What makes photography magic

Jun 08, 2022
Creative Photo Folk
What makes photography magic

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There are many reasons why people lose their passion for photography but it all comes down to just one thing. You’ve lost sight of what makes photography magic.

As a child my parents used to read me a story before bed each night from a big book of fairy tales and so I grew up believing that the world was full of magic and love and adventure. And the world IS full of those things but they come with some serious limits. It’s hard to be off questing on the high seas when you’ve got to go to work to pay your bills. But I never gave up hope that if I looked hard enough eventually, somewhere on the fringes, a might find a little bit of magic.

Although I can’t find a single article to back this, I’m convinced that humans are addicted to one thing above all others. And it’s not money. It’s not power. It’s wonder. We crave money to buy new and better things. We crave the rush of power. We take drugs to see the world through a different lens. We watch TV and read books to escape to different places. We create art to find the wonder inside ourselves. And we devote our weekends to seeking adventure, unless you’ve got washing to do. And the more of these things you have the more you want, because we’re chasing bigger and better experiences to keep that wonder alive. This is how we give our lives meaning by seeking out moments that touch, surprise and delight us.

As a child everything was new and shiny. The days were long because there was so much to explore and experience. And if our environment held no wonder, we created it ourselves with our imaginations. But when we’re exposed to something for long enough even the most extraordinary things eventually become mundane. I remember being in an art gallery one day and I saw some teenagers fussing over a particular work and it was a concept I’d seen a dozen times before and I turned to my friend and said ‘the older I get, the less that surprises me because I feel like I’ve seen it all before’.

When we don’t have access to money or power or drugs or adventure, the wonder dries up and we forget to hope and dream. I’m sure we can all name someone who has reached that point in their life. And I believe this is why the years fly by faster the older you get because you’ve forgotten how to slow time by mindfully finding the joy in everything.

Many people reclaim their wonder by having children because they get to experience the world a second time through the fresh eyes of youth. For various reasons I never wanted children and sometimes I worry I missed out on the biggest source of wonder of all.

But I eventually found the magic I was searching for and it arrived in the form of a camera. When you think about it a camera is merely a device for catching wonder. The flowers and insects we’ve ignored every day suddenly become endlessly fascinating and we can spend hours at a time appreciating all the beauty that surrounds us. And it feels powerful to immortalise and share these tiny slices of life. Our cameras give us an excuse to go places we would never normally go or put ourselves in situations outside of our comfort zone.

Think about when you first picked up a camera. Wasn’t everything so fascinating? Usually we start by focusing on the small stuff in our backyard, capturing flowers and insects, and then later venturing out to capture scenery and people and just about everything we can point our camera at. Between the thrill of finding something interesting to capture and the excitement of nailing a rare moment, we collected photos of regular everyday things because it was fun. But you can only capture a flower so many times before it eventually loses its appeal and it’s no longer challenging. And then you’re faced with the realisation that storage space is limited so you’re going to have to be more careful about what you shoot. Suddenly our wonder has limits and this can make or break some photographers.

I’ve talked many times before about why photographers get stuck or give up. But ultimately, they just lose sight of the wonder mainly because it got too hard to find. It’s most definitely still there though. You might just take a little more effort to find it.

  • Perhaps the wonder is just on the other side of a few technical terms and a little bit of practice.
  • Perhaps you’ve become bored of the wonder that surrounds you and you need to venture further afield.
  • Perhaps you’ve decided your skills at capturing wonder aren’t as good as someone else’s because you’ve forgotten that it was never about the skills, but the experience.
  • Perhaps you’ve found wonder in something else like the dopamine factory of social media.
  • Perhaps you need to stop relying on the world to give you something wonderful and create the wonder yourself.

Sometimes, through no fault of our own, our access to wonder becomes limited. When Covid hit, there was a second pandemic of photographers losing their mojo. But secretly, I was kind of delighted. Now I had time to explore all the photography techniques I could do at home.

I remember that day in the gallery so vividly where I felt nothing surprised me anymore because I think something shifted in my brain. If the wonder was draining out of my world then I needed to create it myself.

This is why I started down the path of conceptual photography. By combining bits and pieces of photos I’d taken into new scenes with Photoshop I was able to take ordinary scenarios and make them magical. Instead of listening to fairy tales I was the one creating them. I became the storyteller, the wonder creator, the imagination igniter. And whenever I display my artwork people stand in front of them for ages taking everything in. And so I know, just for a moment, that I have given wonder to someone else and there is nothing more powerful than that. It’s a small yet beautiful pursuit that fills my world with meaning.

To share the gift of wonder with someone else you need to show them something new. And so while we can shoot all the parks and insects and birds because WE find it interesting while we’re learning our camera, the likelihood of someone else finding those fascinating is maybe not as high.

To create wonder for others we either have to shoot things differently or combine elements to create something new. And that’s where creativity comes in. We need to start constructing our own scenes or using creative techniques to capture the world uniquely.

A bird pecking for insects in the sand is something we’ve all seen before so it’s a lot less engaging than a bird in flight frozen against streaks of panned movement. That’s much harder to capture, and certainly never visible to the naked eye, so it’s immediately going to be interesting to others because it’s something they haven’t seen before. It’s something wonderful.

If I were to rely solely on the world to provide me with wonder I would have given up photography long ago. But I didn’t. I learned 100 different creative techniques and the sheer variety and endless combinations of that means I will never, ever, run out of wonder. I can choose any object in my house and make it interesting in a dozen different ways. Every landscape and every portrait has limitless potential and so I will always have wonder on tap. But the added bonus is that by having the ability to create unique images I can also create wonder for others. It’s wonderful for me. It’s wonderful for them. Win. Win.

So if you’ve lost your passion for photography, I wonder where you’re going wrong? Just pick up your camera and get out there, without all the judgement without all the self-talk and simply chase some wonder.

Have a wonderful day!


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