There is now an endless supply of blogs, videos, and Instagram shorts where people espouse the greatness of taking pictures. People who’ve had an SLR for a few months gleefuly take to YouTube to give detailed instructions on what to look for in your first camera, and how to make use of props to make your portraits more interesting. Presumably, this must be because interest in photography is at an all-time high, and the barrier to entry is at an all-time low. That’s great, and I truly welcome a world where there are more people interested in capturing (or ‘making’) really cool images.
However, what none of them tell you is this: photography is pish.
I have been taking pictures for a long, long time. As a kid i would be the weirdo with the disposable camera documenting social occasions that nobody else thought to or cared about. During my time as a student I would forego necessities so I could buy and process film even though I had a digital SLR that would have been far more economical. I’ve worked as a photographer for the big, the bad, and especially the ugly, getting myself into all kinds of werird situations as a result. I have collected multiple variations of the same kind of lenses to see if there are any differences in the bokeh produced, and even had a Russian guy design and make a custom metal mount to try and get an f0.75 x-ray lens to work on a Sony A7 (spoiler alert: it did). Photography has been intertwined with my identity for as long as I can remember, to such an extent that many moons ago I was christened with a nom de guerre of ‘Clicky Steve’, which has since stuck.
All of that said, as time has gone on, I have really come to hate photography. This isn’t just about all the obvious grumbles about how the gear is oh so expensive, or how you will inevitably end up having to agree to do a pile of weddings, or how other photographers are often a) terrible at taking pictures and b) insufferably smug. That would all be too obvious. This also isn’t simply a case of ‘you should never get paid to do something you love as then it becomes a chore’ (an over-used trope which lacks any lasting substance)… No. This is something much deeper. In this post, I am going to outline some of my complaints.
1. Photography is deeply, deeply unsatisfying
I am someone that needs a creative outlet in order to stay sane. If I’m not making something or working on a project, I begin to spin out. That’s just how it goes… and I have often turned to photography to meet that need. However, it never has. Quite the opposite in fact, because no matter how many films I shoot, negatives I scan, prints I make, or blogs I post, that intense desire to create is never satiated. Ever. Rather than provide a release valve, the more I get emotionally invested in the act of taking pictures, the greater the pressure builds to take more. Eventually, the only way to escape this is to stop them altogether. This conflict is at the heart of all of the other main issues I have.
2. Photography reminds you that you do literally nothing
The only way to take pictures that are of any interest at all is to get out and do something. If you want to have any hope of satisfying that inner demon that is constantly demanding you produce more more more images is to have some kind of life. The problem is, you probably don’t. Or at least, you do far less than you would need to be doing to actually take the kind of pictures you want to – so instead of feeling good about documenting moments in your life, you realise that there are no moments worth capturing.
3. Photographers are introverts and weirdos
If you don’t want to end up adding to the endless numbers of oh-so-very-interesting-and-unique landscape pictures, you’ll probably have to photograph people. At first taking pictures of your partner or your pals is great, but pretty quickly you get sick of being that weirdo with the camera harassing folk all the time – or else other people get sick of you being that weirdo with the camera harassing them all of the time. Before you ask, the videos they take of you when you’re all drinking on a night out without your knowledge and post them to Facebook are completely different.
Since you’ve now been dumped by your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/ and have no pals willing to hang out with you, you are going to have to find someone else who doesn’t know you that well in order to take pictures. You’ll probably get a few takers, but this is only really something you can bring up a few times before it starts to get weird. (Even the words ‘photo shoot’ send a shiver down my spine). You could navigate the balding, creeps in the online hellscape to find the rare aspiring ‘models’ who won’t try to charge you hundreds of pounds for the pleasure of getting a few headshots of someone with zero experience, but you’d have an easier time short cutting the process and checking in to a psychiatric ward at the outset. Finally, you could resort to street photography – capturing the decisive moments in the town or city in which you live. However, it won’t be long before the grim reality of what that actually means in practice becomes clear – especially if you come from a place which was once dubbed the ‘murder capital of Europe’, where the local fighting words are ‘whit ye looking at me fur?’.
3. People Suck
Perhaps you’ve managed to con find someone willing to hang out and let you fumble your way through a portrait session. The day comes, your bag is ready and packed with the three different cameras you have painstakingly whittled the selection down to for their particular characteristics, and you are getting ready to leave the house.
9 times out of 10, that person will cancel, and you will never hear from them again.
4. Themes are terrible, and everywhere is boring
If the miraculous happens and you do have a willing subject, and they actually turn up, then you then are going to have to figure out what on earth you are going to shoot. At this point, you either have to come up with a concept, or find somewhere interesting to use as a backdrop. Unfortunately, themed shoots are almost always horrifically bad, and there are only so many alley-ways, fields, or brick walls you can take pictures in front of before even your parents get bored. At least now you know that you have zero ability to think creatively.
5. Nothing works and everything is a disappointment
Even if all goes well, I bet the pictures won’t come out. Part of that lens you got broke midway through the shoot and every shot was out of focus. The wrong kind of battery was in your light meter. The film ripped. You put the fixer in before the developer. The SD card got corrupted. This isn’t even cynicism, it’s just sheer cold hard reality.
6. You’re pish
All of that build up… the trauma of having to try and find willing subjects; the cancellations; the months of videos talking about how to feel more comfortable in shoots; thinking about ways to pose someone more naturally; the money you’ve spent on new lenses; the multitude of books you read for inspiration; the thought and careful planning that went in to every single little detail. All of that, and your photos are pish.