Why Photography is the Best Hobby

People have always asked me why I’m into photography. The early answer was pathetic. “I don’t know.” and the conversation would end. A few years in, the answer evolved to something pretentious and annoying, like, “I simply enjoy the idea that this machine can freeze a moment in time forever.” This cringe-worthy statement delivered, the conversation would end. These days, the answer to the perennial question is more experienced, less lofty, but succinct and honest. I love photography because it’s the best of all possible hobbies. I came to this conclusion unexpectedly. Here’s how.

Not long ago, I arrived home from the day-job to find my pant’s pocket empty and my house keys dangling from a hook on the opposite side of a locked front door. I gazed blankly through a frosty window at the glistening keys, swore once, and retreated to the warmth of my just-parked car. My wife wouldn’t be home for a few hours, no spare key, and shattering a window was a bit too extreme. I had time to kill. Recalling that I needed a roll of Kodak Ektar and a couple of batteries, I fired up the ignition and made my way to the local camera shop.

I got the shop, grabbed the batteries and the film, and was heading toward the checkout counter when a friendly worker said, “Hey James, we got a G2 in if you want to see it?” Ten minutes later I left the store with my batteries and film, and a Contax G2 with Zeiss Planar 45mm F/2 prime and a Leica Minilux for good measure.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Having another couple of hours in which to contemplate my penchant for forgetfulness and my susceptibility to reduced-price photo gear, I stopped at a sandwich shop, grabbed dinner, and read through my new camera’s manual to completion. That done, and with an hour left to go ’til my wife would be home, I noticed that the sun was doing some neat things at the center of our solar system and figured driving a few hundred yards closer to it would put me in a better position to take its picture.

And as I sat there watching this stellar display with time to waste and a bin full of unexpected and interesting cameras sitting on the passenger seat next to me, a voluptuous, moisture-dense cloud in the distance billowed upward and shed sudden sheets of rain. The raking sunbeams played through the undulating veil of kinetic moisture and illuminated the back edges of the clouds, and drew forth texture from the trees and the sand. The whole thing was remarkably beautiful – and not what one expects to see from the vantage point of a Panera Bread parking lot. I sat for a handful of minutes, taking a couple of pictures, yeah, but mostly just enjoying this break in the business of the day.

It got me thinking. Why do I love photography? And the answer was there. But not in the form of the G2 in my hand or the other new cameras I’d bought earlier in the day, or even in the photos of the setting sun and the sudden weather. It was there in the momentary rest found in the middle of a stressed-to-the-point-of-forgetting-your-keys-like-an-imbecile modern life.

But it’s more than that, too. And remember, I was locked out of my house for at least another hour. I had time to entertain the thought.

There are many hobbies available to us if we just decide to dive into them, and many hobbies can provide the moments of relaxation and reflection I’ve detailed just now. But not all hobbies are created equal. I’ve had a number of pursuits over the years – building motorcycles, watch collecting, physical fitness, cars… the list goes on. And while these hobbies have been fun and important to me, they’re mostly transitory experiences that wane over time and leave only a general interest when they’ve passed. So, what is it about photography that makes it relevant year after year, decade after decade?

To start, I think photography is distinct from many hobbies in that it’s a hobby of creation while so many others I’ve tried are hobbies of collection and consumption. Collecting watches or being really into whiskey or hunting or fishing – these are all fine pursuits. But to use these as example, I was only ever spending cash to amass trinkets that might never be used, or drinking and later excreting fluids, or harming lesser animals. There was little opportunity to leave something in a better state than I found it. In fact, things were usually worse off because of my hobby. I’d scratched a couple of previously undamaged Speedmasters, emptied a bunch of bottles, or stabbed a metal hook through the eye of a now-blind Bass. Ouch.

With photography, every time I take a walk I’m afforded an opportunity to create something. Every time I go to the beach, or the park, or go out with the family, or take a trip, or even sit in a Panera Bread parking lot I’m given the chance to create. And it’s hard to think of a hobby that offers the same kind of flexible, accessible opportunity for creation. Other hobbies, like painting or furniture-making give an avenue for the creative, of course, but none do so as easily as photography. My father’s a woodworker, but you’re not going to find him spinning a lathe in the parking lot of a Panera Bread or cutting dados at Thanksgiving dinner.

Photography’s also a hobby that’s useful as a document of our existence. If you’re any kind of thinking human being you’ll understand the temporaneous nature of our lives. Worrisome individuals, like myself, will also rage against the inexorable march of time, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to shoot photos. Take shots of your life. Shoot your travels, and adventures, and friends and family, and compile those images into albums and give them away as gifts. Frame your photos and hang them on your walls. Relive the moments that are gone forever and shoot today to remember it tomorrow. You’ll be thankful that you did, and so will the people who care about you when you’re nothing more than a handful of ash.

But let’s not get too glum. We’ve still got life ahead of us, and we’re not just shooting for posterity. Photography brings light to the living and augments every aspect of the shooter’s life in a way that no other hobby can. In fact, it even augments our other hobbies. Into motorcycles? Then you’ll be into shooting photos of your motorcycle. Into entomology? Then you’ll have a fun time learning about macro shooting. Do you love to travel? Don’t do it without a camera. Are you a family man? Well there’s nothing better than making a gorgeous print of your beautiful little kids. Photography is the only hobby that improves every facet of our lives. That’s remarkable.

And it’s not just for photo geeks. Anyone can shoot. Photography is accessible in ways that most hobbies simply aren’t. It doesn’t matter if you’re talented. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, where you live, where you come from, who your parents are. If you’re a Wall Street guy with a massive disposable income, by all means shoot a Leica M240. But don’t be mad when a kid from Nowhere, Kansas earns a gallery showing with his Pentax K1000, something any kid could do, and for less than eighty bucks. There are no licenses to get, no special fees required, no registrations or taxes, no maintenance necessary. There are no rules dictating what you must shoot, how you must shoot, where, or when, or for whom. You can shoot whatever subject you want with whatever camera you’ve got. And all that matters is you’re having fun.

Photography is there when you want it, patient when you don’t. You can shoot every day for a year, stop, and come back after six months only to pick it up right where you left off. The camera takes up no room (hard to say about my old BMW), and doesn’t require winterizing. There are no monthly dues, no subscription fees. It’s take it, leave it, use it when you want forever.

And it’s not just for certain types of people. There’s enough variety within the hobby to keep things interesting for, literally, a lifetime. Never shot a camera? Good! Buy one and let’s get shooting. Have you shot SLRs your whole life? Try a rangefinder. Are you sick of the clinical precision of modern gear? You can shoot lenses from the 1960s as if they were manufactured yesterday. Bored (somehow) with basic photography? Try film, or pinhole, or view cameras, or shooting infrared, or underwater with a Nikonos. Want to focus on collecting? You can do that too. How about collecting only brass cameras, or Russian cameras, or only green, art deco, box cameras that were made in the United States? Yes, there’s literally something for everyone.

Of course, this is all opinion. There are many avenues to happiness. My point is, photography is whatever you want it to be. For different people it will be different things. For me, it’s relaxation. It’s the hunt for the special camera, the hunt for a better shot. It’s collecting. It’s making something out of nothing. It’s creating a document of my life. It’s giving the gift of images to the people around me. And it’s having something to do for a few hours when I’ve locked my stupid ass out of the house. In short, photography is the best hobby in the world. And that’s why I love it.

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Stu Williams
    December 31, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Nice and personal – more posts like this for me please. Happy New year, and thanks for the whole site 👏🏻

  • Reply
    the6millionpman
    December 31, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    I really enjoyed reading that James, maybe it’s because it resonates so much on a personal level from you, to me and to pretty much everyone who’ll ever read it. You’re right it is one of those particular hobbies where it doesn’t matter your equipment, if you know what you want to do you can do it with anything you can afford and still get great results. It’s also one of the few hobbies I’ve ever had where I can’t think of a day when I leave the house without the tools I need to create with, even if it means I make a few barely acceptable images because in my mind if I didn’t have something on me to do that, well I might miss that one all important life moment that I simply have to document, or that sunset that will never be repeated, or maybe I’ll just miss that completely mundane street photography moment that matters to no one except me? Point being, I’d have missed it and I’ve never felt that way with any other hobby I’ve had. (in fact when I left my camera on my desk in work the other day on my lunch hour I was distraught at the amount of images I imagined I was missing as I sat eating and watching the world go by).
    Anyways hope you have a great New Year and looking forward to what the site brings in 2017.

    P.S. That’s a very pretty G2 you got yourself there.

    • Reply
      James - Founder/Editor
      January 1, 2017 at 11:06 am

      Thanks for the kind words, pal! I know the feeling. That’s why I’ve started to really like small, capable cameras the best. Happy shooting in 2017, my friend.

  • Reply
    mmarquar
    December 31, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Well said. Thanks. And Happy New Year.

  • Reply
    Huss
    December 31, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    Excellent post and really nicely illustrated. Love the pic of the Honda 350!
    Happy New Year!

    • Reply
      James - Founder/Editor
      January 1, 2017 at 11:07 am

      I built and sold that a few years ago. Beautiful bike. I’m glad you liked it. Happy New Year pal!

  • Reply
    Wilson Laidlaw
    January 1, 2017 at 3:29 am

    Many years ago I exchanged my troublesome Leica M6TTL for a G2 and was delighted with it, after I had the collimation of the AF rangefinder adjusted (Kelvin at Protech, UK – still in operation). The lenses are every bit a match for the equivalent Leica lenses and of course you can use the very useful 35-70 zoom. The only thing that lets the camera down is the single horizontally orientated phase detection AF detector. This can be very fussy on picking up a focus and you can forget about trying to take photos through glass. Taking a photo of a street scene in portrait mode and trying to lock focus is a serious trial of digital dexterity. You generally have to obtain a focus in landscape mode, half press the shutter button to lock focus (or press the focus lock button), then rotate the camera through 90º, without accidentally pressing the shutter release. I ended up with quite a few interesting shots at 45º and as my hands became increasingly arthritic, I found this exercise close to impossible. I was a beta tester for Contax UK for their digital range at the time and when they shut up shop in early 2004, they virtually gave away their stock of ex-display lenses to us beta testers. I ended up with the whole kit of lenses (16/21/28/35/45/90/35-70). The only oddity is the 35 Planar, which is ultra sharp in the centre but with rather a steep fall off in resolution towards the corners until around f5.6. I now regret selling the whole kit in 2006 to buy a Leica M8 and some more Leica lenses. The quiet motor drive of the G2 made the Leica film cameras of the period seem rather primitive. For those who would prefer a manual M mount camera, the Hexar RF is effectively the same camera as the G2 but with MF and the same excellent shutter and motor drive. The Hexar even has a super silent drive mode and IMHO is a very under-rated camera.

    Wilson

    • Reply
      James - Founder/Editor
      January 1, 2017 at 11:10 am

      I am really interested in some of the wide lenses for this camera. Seems like exactly my kind of setup. But we’ll see. I’m still on my first roll with the 45mm. Thanks for the stories and recommendations. Happy New Year.

  • Reply
    Stéphane
    January 1, 2017 at 7:54 am

    Great writing James, describes perfectly how I feel it. For me it’s this incredible sensation of liberty and creativity, combined with my love for travelling and discovering new things to look at…

  • Reply
    Aivaras
    January 1, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Good read. You are right in many levels.

  • Reply
    Jon
    January 2, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Very enjoyable reading and a nice way to kick off the new year. Best wishes to you and yours in 2017.

  • Reply
    dan james
    January 3, 2017 at 10:43 am

    James, I relate to many of the benefits and pleasures of photography you talk about. I used to write all the time (mostly poetry and haikus), which I saw (and still see really) as the ultimate portable art form. But photography comes a close second, and there’s something about capturing images that are already there in an interesting way that is often more rewarding than creating words from nothing.

    Aside from the images, just the pleasure of using vintage equipment brings great pleasure (and by “vintage” I would even include something like a fun 80s point and shoot like a Nikon AF3 or Minolta AF-S).

    Your point about it being a hobby of creation, rather than consumption really struck a cord with me in particular.

    Oh and being a Contax fan (the post here on CP about the Contax 139 Quartz was a major factor in me buying one, my first Contax), that G2 looks very appealing indeed…

  • Reply
    Jonathan
    January 8, 2017 at 2:43 am

    This is fast becoming one of my favourite photography blogs. It’s so much more than just photography, it has some excellent writing to go with it. Be proud, it’s very inspiring. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Emiliano
    January 11, 2017 at 8:22 am

    awesome article, greetings from argentina!

  • Reply
    rodney
    January 14, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Sir, thank you for a fantastic read. I shoot a rangefinder and a TLR and I find myself explaining to people why I still shoot film or why I chose such odd cameras when I could just shoot a Nikon or a Canon like everyone else does. I don’t mind interacting with strangers and answering their questions, but sometimes when I just want to shoot and create it can be exhausting. Thank you for a great article.

    • Reply
      James - Founder/Editor
      January 14, 2017 at 3:03 pm

      Glad you liked the read. I hope you stick around and enjoy more of our writing.

  • Reply
    dhioshahbana (@dshahbana)
    January 18, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    This is spot on! Thank you for this awesome article.

  • Reply
    Jeremie
    January 30, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Great read it describes perfectly how I feel about photography. I see in Photography as the perfect way to use my creativity but also to capture memories from my life but also travel. It is an great feeling to see a picture that you have taken that bring up emotions like a sound, a smell or just simply a memory.

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