When I used to shoot professionally, amateur photographers would often come up to me and ask how they too could make a living off of photography. Traveling all over the world to visit and photograph exotic places and beautiful things sounds like a dream job and for some it is, but it wasn’t for me.
I love to explore. I love to travel, to see and experience new things. Working as a professional photographer allowed me to do that, but I was often alone, and my travel experiences were often limited to creating beautiful images. I didn’t go to fancy restaurants for dinner, because dinner was too close to sunset and good light. I never experienced the night life of cities I went to, because I always had plans to wake up early, before sunrise, to photograph each morning. The beautiful settings I visited and things I saw were shared with strangers or no one at all. My destinations revolved around photographic opportunities instead of cultural or spiritual ones, and I’d skip out on a visit to a monument or other attraction if photographs were better elsewhere. The whole point of photography is being able to “see” the world around you, and sometimes I found that being a professional photographer so focused on creating sellable images was like traveling with blinders on. I saw only what I could photograph well, and missed out because of it.
Last week, I went on vacation to Arizona, a place I have never before visited and one that is filled with natural beauty and wonder. I went with a person I care deeply for, and we went to have fun, to get away from New England’s stick season, work, and everyday normal things. I brought my DSLR, but ended up taking photos exclusively with my iPhone, many taken in bad light or from the window of a moving car. I demanded selfies. On the days I was awake for it, I watched the sun rise from bed wrapped in the comfort of warm sheets and loving arms.
Not taking photos allowed me to see and experience more than I would have if everything I did revolved around creating a new image for my gallery collection. We went on hikes, saw shooting stars, admired art, and ate delicious food. I ran a mile or more each day, usually with company, keeping my streak alive (I’ve been running at least a mile a day for the past 379 days and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon). We slept in and relaxed. I took photographs, but for the sake of capturing memories and moments, not creating art. It was a real vacation, and probably the first one I have taken in a long long time.
Photography is a wonderful thing, and I love that now photography has become so accessible to so many people. Most people have a smartphone with a built-in camera on them almost all the time providing unlimited chances to take photographs of spontaneous moments and everyday things. I’m very glad I had my iPhone with me to capture memories from my vacation, but there is a big difference between having the photographs you take dictated by your activities and having your activities dictated by the photos you want to take. I’m not anti-photo, not at all, but getting wrapped up in taking pictures or becoming obsessed with sharing them on social media is an easy way to miss out on actually living and experiencing life.
My favorite photographs from Arizona are the ones where I’m next to this wonderful person and we are both smiling. We’re on vacation and happy and it shows. Maybe you can see the landscape behind us. Maybe not so much. But those are the ones most likely to end up printed, framed, and displayed somewhere where I can see them regularly, not so much the snapshots I took of red rock landscapes and desert flora.
I’m happier now that I don’t pay my bills with money I make from photography. If I sell a print I have some extra spending money, which I can put towards a fun trip or exciting adventure. I still enjoy teaching workshops and sharing photography techniques with others – teaching photography is one of photo gigs I get the most joy from – and when I get to do that it’s fun and rewarding. I admit it is hard not to feel pressure to go out and shoot on days with beautiful weather or ideal conditions, and I still feel guilty from time to time for not capturing peak seasons or making more of an effort to update my blog, website, and Facebook pages with recent work. But I know that my ideal career is not one of a professional photographer, and the only way for me to be passionate about photography is to let it happen at its own pace. So I’m trying to be patient with myself, and I hope you can be too.
I used to think that life got in the way of me taking pictures, but now I think it’s the other way around. So I’m out there, living and doing the things I love. Sometimes photography is a part of that, sometimes it’s not, and that’s okay with me.