I received an interesting e-mail the other day, and it really got me thinking – so much so I decided it would make an excellent blog post.
Here’s the e-mail:
Hi Steve, I just read your bio page. I enjoy nature too, probably because I’m NOT a photographer.
I find people who are fond of clicking shots usually do not seem to take time to enjoy the scenery. Whenever they find anything captivating that includes nature, their immediate response is to take a shot, and then immediately look for another.
So, do you enjoy nature, really, or are you too busy photographing it?
I’ll admit, when I first read that I was a bit taken aback, “Of course I love nature! How dare you!”
After that brief indignation, I started turning it over in my head. Soon, I realized where that line of thinking originates.
Although I create many of my images in desolated, secluded areas without a soul in sight, that’s not always the case. I also have a fair number of photographs where mine is far from the only tripod on the scene.
At those times, it’s entirely clear that, at least for some people, enjoying nature is taking a substantial backseat to recklessly bagging shot after shot until their memory cards are overflowing. I watch as people rush around knocking off shots of everything they see, like a photographic bull in a china shop. It’s like a desperate attempt to capture everything in sight with no real thought or vision involved. It certainly seems like they are more interested in photographically assaulting the scene rather than really enjoying the beauty in front of them.
I remember one time I was out in Yellowstone enjoying a pack of wolves through a pair of binoculars. They were at a distance, and the possibility of a photo was about as likely as a teenager giving up his cell phone for a week. Just then a van pulled up with a couple of photographers I had met a few days earlier.
They hurriedly rolled down their window and shouted, “Hey, whatcha got there?”
“Some wolves off in the distance. Too far to photograph, but still cool to see,” I invited.
I’ll never forget their response:
“Meh, what’s the point then?”
The window rolled up, and they sped off down the road.
I’m pretty sure they were the people my e-mail friend was referring to.
After some thought, I replied to the e-mail and my response went something like this. I wonder how many photographers feel the same way…
Actually, I really do enjoy nature.
Most people are surprised to learn I spend much more time in the outdoors without a camera than with one. There are countless mornings I’m out hiking, exploring, cycling, or jogging – all completely without a camera. I’ve also been known just to sit at the edge of a meadow with binoculars and watch a distant coyote or herd of elk.
See, a long time ago I thought that when it came to nature photography, it was actually the photography part that I enjoyed most. So, I started shooting portraits, weddings, teams; you name it. Anything to get out with the camera and trip that shutter release.
However, over time I discovered those sessions were hollow and meaningless for me. So much so that I “retired” from that type of photography, but not before becoming completely burnt out from it.
In fact, I didn’t pick up a camera for several years.
I did, however, spend plenty of time enjoying the outdoors.
Then, one time in Las Vegas, my wife and I were exploring one of the local parks when I grabbed her point and shoot and started popping off photos again.
That’s when it really “clicked,” if you’ll pardon the pun. It wasn’t the photography I enjoyed, it was getting outdoors and sharing those experiences with others. Photography happens to be the perfect means to that particular end. So, although I like the gear, that’s not the reason I do it. If it were, I would have been thrilled to photograph anything and everything – and would no doubt still be doing just that.
All that said, I don’t know that enjoying photography and nature are mutually exclusive, even if you are doing both at the same time. When you are engaged with outdoor photography in a measured, thoughtful way, you are tuning into the finest details and often observe things that other folks miss. I always pick up on elements that I overlooked before I pulled out the camera and started experimenting with compositions. In many ways, I think photography enhances the experience.
And it doesn’t just apply to landscape photography either. It’s no secret I enjoy wildlife photography as much as landscapes, particularly when I “connect” with an animal as I shoot. It’s always a thrill when an animal gets curious and approaches YOU instead of the other way around. I know for a fact photography keeps me engaged with the animal much longer than I normally would be without the camera.
Of course, I’m not in a race to get as many images as I can snap either. For me, it’s not about bagging a card full of shots, it’s more about getting a special shot every day or two. (Heck, for landscapes, if I get a keeper a few times a week I’m happy.)
It’s funny; I know when I’m shooting landscapes I tend to get my best images when I arrive at a location and just take it all in. In fact, I frequently annoy the heck out of other photographers who shoot with me – I often won’t pull my camera out for the first 30 minutes as I walk around and take in the scene. I think only by buddy Jim can tolerate my shenanigans, but he tends to come from the same perspective as I do. It’s more about enjoying the subject than the resulting photo.
I know this sounds a bit hokey, but in the end, I think it’s only when you really connect with your subject – landscape or wildlife – that you can create a good photo of it.
So yes, I really do enjoy nature, how about you? Comments are welcome below 🙂
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