Creative Expression through Photography

I’m of the opinion that you should only shoot for yourself first and foremost. That’s how you are expressing yourself and it’s you putting forth the energy to express how you feel or say what you want to say.

Creative Expression through Photography
Photo by Reinhart Julian / Unsplash

Thank you science for vaccines. It’s because of the Covid19 vaccine I was able to meet up with old photography friends and do some studio work. It’s been over two years! It’s been too long.

It was great to see my friends Lee - NSFW and Harold again, both great photographers in their own style. Lee’s a pro and he does mostly commercial work. Harold and I aren’t pros at all but we’re more than just amateurs I like to think.

I would consider myself a semi-pro or a hobbyist, I like to think that I have command of more than just the basics of photography. I chase light instead, work the manual mode, and prefer film. I have a full-time gig that pays the bills and I don’t need to make money from photography. I’ve been shooting for years and I even had a few street photos published before so I guess I’m an ‘artist.’

The term artist is a very loaded term in my circles, the term ‘creative’ or ‘expressionist’ are the words I would use over artist any day. I believe that the title artist is what other people assign to you. In absence of that word all you’re doing is expressing yourself and creating something.

You don’t need to wait to create great photos, all you need to do is get started. Photography is easier than ever to get into now. All you need is a phone or pocket digital camera. Even the iPhone 4 is vastly superior in technology to an old film camera.

Any medium to high-end digital camera could last you for years if you don’t fall victim to GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and chase the latest features. Hell, I still shoot with my old Canon 50d and it works just fine in most conditions. It’s a heavy sucker but lets me take decent-quality photos.

That leads me to the most important point of this article, the camera doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter about the photograph you take. What matters is your eye, the light, your framing, etc. What matters is your expression.

Take the photo below for example. This is my daughter when she was about 6 years old. My cousin from Germany came to visit and she wanted to go to New York City. My daughter wanted to tag along and we decided to head up to the top of the Empire State Building.

Technically speaking this photo is terrible. It was windy and cold, the photo has lens flare and lots of grain (I shot this on film). It’s not as sharp and it’s poorly posed. But you know what? It’s memorable to me. It has deep meaning to me and that’s what your photo work should strive to convey.

Was I lucky to get this shot? Yes. But I made a conscious effort to look for something beautiful that day and I found it. You can too, you can look for beauty in the everyday.

I also took the next one that day but down at the Irish Hunger memorial. Every time I look at these photos I’m transported back to that day. The memories flood back and the image connects me with that feeling. You might go ‘eh’, but I shoot for myself first.

People will ask, what film did you use? What camera? Does it matter? The camera doesn’t matter to any of the photos above, it’s just a tool that I used. Do you even want to know what kind of camera I used? I don’t remember, I think it was an Olympus XA2 (great camera by the way). What film? I think it might’ve been Portra.

Both these photos are very sentimental to me, and some people on Flickr really liked the Empire State Building shot of my daughter and ‘Explored’ it. It’s nice that something so technically wrong can evoke emotion in other people.

What of evoking emotion? Should you only shoot things that please you? Or should you take photos to get lots of “likes”? That’s a good question and it comes down to the difference between creativity and product.

I’m of the opinion that you should only shoot for yourself first and foremost. That’s how you are expressing yourself and it’s you putting forth the energy to express how you feel or say what you want to say. If other people get the message, then great.

If you’re doing it to get Instagram famous that’s ok too but then it feels too consumption-based, too temporary, and too addictive for the next like or fav.

Always shoot for yourself. Work at your creative expression first. Work on what you want to say and how to say it. Express your feelings in the medium you choose so that one day when you’re 80 years old you can look back and smile.