How Photography Helps Me Be More Present

Like many photographers, I often have my camera with me even when I am not photographing clients.  I love documenting my children’s daily lives and life in the city around me.  I occasionally dive into other types of personal projects for exploration and growth, with most involving light and details.

While everyone expects me to have a camera (or two) on-hand for client work, non-photographers often urge me to put the camera and be more present.  Other photographers understand how difficult this can be when you truly enjoy making photos, but it can more difficult to explain to those who don’t share your passion how making photos during your daily life can actually make you more present rather than less.

1) Photographers are more tuned-in to subtle body language and emotion:

As a photographer, I have to be tuned-in to the emotions of my subjects.  I need to pay close attention to subtle changes in their facial expressions and body language.  Even a big smile won’t mask the tension evident in scrunched-up shoulders or eyes that look anxious.  Learning to pay attention to these subtle cues helps me be more present with my own family and friends, helping me to notice small cues about how they are feeling.  It also helps me be more present to the world around me when I want to delve into street photography since I know I need to pay very careful attention to the body language and expressions of any potential subjects in order to make a strong photo.  Without photography, I would not have learned to become present in this way.  Stacy Pearsall explores body what body language conveys and how small gestures can convey about a person, and in portraits, in her CreativeLive class  The Art of Body Language in Portraiture.  Once you start focusing on these while making images, you will become more tuned into them in daily life as well.

2) Photographers see more of the beauty around them:

While it’s not difficult to see the beauty in a field of flowers or a gorgeous sunset, it is easier to overlook the beauty of less obvious places.  As a photographer, I’ve learned to look for the beauty no matter where am.  I’ve come to appreciate small pockets of shimmering light in alleyways, the reflections in puddles on ordinary sidewalks, the texture of brick walls and old wooden fences, and the way colors work together just about everywhere to create harmony, excitement, or discord.  Without photography, I would not have learned to appreciate the unexpected and subtle beauty around me.

3) Photographers are more present with people:

Portrait and family photographers especially need to be able to talk to their subjects to put them at ease and help them “look natural” in front of the camera.   To achieve this, photographers need to develop the ability to connect with just about anyone and make them feel as though they are the most interesting person in the world.  The Moment Design technique of photography pioneered by Jesh DeRox has been helpful in teaching me the importance of getting people to laugh with you before they will feel comfortable opening up about deeper topics.  Developing these skills has helped me to connect with others more easily in all aspects of life, even when it may appear initially that we do not have a lot in common, and be more present, both when meeting new people and when spending time with those I already know and love.

4) Photographers notice more details:

When making a photograph, a few split seconds can make or break an image.  A small change in the way the wind is blowing, the way shadows shift, or the way a mother looks at her child or a bride looks at her groom for a brief moment that shows the depth of love and goes a long way towards making a stronger image.  Even when not behind the camera photographers can’t help but notice the small details of around them, from the way the light illuminates people, landscapes, and everyday objects to small gestures that convey the way a couple feels about one another.  Without photography, many of these details would go unnoticed.

5) Photographers explore and linger:

As a photographer, I am never content to simply do what I came to do and move on.  Years of making photographs have taught me that every location has hidden treasures.  Photographers are usually more open to exploration to find hidden corners and look for small details.  Photographers learn the art of patience to get the shot and are more willing to stay longer, walk farther, or go off the beaten path.  Photographers know that places visited many times before can be completely different in changing light and seasons.  Even on the journey somewhere, I am looking out for interesting scenes on the metro or places by the side of the road that may be worth a stop.  Without photography, I would be more prone to rushing through both new and familiar locations and less willing to take the risk of exploring places that may seem boring or uninteresting. Dan Brouillette emphasizes slowing down and looking for the most interesting places to shoot in his class on Environmental Portrait Photography.    Becoming more tuned-in to the interesting details, location, and light around you at all times will not just help you make better photographs, but will help make all of your life experiences more interesting.

Even if you stick just to client work, photography can help you be more present even without a camera in hand, but I am a firm believer that photographing more can help you become more present. It helps to have your camera with you in a goes-anywhere Windsor camera bag.  Once you start becoming more present in your world, you will undoubtedly want to document it.


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