Why I Love Photography

Why I Love Photography

Our reasons for finding our way behind the lens of a camera are as various as the courses we choose to take with our lives. Here are just a few of mine.

Why do we love photography? I mean, let’s face it. If it was just a matter of finding a new hobby, there are far less expensive undertakings for us to consider. Perhaps you’ve taken up photography as a means to support your family. But even the most established professional can attest to the fact that there are plenty of other vocations available if your main concern is a steady and predictable cash flow.

No, the odds are that the reason you picked up photography is far more personal. Maybe you stuck with it because you found it to be a source of income. But, the reason you picked up the camera in the first place and caught the shutterbug virus likely has as much to do with your mode of operation as a human as it does with your bank account.

Most of my milestones as an artist have come not when I learned a new technical skill, but when, in the process of trying to find my artistic voice, I’ve ended up discovering things about myself.

For example, like most photographers, my journey behind the camera began with shooting the things that were around me: my dog, my house, my neighborhood. When that got to be too limiting, I moved on to shooting things around the city. I live in Los Angeles. It’s a big city. But even that was eventually too small to contain my creative ambition. So, I started traveling abroad as much for the photographs as for the culinary delights and the pipe dream of accidentally bumping into a beautiful woman one night leaning against the railing of a cruise ship.

When I came home from France one day with over 6,000 images on my memory card and a little less rubber on the soles of my shoes, I stumbled upon my first realization. Traveling through a beautiful country full of water lilies, church spires, and iron towers, I realized that the shots that were sticking out to me most were those that had less to do with the location and more to do with the population. An early shot I often consider is one I took of a young tourist couple sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower. Here I am, having traveled halfway around the world for a chance to visit a legendary landmark, and it turns out the only thing I was interested in photographing was an innocuous moment between two people I’d never met. The couple was just sitting in the grass, reading a guide map of the city, with the legendary tower hovering above them in the background. It’s not that they are doing anything particularly different. But clearly, I was drawn to the human story far more than the landscape. Going through the remainder of the 6,000+ images, time and time again, I would find myself editing down the collection to similar images, always prioritizing the human element over the scenery.

Now, that’s not to say that portrait photography is superior to landscapes. Rather, it was the moment when I realized that my interest in photography was heavily driven by my interest in people rather than my interest in places. This realization helped me see my art more clearly and helped me decide which avenues to pursue next.

A few years later, my desire to capture unsuspecting pedestrians casually as a hobby had developed into a career where I rather intentionally captured portraits of models for a living. No longer having to sneak a shot of a tourist couple sitting beneath the Eiffel Tower, I was now free to walk up as close as I’d like to my human subjects to get the best angle possible. I might be shooting said model on location with a beautiful landscape as a backdrop, but I no longer had to pretend to myself that the mountain in the background was as intriguing to me as the speck of brown in my model’s otherwise icy blue eyes.

It was during one of these moments when I found myself standing criminally close to my subject in a way that might get me arrested if I were to do it to a stranger on the street that I had another realization about myself and why I loved photography.

Even though I’ve chosen a career where I photograph lots and lots of people, supported by a crew with lots and lots more people, I am, in fact, an introvert by nature. If I don’t have to be around other people for work or in the service of art, I generally prefer to be alone. It’s not that I don’t like people. I just fundamentally need my alone time to recharge and build up the energy to deal with human interactions.

Yet, despite my clear failure as a social gadfly, I still find people endlessly fascinating. I love to study people. I love to learn about their motivations and their backstories. I love to identify those unique little ticks they have. Spot every little minute permutation of their face that signals when they are happy, sad, or amused. I love to observe.

So, one day, when I found myself standing eight inches from a beautiful woman’s face, staring at her, but with absolutely no other thought in mind other than finding the best way to light her so I could bring out a certain element of her cheekbones, I realized yet another reason I love photography. It’s the one profession that gives me a free license to do what I like best, study people and learn about other human beings.

I get to engage my subjects on a deeper level than I could if I didn’t have a camera in my hand. Sure, maybe if I met them under other circumstances, I might still find myself one day getting to know them. But the camera itself is a passport to ask questions. As an introvert, it provides me with a certain layer of protection when I engage with people. It gives me a point of entry. This access is crucial to my ability to create art. But it’s also crucial to me as a person because it allows me a level of human interaction that I don’t always get when I’m away from the set.

Of course, the great thing about being an artist is that you never stop learning. That means you never stop learning your craft. Nor do you ever stop learning about yourself. Just the other day, I had another such revelation. I was shooting a major advertising campaign for one of the largest athletic brands in the world. Lots of subjects. Lots of moving parts. Lots of pressure and prestige. Exactly the kind of campaign that, early in my career, would have kept me up nights worrying about.

But a strange thing happened on my way to the set. Not only had I slept as peacefully as a baby the night before, but as I exited the freeway onto that little road that encircles Dodger Stadium where my shoot would be taking place, it dawned on me that I was not even remotely nervous at all. It’s not that I wasn’t excited to shoot. I’m always excited to shoot. But no butterflies were bouncing around in my stomach the way they used to.

Now, this could be considered a good thing or a bad thing. It’s good not to be nervous. If you’ve prepared the way you are supposed to before a shoot and learned your craft, there’s nothing to be nervous about. But, on the other hand, sometimes those butterflies in your stomach are good. They have a way of adding a bit of fear which can send you into a state of laser focus. That laser focus can sometimes help make you, or me at least, extra creative. When you’re dialed in, you can create gold.

I did the shoot. The client was happy. The campaign was a success. But, despite the high profile of the project and the potential for name-dropping to prospects, none of the shots made it into my portfolio. Why? Why was this shoot, a shoot that a decade ago I would have only dreamed about, suddenly nothing more to me than a blip on the radar? Not even worthy of mentioning on social media. Well, this is the point at which I made my most recent revelation. It’s not the destination that excites me about photography. It’s the ability to be constantly growing and developing as an artist.

This was a huge campaign. But, I’m fortunate enough to say that I’ve done many major campaigns before. The concept for the shoot was also one that I had shot multiple times before. This made me aptly qualified to get the gig. But it also meant that I would be retreading very familiar ground. Don’t get me wrong. I am immensely happy to get such opportunities. But it also meant that the potential for creative growth on that project would be somewhat limited compared to other projects. It’s only natural. The more you know about a particular subject, the less steep the learning curve will become over time. But, I guess it turns out that I love a steep learning curve.

I love photography because there is potential to grow every day you go to work. I love the opportunity to end a day feeling more skilled and better prepared than when I woke up in the morning. It’s not so much about the result as it is about the process of discovery. I love photography because I love to learn.

These are just a handful of the reasons why I love being behind the lens. What got you interested in photography? What keeps you staying with it? Everyone has their reasons. I’d love to hear yours.

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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Well said, I appreciate your perspective. I've got many parallels. For me, I found a passion in capturing moments and light. Similar to you, I began with my surroundings, only for me, it was the forest. This built a foundational approach to my photography. I have since moved into street and documentary and working towards portraiture. I love every moment of it. The thing that keeps me going is the fact that I can always improve my skills and craft.

Damn... Most probably the best article on the subject I have ever read! Loved it! Just feel the exact same way! Congrats Malcom!

A long road to find what it is all about. I was in the Navy in '75 when an old grey beard (no older than 37) who took me out on my first Shore Patrol in Naples assigning to the "GUT" and going behind the counter to the champagne rooms and the brothels then the next day a $10 MWR tour to Rome with food and entertainment included. Next was asked what I would like to do during a port visit. Went to the NATO store and bought a Ftb and some lenses with savings. Six months later after the deployment I had 10 uncashed checks and a stack of photos of memories and a new skill and a trained eye of my surrounding seeing what no one else sees' and capturing a moment in time that never repeats. I became a time traveler with memories that I could share with all and bore many with a slideshow. I still have the camera and a AE1 and a safe full of photos and slides that I will enjoy in a old folks home vs a TV. Today my time machine recorder is a Sony and its many lenses. It is just a hobby that keeps the eye trained and mind dreaming with other saying "I did not see that but I was there,Ummm!". One day a pile of CD/dvds in a antique store with notes of when and where for those to go back in time. It was better than drowning in beer in every port having savings in mind images and images for others. Photography is nothing more than recording time travel " Did that really happen?" Men never see their wife as old but as seen at that first time, always! A photo just shows others what he sees year after year! Just ask for a description and that back in time photo will be it. Just enjoy the trip!

The camera has "allowed" me to spend many of the happiest hours of my life, some with people and some alone. Thanks for explaining all this so well. And feel free to trash the trashy comment.