Why Are You a Photographer?

Why Are You a Photographer?

Perhaps a better question to ask is: “Why am I a photographer?” In recent months, I feel like I've completely lost touch with why I became a photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do, but sometimes I forget why. When I was first starting out as a photographer and all of my shoots were “just for fun,” it was easy to see why I enjoyed it. After all, there were no consequences if I screwed something up, and I looked at photography as more of an escape from reality than a job.

However, once I decided to dive in full-time, my mindset shifted from “I want to create” to “I need to produce.” Sure, I still had shoots that were purely for fun or for portfolio-building, but deep in my mind, a seed was planted that made me look at photography as a job and no longer as a passion. If I’m being honest, that’s completely messed up! 

I became a photographer because I love taking pictures. I love evoking emotion from people who view my work, and I love capturing the emotion of my subjects through my lens. It’s truly that simple. I had this epiphany at about 3 o’clock this morning, but it stemmed from a shoot that I had the other day. I was shooting with a local model and we were walking from one location to another when I decided to randomly snap a few pics. If you know me at all, you know I’m a sucker for lighting and that’s usually where my 90 percent of my brain activity lives during a shoot. Needless to say, that doesn't leave much for anything else. I don’t know what was different about this particular shoot, but for those few frames I shot, I wasn’t thinking about anything at all. We were just having a conversation, and I was pushing a button. It was like I was back in the good ole days where nothing mattered and I was just snapping some pics because I could. I honestly feel privileged that I can call myself a photographer, but sometimes I forget how amazing it is, and I get stuck in the technical side rather than the emotional side.

Fairly recently, I posted a picture on my Instagram where I asked my followers what was more important: lighting or pose and expression? Truth is, there was no right or wrong answer because neither one should take a back seat to the other. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s honestly something that I struggle with every time I shoot. I always think about the lighting first, but the challenge is not letting the technical side overshadow the purpose of the shoot, which is capturing emotion. Of course I’m talking about portrait photography, so this may not apply to everyone, but it’s still something to keep in mind. As professionals, we shouldn’t have to worry about the technical side, because it should be second nature. 

I suppose it’s about time I wrap this up, but I just wanted to share some personal thoughts and struggles I have when balancing my job with my passion. If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or lose sight of why you became a photographer, just take a step back and think about what made you choose this career path. Get back to the basics, and just have fun.

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24 Comments

Elan Govan's picture

Jeff, you worry too much.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

I think I worry just the right amount haha

I am a photographer because I can't stand a boss and I am probably not much good at other things.
Still not even a good photographer.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Solid reason! I can't stand the 9-5 life so anything creative was definitely what I was going for.

Robert Nurse's picture

"Still not even a good photographer"

Hah! I bet you're better than I am!!! Let's see your work.

Anita Zvonar's picture

I can totally relate to what you are saying, and honestly, for about five years I lost my passion because it JUST became a business. It became not fun anymore. The past couple years I changed this mindset, and even now I'm revamping and going back to the basics as to 'why' and 'what' I love about my career. Thanks for sharing your thoughts....makes me feel less crazy.lol

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Trust me, you're not crazy at all!

Robert Nurse's picture

This is probably why I'll never go "pro". It will be a living one day. But, jobs will only be taken if they're "fun". Basically, I plan to explain what "fun" is and ask that clients trust me.

Cathleen Shea's picture

Not a professional, but a lifelong hobbyist. I go through similar cycles of angst. The human creative process, I guess. It's partly this angst that hangs me up when people say... you should sell your work. But what if that makes things not fun anymore? I ask. No one has an answer, nor an offer to manage for me. Haha!

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Yea that's definitely a struggle, and there's nothing wrong with making a little money as long as you're not doing it solely for other people. Keep a little something for yourself or else you're probably right, it won't be fun anymore.

Justin Berrington's picture

I'm doing it to become ultra wealthy.

Anita Zvonar's picture

Lol. Awesome. That's also my dream.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Solid haha! Best reason yet 👌

Robert Nurse's picture

"and I looked at photography as more of an escape from reality than a job"

This is my current state of affairs! I haven't been able to quit my day job as it pays the mortgage, LOL. But, photography will, one day, be my profession. Right now, it's my "escape".

"As professionals, we shouldn’t have to worry about the technical side, because it should be second nature"

I wish the technical were second nature for me. I suppose it will be if I keep at it. But, it'll be a long road before my artistic vision and technical acumen are practically one.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

I'm going on on this week!!!! I'll check back afterward haha

Photography is what I do for fun. It is a stress release from work and a way to clear my head of anything but the moment. There are, therefore, no delusions of grandeur about my work. Also, most of my photo days are with friends and family so I am one of the group and we have other things to do. That means I shoot wherever we are, in ambient light and the weather of the day. My target is to find something worth shooting within those constraints. And I usually do.

When I do go off on my own, I can pick a few things to shoot, focus on technique and, again, focus on anything but work. My true getaway photography is diving the Red Sea with another photo nut and just spending 2 or 3 dives floating along the reef totally absorbed in what is in front of me. Nobody talking to me, no phones, no TV, just the reef. Total relaxation and rejuvenation of self.

I have been asked why I don't sell some of my work or enter photo contests. Since I do have a good job that lets me buy nice toys, I do not want to mess up the fun by creating obligations, expectations by others and deadlines. I have enough of those at work. Photography for me is the polar opposite of a job. I admire those who can create on a schedule and who can produce quality shots on demand. I can do that on my job like they do on theirs but as I said in the beginning, photography is what I do for fun.

Jeff - Relax. Don't over-analyze (speaking from personal experience). You have the knowledge, skills and experience. Acknowledge that and let your muscle memory its thing. As one pro states in his book - achieve thoughtful thoughtless thought - do the right thing the right way because you know that you can and it just flows.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

I envy how pure your passion for photography is, but I also love that I am not constrained by an actual job. This article for the most part was just me needing to get a few things off my chest. I'm grateful for the career I have but sometimes the stress does get to me. I just need to take a breath and move on haha

Chris Rogers's picture

I just like to make stuff. I enjoy peoples reactions when they see my work. I suck at life and this is the only thing I'm remotely decent at lol. Real talk if I didn't have photography I would have killed my self long ago. Creation in the arts distracts me from the negativity and reality of my life so I latch on to photography like I'm stuck out in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and photography is my life jacket. Pathetic probably but it helps me take life one day at a time.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Photography is a powerful thing! To be honest, I checked out your work, and I'm glad you have found photography as well. You have a real talent and I'm happy that you've found something that you have a true passion for. Keep up the awesome work. P.s. I just gave you a follow on the insta. Love your feed!

Chris Rogers's picture

Thank you for the encouraging words, Jeff! That really means a lot :). Photography is a truly magical thing. You can create something from nothing. worlds, characters, stories, anything you have in your mind. That's why I love it so much. I checked out your work as well and I must say you do some incredible stuff! I followed back!

Travis Harris's picture

8 years ago when I flew to Charleston and spent a solid week with Lee & Patrick it was clear to me that what attracted me most about photography as a career was to be able to do what the hell I wanted, each and every day. 5 of the 7 days I was there we were on a boat wakeboarding and for me this was like early retirement. I flew back to Miami after my trip.. quit my day job a month later and started what it is that I am now know for 😊 Now.. 8 years later, 300 weddings under my belt and way over 1-million images processed among all my projects I will tell you that what keeps me in the game is basically the same thing. I lost my “passion” (can’t stand when I hear this term) for photography long ago. I talk about this in my “Risk, Regret, Reward” video on my channel in fact. I am open about it. It’s NOT “photography” that I am passionate about.. no, its running, and controlling a business that I built and can decide what I want to do each and every day. It’s not having to fake a smile in some elevator every morning to people I hate being around. It’s about not sitting in bumper to bumper traffic everyday wishing there was something else out there for me. It’s about seeing my 5yr old son every day and hanging out with him doing fun things. And.. now more than ever, it’s about having TIME day to day to in fact perhaps start a new business online, or take advantage of my experience and start teaching workshops etc. All of this is what drives me. I just happen to take photographs along the way and maintain my style which is very refined now. So, I think its important to look at photography (if you want it to be a business) as a stepping stone to something else in the future. To be able to see what it means to have the lifestyle, and time to make other moves in your life that you might be ever have had working in the grind. I will say this.. if someone REALLY (and I’m talking is actually, seriously nuts passionate) about photography.. then DON’T make it a business. You will loose that along the way I PROMISE you that. When it’s a business, it needs to be about much, much more.. or your going to burnout and hate it. 90% of my day to day is managing client expectations, and creating ways for people to give me money. 10% of the time I’m holding a camera. That’s the reality from someone who knows 😉

stir photos's picture

Wow, so many deep thinkers here- I feel so alone! haha... A nice read.

Not to sound overly pragmatic, and without calling myself a [bonafide] "photographer" because amateurs aren't, and posers are; well... Maybe it's just the realist in me, but I think it's just in me (as in other's)... I just enjoy it- the comradery, the learning, the process, the practice, the test to make something you and others like, pretty much all of it.

I mean, if it's particularly hot outside, I might wear sun block or have a bandana/handerchief (sp?) handy, but much more than that doesn't get me thinking too much like, "... how sensitive and delicate humans are only being able to survive in a relatively narrow band of environmental ranges like temperature..." To me, 100 degrees outside is just that- it's a hundred degrees. Well, that and make sure Highlight Tone Priority is off or my pictures might be a weird color tint...

:)

Marc Synwoldt's picture

There used to be a time where I would beat myself up about maybe not having tried hard enough to make photography my profession, about being too timid, or inept at selling my work. But over the years I came to realize that by remaining an amateur I had managed to keep the simple joy of feeling that itch, taking my gear, and going out on a photo walk, just because I want to and because I can, intact.

I don't have to constantly produce, please any clients, retouch portraits beyond recognition (I'm not implying you're doing that, Jeff, but many in the industry do), deliver a steady flow of eye candy, and whatnot.

I've come to see that as a privilege, really, even if it means that I'm not constantly in the limelight, and that my work probably doesn't get the exposure it could. My photography has remained essentially my personal vision, which may be a limitation, but has also been liberating, and continues to be so much fun.

Marc Cross's picture

Congratulations Jeff !