Passion: an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. Synonyms: enthusiasm, eagerness, love, zeal, spiritedness, fascination, obsession, fixation, addiction, preoccupation.
When it comes to photography, I have all those things. But I’ve found that pursuing passion is not that easy. You’d think there would be nothing easier in life than doing what you have enthusiasm for, right? After all, photography is what I love! But I’ve come upon two difficult questions I’ve had to answer to truly follow my passion.
What You Like vs. What You Love
The first is a tricky one: Do I really know what my passions are? My gut response is yes, of course I know what I love. But I’ve found that when I actually try to define my passions, it becomes less clear, mostly due to the second question.
The second question is this: Do I know the difference between the things I like and things I love? Sure, I like to take all kinds of pictures. I’ve enjoyed photographing a wide variety of things — weddings, architectural interiors, school portraits, still life, landscapes, events and the list goes on. I like them all. But I’m not passionate about them all.
In recent weeks, I’ve been working to define what I love most about images and making them. This has been a challenge. I ask myself what I love, and what I really love? What am I drawn to for its own sake, without considering what I think its market appeal is?
This is not about finding the kind of work that will make me the most money. Forget what sells best, or what the big-shot photographers are doing. What kind of imagery has the most draw for me?
Becoming Attuned to Your Passions
I’m excited about this process and the focus it’s bringing to my work. Particularly thrilling is the way that, with practice, I’m learning to recognize my own passions more easily. This has brought me the increased confidence to pursue them.
The image below, of model Erika Klaar during the Alaskan spring, has been stuck in my head for several weeks. I haven’t defined why, but I know that it elicits fascination, obsession and preoccupation, also known as passion. I was completely consumed by the creative energy on this shoot, buzzing from the thrill of creating images. That high confirms that I’m doing something I love.
What Are You Passionate About?
Signs of not following your passion reveal themselves in obvious ways. If you are working on something and it feels like drudgery, or mustering enthusiasm is difficult, or you are only doing the work as a means to an end, you are probably not pursuing something you are passionate about.
When you are passionate about something, the energy and desire to pursue the passion wells up within you; it happens spontaneously, without effort on your part. In other words, it’s easier to follow this thing than it would be to ignore or avoid it.
When you turn away from it, it gnaws at your insides. In the morning, when you are lying comfortably in bed, the desire for it makes you throw the covers off. I don’t have to try to get excited about photography, I just am. I don’t try to muster the enthusiasm to do a photo shoot; instead there seems to be a boundless supply of desire for it.
Being in the Moment
The pursuit of passion is satisfying and rewarding in the present moment; a passion cannot be solely about the future. I think it’s possible to be passionate about reaching a goal, but if you find that the process getting there is not pleasurable, then I think it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing.
The best way I can explain this is a surfing analogy. For about 10 years I’ve had a vague goal of becoming a skilled surfer. But the first wave I caught was just as fun as the wave I caught yesterday, and frankly, if I ever reach this goal of being “skilled,” I don’t expect that I’ll enjoy surfing any more than I did a decade ago. That’s because my passion for surfing is not confined to my goal; my passion is for surfing period. The process, the means toward the goal, is satisfying and rewarding in the present moment.
There is much more that could be said on this topic, but let me end with an example of real passion — kayak surfer Randy Keller. In the image below, Randy is trying to take his frozen hand out of a frozen glove after a surfing session during a winter storm. Notice the ice covering everything, including the one remaining lens in his glasses.
Randy’s face tells it all. When a person is following a passion, the endurance and commitment required comes naturally. He’s not suffering through the experience; he loves it. That’s what we should strive for in our photography.