Staying Motivated in Photography

Tips & Techniques

Do you find your interest in photography to be constant or does it waver? Passion and interest are a complex topics for me. I find myself trying to answer why my interest in photography has remained strong over the years even through distractions and challenges along the way.

Table of Contents

On Passions

I used to be obsessed with chemistry, and for quite some time I was convinced I would one day have my own university laboratory. Many years ago, I actually did have a small laboratory at home, and I distinctly remember creating noxious purple smoke which was very cool.

But then, one day without really knowing why, I started to lose my interest in chemistry. I was sad about it because something that had brought me so much joy was fading away.

Over the years I’ve often wondered why passions fade. I’ve certainly been possessed by a large assortment of obsessions, many of which have later lost their hold. So far, photography has kept its charm, but why?

Beaver_In_Icy_Landsape
North American Beaver. Nikon Z6 + 500PF @ 500mm, ISO 900, 1/320, f/5.6

To try and understand this, I asked myself: What’s the difference between first discovering something, and continuing with it after it’s familiar? When I first discover a new pursuit, it’s all about the initial spark and the learning phase. On the other hand, after getting used to something, I often switch to a more goal-directed approach. In photography, this means analyzing my photos, getting better shots, getting better gear, and learning more stuff.

Is this goal-directed approach bad? Not at all. There’s no doubt that goals are necessary to improve. They also provide important challenges, and I do enjoy being challenged. However, being immersed in goals can sometimes make me forget the initial spark that brought me to my passions in the first place.

Cactus_Wren_On_Cactus
Cactus Wren. Nikon D500 + 500PF @ 500mm, ISO 250, 1/400, f/5.6

The Initial Spark

What does this mean for my photography? If you’ve seen some of my posts on Photography Life, you might have noticed that I like birds. More rarely, I even photograph people and landscapes. What do all of these have in common? I enjoy being amongst them. I love walking through the forest and observing birds and I’ve enjoyed the company of the people I’ve photographed.

Gull_Standing_In_Water_Snowing
Ring-billed Gull. Nikon Z6 + 500PF @ 500mm, ISO 400, 1/640, f/5.6

Photography is an extension of this enjoyment. It’s the act of capturing a small piece of my connection with the world. It also helps me understand how I see the world because it pauses time and allows me to see the aesthetic of a single scene that I have experienced. This gives me satisfaction, and that is the initial spark.

I’ve been asked a few times, “what do you do with a hard drive full of images?” I feel that the images I’ve taken are like a journal – something I can examine again and again to understand how I visually connect with existence. Moreover, the act of sharing photographs with others is a powerful act of communication, often more appropriate than words.

Distractions

Nonetheless, I sometimes get distracted. I admit, I am sometimes gear-obsessed and I get very intrigued by new cameras and lenses, perhaps too much so. As a birder, I have often thought about the possibilities of a 600mm f/4 – which gives more reach and more light gathering capability than the 500PF I use.

Panasonic also just announced their new DG Summilux 9mm for micro four thirds, which has a reproduction ratio of 0.25x – which is unusually high for a wide-angle lens. Very intriguing indeed! I often feel that reading about gear has become an entirely separate hobby from photography.

Nikon_D500_Macro
At times, I can be distracted by reliable, dependable, delicious gear

I also sometimes get distracted by trends and other people’s photographs. Of course, I have also learned a lot from them as well and I love looking at these photographs to discover new ideas. For example, soon after I got into digital photography, I happened to be on an airplane and a guy was editing his photos in Lightroom a few seats ahead of me. By watching him I actually learned about adding vignetting in post. I’ve also stolen learned many of my composition techniques from other people’s work.

Black_Capped_Chickadee_On_Stick
Black-capped Chickadee. Nikon D500 + 500PF @ 500mm, ISO 2200, 1/3200, f/5.6

However, in paying attention to trends, I sometimes get hung up on replicating certain styles or using certain effects. Sometimes this can be a good learning process, but it’s important not to get too attached to certain ideas. I guess the balance between learning from established artists and finding one’s own voice must be a struggle in many art forms, as it certainly is in photography.

These distractions sometimes get in the way, because they can make me lose the immediate connection of just being in the moment and noticing nice compositions. If that process isn’t there, then I can’t really transmit the peaceful feeling I have of being surrounded by birds because the peaceful feeling doesn’t exist.

Back to the Beginning

Looking back on my journey as a photographer then, I feel like I’ve never lost my passion because I’ve never lost sight of what brought me here in the first place. When I first open the Raw files I’ve taken for the day, I still have the same feeling I had when I got my first roll of film processed into prints.

On the other hand, my goals are also very important, and I don’t ignore those. In fact, in every single picture I’ve ever taken, there is always something I want to improve upon for next time, and this learning process is very important to me. Sometimes this feeling causes tension with the discovery process, but I think I would also be sad if I didn’t have something to strive for.

Canada_Geese_Against_Sunset
Canada Geese. Panasonic G9 + Laowa 2X Macro @ 50mm, ISO 640, 1/160, f/6.3

In short, I believe that photography is a fine balance between a photographer’s initial spark, longer-term goals, and even expectations and gear (distractions though they can be). Personally, I feel that if I can keep staying aware of this line, photography will always be central in my life. And even though we all have different motivations as photographers, hopefully something here made sense to you and helps keep your interest in photography thriving.

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