Am I a good photographer or do I just take pictures of interesting things?
On May 31st, I decided to embark on a simple photo challenge. I set out to see if I could go outside and photograph the world around me every day during the month of June. This may sound like a simple and rather mundane activity, but it only took seven days before I started struggling to find motivation to hit the streets each morning. I ended up finding my stride to complete this challenge, and learned a lot about myself and my photography in the process.
Before I get into what I learned during the month of June, I want to step back and talk about what led me to wanting to take on such a challenge in the first place: Over the past decade, my summers have been structured around travel. Adventures on the John Muir Trail, Tour du Mont Blanc, trails of Peru, the Camino Portuguese, and Iceland’s Ring Road are a few of my travels that have been covered here on Trail to Peak. In January of this year, I started planning a family trip that would have taken us to Croatia and Slovenia, but Covid-19 swept the globe and any travel plans I had in place were quickly dashed.
Like many others stuck at home, I was quickly (albeit selfishly) wishing for the summers of years past. I’m fortunate to have a healthy family, a job I can do from home, and a gym setup to keep me fit, but my hobby (this blog) was suddenly and involuntarily put on hold. I quickly realized how much I relied on Trail to Peak as a creative outlet and as motivation to constantly see and do new things. Without the ability to travel, hike, or explore new places, I just didn’t have the drive for my traditional outlets of writing and photography.
This creative block had me starting to question my motivations and ability. Am I a good photographer or do I just take pictures of interesting things? If I only bring my camera out when it’s easy, can I even call myself a photographer?
I decided to find some personal answers to these questions by committing to taking photos every day, regardless of the weather, my mood, or the circumstances. Having now completed this challenge, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned, and am pretty happy with my body of work. I’ll be sharing a few insights and a few photos in the following post.
1. I Found Ways to See the Ordinary In a New Light
When I started this photo challenge on the 1st of June, I was amazed at how many interesting things I had just walked by in the past few years. Walking with a purpose allowed me, and maybe even forced me, to see my surroundings in a new light. Buildings that used to blend into a backdrop stood out, colors that went unnoticed suddenly popped, and walking routes I had previously avoided became fertile ground. Even after I had covered just about every city block in Claremont on foot, a change in perspective, a different time of day, or a lens with a different focal length would make me see it as new.
2. I Realized I’m Very Fortunate to Live Where I Live
The weather in Southern California is well known for being pleasant all year round. Having grown up here, there are times I take it for granted. Cool mornings with abundant sunshine definitely make it easy to get out of bed each morning, and our “bad” weather is always short lived. I’m also very fortunate to live in the walkable college town of Claremont, CA. Here in Claremont, we have a photogenic village with classic old buildings, boutique shops, family owned restaurants, and beautiful trees. Even during a challenging time like the one created by Covid-19, I have no shortage of interesting places to walk and explore.
3. Coffee and Baked Goods Get Me Out the Door
This one probably needs no explanation…Living so close to the Claremont Village with multiple bakeries and cafe options can be a blessing and a curse. My two favorites are Créme Bakery and Some Crust Bakery. Créme gets the slight edge on pastries, but Some Crust usually wins me over for the coffee. Sadly, both bakeries are closed when I’m usually out taking pictures and walking the dogs at 6:00AM. The staff is hard at work though, and I can smell the ever alluring scents of butter, sugar, and flour hanging in the morning air.
4. Taking Pictures Each Day is a Great Way to Get My Steps In
Over the past few years, I’ve been getting my weekly cardio in big daily chunks on the trail with days of inactivity stacked in between. With this June photo challenge, I went out and walked around each and every morning seeking inspiration. I averaged more than 13,000 steps a day, which works out to around 6 miles. As much as I enjoyed the massive increase in daily cardio, I think Isla and Lilly (my dogs) enjoyed it even more. There were even a few mornings that they pulled me out of bed hours before sunrise so that they could hit the streets for their daily stroll.
5. I’m Spending More Time with Family and Capturing the Moments
Covid-19 has kept schools and offices closed, cancelled conferences, and stopped almost all travel for work. This has allowed for a lot more family time at home. I was fortunate to enjoy a lot of family time before, but with no preschool, I get to see my son for an additional 4 hours a day.
Before this photo challenge, almost all of my family photos were candid shots taken with my iPhone. These shots were fine for sharing via text message and viewing on small screens, but the quality is usually far too poor to print. Now that I’m taking more family shots and portraits with my nice camera and portrait lenses, I have far more print-worthy family photographs. With a toddler that seems to grow a few inches each week, these are photos memories I will cherish forever.
6. I’m Still Loving My Switch from Sony to Fuji
Before my family trip to Thailand in 2019, I made a massive switch from Sony full frame cameras to Fuji’s APS-C X-system. My main reasons for doing so were threefold: First, I wanted to decrease the overall size and weight of my kit. Second, I wanted to gain access to lower cost high-end lenses. Third, I much prefer the Fuji shooting experience.
So how did it work out? Well, I have definitely decreased the overall size and weight of my walkaround camera setup. I noticed this immediately in Thailand, and have really appreciated the weight loss on morning walks during this photo challenge. On the cost savings side of things, just by selling my Zeiss Batis 18mm, I was able to pick up the Fuji XF 14mm f2.8, 16mm f2.8, and 18mm f2. That’s three great lenses for the price of one, allowing me to do a lot more experimentation with different prime focal lengths. Finally, in regards to the Fuji shooting experience, it’s just something you have to try. I had read about the Fuji experience online while shooting Sony and just didn’t get it. Once I played with a few Fuji cameras, it finally clicked for me. The dials, buttons, ergonomics, menus, and results make me want to go out and shoot each day.
So am I a good photographer or do I just take pictures of interesting things? The answer I’ve found over the past month is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of taking pictures and that I enjoy it. It’s not about social engagement, likes on Instagram, or the opinions of others. My attachment to travel photography was anchored in the idea that I need to be creating content, and that I deliver a product that inspires readers. That’s still the point of this blog, but by allowing that mindset to consume the entire process, the motivation and inspiration got lost. This June photography challenge brought me back and reminded me why I fell in love with photography in the first place, and for that, I’ll chalk it up as a success.