Why Are We So Compelled?

Today’s typical photographer is a curious being. Cameras are cheap, computers are easy to use, and the Internet makes sharing photos so incredibly easy. So many people are into photography, but I’m willing to bet that over half of us don’t know why we do it or what we’re after.

Seriously, take a step back and look at yourself. How much time do you spend doing photography-related activities? Shooting, processing, posting, reading, participating, drooling, etc.

And why do you do it? Are you making a living from photography? Are you making anything from it? Do you truly enjoy the whole process? Do you actually print your pictures and hang them on your walls? Or do they sit on your hard drive while you tell yourself that you’ll need them someday? Why do you do it???

I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer with all of this. I’m just contemplating what it is that compels us to pursue the art of photography so enthusiastically. As I sit here in front of a computer screen most nights scanning film, processing photos, reading blogs, and writing articles… I’m curious to hear what all of you have to say about this topic.

What compels you?

29 thoughts on “Why Are We So Compelled?

  1. 36rokko

    That’s an interesting question that we all have to face, right?
    After a largely expense free time using just my dSLR, now that I have started using film and incurring the costs of processing, prints, and film, this question is prevalent in my thinking.

    Even though I am making no money whatsoever from my photography, I think there are two compelling reasons in my mind to pursue photography.
    The first is just to fulfill a life long compulsion to show others the world in the way I see it. I’ve tried a variety of mediums, but photography seems to be the most direct and most real way of capturing what I see. There are so many moments in this world that deserve to be captured, and for someone with terrible short term memory like me, sometimes the only way to remember those beautiful moments is to find the shot as I unload my memory card~

    And with film, the physical aspect also shines. I have barely every printed my digital photography (except for photography classes) and after processing my film I realized how great it feels to look at prints in your hand, to hold the memories, and then to put them up on your wall and see them all the time… definitely worth the price of prints :D

    Anyway, those are probably my most two compelling reasons at the moment, not to mention that photography just makes me get outside and explore!!! And the great photographer community (I could go on and on, ha)

  2. philippe

    interesting thought. Actually I answered this question by quiting photography (ok, not completely!). I asked it to myself, realized how not-interesting my shots were; I just decided to spend less time on photography -this way, I know, I can’t improve- and refocused my time on guitar. and I asked myself the same question about playing guitar, with a different answer…

  3. analox

    … this question is also very compelling for us to answer :D
    I guess the reason for me is more of personal matters. I didn’t make money out of photography and didn’t spend much money on gears, etc… Photography is a way to express myself and how I see the world. Besides, it is a fun + challeging process to pursuit, when math and art are combined in certain ways. Yes, I do print some of my photos and the feeling of holding them, recalling my memory is just great! Well, I’m not sure of what I’m after, but I try to take in the joy that photography brings, every time…

  4. Rob

    I think I have an easy answer: it is enjoyable.

    From wandering around with camera in hand, wondering what might catch my photographic eye (such as it is – no delusions of grandeur) to having an idea for an image and trying to make it happen; then fiddling around with the result, and ultimately sharing it with friends and family – it’s fun.

    I haven’t made a cent off my photography – a proper hobby, it consumes some of my discretionary income. By avoiding illusions of grandeur, I can avoid the worst of lens buying addiction and body buying addiction, and make the most of my relatively inexpensive setup.

    It also provides an avenue for hanging out with like-minded friends, which adds to the enjoyment I described of wandering or of planning images.

    But the compulsion… occasionally a photo either works exactly as I wish, or more rarely, is astoundingly better than I expect. Those little moments of triumph feed the compulsion. And having a compulsion that’s fun to feed… it’s an unbeatable combination.

  5. muzik

    Who even needs a reason. I find phillipe’s response sad. regardless of how “not interesting” you think your shots are, others may disagree. if you can identify this fact, all you need to do is stop before you press the shutter and think “What do i need to do different this time?”.

    i havent made a single cent from my photography and could care less, and tend to agree with rokko about seeing your work come to life. as someone who sometimes finds it hard to verbalise meaning, i can do it through my photography. if i can make just one person see the world as i see it and appreciate my view, then i belive that i have succeeded.

    i do it purely for the love of doing it

  6. Victor Lm

    I shoot film and it makes the fun factor longer since I have to play waiting-game. I have to choose which film that I want to use – which every film has different character. It also has surprise and magic.
    With my camera, I enjoy to meet people and I have one more reason to go outside and see. Sometimes – camera itself opening conversations or questions.

    Probably, this is only my excuse to be a sloppy photo-taker.

  7. Mattias Wirf

    For me it was quite easy, not much different from painting – creating images displaying my view on stuff. Then I’m not always successfull of course, and sometimes I also do snapshots just as a memory.

  8. Andrew

    Mostly, because I can.

    To be honest I am a part time, part-time, photographer. I take a photo a day but rarely is it well thought out and rarely do I spend more than ten minutes actually taking the shot. Sometimes I enjoy the process but I also tire of it quickly.

    I do, however, like to look at what I have done. It is an accomplishment.

    I would like to get mad props for my skill and perhaps one day I will be able to reliably take amazing shots

  9. D. Travis North

    For all the reasons you mentioned (cheap, easy computers, easy sharing) – photography has become an easy hobby to acquire. Most of us probably sink a ton of time into our hobby, but I’d say at least a third of the hobbyists in the photography world probably don’t spend more than a few hours a week. I’m not trying to lessen what I do or what anyone does, but Photography really is – in this day and age – an easy hobby to get into and easy to maintain while still providing a creative release. Seriously, how many of us are using older equipment? How many of us don’t expect to buy a new lens (or even be able to afford a new lens) for several months? But does that make your work any less significant? It’s a hobby that you can take pretty far with a starter kit and it’s a hobby you can expand slowly on an as-needed basis. It’s also a hobby where a $30 reversing ring for your 50mm lens can open a whole new world of focus (macro). And I would say that everything I have said here applies to at least half of the digital photography hobbyists.

    So what about everyone else? Well, you film guys are certainly incredibly passionate – especially if you have your own studio and develop your own work. For you guys, I’d say it’s all about the process, about getting your hands dirty and really – really – feeling like you’ve accomplished something at the end of the day that took a lot of time, a lot of skill and a lot of effort. But a good portion of us really love photography – we love it, live it, sleep it, dream it – we are serious about what we do. Maybe we dream of doing it professionally one day so we’re working toward that goal. Or maybe the creative aspects of photography are important enough for us that we’ll dedicate hours upon hours into honing our skills But not just for anyone – we do it for ourselves. Outwardly, we may all appear confident in our wisdom and skill sets. But inwardly, we really are criticizing each photograph, every technique, every minute detail. We’re a different breed. We’re in love with photography.

    Let me answer the question with a question: For those of you who are married or have a serious significant other. Can you explain in 50 words or less why you love that person? Probably not. It’s likely a bunch of little things that add up to a mountain of tiny reasons – and about half those reasons are probably flaws that you find appealing. Photography (or any hobby) is the same way.

  10. Tasha

    Interesting question, and one I ask myself all the time.

    I spend at least 75% of my waking hours on photography in some form, whether it’s taking the picture, editing, requesting photopasses for concerts, blogging, planning shoots, networking, whatever. I get paid for much of the work, so that’s a bonus, at least.

    I do it because, while a lot of it stresses me, it’s also what relaxes me. I don’t think artistic people have a choice on if they want to express their creativity or not – they need to create. If someone sees the world in a creative fashion, then they have to get that energy out somehow. For some it’s painting, some it’s crafting, for me, it’s photography. I know that if I go more than a week or two without photographing a concert, I start getting restless and grumpy.

  11. Justin Stephen

    Debbie Downer… oh man… I love it.

    But seriously I take pictures just because I love capturing the moment. I love how you can freeze time for just that second and completely capture the setting and mood.

  12. Alfonse Pagano

    Great question indeed! One that I have tried to address lately on my blog http://www.alfonsepaganophotographyblog.com.

    I am a pro photographer since way back in the film day’s and have made most of my living doing portraits and weddings. Below is the post dealing with the problems facing professional wedding and portrait photographers since the advent of digital.

    “ But let’s be real, what was once promoted as non traditional wedding photography has in fact become traditional. “

    An informative article on the direction of wedding photography.
    Or…. Why spend the money?

    The present time is, if anything, a very challenging and exciting time to be a photographer and a wedding photographer in particular. The technical advances in digital photography and equipment have made the capturing of images almost automatic. It seems to me to be a basic truth that if in fact one could afford the price of a high end digital camera, well, just about anyone can produce photos that are pretty much professional in quality. So, what exactly does that mean for pro photographers today? What challenges are we now facing? Why would anyone pay premium price for our services? Precisely what can we offer now that the whole industry has changed?

    In the good old days of film, (don’t get me wrong, I love and am a fully committed digital photographer) there was a pretty steep learning curve regarding the time we devoted to learning all the aspects about shooting with film, exposure, and processing and darkroom experience. I recall at the start of my career as a photographer, all the trial and error involved in learning how to work the cameras, and creating a good negative. Let’s not forget to mention shooting black and white, a specialty unto itself. Studying Ansel Adams’ Zone System, testing the cameras, lenses, films and so on all to get a perfect negative! So part of what we had to offer our clients was our expertise and experience as technically proficient photographers. Now with the availability of great equipment that pretty much does all the work for a photographer, all the sophisticated software that process the images automatically, what makes me any different from Uncle Bob with his Canon 1DS Mark 111? Or all those who once thought it a pretty cool idea to become wedding photographers but it was not really possible till just recently. Why would you hire me instead of someone taking technically good pictures for half the price?

    When I think about it, this is a very unique situation indeed. One can buy the very best surfboard manufactured, but you still need to put the hard work and time in to learn how to use it. You can spend the money and buy the most high tech commercial kitchen range that money can buy, outfit your kitchen with latest and greatest gadgets, but if you don’t know how to cook, you don’t know how to cook. The stove will not do it for you! On the other hand, spend the $8000.00 or so on a Canon 1Ds Mark11, put her on program, shaman! I promise you it won’t look too shabby.

    Now, I am basically talking about wedding photography, studio work I still believe falls under another category to be discussed later.

    In 1993 I was one of the first wedding photographers to treat the formal portrait session as though it was an editorial or fashion shoot. Denis Reggie, even earlier than that broke away from formal portraits entirely and developed a style that was later to be coined as “photo-journalistic”. At that time this was pretty much cutting edge. Currently, these styles are now very much status quo, nothing wrong with that. But let’s be real, what was once promoted as non-traditional wedding photography has in fact become traditional.

    So what do I propose? What do I do about it? What do you need to know to make the right decision regarding choosing a photographer?

    I believe the first thing a couple looking to hire a wedding photographer need to address is just how important is photography to you? How high up the list of priorities are your wedding photographs? If your answer is that they are really not very important, not on the top of your list, but still you would not want to do without a wedding photographer, well then you can save a lot of money. As mentioned above, with the equipment around today you can be pretty confident that you will get good results from just about anyone.

    But if wedding photography is important to you, is on top of your list, then this is a different ballgame indeed. Taking into consideration all the technical advances in equipment we need to focus on a few areas: experience and creativity. In terms of experience, how long has the photographer been in business? Their service record, customer satisfaction, production value so many obvious questions that I need not elaborate all, but the right answers can only be given to you by someone who has been in the trenches many years. Where did they come from, more specifically, is their background film? Have they mastered darkroom techniques? Even though these techniques are not in use at this time it is an invaluable body of knowledge that can only enhance the quality and value of the work they bring to you.

    In terms of the creative, and this I cannot emphasize enough, is what it’s really about, this is what will make your photographer stand out from all the rest and this is why you will hire them. This is why you will spend the money. And then there is passion, not new kid on the block passion, but a passion and intensity sustained over the years. You can tell, you can’t miss it.

    A wedding photographer will be with you from ten to eight hours, and 8o percent of this time will be spent taking thousands of candid shots which are extremely important as that is part of the documenting of your day which in truth, takes only a working knowledge of the camera, a willingness to work hard and be on his or her feet at all times and a bit of luck to be in the right place at the right time. So what makes a great photographer stand out? The ability to anticipate, the uncanny skill to be able to almost have a vision about what is going to happen next. This takes experience, skill and passion.

  13. Eddy Young

    I do it because it makes me think of something else. I sometimes do DIY, but I’m bad at that, so I prefer photography. There’s nothing like getting lost in film development for a few hours on a week-end after a stressful week.

    My shots are mostly non-interesting (eye of beholder, etc. I know), but I think I enjoy the process more than the result itself.


  14. Jonathan Enns

    I do it out of an act of worship to my God. Hear me out now! (I can just hear all the athiests snickering, and the postmodernists saying “thats great for you if its great for you”)

    But seriously, I believe God blessed us with beautiful creation, beautiful people, and with a creative mind that can use technology he gave us the intelligence to develop to capture it in unique ways!

    I do it out of worship to him in ways such as
    a) appreciating the awesomeness of it
    b) loving others by giving them photos, or showing them kindness
    c) making money so I can support causes I believe honor God’s purposes
    d) supporting myself & future family & contributing to society
    e) a way to share the hope & joy I have in Him with others!

    Now you may not agree with me, you may think its nice, but I find it MUCH too hard a stretch to think that the beauty, wonder, and complexity of nature, and the human body are here by random chance.

    Thats why I am so compelled to do something I love for a Saviour who loves me, and died taking my place paying for what I deserve to pay so I might live…
    That is why I am so compelled!

  15. jeremy

    I am compelled by the mood I’m in and especially by my surroundings.

    Being a film user, I am very aware of the importance of making every shot count.

    I know this is not a debate about the medium but it does have a large bearing on it. I use also a medium format camera which is even more important to get the shot in camera.

    I love the visceral nature of film photography. The loading of the film, the feel and operation of the camera, with it’s zero latency. THe thrill of looking at the tranny or Neg film using a loupe.

  16. Janne

    * I love walking and seeing places, and a camera gives me a reason to go out somewhere or sometime I otherwise wouldn’t.

    * I’m a geek. Cameras are cool technology, and film cameras doubly so. Image processing is fascinating (and just close enough to my research field that I can relate to that as well). I get to play with precision-mechanical gear and advanced processing software. Even if it never resulted in a single finished image I’d still be happy just for this.

    * It gets my mind off work. When I’m out with the camera; when I’m developing a roll; when I’m post-processing some image my mind is completely occupied. I may be frustrated, angry and depressed from some setback at work, but after a few hours doing photography in one way or another I’m refreshed, happy and positive again.

    * More and more, planning and composing images (the “real” bit of photography) is becoming the important thing. It’s a form of creative problem-solving (“how do I get something expressing what I want out of that kind of scene?”) but in a completely different domain than I normally work in. I’m no good at it, but that doesn’t matter; it’s the process of working on the problem that’s the enjoyable part anyhow.

    * A good picture is wonderful to create. When I manage to create something I’m happy with I feel really really good. Of course, as my own standards are raised this happens quite rarely, but when it does happen it’s a rush of joy.

  17. Chris Chase

    For me, it has been something that has developed (no pun intended) over the years. I just didn’t realize how much I enjoyed it until I decided to invest in a little bit of equipment. I now plan out vacations by myself to explore places, just me and my camera. I scout out areas and have even slept in my car to await the sunrise. I mostly do lanscapes and architecture and I have a great eye for composition but lack many of the other skills and knowledge to properly set up for a great shot. Therefore I take many more shots than necessary while experimenting, and end up trashing many just to get to the few good ones. Then there is a lot of tweaking in Photoshop which took me a long time to accept having to do. I had always assumed the best photographers didn’t have to do such things but now I realize it is commonplace. I am slowly working on getting better. I considered doing it for a living but then realized I wouldn’t enjoy it as much unless i worked for National geographic or shooting models on the beach in Boracay. Good luck getting those gigs!

    As for the end result…most of it gets posted to various sites or sent to friends or I submit to contests. I never win but I do get the accolades of my friends and peers. For me, I am in the zone when I am traveling and exploring and looking for a great shot. No reservation, no destination…just winging it with a GPS and a vague idea of where to go. I find it’s a great way to get to talk to people to learn about the area and where there might be a great place to go to get great shots. The good shots don’t always come, but as they say…it’s the journey, not the destination. I do have some of my shots up on the walls of my house. I haven’t made a penny off of my work but I have been encouraged to do so. Of course, this comes from people who aren’t in the photography world so I consider the source. Not to put them down, but I think anyone would value the opinion of someone in the field more than the average Joe. Although, it’s always nice to be appreciated by anyone.

    But what really drives me and makes me want to do it? I think it’s a little bit of everything. The ultimate quest for the perfect shot. The story behind getting it, the experience of the journey, the pride I feel when I get a great shot and the accolades of my friends and peers. My vacations are not usually going to the same place every year or going where everyone else goes. I am usually alone because no one else could tolerate me or my schedule…lol. When it’s just me and my camera searching and exploring, I don’t need anything else. I am in another world and it’s that experience that I seek and try to capture in my photos to create the memory of those moments for me. I enjoy nature and the beauty God has created. No one else may get it or understand it but the finished product brings me back to that place in time and makes me smile. It makes me feel like I have really lived part of my life away from work, civilization and society and helped me to see and explore whats really important in life.

  18. Peter

    For Jonathan Enns…and anyone who remembers this line from the movie The Exorcist…

    The power of Christ compels you!

    Not exactly the same meaning but I think you get the joke.

    Any reason to enjoy photography is a plus. To enjoy it with Faith is even better…

  19. Jonathan Enns

    @ Peter: Haha its true! Though I don’t know if I would believe in the theology of the Exorcist lol!

    Christ power (How he changed my life) compells me!

  20. Leslie Davis

    That’s an important question to think about. Thanks for asking…!!

    As for me… I haven’t begun. But I am just beginning as I got my EOS 40D this week and next I’m going in for a lens. I’m planning to go through the process step by step.

    The reason I’m interested in photography is because I have not seen many photographers around my area who make a difference in the look of portraits, weddings or parties. I want to get into it & let people know that there’s quality & service out here. Its a long process and I need to be patient – I know..!! But art & photography has always been my passion. So I’m going for it.

  21. corina

    Just my two cents here…
    photography helps me to tell a story better,
    let’s me share w/others something they may have missed (details, a moment, a look, etc).
    And it’s fun to try to figure out what makes ‘the shot’ :)

  22. Zalexandra

    It’s not about the result, it’s about the process, where the final result, a photo, is just a tool to remember how cool it was to finally make that perfect shot.
    well, at least for me

  23. Diety

    I just love to have a reminder of my past. Love to go through my old pictures and just think about about those times… I guess I could never make a living out of it.

  24. Phillip

    oop’s, I should have typed, I am with D, Travis North on this one, good question, and a good answer.

    My apologies, I initially read your name as Dr Travis North.

  25. Mark Peters

    Hmmmmm? What a great question. Well, for me, I have always been into the arts and music since I was kid. So I think it was just the next natural expression for me to explore. I really just got into photography about 3 years ago. I wanted to get into the art of photography but thought it was so cumbersome with film. With the new digital age I can get instant gratification!

    I guess what compels me is the fact that I enjoy creating. The creative process is so much fun from start to finish. I am also a graphic artist and tend to always, in some way, post-process my images. I can’t seem to take a shot and then just hang it on the wall. I think any decent amateur can do that. I want to look at art. So that’s what I try and produce, a piece of art that I or someone else would be interested in looking at and say “that’s pretty cool. I haven’t seen that before.

    I rarely think about what compels me to do what I do. I just do it. Great question.

  26. Pingback: What’s Your Favorite F-Number?

  27. Walter H

    I am the opposite of Phillipe, After 20+ years of Guitars,with small mixture of photography, I realized that some dreams have to be given up, it’s not going to happen in a million years without real talent. One will always be copying others. I accept the fact that I have no real talent with a guitar even tho I have played with several bands and can play several songs, (but not my own.) People say I’m O.K. on guitar, but they rave about the few Photographs I take, and tell me I have a great eye. So i stepped away from the guitar and looked at my pictures, and my own desires. One can wish to choose his or her talent in life, but real talent is given to you from creation, I have the talent to see good pictures, I am a photographer because that is the talent that was Given to me .
    I am much happier and relaxed now, and I love photography.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>