can’t imagine anything worse than chasing recognition from others on social media as an indication of success.  I love to write and share new work, but I do it first and foremost for myself and my clients.

The level of photographic frustration this person was experiencing from not being “successful enough” was palpable, and so different than the way I feel about my photography.  This person wasn’t deriving intrinsic pleasure from their photography, but seeking approval from others.  They were, in essence, crowd sourcing their self esteem.   It reminded me of a quote someone said at a conference I presented at last year:

“The gift that is in you will destroy you,

if what is in you can’t sustain you.”

How awesome is that quote?  We have to love what we do.  It needs to feed us and bring us satisfaction… not frustration.  We were given an amazing gift when we found photography: the ability to create.  That is what we need to draw our satisfaction from and most definitely not from a search for approval from others.  By any definition that isn’t something that is healthy.

Let’s think about “The Plan” again for a moment:  2 hours per day.  14 hours per week.  60 hours during an average month.  730 hours per year.  

…730 hours per year.

That is about 24 days per year.  How much art could you create in 24 days?  How many photographs could you make?  That has to be a better course of action: don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, don’t worry about what everyone else thinks, just let your photography be the gift that sustains you.  I just try to do what I love, share my work with others in a genuine way, and collaborate with other like minded people when the opportunity to do so presents itself.

A funny thing happens when you do this, you end up building a community of friends.  Not followers… friends… and it is an awesome thing.  The group of people I have met through my website and my social media accounts are amazing,  I can’t begin to express how much I value them.

Ironically, I recently read this article:

https://petapixel.com/2018/03/21/this-photographer-deleted-his-social-media-with-1-5-million-followers/

…about a photographer who deleted his social media accounts with 1.5 million followers, solely so he could focus on being an artist and do what he loved without all of the distractions that come from seeking recognition.  In the article he says:

“What would happen if I took all the energy that I spent on social media and devoted it straight towards what makes me feel really good: photography and traveling to new places on foot?”

What was the end result of his experiment?  His business (based around his website) grew organically because he focused on his work.  Crazy, right?  He focused his energies on the things he loved and the things which brought him intrinsic satisfaction… and he saw a net gain from it.

Again, that this isn’t an article about the perils of social media, that is just one example of things that can make our photography unhealthy.   Life is full of so many things that distract us, trends that tempt us, micro bursts of adulation that lure us into believing that they should be pursued and, of course, the daily responsibilities that we all have.  I think it really just comes down to this:  do you get intrinsic joy and satisfaction from your photography and from your art?  I hope that you do.  I hope that we all do.  And, if you don’t for whatever reason, what changes can you make so that you do?  

…just a few random thoughts on a rainy day.  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Cheers,

Ian

 

24 thoughts on “Is your photography healthy?

  1. dougieevans says:

    This is a great article, and I often wonder about this issue myself. There are so many articles on ‘maximising’ our social media it is a relief to read something which reminds people to be mindful too. I noticed that the more I used the Instagram, the more my style was influenced by popular trends, and that has left me cautious about investing too much time on it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Ian says:

      I think it is important to always shoot for yourself, to always shoot what brings you pleasure and not be influenced by extrinsic pressures. Social media can be a wonderful thing in the right context, but if your focus isn’t on what brings you joy then I think something is missing.

      Cheers,

      Ian

  2. James says:

    Thanks for this great reminder of why we pursue photography. As you said, it’s too easy to crowdsource our self-worth through social media.

    • Ian says:

      Hey James,

      There are so many things that can pull us away from enjoying our photography, which should be the thing that brings us joy.

      Cheers,

      Ian

    • Ian says:

      I agree David, many of these things are universal for sure. Many thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Best wishes,

      Ian

    • Ian says:

      Thank you Selma! I love that quote too, I actually stopped and wrote it down when they said it because I knew I would refer back to it at some point.

      Cheers,

      Ian

  3. iglesiasruano says:

    I spoted your post on Facebook, and I like to express my gratitude for your words, there are so inspiring for a multiple aspects in life. I’m a beginner in photography, and I’m still looking for what inspires my as an artist, and sometimes is frustrating because I used to listen people that tells me you have to this or that. But I’m convinced that in those words,there is not what I want to show as an artist, because I want to discover it by myself and I want to do it by myself, because I want to do it what I like and not because I follow how others do it. And I believe that is a better advice to tell to people do what you want, what you love, and not do what I think you have to do. Again, great post – Thank you.

    • Ian says:

      I always tell people who are taking their first steps in photography to shoot whatever their heart tells them to: landscape, cityscape, portraiture, macro, street, etc. Eventually, your own vision will start to emerge and you will find yourself gravitating to a specific style or genre. This journey is one of my favourite parts of being an artist to be honest. Just enjoy the process, keep shooting and you will get there!

      Best wishes,

      Ian

  4. jaygren says:

    Thanks Ian. I’ve been wondering lately as my interest in photography grows, if I’d be this interested if I didn’t have the social media platform (some type of audience). Or if others that are interested in photography would be as interested if there wasn’t a social media platform. It seems like there are so many photographers these days and I think that stems in part from having these platforms and accumulating the likes. Without IG, would all these photographers still be out there chasing frames? Personally, I rarely add multiple hashtags to accumulate more views, but have wondered if I should be. In the end, it’s good to read your words and realize that I should just continue to shoot for myself. At least I’ll have some nice prints to hang on my wall. Onward.

    • Ian says:

      Hey!

      There are many benefits to using social media, including making new friends and being inspired by other people’s art. For me it is just a perspective thing: social media should be something that compliments your art, not something that guides it or dominates it. I think the best motivator is how you feel… if you feel happy with the process and satisfied with your art keep doing what you are doing. But, if you are frustrated about your online status, unhappy with the number of likes you are getting, jealous about other people’s perceived success, etc then I think something needs to change. 👍

      Cheers,

      Ian

  5. Dan James says:

    hi Ian, I just discovered your blog and really like this post (the first I’ve read). I especially like these phrases –

    “why I love photography so much: it is a vehicle through which I can be mindful and present”

    “when I pick up a camera all of that fades away”

    “I can’t imagine anything worse than chasing recognition from others on social media as an indication of success”

    “micro bursts of adulation that lure us into believing that they should be pursued”

    Fully relate to all, and have recently abandoned social media to focus on photography and my blog.

    Looking forward to reading more here.

  6. ElementalPhotographer says:

    What a fantastic perspective. I feel too often that I spend too much time statistic hunting

    • Ian says:

      I think that happens to us all from time to time. I have found, over and over, that the key to happiness for me is to reset expectations, simplify where possible, and focus on loving the journey. Everything else will come in time.

      Cheers,

      Ian

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