Recently I had a MAJOR revelation about photography and what most people enjoy about it. It’s something that, as I think back over the years, people have been telling me over and over again in subtle ways – but I never paid attention.
Lately, as I was creating my Wildlife Editing Secrets course, and looking at hundreds of emails I received from people leading up to the course, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that I enjoy photography (and many of you do too), for a reason that nobody ever talks about.
Photography Is Like Playing an Instrument
If you’ve ever read my other longer blog posts before, I often compare photography to other hobbies. One of those hobbies that I’ve taken part in from time to time is playing the guitar. So why would I ever play the guitar? Well, it’s certainly not to be a pro in a touring band. That’ll never happen. Just like golf in a way right? I play that too, and I have no plans of being a touring pro – I just like it. I don’t plan on joining any competitions or battling it out with another guitarist. I don’t post videos of me playing the guitar, or my golf scores online or anything like that.
Both of these activities are relaxing, yet incredibly challenging (and sometimes downright frustrating) at the same time. Sometimes I golf socially and some people get together with friends and jam or play instruments together. When we’re done, sometimes we grab food or a beer and hang out and talk about playing, etc… And sometimes I take part in these hobbies alone and totally enjoy it. And if I practice, sometimes I go out and practice somewhere, or sometimes I practice in the privacy of my own home.
But you know one thing that I never said in the previous paragraph? That I take part in these hobbies so that I can show it off, perform publicly, or get on a leaderboard, etc… For me at least, many times playing the guitar or golfing is about an intangible benefit, or feeling of satisfaction I get (or don’t get when it doesn’t go well, but I still enjoy it).
HOW DOES THIS TIE IN TO PHOTOGRAPHY AND EDITING?
Okay, now let’s talk photography. Why do I take photos? Because I like it. I’m not a pro and don’t want to be. I don’t join competitions (though I realize many people do). Sometimes I go out and shoot alone and sometimes I go with other people. I practice in various places and I can often sit for hours and look at and edit photos on my computer.
But photography is usually thought to be different because we do, in a way, have a tangible product to show – the visual of the photograph. But with playing the guitar, you can record it and have a tangible product too right? If I don’t keep a scorecard with my golf game, does that mean the round of golf never happened? Of course not!
The question is… does it NEED to only be about the tangible finished product being shown off? Or can your process of taking a photo and editing it on the computer also be about the intangible experience. The experience of editing that photo, sitting back and enjoying your hard work… alone on your computer. Does it have to be all about showing it off?
This is something I had never given much thought to until recently.
A POOR ANSWER TO A POPULAR QUESTION
I wish I could tell you how many times I get emails and questions that ask, “Hey Matt, so what do you do with all of your photos?”. I’ve always thought it was a fair question. I mean I do spend a lot of time taking the photos and a lot of time on the computer editing them too.
I usually answer that I sometimes share them online, put them in my web portfolio and/or print them. But honestly… sometimes I think I overstate the degree to which I do that – and make it seem like this is a more-than-common occurrence for me and my photography.
But ya know what? It’s not. More times than not, I just enjoy looking at the photos. Especially with my wildlife photography. I look through them, edit them, sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor in taking and editing the photos. Some of my favorites get shared, but definitely not all of them. And sometimes I go back and re-edit them or re-look at photo shoots from months and years in the past.
And rather than hiding it, and being almost embarrassed by it… I’m now owning it. I’m owning the fact that the majority of my photography lives on my computer for my enjoyment and my enjoyment only. I don’t share or show off my photography as much as I’m led to think I should. I’ve come to the realization that photography is for me – and not necessarily always to share or for some one else. And I’m owning it because I know for a fact that I’m not alone.
How Do I Know I’m Not Alone
This was my “ah ha!” moment (or moments really). Over the years I’ve often had people say to me that they don’t do anything with their photography but enjoy it on their computer. But it never clicked. Then one day, I was talking with some one who is an amazing wildlife photographer, and she said something that really stuck with me. I was looking at her photos and she asked a question about noise reduction or something like that. And I said, “Well, it depends what you want to do with the photo”. She replied with “I’m not doing anything with it… look at that beautiful animal… I just like to enjoy it on my computer and I want it to be as perfect as possible”.
Bam!!! It hit me. While many people had basically said the same thing to me before, this was that final kick-in-the-butt that I needed to realize this is really a thing. And not just a thing that other people do, but a thing that I actually do too!
How This Relates to My Wildlife Photography
How many of you play an instrument or know some one that plays? Okay, leave your hands up. Now how many of you regularly perform with that instrument in front of people? Yeah… see… a lot of your hands just went down (even though I can’t see them, I know they did).
So practicing and playing the instrument in the privacy of your own space seems normal right? I bet there are millions of people that play an instrument, and only a small fraction actually play or perform it for others or make recordings that they share with others.
I’m suggesting that photography is very similar. Sometimes, we just enjoy doing it and looking at the photos on our computer, and feeling a sense of accomplishment. In fact, for my wildlife photography this is primarily how I enjoy it. While I love the challenge of shooting, I don’t get to see the wildlife as much because it all happens so fast. But I get to relive those experiences on my computer.
I have photos of two birds ripping apart a fish in mid-air. Are photos like that really something I’m going to plaster all over my house walls with prints? Probably not. But man are they enjoyable to edit to the finest detail, and look at on a big screen in my office. There’s a HUGE feeling of satisfaction there. Much like when a person who plays an instrument, learns and song, and has this great feeling when they practice it by themselves and totally nails it.
TIMES ARE DIFFERENT
There’s a popular quote from Ansel Adams that goes:
“The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print is the performance”.– Ansel Adams
That’s something people often say when they talking about how photography must be printed to be enjoyed. And trust me, I’m no stranger to printing and suggesting that we do it. And on some level I hope everyone has a degree of permanence to their photography – so it lives on, and doesn’t just sit tucked away on hard drives forever.
But, that doesn’t have to be all of it – or even most of it. Nowadays, we don’t need a print to enjoy our photography. Back in the film days, the ONLY way to enjoy photography (after the act of it was done) was the print. But now, we have a computer screen and photo editing. These tools let us relive our photography, even after the act of shooting has passed. I believe this is a good thing, and a very normal thing, to enjoy doing.
It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination
I’ll leave you with this. I don’t think anyone would disagree that photography is often the art of seeing. Think about that statement and the key word… “seeing”. It doesn’t imply anything else after. And while there are many definitions to photography, none of them strictly state that photography is the process of taking a photo, printing it or sharing it on Instagram to get a bunch of clapping hand and heart emojis – and that photography, as a hobby, isn’t complete until you do that.
So, if you’re like me, and sometimes find it incredibly satisfying to take a photo, get on the computer and edit and bring out it’s best, and then sit back and revel in the amazing show nature puts on, whether it’s wildlife or landscapes, then embrace it. You looking at the photo on your computer can indeed be what motivates you.
As the popular saying goes, it’s about the journey not the destination. And the journey in photography is the process of taking and editing the photo. If giving it a destination (printing and sharing it online) is important to you, then go for it. But don’t, for one minute, not enjoy the fact that the “journey” can be the fun part of photography… even if you only look at your photos on the computer and they never get seen anywhere else.
Thanks for sticking with me through this article. I hope it helps vindicate some of you who love wildlife photography (or any type really), and put a lot of work in to taking and editing those photos, but don’t necessarily do anything with them other than simply looking at them, and enjoying them on your own.
And if you want some extra help in editing some of those photos, I hope you’ll swing by and check out my Wildlife Editing Secrets course.
Have a good one!