Are we having fun yet?

Every once in a while, when I’m really bored, I’ll surf over to one of the photography forum (discussion) sites, only to be instantly reminded why it’s been so long since I visited. The litany of complaints, insults, and one-upsmanship makes me wonder whether there are any photographers who truly enjoy their craft. Of course I know there are, because I meet them all the time: in my workshops, whenever I go out to shoot on my own, on my Facebook page, and right here on my blog. I don’t know whether the same photographers who seem so happy when they’re in the field do a Jekyll to Hyde transformation as soon as their butts hit the computer chair, or whether there are two types of photographers: those who actually take pictures, and those who simply prefer their computer to Mother Nature (no wonder they’re so unhappy).

Photography should be, first and foremost, a source of pleasure. How long has it been since you asked yourself why you enjoy photography? And how much photography time do you dedicate to the thing you most enjoy? This is a particular issue for pros, many of whom made photography their livelihood out of the shear joy of taking pictures, only to find the making money part of the business sapped the joy from their picture taking.

I was a serious (and happy!) amateur photographer for many years before I started doing it for a living. When I left my (very good) job to pursue photography full time, it was with a personal commitment to only photograph what I want to photograph: nature and landscapes. I (naively) created a business model that I believed would enable that, and see in hindsight how extremely fortunate I am that it has worked out.

But enough about me. How do you define photographic pleasure? Whether photography is simply an excuse to get out and enjoy nature, an essential medium for creative expression, or a passion that drives you to capture the “best” (however you define “best”) image without regard for personal comfort and convenience, make sure you don’t lose the zeal that moved you to pick up a camera at the start.

As I said earlier, a cornerstone of my own photography is the fervent conviction to photograph only landscapes—no weddings, portraits, candids, or even wildlife (in other words, nothing that moves). But the image above is an exception that makes me happy every time I look at it. To me it’s a perfect reminder of the passion that fuels me and so many other photographers. This was one of those magic moments in nature that transcend conventional standards of comfort (rest, warmth, and full stomachs) to deliver pure joy.

I’d gotten my workshop group up dark and early and assembled them at Yosemite’s Tunnel View in blizzard conditions. Despite the fact that visibility was zero and we were all hungry, sleep deprived, and cold, everyone persevered without complaint. Nobody suggested we return to the hotel or depart for breakfast. Not a word was uttered about diffraction, resolution, soft lenses, back-focus, dynamic range, high-ISO noise, or any of the countless other problems seem to haunt the computer photographers. In fact, for the entire time we waited (and long before the photography improved), the mood was unanimously festive.

As you can see here, conditions did in fact improve. But I’ve done this long enough to know that even if they hadn’t, everyone would have been happy at (our long overdue) breakfast. Indeed, I know they’d have been happy for the rest of the day, not because of anything I did, but simply because they were doing something they love.

Join the fun in a photo workshop


The rewards of misery

(Images that wouldn’t have happened without a little suffering)

Click an image for a closer look, and a slide show. Refresh the screen to reorder the display.

8 Comments on “Are we having fun yet?

  1. This really spoke to me. I started doing photography when I saw an old 35 mm Nikon at a garage sale for $3 and bought it. My father had been an avid photographer towards the end of his life but I was too young to be much involved in it though I remember him taking pictures and I have some of them with me still. The satisfaction and joy in getting that certain shot has been to showcase the beauty of what I see and to show it to others who would dismiss something as mundane as that building they work in every day or that park bench they sit on while having lunch. I have even conquered a few fears in my photographic endeavors, the fear of bugs in particular, to get a shot of a honeybee on a flower. Photography has given me a true appreciation of how colorful and lovely the world around us really is and I enjoy sharing that with other photographers, appreciators , even the casual observer. This is what drives me in this field, the chance to showcase what I see as beautiful.

  2. Hey Gary,
    You are a great example of what you are speaking about. In every workshop, though you have done a thousand, you still enjoy it everytime. You are a great teacher, and photographer.

    • Thanks, Brooke. Yeah, I really do enjoy the workshops–both for the great scenery and the great people. Not a bad gig. 🙂

  3. Is that my back? I very much enjoyed my two workshops with you Gary. There were definitely many emotions rising up in me when I first saw El Cap and the bristlecone pines. Just heavenly places on earth. You made it very educational and affordable for me to make that happen and for that I thank you. It is always a joy for me to go out with my camera it truly brings me back to the best part of my childhood.

  4. A friend of mine emailed me this quote a while back and I use it on my email signature. (I’m sorry, I don’t know who this quote is from). “To worship beauty for its own sake is narrow and one surely cannot derive from it that aesthetic pleasure which comes from finding beauty in the commonest things”

    Everytime I send an email I read this and remember why I do what I do. I love to find the beauty in abandoned places that people normally dismiss as ugly, unsightly, an eye sore. I also do portraits and love the reactions of the familys I shoot. I have so much fun with it!! I really wish I could leave my full time job and pursue photography full time. But…..right now that’s not an option.

    Thank you for the reminder to have fun with the craft that started out as a passion for all of us!

  5. From as early as I can remember, I wanted to make my living at photography; going to photography school, taking evening classes, and doing workshops. I realized early that I didn’t have that little bit extra it takes to be an exceptional photographer; I never developed that third eye, and gave up the quest. I’m not sorry for my decision because I still enjoy photography immensely as a hobby, to the point of driving my wife to distraction, although she is my biggest fan and continually offers copious amounts of encouragement. I understand what you are talking about and agree wholeheartedly. The enjoyment for me comes from seeing and experiencing my environment through the lens. The equipment and the technical minutia is not that important. It’s what you perceive through the viewfinder.

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