The Photographer’s Dilemma

Is life worth looking at with one’s eyes more than through a lens?


You probably know at least one person who is, or like to think they are, a photographer.

That person has also probably at least once been a cause of annoyance, when they, instead of enjoying a moment of beauty, have been clicking away, trying to lock it away on their memory cards.

And while many photographers initially tend towards this proclivity to click, click, and click some more, we eventually come to realise we’re losing track of why we began making photos in the first place: to help others appreciate the way we see the world and its beauty, and to share our perspective. This realisation, this sudden desire to rest our itching shutter-release fingers, and revel in the now, comes with time, and might even make (and has made) photographers lose their passion to make photos completely.

Although it is hard to isolate a reason for this tendency to shoot a large number of photos, I feel that a major contributor is the advent of photographic technologies eliminating the need to use film (with all its inherent cumbersomeness), and making photography digital.

Courtesy xkcd

Anybody with a phone or a simple camera can click, and click they do. Prodigiously.

Digital junk has soared in recent times, and the number of photos taken per day just rises and rises.

Photography used to be about looking. When something caught a photographer’s eye, they would first compose the shot in their minds. Then, they would try to mimic that through the viewfinder, getting rid of distractions, aligning edges to be parallel, putting things at the thirds of the frame, and so on. Finally, after this effort, they would click.

Why? Because film was expensive, difficult to handle, and required skill to process. It compelled photographers to be meticulous, because they couldn’t afford to not be.

What I’m trying to say is, photography was about seeing, not just cursorily looking — and so, it was meaningful.

Sure, photography is much easier with digital. Sure, you can make photos faster, and not let fleeting moments slip by. Sure, it makes making photos much more accessible. Sure, it’s progress. But it’s also regression, on a certain level.

So, everyone who likes to think they’re photographers (as do I), take some more time when you click. Drink in what you see, and reflect on what it is you’re trying to show. Don’t click for clicking’s sake: click because you love what you see, and want the world to have a look at it that way too.

As Ansel Adams put it,

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.