I Picked Up My First Camera in 2008, and It Has Changed My Life
For anyone who isn’t interested in this wonderful art form we call photography, it might seem pretty straightforward: using a camera to capture an image. However, as many of us know, photography is so much more, once you go beyond the surface level.
A Sense of Curiosity
One of the things I love about photography is that it motivates me to keep searching for new and interesting locations to photograph. Had I never picked up my first camera, I doubt I would have visited the vast majority of the locations I have during my time here in Japan. I likely wouldn’t have returned to them as often as I have, and certainly wouldn’t have woken up at the insane hours necessary to capture these scenes with the best conditions and smallest crowds.
My clients here in Japan often tell me that I know Japan better than they do, and as much as I’d like to stay humble, they’re not wrong. Thanks to photography, I’ve come to know Japan better than just about anyone I’ve met, foreign or domestic. Despite this, I constantly find myself looking for new books to purchase, clicking around on Google Maps, or just walking around non-tourist areas, all in the hopes that I can discover some new scene to photograph.
This sense of curiosity is one that has improved my experience here in Japan, and my curiosity to find new and interesting locations has only grown as I’ve continued focusing more on photography. This curiosity is the main reason I have and will remain passionate about exploring as much of this wonderful country I’ve been fortunate to call home for the past 9 years.
A Change of Perspective
When I first got into photography, I focused on landscapes and cityscapes. In those days, I would walk past buildings without a second thought. However, after being introduced to the world of abstract architectural photography, I now walk around the city with the same sense of wonder as I do when visiting a nature spot or iconic skyline.
As a non-professional photographer who works a full-time job and has a young child, I’m pretty limited in when and where I can shoot, which means I have to make the most of the opportunities presented to me. With this change in perspective, I feel confident that I have at least a chance to create something worthwhile, regardless of where I am. However, this isn’t limited to abstract photography in the city.
As I mentioned above, I know Japan quite well, and part of that is due to this new perspective that photography has given me. Where the average person may not see much in a particular location, as photographers, we’re wired to see that same location from different angles, focal lengths, as a long exposure, and even in monochrome. As such, when we visit a location, we often experience it in a very different way from others.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in an amazing location and someone walks past, glances at what I’m shooting, maybe takes a selfie, and carries on with their day. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy a location, but I can’t help but feel I’m usually able to appreciate locations I visit on a different level.
In fact, I often regret that I didn’t get serious about photography until late 2016. I think back to some of the amazing locations I visited but didn’t really take the time to appreciate the way I would now. Again, I’m not saying photographers are some higher level of being (I mean, we definitely are, but I’m not explicitly saying it), but I find myself appreciating the locations I visit in a much deeper way than I did before I starting seeing the world as a photographer.
What once would have been a forest full of trees shot at 24mm, is now a playground for intimate landscapes, abstract nature, and ICM photography. Combined with my curiosity for exploration, this change in perspective has helped me appreciate more of Japan than I ever would have without my trusty 70-200mm.
A Creative Outlet
Throughout my life, I’ve searched for various different creative outlets. I tried drawing, wrote both for the stage/screen, performed on stage, and shot videos. I had neither the patience nor precision required to excel at drawing, and while I enjoyed writing, acting, and making videos, none of them even came close to how photography makes me feel. There’s something special about the sense of adventure that comes with photography, and the ability to create something beautiful while on that adventure.
I wouldn’t consider myself to be a particularly talented individual, but even from a young age, I’ve always liked creating things. From scribbling together a comic book to creating an entire board game with my friend and brother, I could never resist the urge inside me to create. When I have an idea for something I want to create, in my head, it can often become a great source of stress for me not to make it a reality. I doubt that this is healthy, but I’m also certain I’m not alone in using my creative outlet as a release of sorts.
While I lack many of the skills required for a number of other creative outlets, it seems photography lines up with the skill set I do have. Along with fueling my curiosity and helping me see things from a different perspective, photography allowing me to remain creative has had an incredibly positive impact on my life, particularly my mental health.
While I don’t think my work is going to end up in a gallery any time soon, using photography as a way to bring my visions to life has been akin to therapy… without the awkward conversations about my mother.
A Sense of Purpose
Now, I understand that this might sound a little dark, but without photography, my life would lose a significant sense of purpose. That isn’t to say photography is the only thing that gives my life purpose, but it is someone that adds a lot of purpose to the things I do in my life.
As I mentioned above, photography has fueled my curiosity to explore, it’s changed the way I see the world, and it gives me a reason to use those tools to create something. Photography was the driving factor for six of my seven trips to Yamanashi, it’s the reason I cycle down to my local beach for sunrise in the dead of winter, and it’s the reason I’ll stand alone in one spot for an hour waiting for the sun to set, or rise.
There’s almost nothing that makes me feel the level of excitement that a photography outing does.
Could I have done these things without photography? Sure, but the chance to capture an image for my portfolio adds an extra sense of purpose to these things, which gives me the extra motivation I need to do them. The motivation to keep going forward when it feels like I’m going to collapse from exhaustion, all so I can make it to my destination. The motivation that finally helped me overcome my fear of driving so that I could gain easier access to photography locations.
This sense of purpose is part of what motivates me every step of the way, from the moment I envision an image in my head to the moment I hang the print on my wall.
A Sense of Achievement
To this point, I’ve mostly covered the positives that lead up to the actual taking of the photo. However, the joy of photography doesn’t end once the shutter is pushed. For me, there is almost no greater feeling than when all of the time, money, and effort I put into a planned photograph results in a keeper. That moment of finally checking a shot off of the bucket list fills me with a number of feelings, but the sense of achievement is the one I cherish the most.
For better or worse, this sense of achievement is one that drives me to continue finding new and interesting locations to photograph. While this drive to obtain a sense of achievement sometimes results in colossal disappointment, the highs outweigh the lows by a large margin. Even when a photography trip fails miserably, I usually start looking forward to my next chance to try again, so I can finally obtain that feeling of achievement.
Photography isn’t always easy, but it’s the challenge that makes the achievement worth it. Feel free to call me out as my own biggest fan, but the joy of holding an image I’m proud of in print form is only matched by knowing that other people like my images so much, that they also want to hold a copy in their own hands.
A Way to Meet People
While I enjoy the time I spend alone with my camera, I don’t always have the opportunity to go out. It’s in these moments that I turn to the social aspect of photography. While it can be a little hit or miss online, I do enjoy talking to people about photography. This is one of the reasons I’ve never used a pseudonym or nickname online when it comes to photography. I want people to know they’re talking to a genuine human being… well, that and SEO, but that’s beside the point.
I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with a lot of amazing photographers from all around the world, thanks to sharing my photos online, photography discussions, and even these write-ups. Admittedly, I’ve always been a little passive, in this regard. I usually wait for people to contact me, rather than reaching out myself, but that’s something I’ve actively been trying to work on. However, this goes beyond the internet.
Given the opportunity, I also enjoy going to photographer meet-ups. I had the opportunity to go to one in Tokyo, a little while back, and had the chance to speak to and connect with a number of other photography hobbyists from various parts of the world, and some locals. I had so much fun talking about photography, life in Japan, travel experiences, and trading locations that I stayed out 2 hours later than planned and literally had to run to catch my last train home.
While I didn’t seem to click with a few of the attendees (usually after they saw my much smaller follower count) and didn’t have a lot of time to speak to the host, I’m incredibly grateful that they put the event together, and that I had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people. I hope someday that I will be a big enough name in the photography community to host events like this on my own, but until then, I’ll continue connecting with people where and when I have the opportunity.
As anyone from the aforementioned photographer meet-up might be able to tell you, I have a terrible memory. Well, that’s not entirely true, rather, I have a very selective memory. I tend to forget a majority of things pretty quickly. Did you introduce yourself to me more than 20 seconds ago? Sorry, I probably forgot your name already. Did I leave the heater on? Better go back home and double-check. I’m at the supermarket, but what do I need? However, this is where the selective part of my memory comes in.
Despite all my forgetfulness, I can remember a number of details of every trip I’ve taken that has involved my camera. There’s something about photography that helps me retain even the smallest of details from my experiences across Japan. Perhaps it has something to do with photography being a visual art form and how it connects to my memory, but when I go somewhere with the intent of creating an image, the memories of these trips remain clear in my mind, whereas the trips that didn’t involve me bringing a camera, are a distant blur.
While this might seem like a small thing, it means a lot to me to actually remember all of the fun experiences I’ve had. It comes in handy when I’m talking to other photographers, particularly when sharing stories and making recommendations, and even when planning return trips to those locations.
On the rare occasion that I do forget something about a trip, looking at my photos usually jogs my memory pretty quickly, even to the point where I can even recall the sounds around me at the time. While I will, with absolute certainty, forget to pack floss for every single trip until the end of time, I’m comforted by the fact that I will continue to carry my travel memories with me.
I could go on with this list, and get into how photography has helped me with both my physical and mental health, but I feel like this write-up has gotten just about long enough that even I’m starting to think “you expect me to read all this?” So, I’ll leave those topics for another day.
While I’m not going to pretend it’s been all sunshine and rainbows, photography has undoubtedly had a majority positive impact on my life. I can’t even imagine how different my life would be, how different I would be, had I not picked up my first point-and-shoot camera, back in 2008, and had I not chosen to get serious in 2016, but I can’t imagine it being as fun and full of adventure as it is now.
About the author: Jordan McChesney is a landscape, cityscape, and abstract Canadian photographer living in Chigasaki, Japan. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of McChesney’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.
Image credits: Photos from Depositphotos