I love photography. At times I feel it is my getaway. At times it is my meditation. I have been doing all sorts of amateur photography for around 2 years now, and I just can’t seem to let go of it. So I sit and think, and reflect upon how being a photographer has changed me. What all good qualities have I inculcated in me as a by product of being a photographer. And as most of the self-taught photographers go through a similar story, I believe this is something that many others may have also experienced.
So photography, what is it exactly? Dictionary describes it as is the art, science, and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film, or electronically by means of an image sensor. But as you will read on, it is much more, at least for me. Well if it is taking pictures, you can take pictures of anything and everything you see. I believe photography as such, irrespective of the type and purpose does tend to add a few qualities in you, but it is the nature photography, the insects, stars, flowers, landscapes etc, that will change you the most, at least as far as the spiritual aspect is concerned
Photography is a powerful tool. Judaism contains a directive for people to engage in Tikkun Olam. This Hebrew phrase usually is translated as "repairing the world," or "transforming the world." And how exactly is photography transforming the world? Any time a photographer presses a shutter, there is at least a tacit expression of the photographer's hopes, dreams, preferences, values, etc. Making a photograph is tantamount to engaging oneself in dialogue, whether it be external or internal. So whatever the photographer wants to say, he has a powerful tool at his disposal, every picture having the potential to change the world, bit by bit, piece by piece.
So yes, firstly, I believe the earliest virtue photography gifted me is patience. I am a lot more patient and persistent now than I was before I turned a photographer. Almost any photographer will tell you, that it is almost impossible to get the perfect shot in the first few tries. You have to adjust and readjust and again tweak your settings to get that perfect shot. On top of that, add to it the lighting, the composition and a lot of other fine adjustments. And if you happen to be interested in long exposure or macro photography, where the subject isn’t posing for you, trust me, your patience is pushed to the limits. Even a little wind will spoil the perfect shot of the stars and you might have to run around for hours and hours before you get that dragonfly to settle down and pose for you. And that’s exactly how it taught me how to be persistent. Learning macro photography, there have been days I spent chasing bees and flies, not getting even a single good picture. But I really wanted to take that picture and so I was transformed into a person who never gives up easily. I am much more persistent now, all because of photography, and failures inspire me now, instead of depressing me like they used to do. I know if you want something (that shot) very badly, you will get it.
Another thing that I associate with my photography is time-travel. Because of my camera, I can capture the splash of a drop of water and notice the beauty, the patterns, the symmetry in this seemingly insignificant event. Every drop of water has a different meaning now. I am now able to see stuff that happens is 1/1000th of a second, something I can’t even dream of seeing with the naked eyes. I see the system, the physics, the geometry in every splash. I see how crackers explode or how water filled balloons burst. And not just splicing up time, I used my camera to look up at the far off galaxies, and literally stared back in time. A galaxy which is a million light years away, seeing it is like looking a million years in the past.
My interest in photography was closely followed by my interest in travelling. Photography made me a traveller. It started as me scouting for new locations to take pictures of, to now, when travelling is something I identify myself with. And this love for photography and seeing and capturing unexplored unseen lands makes you get over the fear of the unknown and you often end up at places where very few people have been to. Places devoid of any human presence, at times even devoid of animals. And it is at these places you feel a strange feeling. You look at vast expanse of grounds or huge snow covered mountains, without a trace of life. You stand alone, belittled by the monumental nothingness, and you feel a strange ecstasy. A writer described it as ‘moments of intensity or lucidity when one feels as if one is an instrument of transmission like a narrow channel between two oceans”. You feel it. The giddiness. The rush. Your eyes glisten with joy. You get drunk on images. A feeling you can’t get over with. Nothing else can give you that high. And so you travel more.
The other major shift in my personality that has been brought about by photography is that I observe things much more closely now. Earlier I used to pass by a busy marketplace or spend evenings in mountains without noticing anything. Now I seem to notice everything. Even when I’m doing some work, maybe riding my motorcycle or even walking, it seems to work at a very subconscious level. So now I notice the fine lines on the shopkeeper’s face or the toy in the little child’s hand. I notice how skies turn crimson in the evenings and I notice the stars and identify the constellations. And it’s not just the things I see, even sounds are better appreciated by me as compared to earlier times. So every now and then I stop my friends riding motorcycles so that they can enjoy the magnificent view of the sun slowly going down. And I feel I know my city better now, I roam around, notice and appreciate small things about my city which I never did.
One more thing which is closely related to observing things is now I see the beauty in everything. Sunsets have a whole new meaning to me now. I see and appreciate the subtle difference in colours of trees on mountains. I look and observe the whole structure of flowers. Spiders used to be simply spiders for me, but now I can see and identify garden spiders and jumping spiders and orb spiders and a lot of other types. Colourful flies that used to disgust me all of a sudden seem very beautiful. I never fail to notice beautiful skies and beautiful clouds. Rainbows are like a gift from god, making me extremely happy. Everything is much more beautiful now. Nature has a new meaning for me.
And then noticing and observing things makes me see a grand plan in everything. I see the magnificence of god, or Mother Nature as some would prefer to call it. Whatever be it, I feel connected to everything. I feel like I am part of a bigger scheme of things. I have seen life through a macro lens and it is amazing. I saw how ants communicate and follow each other. How they see food, go back, tell everyone and then come back in large numbers, working like small workers, breaking big candies into small pieces, helping each other and eventually carrying them back. I saw how spiders approach each other when they have to mate. I saw how no matter how many times you destroy a spider’s web, it will again make it. I saw the colours in the dragonfly. I have seen the surgeon in a mosquito when it sucks blood. I saw how butterflies are moths are similar, just different colours. I have seen the compound eyes of a fly, little hair on a spiders feet and the long rolled up proboscis of a butterfly. There is so much detail and beauty in this world that I would have never seen had I not been into macro photography. It is very much the same thing we see on Discovery or National Geographic but trust me, seeing it right in front of you is a different feeling altogether. It may sound funny but you feel connected to the fly, the mosquito, the bee and every other living thing. You feel the common bond with all the living creatures. And yes, unlike before, I do not kill tiny insects just cz they are on my books or even body. I would like to believe I respect life more now.
And that’s what macro photography taught me, get into a bit of Time-lapse photography and you will see the same grand scheme of things on a much larger, monumental scale. I remember the first time lapse video I saw, 15 seconds into the video I was crying like a baby. I felt I was looking at god himself, through his creation. I saw that clouds aren’t just moving slowly, they are actually dancing on the tunes of the wind. Saw the clouds move like waves in an ocean. How clouds cover up a clear sky just before it begins to rain. I noticed the same clouds clear away in the morning when sun rises. I saw the poetry in a sunrise, the clouds dancing, world lighting up, birds waking up and singing accompanied by roosters doing their bit. I looked at the night skies and realised there are so many things we can’t see with our eyes. Through my camera I noticed the stars and the Milky Way crossing the night sky, dancing. I noticed numerous galaxies and possibly numerous worlds where life may be present. I looked at those stars and I travelled back in time, because even their light took a million years to reach us. I saw how there is beauty in everything. How everything is connected, from a microscopic spider to incomprehensible galaxies, everything is a part of something big. Something that even I am a part of. And it feels great. Feels peaceful.
Photography is the best thing that happened to me. Without photography, I would have been a lesser, much more shallow person than I am right now. And so I suggest everyone and anyone who gets a chance, or who is interested, do see this amazing world. Your world will never be the same.