Three Things I Love About Photography

Three Things I Love About Photography

Regardless of my own personal passions, an objective man would say that all art is created equally. So, why is it that I have chosen photography as one of my main means of expression?

I’ll start off by acknowledging how much I will refer to my own personal proclivities throughout this article. Art is a decidedly personal profession. To try and discuss my feelings about a particular piece of art or artform without acknowledging my own preferences and biases is foolhardy. And to try and speak about art in the third person would be fundamentally dishonest. So all I can do is share some of my personal reasons for loving photography and look forward to hearing some of your own.

I should start by saying that still photography was not my first love. My first love was, and is, filmmaking. Telling narratives through filmmaking is why I went from being a kid who wanted to be the next Joe Montana to being an adult who has trouble contemplating a world in which every aspect of it isn’t infused with some form of artistic storytelling.

For me, still photography didn’t arrive in earnest until later in life. I learned still photography, almost by accident, when I was studying cinematography at UCLA. The still camera was a way to teach us the basics of photography without the expense of running thousands of feet of 35mm film through the camera every time we had a homework assignment. Short of helping me with my homework, I didn’t give a great deal of thought to still photography until roughly a decade later when I bought my first digital camera on an impulse buy and suddenly found myself with an urge to justify the expenditure by using it as much as possible.

Right away, this newfound hobby brought me immense joy. And, thankfully, I very quickly started gaining some level of success and notoriety in the still photography world which only served to inspire me to work hard to get better and push myself to develop my craft and personal style. Since then, I have been able to slowly, very slowly, but steadily build a career in still photography while (most of the time) maintaining my passion for the craft.  I won’t say my love for a career in photography has never wavered. But, I can say that my love for photography itself has not.

But why? What is it about photography that has continued to appeal to me so much over the years despite the ups and downs of the profession and the incredible amount of hard work it takes to continue to improve your craft?

Visualizing Hard Work

I guess, ironically, one of the main reasons why I love photography is the last thing I mentioned. The hard work. I once heard a speaker say that there are two types of people in the world. There are people who look at someone successful and think they are lucky to have been born with a specific gift or position that led to the inevitable. Then there are people who believe that anyone can achieve a high level of success and that it is gained through hard work rather than a preordained silver spoon. I’ve always been more of the second type. Of course, some people are blessed with advantages that give them a leg up. But I fully believe that “success,” whatever that means to you, is possible for us all if you are willing to put in the work to maximize your gifts.

I do think there was some natural talent I had when it came to photography. But the reason I’ve gotten to where I am now (which is still not nearly close to where I’d like to be) is because of the insane amount of work that has gone into getting better. Again, not suggesting that I am the greatest photographer on the planet. Rather, only comparing the current me to the one that first picked up a still camera. The benefit of putting in the hard private unseen thankless work to improve my craft is clear in the images themselves. When I look at the first images I ever shot and compare them to my last images I’ve shot, the benefit of the hard work is apparent.

I love photography because it is a field where you can literally see your improvement.  Regardless of what your financial expectations are for the artform, you can literally look at your portfolio from year to year and see the fruits of your labor in real time.  If you work hard, you can get better.  Regardless of where you start.

You Have No Excuses

I mentioned my filmmaking experience at the top of this article for a few reasons. One, it gives you some perspective on me as a narrator. But, two, filmmaking serves as a counterpoint to some of the reasons why I love shooting stills.

Filmmaking is a team sport. While it is entirely possible to make a movie single handedly, to get something truly special it will most likely require the participation of a lot of different talented people all rowing in the same direction to create something spectacular beyond the abilities of any individual component. Whether it’s the producers raising the money and handling logistics, or the art department creating an environment for the cinematographers to feast on, or actors bringing the writer’s words to life, a lot of things have to go right in order to get even a passable film off the ground.

I love the filmmaking process. That’s why I do it. But, as someone with a clinical inability to sit still and a need to be producing art at all times, the sometimes years-long process of making a film can be, well, let’s just say “frustrating.” 

Still photography, on the other hand, can be done right now. Maybe you need a model, depending on what type of work you do, but it is 100% possible for you to grab a camera right now, right this minute, walk outside and create something amazing in 1/8,000th of a second all by yourself without needing to raise money or ask permission. To be sure, depending on your ambitions, money and collaboration can still be an obstacle to creating that dream image in your head. But, unlike films which almost always require at least some minimal level of production, creating a beautiful still image can occur with a very low cost of entry.

I love photography because it allows people like me, who feel a biological urge to create art at every moment, but who are also proven introverts who love the ability to create art solo, access to an immediate art form that can be performed in an instant. There might be a practical reason why you can’t do that shoot you’ve always dreamt about that requires shutting down Dodger Stadium in the middle of the game and procuring 72 wild llamas to run through the scene at exactly sunset. But you can always be creating some form of art as a photographer. No excuses. Just pick up your camera, open your eyes, and look for something beautiful.

It’s Personal

This year saw the emergence of AI as a massive threat/opportunity to the way photography (or photo realistic images) will be created in the years to come. I’m not going to go deep into AI here. I’ve done it a million times already in past articles and even given a lecture or two on the topic. The short wrap up of it being that, regardless of how we feel about it, AI is here to stay. To that end, I spent a decent amount of time this year trying to learn how to use it effectively. And I have come to better understand where it will be useful, where it will be harmful, how it will affect my profession, and some ways that we will all need to adjust in the future.

We now live in a world where it is entirely possible to create objectively stunning photographic-looking images (although they are not actually photographs) in the blink of an eye with little to no training. Now, while those lacking artistic ability or the patience to improve their photographic craft might see such an ability as a major opportunity, many others who believe that developing your own photographic craft is part of the joy of photography in the first place will no doubt find AI a somewhat vacant experience.

I’ve certainly created a number of AI art pieces during the course of my learning curve that I feel are aesthetically beautiful. But, somehow, the fact that I created them sitting in my office in my pajamas does take a lot of the feeling of accomplishment out of the process for me, especially since I’ve done so much hard work to better myself as a photographer over the years, to say that these are images I could absolutely replicate in the real world with an actual camera (if I had the budget). So, having created them with a series of keywords, while it got me to the end result, can feel a bit hollow.

That may just be something I’ll get over as time passes and AI art becomes even more ingrained into the world workflow. But, for me, one of the things I love about photography is that not everyone can do it. Art isn’t meant to be easy. It’s meant to be difficult. Great art challenges every inch of us in order to conceive it, execute it, and deliver it. It’s more than just learning craft to reach an end result. It’s digging deep into our humanity to show the world who we are on the inside, then bringing that into tangible form. Sure, we live in an age where computers can do impressive imitations of human artists. But the process of creating art is about more than the final product. It’s about the process.  

Every time I take a photograph, I reveal more about who I am as a person. Including my imperfections. The camera helps me share that with the world.  So, while technology can replicate the end product, it cannot replicate the process. And the process of learning who you are, the process of looking deep inside yourself to find your unique artistic voice, and the process of continually bettering yourself, both as a craftsman and as a human, is why I fell in love with photography in the first place.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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I like that joy is almost always a part of your experience in photography. Joy is always reachable in play, art, and prayer if we'll just accept it.

I am glad you know you are an Introvert it was not till I turned 70 and saw it mentioned on google news with those articles of you are IF and the you are a braniact if you can spot something faster than say 8 seconds. Some other photographers of stills and video will not get it!
If you love being alone within nature and can detect the movement of sun and moon throughout the year month by month and how the light changes everyday and see it change say on a everyday drive and want to capture what you are seeing BUT you can't because you have to get to work so you do an hour early commute every day so you can.
You say things about AI and adjusting to it. Well a little history I can read most anything but to putting thoughts down on paper I can not spell. So I lived with computer in '81's with the Osborne Executive a luggable that came with Word Perfect when as a new 1st class with a 100 + people I had to write evals off a time of writing on yellow pad paper and turning things into a officer but me I started something a print out with disk to give to a office secretary who I reduced his work in half with the IBM first computers.
My point is the WP program corrected my spelling that was early AI and today taken for granted.
Your photo programs like Lr was the first to take out sensor dust we do it before every edit and today we edit sky and ground and other things separately making something different than what you saw making you an artist to boot. So not to worry about but it just be aware of it.
About the image thing you feel one with the light and the capture like doing Milky Ways on a beach in the dark you feel the surf with a star full sky and yes while the seconds tick away on an image you look down and see a small circle of light and you bend down and wave your hand above it and it till there no matter and some night a big turtle comes up out of the water and you have to move to get out of the way.
You still a kid looking at clouds and seeing the shapes and now when you look around you see the things no one else ever sees.
1. the pirate in the sand made my the surf.
2. people in oil
3. Framing a comet with a bright colorful foreground
4. Seeing the warrior and his horse at the entrance of a canyon that no one has ever seen day or night.
I show number 1 and 4 and no one sees anything go figure! If you can you have great vision and with photography you can capture it and someone may see the magic. It is a lot of alone time but the studying of light and putting on paper is the award.

Well, one thing that AI can never for you is discovering things for yourself. Going out to take photos is half (or more) of the fun.