Why I Do Photography

*gasp* A preface!
I'm taking a page from digitalblasphemy and running an experiment.  Large versions of all of my recent photos ("Holi" and onward) are available for free download.  Just click on one, click the "Download" link at the top of the next page, and save it somewhere.

Also, do you like photography?  I would love to know why; it's always interesting to hear other perspectives.  Leave a comment about what you enjoy about photography, be it snapshots, pro photography, or whatever else. [Added Sunday, 11 April]

Over the past few weeks, I've again found myself stopping to shoot random, neat things around the Google campus.  I usually carry my camera, and when I find something that looks neat, could look neat, or really, even if it's just looking at me sideways, I'll stop and shoot.  I often find that even the most unremarkable of subjects can be mesmerizing if you look at it the right way, or at the right time.

A while back, a friend asked my why I do photography; I presume he was asking in part about what I enjoy about it, and why I continue to devote time, energy, money, and whatever else is needed to be able to keep shooting.

There are a couple answers.  The first is that I have an insatiable curiosity about everything.  Photography gives me both an excuse and a motivation to explore the world and to try to uncover the small, exciting discoveries that lurk pretty much everywhere.  I gallivant in the details.

Beyond that, my photos index memories for me.  When I look at a photo I shot, it often brings me back to that instant: to the feelings I was experiencing as well as the circumstances of the moment.  The process allows me to reflect and to discover new things that I missed the first time around.

For instance, look at this bee.  One beautiful Spring day, I walked outside and this tree was in full bloom, with bees buzzing every which-a-way.  Like the small child that I really still am, I took a few steps toward it in amazement.  It had been ages upon ages since the last time I stopped to look at a bee.  In trying to create a photo that would capture my wonderment, I pointed the camera skyward and tried to find something interesting.

And lo and behold, I did, although I didn't realize it until looking at the photos later.  Did you know that bees have translucent abdomens?  That's so cool!  I love how the bee's abdomen glows with the light from the midday sun.

Another thing I enjoy about photography is the challenge.  Most forms of photography are essentially problem-solving.  In math, it is often considered an art to be able to craft proofs that are elegant, concise, and accessible — "from The Book" as Paul Erdős often put it.

Photographers face a similar struggle.  Whereas mathematicians struggle to find enlightening points of view from which to consider a problem, many photographers struggle to find points of view from which to capture the beauty of a scene or a subject.

In my own case, I strive to share what I find so interesting about the world by capturing compelling images.  I try to create a pictorial explanation of why I stop in weird places with my camera, and struggle to show people why they should stop every once in awhile as well.

This is a plant that lives inside of my building at work.  Compelled by a weekly photo contest that we have, I stopped the first time I noticed it and tried to find an interesting viewpoint.  After a bit of messing around, I found that I could look up between a group of leaves, and if I played with the focus and the exposure in the right way, it suddenly looked like the canopy of a very-oddly-shaped palm tree.  Neat.

Part of my satisfaction with this photo is that I was able to take something drab and mundane — a reception-area office plant — and find a way to look at it that I find both pleasing and a bit confusing, like an optical illusion.

Most recently, I tried to re-shoot and improve upon the flower photo from above.  I ended up with an image that is completely different, but which I also really like.  The theme of the aforementioned contest was "Out-of-Focus on Purpose," and over the past few days I think I learned a lot about the interactions of overexposure and focus.

Finally, I like that photography requires technique.  As a programmer, pole vaulter, high-hurdler, and mountain biker, I find that I tend to enjoy hobbies which require practice and offer the opportunity for continual self-improvement.  One technique I've become reasonably good at is holding the camera still.

For the image above, I had no tripod and had two minutes to shoot something.  I sat on a curb, braced, and started off shooting at 1/10s and 640ISO.  I quickly worked down to 1/3s and 250ISO (with noticeably less noise), and had some time to mess around with the composition a bit.  Yay for the small victories.



Hey, it's me! I’ve been a documentary photographer for 17 yrs, software engineer for even longer, and plenty of other things in between.