Photographer’s Motivation: Where Do You Fit?
From the simplest camera, say, a pinhole type, to the most advanced digital; the camera is designed to do relatively one thing- record the data it “sees”. That sounds awfully sterile amid all the features that manufacturers build into the cameras of today- and truthfully, it is. The camera is a tool- a lifeless bundle of parts. We shouldn’t expect the camera to do much more than its intended purpose without our creative and educated input. But, why am I holding this camera in the first place? Why am I taking these pictures? What will I ask the camera to “see”? Understanding the true motivation of photographers can help us decide what direction we may take in our own work.
Your motivation starts as far back as when you first started in photography. It was probably a curiosity, an interest, or an intrigue to see what photography was all about.
I was seven or eight years old when I stumbled upon my parents forgotten Kodak Tourist film camera. I knew this wasn’t a toy, and although I played with it, I did so differently than I played with my dented rusty trucks out in the sand pile. This camera had shiny parts that fit together tightly and had a mysterious functionality. I knew this camera was a tool. It was precision made, and it had heft and balance. The knobs and dials were engraved with numbers and hieroglyphics of clouds and the sun. I didn’t know what the numbers were referring to, or represented, but I liked the feel when I turned them. I would ready the shutter, and then release it. I loved that (now very familiar) click of the shutter. I was hooked. I would use many different cameras growing up, but only for documentary purposes, and it would be some thirty years later that I would get serious about photography.
Most are similar in getting started into photography; they have that curiosity or interest. Maybe they were influenced by someone’s work, or they just needed a hobby. It does seem that after awhile, the motivation that was first just a curiosity turns into something else. Getting to know the technical aspects of the camera takes time, there is motivation in being determined to overcome a challenge, but as we progress past the learning curve, the motivation changes again.
Why Do You Have That Camera In Your Hand?
Is it because you have to make this month’s rent, or because you just like making images? Eventually, you will overcome the technical road blocks, and although not a master, you’ll become confident enough in your abilities to ask the camera for results instead of being only a button pusher. Your motivation should move past learning the camera and it’s parts, and become more about your vision. It should be about your ideas, your feelings, and the creative side of photography. It is time to tell the camera what to see, and how to see it to help tell a story. This is where some accelerate in their craft, or eventually fizzle out. It takes dedication, along with motivation, to move forward.
Why Should We Think About Motivation?
The motivation of the photographer dictates the level of quality, depth of meaning, and the aesthetics of the images that they produce. If you never ask for anything special from the camera, will your images reveal who you are as a photographer? As an artist? As spectators, we are looking to see a hint of the artist behind the camera. The motivation of the artist (and their results) is what makes frame-worthy art, exceptional documentary or commercial images; not just the technical abilities.
There may be a combination of several motivations, the whole idea is to recognize what really motivates you to take pictures. Do you like who you are photographically? Is this journey taking you where you thought you were going?
These motivators are not in any particular order, although there may a progression from one to another depending on situations.
For Our Own Ego
We all need some validation. We need to know that we are doing something right. We are proud of what we’ve accomplished and know (or think we know) our work is good, so we show our work to get a response. Our first taste of validation may have been when our art was proudly hung on the refrigerator in our childhood home. It felt good to be noticed, but we need validation from others that are not as close as family. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in our work, and validation helps us move on to the next image with confidence.
The Problem Solver
Being forced, or put on the spot to make images, happens everyday in the commercial photography world. The client says, “Shoot this, and I want it this way!” Shooting for clients, stock sites, magazines, and advertising is essentially solving someone else’s problem…they need images, and you can provide them. Deadlines and expectations put the pressure on. Being on assignment motivates photographers differently than the one that shoots only when the “mood” strikes.
Taking It Further
To take photography further, some experiment, test theories, and question the current paradigms. They want to transcend the the accepted practices and expected results. This photographer looks for “outside the box” imagery, and accepts repeat failure to avoid the normal, and the cliché.
Continuing Our Own Understanding/ To Master
Once we have a grasp of the basics of the technical side of photography and are taking it seriously, we should be continuing to learn. Photography is an experience based creative process. As we shoot, we should be searching for answers to our own questions and asking even more. Photography can take a lifetime to master.
Expression and Fulfillment
Artistic expression and the gratification of creating is important to many people. We like to see our creations come to some level of reality, especially if it closely resembles what we see in our mind’s eye.
Giving Back To The World
Social and political issues can be earth shaking motivators. Think of documentary style photography and how images can mold and shape our attitudes and opinions. These photographers reveal (and expose) important issues in our world, and although they will include their own slant to a story, they have responsibilities and standards they are expected to follow.
The photographer that solely makes a living as a professional, or the freelancer that helps offset the cost of shooting (and buying cool gear) will be motivated differently than a hobbyist. The basic needs of life (food, shelter, etc.) must be met. The need for these basics typically will drive the photographer to hustle and to accelerate the learning process. Profit/ business oriented photographers tend be more aware of trends and technological progress that may help them in their survival among the competition.
I don’t think we choose our motivations as much as they are already hard-wired into who we are, and we should not be apologetic about them. Realizing our motivators (active or passive) allows us to plot a particular course in our photographic path with more purpose and focus. Knowing who we are photographically helps in our selection of subject matter, our individual style, and our message will come across to our viewers with more control and consistency.0