7 Things Photography Taught Me About Life

Warning: this article contains opinionated and philosophical content.

OK, so a little while ago I read this article about how a different set of lifestyle circumstances changed the way the photographer experienced her photography. That got me thinking about my journey, and how, for me, it was the other way around. Yes, sure, life taught me a lot in photography, but photography gave me a whole different perspective on life, too.

If we think about the basic elements of photography: what makes a good photograph? Those things are light, composition, and vision. It’s as simple as that. And those three things can be applied directly to life.

The seven things listed below are merely some of the important messages my photography is bringing into my life currently, and as we evolve as photographers and as people, these will change along the way. Here are some of the things I’ve recently discovered made me want to be more like my camera.

Keep it a tad darker to stay a bit sharper.

This idea is very abstract and it sometimes even gets new meaning for me when I think about it again. At the moment I’m understanding it as being a little underground. You see, even the underdog gets his day, and his day is so much sweeter when he gets it.

It comes from the idea that under-exposing an image helps freeze it, especially in tricky light situations, and helps to keep things sharp. In life, I’ve come to the conclusion that by staying slightly – but not too much – cynical, it enables me to see things realistically. Well, at least, as realistically as my reality will allow for. The important thing is to not let go of what your truth is because someone else’s truth sounds or looks different or enticing, even. This also has a lot to do with your actual career, be it in photography or something else.

Of course, this life tip would probably not win you any popularity contests, but staying true to yourself and keeping things “sharp”, is important in the task of pursuing your own fulfilment. And you owe that to yourself. Following the crowd may seem like a good idea, but then you’ll always just be a part of the crowd.

Shine the light on dark situations.

Like in photography; instead of increasing the sensitivity in a situation, rather add light. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, or offended by a situation, shine the “light” of wisdom on it by looking at it from another perspective or simply lifting a curtain. Often times you’ll see things much clearer. I know we photographers can especially do with a bit more of this.

In certain philosophies we are taught that by focusing on the negative side of a situation, of life, we will only ever see the negative, and the negative will always prevail. What we need to do is to focus all our energy on the positive, and things will change into the positive. Einstein had it right when he said we can’t fix a problem with the same mindset that caused it. We have to focus on the solution to solve a problem, and not on the problem itself.

Focus on the lighter areas.

As in photography, life sometimes have both very dark and very light areas. Exposing for the lighter areas may result in underexposed shaded areas, but you can always come back later and lift those out in post. Focus on the light, the good, and you’re good to go. When you expose for the darks, your bright bits will be so burned out that you’ll lose all the detail, and it is impossible to recover.

The longer you’re open, the more you’ll see.

We never stop learning. The day you close yourself to the possibility of learning something you do not yet know is the day you might as well die. Don’t worry, there’s life after death – at least in this context – and you can be reborn as a curious discoverer of new things every time that you realise that you and your photography is dying for not being open to new things.

I’ve also been able to apply this in another area of my life. Being open can mean to stay open to a situation, yes, learning, about a situation or people, meaning that you stick it out through the difficult times and more often than not find something rewarding waiting at the other end of the tunnel. Like the shutter staying open for long enough at night, and if it stays open long enough, it will eventually capture the stars.

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Sometimes you need a little help to keep things steady.

There’s no shame in needing help. Yet, we creative souls, we are ever too proud or too this or too that and too bloody insecure to realise that help goes both ways. I’ve been asked cautiously by people for help many times, and while they are normally thankful and for some reason slightly flabbergasted that I didn’t mind helping, I think they don’t realise that by helping them, I am also learning new things in the process. Be it about myself, my photography, photography in general, or just life in general. Every experience has value, and we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace them. We shouldn’t be too proud or too good or too important to help people either. Not ever. Because then you close so many doors for yourself that you will never just open again.

When, a little while ago, I realised my photography hit a ceiling and was slowly drowning, one day this thought came to me:

“If you mean to climb the ladder, you have to be willing to bend your knees.” 

No, I don’t mean go down on your knees and start praying. I think a lot of people misunderstood me there. Mind you, if you are so inclined, by all means, do that. But remember, the greatest lesson to take away from this is to stay humble and not become so important in yourself that you are unwilling to touch down, to take a look at what you need for growth, and then get down and dirty and do that which your growth requires of you.

Getting down on your knees provides a fresh perspective.

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Of course, following from the previous point, is that getting down on your knees provides you with a fresh perspective on the world. Yes, so does standing on high, but remember, you will still have to bend your knees to get there.

Photography isn’t about photography at all.

If it were, we wouldn’t be so very interested and fascinated by it.

No, photography is such a captivating medium because it is about everything else. It is a way to raise awareness, to tell stories, to preserve memories, and to bear witness. The same goes for, well, everything else.

It seems like the thing isn’t about the thing at all.

I could use a simple example like electricity. Electricity is not about electricity. It’s about making it possible to do and to have access to things that would otherwise not have been possible without electricity.

The driving force behind anything isn’t the thing itself, but rather what is meant to be done with it.

Life isn’t about life, per se, but more about gathering experiences, learning, loving, following our passions, doing stupid things so we can learn and become wiser. Life is not about life. Life is about living.

And life is about photography.

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