Once the amateur’s naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it. Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur. – Alfred Eisenstaedt
Each of us has any number of reasons that we pick up a camera. Our skill level (absolute beginner or professional), frequency (every day, or infrequently enough that we have to ward off the dust bunnies with a machete), or ultimate motivation (that is to say, whether we expect to one day become rich off our efforts, or we don’t expect to ever see a penny) can all change over time, and sometimes over the course of a single day’s shooting. I’d like to speak to the motivation, however, because I’ve had times where mine hasn’t been “all there,” and I know I’m not the only one. What keeps us shooting, not only at the times when we’re up to our eyeballs in beauty, but also at those times when everything we see before us seems dull, not even worth a second look much less a frozen moment in time that we’ll want to return to again and again?
We need amateurs, or at the very least an amateur spirit. Let me get semantic about this for a second, since for once the semantics actually make a difference. Nowadays, lots of people use “amateur” more or less interchangeably with “beginner.”* Well, no. A beginner is just that; someone who’s just getting started. That covers some of your amateurs, but there are also amateurs whose work outshines that of any number of professionals.**
Why is that, and what can you learn from that kind of amateur? Well, let me explain by way of a bit more semantics. If, like me, you took Latin, you’ll recognize a Latin root in “amateur.” Time to dust off those verb declensions: amo, amas, amat… Got it yet?
Right. Whatever you do (and this also applies to pretty much anything else you’d care to think of, from acting to cooking to relationships), do it out of love.
Everything else comes and goes, waxes and wanes. Gear? They’re only tools. No matter whether a lens cost $79.99 or ten times that, it’s a lens, not a unicorn that farts rainbows. Inspiration? If you haven’t already figured out exactly how fickle your Muse is, you will soon enough. Money? Even that, sooner or later, isn’t enough by itself. The love of something, and that alone, will keep you going when the rest isn’t enough, or when you realize that the things that once motivated you are things about which you no longer care.
Do it for the love of it. Love it enough to want to try and keep trying. Love it enough to do it, and keep on doing. Love it enough that no matter how badly you fuck up, how far or how hard you fall — and you will — you pick up again, keep going again.
And because it’s not enough to pass off crap as your best work because, y’know, you’re “just” doing it for the love of it, love it enough to do it right, or at least better than yesterday. Neither be satisfied with, nor discouraged by, the work of a single shoot, a single day, or a single year (or the one after). Be encouraged by the love of the craft, whatever that craft may be, and wherever it finds you, secure in the knowledge that if you honor all of it — the love, the craft, the mistakes and successes and most of all yourself — you will grow in these things, and want to keep growing. The ups and downs, such as they are, won’t last… but if the love abides, you will.
*It probably isn’t coincidence that many of the same people also use “it’s” when “its” would be more appropriate, and insist that it’s fine. I’m told that this is acceptable because it’s “common useage.” Well, so’s heroin, and I don’t agree with that either.
**And here I define “professional” as someone who’s earned the right to the name by virtue of the fact that they earn a living at what they do because they do it very well. Shooting your niece’s wedding and giving her a set of uncorrected prints from CVS, even if you own a “professional” body and lenses isn’t professional; it’s the photographic equivalent of using “its” and “it’s” interchangeably.