What Do You Get Out of Photography?

What Do You Get Out of Photography?

With the new year now well underway, I took some time this week to ponder my motivations for doing photography in the first place. I think it is healthy to every now and again stop and evaluate where you are, what you’re doing, and whether or not it is worth spending your precious time on. Maybe there are some nuggets of useful information from this exercise that will prove useful for you. If nothing else, perhaps it’ll nudge you to reflect on your own photographic journey and help you get to where you want to go.

As with anything I choose to do, it has to start with having a passion for it above all else. But I wanted to figure out what really fuels that fire that keeps me out in the field shooting for a few weeks each month, nine or more months out of the year. Here’s a few of the things that I came up with.

Getting Close to Interesting Places

In my technology industry career, I was truly fortunate to be able to travel to lots of countries and experience many cultures. But, for the most part, the stays were short and there was so much to do that it always seemed a bit superficial. Now that I am a full-time photographer, I am much more apt to take the time to get a better sense of where I am visiting. Beyond that, photography gives me an on-the-ground foundation for learning more about the places I have been that I just can’t get from reading a Wikipedia page and browsing through images on Google. Traveling by car for 2,000–3,000 miles a month permits me to take detours through areas that I may never visit otherwise. Even though I always have an itinerary for where I plan to shoot, I probably break from my agenda at least once every trip and more like two or three times. You should try it too, if your schedule allows it.

The shadows get long late in the day while hiking at the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Area in New Mexico.

Stretching My Creativity

For me, using photography as a creative outlet started sometime in junior high school. An early introduction was my eighth-grade photography class. That year, I had some brand of 110 film camera that I used to take pictures of cars as they flew through the intersection by the local K-Mart. The goal was to learn how to pan properly so that the vehicle was in focus and the background blurred. I can’t recall what grade I received but I do know that Steve Barr never returned the pictures after “borrowing” them as his submission for his year-end project. From there it was on to “special effects” which entailed having Bobby Rowland fly over me while I laid flat on a trampoline. It was around the time that the original “Superman” movie came out so replicating a shot from the film seemed like a cool idea.

Later on, I became interested in using a telescope and a CCD-based camera to take pictures of things in space. It wasn’t a gigantic leap to connect astrophotography and traditional photography to my next creative endeavor which was nightscape photography. After becoming somewhat proficient at that, and since I was outside anyway, I decided to work on my landscape photography as well. My photography life has become a series of learning new skills over the years and using them to connect to other forms of the art that interests me.

Messier 81 and Messier 82 make a beautiful combination in the camera.

Blending Art With Technology

My love of connecting photography and technology began back in the mid-1970s when I would launch model rockets with an Estes Cineroc onboard. The Cineroc is an 8mm movie camera that doubled as the nosecone for the rocket. It only worked a couple of times, but it was simply amazing for the era. Who knows what makes us gearheads the way we are? If you are one, you are likely familiar with the notion that some (often) times it is more fun getting something to work than to actually use it day in and day out. 

The good news for us is that there is a never-ending stream of new technologies coming down the pike. Of course, I am well aware of the adage that the gear does not make you a better photographer. Still, the challenge and enjoyment of understanding new technologies and how to effectively apply them to my craft is as compelling a reason as any to have photography as a hobby or profession.

Sharing Knowledge Through Pictures

Gaining knowledge about history, geology, weather, science, the cosmos is fun for me. Being able to show others these things through my photography is even better. There have been many instances where I experience something in the field that requires more research once I get home. It is rewarding to take that information combined with my imagery to get others interested in or aware of it as well. 

An 80-mile long thunderstorm rolls across the plains of South Dakota just outside of Badlands National Park.

One example is an incredible thunderstorm that I witnessed while in Badlands National Park this summer. The storm grew to over 80 miles in length and had continuous lightning for over three hours. And, above the cloud tops I saw a unique weather phenomenon that isn’t captured very often: red sprites. In fact, I couldn’t capture them either, but they were clearly there with unaided vision and also through my gen3 night vision monocular. When I returned home, I was able to share information about the enormous scale of the storm, the area through which it rumbled, and most importantly, my story of red sprites. 

Making Money

Of course, as a full-time photographer making money is always a motivating factor for me. However, I am also a firm believer that you shouldn’t do photography, or any business endeavor, just for the money; you should do it because it is something you love to do. If you take that approach, and you’ve put in the time to hone your skill set, and you are not afraid to hustle, then the money will have a better likelihood to follow.

So, after careful consideration, these are some of the things that keep me going with photography. How about you? What drives your photography?

Steve Cullen's picture

Steve Cullen is a photographer and videographer based in the Pacific Northwest. He's a professional wanderer and night sky nerd trying to capture the spirit of the places he explores through his nightscape, landscape, and aerial work.

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I like that Bob. Do you ever share your photography publicly? I'd love to see what you capture and what inspires you.

Nice shot of Meteor Crater Bob. Do they still have the cut out of an astronaut at the bottom? It's been 15 years since I was last there and I couldn't tell from your picture.

Steve, what drives me is pushing my budget gear to the limit to achieve results that others with high end gear publish. For wildlife and bird shots it means I have to be quieter, closer, and eek out everybit of light. For my astro shots it means I have to find darker and drier skies for my ISO noise limited gear. I do have those who enjoy my work and coconut wireless sales of some work but, I'm ready to put the retirement papers in soon and make that move to Western Washington and follow that nomad photographer's life inspired by you. Aloha

Those are cool objectives Brian. Since I am familiar with your work, I can say here that you are doing a great job at it. Living a "nomad photographer's life" has its ups and downs...mostly ups. Aloha!

Thanks Steve. After 35 years in Hawaii I'm ready for the open road!

photography let's me use my idealism side as well as my pragmatic side.

Interesting David. Care to share some examples?

For me, it has allowed me to combine my love with the visual with my love of the audio.

I agree Matt. I have never been much of an "audio" person but in doing photographer and also videography I have become much more in touch with the importance of sound in many aspects.

Interesting question and thoughts. I'm not doing it for money; I'm retired anyway and relied on other skills for an income. I like that - it left me free to engage or disengage. That said, I enjoy photography as a creative outlet. It does record memories. It also helps me see things I might not have seen otherwise. And there is a social engagement aspect. I belong to photography clubs and groups and I have some of my prints in public exhibitions. That's been pleasing, but I never set out with that as an objective. Mostly it's just fun, a means to a personal expressive artistry that no one has to like except myself!

Thanks for visiting us at Fstoppers William! I agree, photography is a relaxing thing to do. Glad you like the shots you see here as well.

That is kind of a deep question! I feel like I am constantly pursuing Nature's beauty, but it's So Frustrating: there's no way I can get even close. I believe I am improving, though! Hopefully :)

I was feeling deep when I wrote it the other day. I agree, Mother Nature can be challenging to capture completely. It's kind of a never-ending quest to get it right. I suppose that is the fun of it too. Keep shooting and improving Gomez!

When shooting landscapes, I often shoot alone. In this setting, photography, to me, is capturing and conveying "that feeling" I had when in that spot. If others are moved in the same way or at all, I count that as success. With portraiture, photographic success is showing the "I'm not photogenic" subject just how wrong they are.

I shoot mostly alone too Robert. I like the peace and serenity of it, for the most part. There are times when having another opinion or someone who sees things differently would be good. But, usually, I don't want other's opinions messing with my mind while I'm being creative. So it is a quandary of sorts!

Thanks! To this day, that photo still conveys how I felt that morning!

Spending a lot of money on a lot of things I don't NEED :D

Correction: might need! That justifies a lot! :D

Hahahah yes I keep telling myself that !