This post is likely going to be a long one. I’m going to jot down exactly how I’ve been thinking it. And I’m a 24/7 thinker.
In 2010, I got my first digital camera as a prize for a tech blogging contest. I didn’t expect to win the camera and I was incredibly happy that I did. But soon afterwards, I outgrew the camera. It didn’t produce good enough pictures in indoor situations. For my event photography needs, I couldn’t rely on it much longer.
In 2013, I got my first digital SLR camera. It happened suddenly. I was in the market for an iPod Touch 5th generation but I found a Nikon D3100 instead at pretty much the same price range. I bought it. And it was the greatest instant decision I’ve ever made so far.
I’ve been spending hours after hours learning the basics of digital photography. From technical aspects like shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and how they all affect the exposure of the image, to composition, shooting techniques, and lighting. I’ve probably seen more hours of videos on photography and portrait retouching than I’ve seen anything else on YouTube.
A year after my venture into photography, there comes a point when I am beginning to wonder, am I on the right track? Is this passion, if I may call it, making me walk away from my ultimate goals in my life? Will I regret down the road for walking into this unknown territory?
To give you a little context of what my life is about, let me tell you what I’m good at.
Playing with Words
It didn’t take me long to realize that I had a passion for writing. Whatever it was, a winter morning, a rainy evening, a scary night, or a terrifying boat journey in the middle of a storm, I always felt the need to write down everything in words. I’ve put down a couple of fictions so far, but that’s still an uncharted territory for me.
So I went with writing. As a tech-savvy person, I chose writing about technology. I’ve been writing for a living for many years now. I’m not a full time professional yet but I’ve been managing to pay for my education, computers, mobile phones, internet bills, and even the camera using the money I earned mostly by writing — of sorts.
I guess you could call that a professional writing. And in the years before I purchased my digital SLR camera, I’ve made it clear over and over again in my posts that I wanted to be a technology journalist working in a first-world country where I’d get to play with the latest gadgets and write to inform the whole world about what’s new.
I still have that dream. And if anything, I’m still working to go up that ladder.
An Alternate Media
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And I say, for me, it’s easier to write a thousand words to explain something than to show it all with a picture. But that’s probably because I’m still a newbie in this craft.
Henri Cartier-Bresson said that your first 10 thousand photographs are your worst. He was referring to the photographs taken with a film, where you had to think twice before taking a shot and had to pay to even see what your shots look like. In today, someone translated that number to 100,000 because taking a picture is basically free.
If my shutter count is exact, I’ve only taken some 20 thousand pictures since October 2013. That includes tons of duplicate shots that weren’t keeper. It’s impossible to find out the exact number of photographs I’ve taken in the context Henri Cartier-Bresson put it.
There are tons of advice out there to learn and get better at photography. One advice that you’ll find from each and every photographer since the dawn of existence is that you have to practice in order to get better at it. “Practice makes man perfect,” says the proverb. And it’s no different in case of photography.
Then why am I afraid?
Choosing the Right Path
As anyone who has ever been into photography knows well, it takes a lot of time to learn photography. Time that gets subtracted from the daily schedule when I can practice and improve my writing. You see, I’ve been so much invested into photography, at certain point I realized I haven’t been writing enough. As a result my flow has slowed down, traffic to my blogs have reduced, so has my income from writing.
I was forced to pause for a moment and ask myself, “What am I doing?”
It takes incredible amount of time and patience to learn a craft. And managing time to learn that craft while still maintaining a day job and study is an art in itself. But sometimes, it’s just too much and you don’t have enough time to manage all of them. That is precisely when you need to prioritize.
Passion vs Skill
Photography is a risky business. From a career viewpoint, very few get to be a full time professional photographer. There are many reasons why it’s a tough business. I won’t get to those reasons in today’s post. I’ll just say, I’m not very good at it.
I brag about my ability to write. Granted, none of my articles are worth being published on The New York Times. I’m not that good. But I can write. I can write tirelessly. I’m constant, I’m skilled, and I have the willpower to keep writing to reach a goal. This didn’t come to me just because I wanted to be a writer or just because I kept practicing. There is this thing that they call God-given, I believe I’m like that in a way. I can write. I’m good at it. I’m a natural writer.
When I was deeply invested into photography, and that realization came into light that I was drifting away from writing by investing so much time in learning a craft that I didn’t have naturally, I asked myself, why did I get into photography to begin with? I am passionate enough, but I don’t have that natural talent (bragging, I know) as I have with writing. I don’t have the eye for incredible composition, beautiful color, or the skill to manage people.
On a side note, I love shooting people. But I’m not a very people person which is what contradicting my primary passion of photography. I would love to shoot landscape or macro, but I just don’t find much interest in it. Despite that, I seem not to give up on expecting/trying to shoot portraits. Now what is up with that?
This dilemma of photography vs writing is so confusing that it’s getting tougher even for me — a seasoned writer — to explain in simple words. It’s not like I have to completely stop writing if I go down the photography route or vice-versa, it’s just that I’ll have to be mediocre at one if I want to be better at another. In today’s world, mediocre work has no value at all. That’s precisely where my fears lie in.
What if, years from now, I look back and regret thinking had I chosen the other profession, I’d be in a better place today? That’s what’s bothering me. I want to write as much as I want to continue photographing people and events. But it’s just not happening. I feel like I have to choose one over the other, because I can’t manage time for both.
What do I choose?
My shortcomings in Photography
I’m still a beginner in photography, but there are a couple of things that I consider to be my shortcomings. They are:
- I’m lazy. I’ll admit it upfront. Writing doesn’t always require you to go outside. As an online writer/blogger, 80% of the time I can obtain information sitting in front of the computer. The writing part is also done at the computer. So no going out is necessary unless I’m covering an event.
- I’m introvert. That applies to why I can’t even continue practicing shooting people. I grew up pretty much in a room and I’ve never been a people person myself. So, when shooting portraits, it feels almost as difficult to pose them as is to find people to shoot in the first place.
- It’s insecure. This one may sound ridiculous but trust me it’s not irrelevant. Security is a big matter when it comes to photographing outdoor situations — be it public events, people, or some street portraits. In Bangladesh, the number of photographers losing their gear in street robbery has risen up alarmingly. Streets aren’t safe. That fear of losing gears (because I may not afford to buy them again) more often than not results in not taking out my camera in the first place. As you can guess, that results in no picture being taken.
- It’s expensive. I don’t have gear acquisition syndrome. In fact, I’ve got into a lot of argument because I said the kit lens you get with your crop-sensor cameras is capable of shooting pretty good quality images given the correct amount of light. But then again, it’s an expensive hobby to have. Sometimes I wish that to have that effect of portrait at 200mm with f/2.8. You simply can’t get that with anything other than a lens that’s capable of shooting at f/2.8 at 200mm focal length.
- It requires access. Someday I’m going to write a full article about how photography is all about access. Let me give you some examples. You have access to some great locations, good for you if you are a landscape shooter. You have access to (or have connections with) companies, good for you if you are a commercial photographer. Similarly, if you know a lot of people or at least are good at making friends, you’ll never run out of subjects to shoot. I am particularly interested in shooting people and I don’t have access to a lot of them. So you get the point.
Needless to say, there are more. But these are pretty much the major obstacles in my way to getting better at and practicing more photography.
Infinite Loop of Dilemma
That’s what this is. It’s an infinite loop of dilemma. There will never be a definitive answer to my confusion. I can’t pick one over the other. Writing is in my DNA, photography is not. But this weird force keeps me want to get good at photography despite all the obstacles.
I can fight all the obstacles, but I can’t risk losing my ability to write. Well, I won’t be losing my ability to write per se, but you get the point.
I wish I could ask you for your advice if you’ve made reading this far. But I can tell that you’re probably just as much confused as I am. You’d probably not give me a straight answer either because there just isn’t any.
But I can ask you this, if you were in my shoes, how would you fight this dilemma? Would you work harder to get better at photography because you love doing it, or would you continue writing because you’re born to do it (and you love doing it too)?