Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Photography isn’t about taking pictures

Photography isnt about taking pictures

Sometimes photography isn’t about taking pictures. Sometimes its not about waiting for the light to be just right, its always about pushing yourself and I’m not talking about seeing something that’s been shot a million times in your town in a way that no one has before. I’m talking about personal growth.

I’m sure as I begin to write more and more about my adventures in photography you’ll come to and understanding about not who I am as a photographer but also about who I am as an individual and how that in turn, is displayed in my photography. I’m excited to start creating more than just images and how my journey will continue to play out. I hope you enjoy and stay along for the ride.

Before I get too existential about the act of writing itself, I’d better get to the point of this post. Sometimes photography isn’t about taking pictures, it is always (better be anyway!) about personal growth. Very regularly I shoot with a great friend of mine ( ) who lives in a nearby town. We’d met up in his town (a fairly liberal, artsy hipster town if I’m honest) to hang out, shoot and attempt to make something of our Saturday evening.

As the sun set and long shadows streaked across the sidewalks, we’d managed to make a couple loops around the center of town on foot, shooting things from one side of the street, and then the other…practicing chicken shit street photography. Long lens, across the way from the subject, sniper style. This is the worst kind of ‘street’ photography in my mind. Its not creative, its not challenging and people see you straight away and think, “another weirdo with his camera.” has its place when you catch a moment, a couple, a fleeting look...but generally, its cowardly.

I called it chicken shit street photography for a good reason. Despite my friend and I being rather friendly, out going personable guys, we both struggle very much with approaching a total stranger that has caught our eye and asking to snag a quick picture. I think this is something that any photographer struggles with if they’ve ever pointed their camera at a person before.

Full stop: It’s a daunting task to approach a random person.

Maybe you’re gifted and have no social filter but for many of us, we’re dying to snag a picture of that old man with a cane or that fashion forward lady marching down the sidewalk in the city, or the construction worker who wears 20 years of hard labor on his face. These are the shots we all see and all want so desperately to nail…if only we weren’t chicken shit and too intimidated to ask. …so what have we been doing? Hanging back and getting an ‘action’ of the subject from the other side of the street.

Having had enough of what we find to be a weakness as a photographer, we decided to set ourselves a challenge. A modified game of truth or dare. …portrait chicken.

Simple game. I pick a random person of interest and assign my friend the duty of approaching and posing the question; he too would present me with the same task.

Naturally I chickened out the first couple times. LOSE.


Soon enough though, I’d spotted my target, I hate that word but it was a subject of my choosing that I knew I could be successful with. I think he’d just landed a front side kick flip on his skateboard and was pretty serious about his business. Ear buds in, he was focused on landing his next trick. The first ‘Excuse me!’ failed to hit the mark. Thankfully, his friend noticed and helped me grab his attention.

“Can I snag a quick portrait?”


“Can I snag a quick shot of you with your skateboard? I’m working on my portfolio of street photos and I’d love to have a shot of you in your element with your board, doing what you do.”

- uh, k. just stand here?


"Awesome dude - you look epic! THANKS!"

It was a mediocre shot at best. There was a drain pipe on the wall behind him sticking out the side of his shoulder and the exposure wasn’t spot on. But this isn’t the point.

This time, the photography wasn’t always about taking the picture. It was about so much more than a lousy shot of a guy on his board. It was about identifying a weakness and overcoming it. Its pretty basic stuff at the core but very liberating once you've summoned the courage. ...Thanks J.

As I walked away, I felt lighter. Empowered, accomplished, successful. This shot was about pushing the envelope and taking myself to a place I’ve never been before, as an individual or a photographer. That was the first of many that night. By midnight, we had setup with a strobe, stand and a shoot through umbrella and were nailing street portraits left and right from happy-go-lucky pub crawlers. We had a great time, met some great people and even scored a couple bucks...another post on that to come....

Saturday wasn’t about taking pictures, it wasn’t about getting the perfect exposure or seeing the street art in a different way. It was about overcoming a personal limitation. It will still be intimidating but I’ll have the experience of having posed the question tucked in my back pocket for the next face that catches my eye.

What weakness sticks out in the back of your mind, or perhaps the front? What hurdle are you afraid attempt? What boundary are you afraid to cross? Liberate yourself. Elevate your game.

follow me on twitter - rickdonohue

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