The ubiquity of cellphone cameras makes snapshooting almost frictionless. There is practically no expense once the original outlay for device and telecomm provider have been paid. The camera is almost always within reach. And picture-takers are mostly permitted photographs in a very wide range of settings. And yet, as commonly seen or taken-for-granted that casual digital photography is now today, it is still worth examining the reasons that may cause a person to reach for a phone, tablet, or camera to point and shoot a picture. By understanding the itch that a photographer is scratching, the larger meaning and methods for satisfying those motivations can be seen.
This grid of thumbnail images is more or less in chronological order, including photos from several locations visited. So the numbers added here are not organized into thematic set of pictures taken by reason of a common trigger. Nevertheless, for convenience, it is easiest to comment on reasons (in hindsight now) to frame a scene and capture it.
- Record for posterity; report to distant family and friends; respond to the low, warm wavelengths of evening light. Upon arriving at the weekend vacation site of annual visits for the past 50 years, taking a look at the lake’s condition and the shoreline appearance is routine or habit. Now in middle May the water level is maybe 12 or 14 inches higher than normal. So that fact seemed somehow important to record and later to share with others.
2. Respond to the quality of light (RQL). The sun was more than an hour from the horizon and shone into the living room, creating a wide range in light values and drawing my attention to its beauty, causing me to respond by “capturing” the moment as framed here.
3. RQL (ditto, above). From dark shadow to bright horizon, the dynamic range of this warm light caused me to pay attention and notice its beauty.
4. RQL (ditto, above). Looking to the west where the bright sun of late spring was reflecting off the vast lake beyond the beach, the golden light called out for a photo in recognition of the abundant luminosity and strong shadows.
5. RQL (ditto, above). Here looking south as the early evening light to the west lit up the marram grass, the occasion seemed out of the ordinary and warranted a photo, not so much for sharing or documenting, but rather as simple call (of the beauty) and response (from the photographer).
6. Recording the waterline; a data point. Looking north the high water of Lake Michigan can be seen as the single steel stake marks last year’s protective fencing to help hold the sand from eroding and migrating away from the dune. Before 2019 the waterline had been lower, leaving more space between steel stake and the waves of the waterline.
7. Wondering at the curious blue-gray of the surf-polished stone disk. The strong light showed this smooth surface to good advantage, inviting me to pick it up to admire and what is more, to take a photo to celebrate the small joy at finding this token of the glaciers long-ago and the lake of today.
8. Artistic tableau, found not made. The significance that called out to be noticed was the intersection of bird foot, dog foot, human foot all lit by the low angle of the evening sun near the horizon and reflecting off the sky overhead as well as the undulating lake that extended to the horizon.
9. Simple visual pleasure: glistening beach stones, moving surf on the sand, majestic view to the horizon.
10. Storyteller: neat pile of shovels recently put to use to dig a channel in the sand to allow the water in view from the small lake to reach the big lake that is out of view. The composition was meant to lend itself to illustrating the periodic work of opening the channel to regulate the small lake’s level.
11. Immersive view: by combing the adjacent view of shovels with this overlapping view of the big lake, the stitched panorama will give a wider viewing experience to tell the story of the channel digging task.
12. Reportage: absent family can see a familiar place of summer, but now with the conditions of springtime, before the trees are clothed in dense leaves.
13. RQL: the last of the sunset paints the sky dramatically.
14. RQL (ditto, above). At this moment the sun’s rays light up the marram grass in the foreground for a brief period.
15. Technical play: experimenting with exposure setting to give truer-to-life colors.
16. Memento: quick record to share with family and friends from a morning walk.
17. RQL (ditto, above). The setting sun reflects nicely in the imperfect surface of the window panes.
18. RQL (ditto, above). The last of the sun glazes some of the branches and leaves in this view.
19. RQL (ditto, above). After the sunset comes the blue hour (here) and then deep black.
20. Hobby-project. Online request list for Wikimedia Commons to gather local photos around the world with the contributions of volunteers: parks, public buildings, historical markers, former movie theaters, and so on. See this overview, https://www.dpreview.com/news/3428446674/wikishootme-shows-you-nearby-wikipedia-items-in-need-of-photographs
21. RQL: the play of dark and light, texture and distance to lens attracted my eye.
22. Memento: proof of having arrived at viewing platform pinnacle, record of the view from that elevation.
23. Error correction (confusing text of this marker): by capturing the unclear sentence structures and sending email to the hosting organization, it may be possible to produce better English there one day.
24. Guide to study later: identification posters of wildflowers; also, elsewhere, of wild birds along the hiking trail in various times of the yearly cycle of seasons.
25. Technical play: intending partial blur of rain drops.
26. Technical play: intending partial blur of blowing branches.
27. Writing prompt: occasional blog filled with social observations will reflect upon the use of this parking lot orientation board to inform hikers of the nearby trails.
28. Reporting: to share with absent family and friends.
Taking an overall view of this set of pictures from a weekend holiday, there are distinct motivators at work to produce the framing and shutter release. Naturally, each photographer’s mix of motivators will differ in this age of ubiquitous cameras and wireless telecommunication among a large part of people alive today, but perhaps there are some general categories that can be traced. (1) Social connections with absent family and friends can be reaffirmed by sending a snapshot of a person or experience to others. (2) Practical applications like recording a parking location, a product seen while window-shopping, the condition of a property to report or repair, or to contribute to a collaborative project for gathering a specific subject matter or happening. (3) Mementos to punctuate one’s experience or to give to others present at the time (different to , above, in which significant others only glimpse vicariously the matter). (4) Pure aesthetic pleasure to capture something at the point of discovering delightful about texture, color patterns, light quality, irony or incongruity, and so on. (5) Experimenting or extending one’s abilities in using the full capabilities and knowing the limitations of one’s gear.
Analytically compartmentalizing the motivators that lead to drawing a lens to one’s eye and then framing and recording a moment might seem a silly exercise. But yet it does shine a light on many of the things that spur actions and reactions. Perhaps full-time professionals and some enthusiasts will stop to reflect on reasons why they do or do not respond to certain conditions and subjects. But for the majority of people who freely take photos, there probably is not a lot of meaning derived from asking why to take or to refrain from taking a photo. Instead it comes as pure impulse to ratify a moment as photo-worthy, something of significance, beauty, rarity, strangeness, or otherwise valuable to remember and/or show to others.
At the end of the exercise it is fair to ask about the use of reflecting upon photo habits. One reason is to see patterns in one’s own motivators. Another reason is the complementary pattern – to discover patterns for the things that do NOT stir the impulse to compose and then release the shutter. By knowing one’s own motivators, it may be possible to refine one’s own habits, eye for recognizing significant subjects and compositions, and to look at others’ work with added care in the knowledge of one’s own photograph-receptors; those things that make one respond by pointing a lens and recording a picture.