For most of us, the last few months have been difficult in one way or another. Life as we knew it has changed. Things we took for granted are no longer ours for the taking. Travel (at least outside our own country) is denied to us; attending concerts, festivals and events are literally a non-event this year. Even having large get-togethers with family and friends has been curtailed for the immediate future. Despite the restrictions we are trying to make the best of a situation which we could not have foreseen and would never have believed could happen to us. We have had to find ways to sustain ourselves through this time of uncertainty. I know many people who have started a running regime and who find it has changed their life; others have started to practice yoga or mindfulness, others have created something lasting in their home or garden. Many people have taken up and a new hobby over this time and others would love to try something new, something that will absorb them and take them away from being over-focused on what is going on in the world around them.
I have written several posts in praise of photography on this site as I became aware of how valuable it is in my life. When I was starting out on my journey into the world of photography I could not have foreseen that it would be the pursuit that would sustain me through a world pandemic, but that is exactly what it has done. There are numerous articles and blog posts written about why photography is such a great hobby, and these are worth reading. In this post I want to outline the ways that I believe photography has been such a lifeline for me and why I recommend it as more than just a hobby.
Although I consider that my real photography journey began just two years ago, I actually first became interested in photography as an 11 year old child when I badgered my father to buy me a camera (with the promise that I would save my pocket money to get the films developed – those were the days!). It was my faithful friend for a few years as I documented our daily lives as children, and I still have some of those old photos! As an adult I came back to photography when a friend gave me his old SLR camera (and manual!) to experiment with. I had a vision of giving up my job to become a photographer, but that vision didn’t materialise, and I never really got to grips with that camera. Fast forward to two years ago when I decided to take early retirement from my lifetime career in education. I wanted and needed a new challenge, and a chance conversation started me thinking about my past love of photography, and so the journey began.
This is one of my earliest images on my new journey. I liked the reflection in the water and the little plant in the foreground. I still have fond memories of that first outing with my brand new camera, almost two years ago
Why I believe photography is such a great hobby
Below are just some of the reasons why I would recommend photography to anyone wishing to try something new at this time.
Photography is mentally stimulating
This is an ongoing journey of learning. While many people can stop after learning the basics (as I did in the past), there is always more to learn in photography. In fact, I have now realised that I will never stop learning and improving my craft. There are skills to learn and practise, inspirational photographers to follow and learn from, more skills to learn and practise, expert advice to read, always a new perspective to consider from a different teacher, a community of learners to engage with and share with, and then even more skills to learn and practise and so on the journey goes. The various perspectives and angles from which to learn this craft mean that it is forever stimulating and exciting; a lifetime adventure of discovery.
Photography keeps the mind active; it keeps us curious. Photography helps us to become more observant, not just when we are out shooting, but at other times too. It can force us to look beyond the obvious, to investigate more deeply. It encourages us to examine life from different perspectives and by putting thought into our photos and sharing the photos and the process with others, we can help inspire someone else
Photography nourishes your creative side
Photography is an ideal way to inspire and nourish your creative side. I recently wrote a number of blogs addressing this area of creativity:
I firmly believe that being creative, no matter what our chosen area of creativity, is a way to support our mental health.
Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway to life. -Daisaku Ikeda
To my mind, photography is an ideal creative pursuit. It challenges us to see what is around us and try to document what we see, to look at things from different perspectives, to experiment, evaluate, adjust, improve. Anthony Epes, a photographer and teacher for whom I have a lot of admiration, says that “Taking photos is more than just pressing a shutter…an artist is something we all are inside and photography is our journey/path in finding that inner artist.” Every time I go out with my camera I am looking to find a creative way to interpret a scene or to represent a subject. I will move around, get down low, find a higher angle from which to shoot, look for an interesting foreground or background, frame the subject in the most effective way, look for a leading line, consider how the image will look to the viewer. In short, I will try to capture the most compelling image I can. This is how photography ignites our creative spark - it keeps us thinking, experimenting, assessing what we do and always looking for a better way to do something.
I love the creativity which the smartphone camera can give. It adds another dimension to my photography, with the added advantage that it is always available
Photography is an aid to reflection and mindfulness
During times of trouble and confusion I always find the need to go within, to become more reflective, to listen to positive messages rather than the constant barrage of negativity that seems to dominate the media. Photography has been a constant aid to mindfulness for me. Walking in my local park, by the sea, in the countryside, camera in hand, looking for a photo opportunity, has given me so many wonderful opportunities to slow down, to observe, to be quiet in nature. I wrote the following blog earlier this year, just before lock down, and it sustained me through that time to know that this experience could not be taken away.
Even when I was limited to a 2km radius, I could find a secluded spot, take my camera, and be totally immersed in the natural world around me.
It is said that getting into the habit of appreciating small moments of our lives is good for our mental health. Capturing some of these small moments, seeing beauty around us, moves us away from negativity, at least while we are engaged in the pursuit. Taking pictures of everyday moments immerses us in those moments and can change the ordinary to the extraordinary
Photography supports physical health
It goes without saying that photography is a great support for our physical health. It is largely (though not exclusively) an outdoor pursuit; it involves walking, being in nature, breathing in fresh air and most of the time it takes us away from the world of traffic, crowds and fumes. Over the last few months I have walked on beaches, hiked up hills, trekked across cliffs, climbed mountain paths, meandered along riverbanks and trodden a well worn path through my local park. I have gone out in all weathers and, with the exception of very wet days, have managed to get photographs on all of them. Being outside in nature gives me the opportunity to breathe more deeply of the freshest air, and to move, which must be a help to physical health.
After two years practising photography, I have more interests, I am more active, more creative and I have learned so much. I am more knowledgeable about photography, but also realise that I am on an unending journey which has always more to reveal. There will always be something more to learn, something new to motivate and excite you on this journey
Photography expands your horizons
Photography has brought me to new places in search of a photograph, it has introduced me to new people and provided me with many new contacts to whom I can turn for support. Some of these are online contacts and support groups, but they have proved to be a great resource to enhance my photography practice. One of the most rewarding aspects of photography has been travelling to new places and meeting new people. Whether travelling around the country, stopping off at interesting places and encountering people who love to stop for a chat, or having the courage to approach people on a street photography walk (on the suggestion of the workshop facilitator), I have found that people love to talk about place they are visiting and what they are doing. In travelling around my own country, I have recently stopped at places I have passed so many times without realising the beauty they held.
Another aspect of the art of taking photographs is the awareness of the past, of the lives of people who are gone and who left their mark in places that we now visit. I recently did a photography trip with a friend who has a deep love of the history of our country and it was a very meaningful and thought-provoking experience as we considered the lives of those gone before us, their creations that still exist in our environment and how the lives of these people still have an influence on the present. Taking photographs in those places seemed to have an additional special feel.
There are many more aspects of photography that make it such a great hobby, but I have confined this post to the ways in which the pursuit of photography has supported and sustained me through the last few turbulent months. One of the strengths of photography as a hobby is that it can be as simple or as complex as we wish it to be; it can remain at the level of simple enjoyment and pleasure or it can open doors that lead in all directions and bring us on a new journey of discovery.
Photography has opened my eyes to the beauty of the world in a new way and that is something I treasure. I love this quote from Kurt Vonnegut, applying it to photography, as I truly do believe that photography makes the soul grow.
"To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it." -- Kurt Vonnegut