15 May 2016 – The photos on this post are special to me. Not because they are particularly good or unique, but rather because they are a reminder of why I love photography.
As with any creative pursuit, there will be times when we feel uninspired or unmotivated with our personal work. There might also be times when we doubt our own creativity, or question what we do.
It’s easy to get discouraged. For example, if you’re on social media you can easily get caught up with what others are doing and find yourself comparing your work to theirs.
The day before these photos were taken, I was ready to put away the DSLR for the rest of our trip in the UK. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in particular; it’s always good to have a balance between photo taking and just enjoying the moment when travelling…there are far too many times when bringing out a camera ruins an experience.
No, it was more that capturing images was starting to feel like a chore and was becoming unenjoyable. I was thinking of pictures in terms of how great they would look on Instagram. In other words, I was falling into a trap of photographing for the approval of others, rather than for myself.
I once wrote this on a post in Google+:
“Social media can be a time-consuming and ultimately unrewarding experience if you’re chasing the wrong things; for some that might be trying to gain more followers, or posting just for likes.”
Now while I appreciate likes whenever I share a post, I know that numbers are never a true indicator of whether or not a photo is good. In many cases having big numbers on Instagram (followers or likes) just means that you’ve spent more time on Instagram (the same is also true for other social media sites).
Still there I was that Saturday afternoon in London, feeling uninspired and yet thinking of what would look good in a post. I needed to reset my thinking.
For some reason, I found myself awake at 3am the next morning. Two options popped into my head; the first was to try and go back to sleep, and the second…to catch the sunrise at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Though the DSLR had been packed away, and as unmotivated as I had been, I decided to attempt the sunrise shoot anyway. We were approaching the end of our sojourn in London and the cathedral was the one place I had yet to see.
It was probably the least amount of planning I’d ever done for a shoot. I hadn’t checked the weather forecast, and didn’t even have a map handy before leaving our accommodation in Spitalfields. I did however know the general direction to head and calculated that it would take around fifteen minute to get to the cathedral (it ended up taking twice as long!).
Stepping out onto a dark and eerily quiet Brick Lane that Sunday morning, I felt a sudden chill as I recalled a conversation from the night before with a Jack the Ripper tour operator, a reminder that this was the area where the infamous murderer had prowled for victims. Needless to say, I walked quite briskly until reaching the comforting lights of Liverpool Street station. From there, it was pretty much following my nose west.
I arrived at the Cathedral just before the 5am sunrise, and continued along towards the Millennium Bridge, where there were already a handful of other photographers present. Speaking to one, I learned that they were part of a local photography group. Not wanting to disturb them, I set up my tripod a little further down the bridge and waited.
The sun rose just after 5am.
It turned out to be a beautiful start to the day.
That morning, I felt a sense of peace and a level of comfort with my photography that I hadn’t felt in a while. It was a reminder to me of what I love – that it wasn’t so much about capturing the image as it was about witnessing a moment – a sunrise, a sunset. If you’re shooting with others, it’s about the time spent with them. If you happen to get a good capture, that’s a bonus.
I left the shoot that morning feeling reenergised. It didn’t matter if the subjects captured were ones that’ve been photographed countless times before by others. It wouldn’t have mattered if these images were never posted, and if no one else got to see them. What mattered was the simple joy of having a morning to work on my craft, and at the same time witnessing a spectacular London sunrise.