Photography – Passion Or Obsession?

An intriguing article on “the passion paradox” got me thinking more about my own photography, and the balance between what the writer called “harmonious passion” and “obsessive passion”.

To quote the article, and the book it’s based on –

“In harmonious passion, you are pursuing your passion because it reflects what it is that you care about, and as a result, you experience more satisfaction, meaning, and happiness.

And then there’s something called obsessive passion, which is when you’re passionate about something but not because of the pursuit but because of some of the external validation that comes with it.”

For me personally, this translates to photography like this –

Harmonious passion is getting out making photographs with equipment you love using, purely for the pleasure of the experience and the good feelings it brings you.

The experience itself is the endgame.

Obsessive passion is having your sole focus on the final image, and the equipment and post processing you feel you need to make that final image, to ultimately gain maximum external praise and validation for your pictures.

In other words, chasing likes, hearts, favourites or other similar little shots to your ego on social media.


Of course I enjoy when everything comes together and I end up with an image I’m proud of and keen to share with others.

But my main pursuit with photography is the experience itself, not the end result.

So much so that, as I’ve written about before, where I’ve shot more than one roll of film and realised when I’ve got to the end it hasn’t wound on past frame one, it’s not detracted from the experience I had of making the photographs.

I still saw those compositions there in the viewfinder with my own eyes when I released the shutter. Even though I had nothing to show for it at the end.

So with photography, I think I’m at the harmonious passion end of the spectrum, ultimately doing it for myself, and setting the parameters for what I feel is a “successful” photo walk, rather than its success being measured by the photos I have at the end of it.

How about you? Is photography a harmonious passion for you, where you enjoy the experience for what it is, or more of an obsessive passion, where you’re constantly trying to get that “perfect” end photograph that gains praise from others? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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14 thoughts on “Photography – Passion Or Obsession?”

  1. Harmonious vs. obsessive is an interesting way of categorizing what drives the urge to shoot. Like you, I shoot for myself and how it makes me feel.

    I’m firmly in the harmonious group. Unfortunately, that label does little to help me understand why I have the drive to shoot at all. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I often feel compelled to pick up a camera and have no real answer. Looking through a viewfinder, I see differently, in a way that seems to be more aware and connected than when I’m not. I have come to accept it as a form of meditation. Making darkroom prints feels similarly meditative. In any case, I cannot explain why I have developed such a passion for photography. So, I shoot and enjoy, and consider.

    1. Jerome, I wonder why you need to know why you’re compelled to photograph? I just accept that there’s always been a part of me that needs to create, and to capture and share things I find beautiful. Whether it’s writing, poetry, photography, music, it’s as fundamental to me as eating, sleeping and breathing.

      1. Well, I take as a fundamental precept of wisdom: “Know thyself.” So, when my behavior changes suddenly without my having made a conscious decision to do so, I wonder why. In the post, “The Shape of My Art,” I recount an incident in passing by a cemetery that led to both my going deeper into photography and possibly starting a blog. Passing by that cemetery filled me with a sense of sorrow that I still cannot explain. That sorrow did not go away until I went back a week or so later with my camera, which I had only owned about ten days. I wrote an essay about that incident a few days later that has sat unpublished for a year. It will be a post in a few weeks. So I wonder–why/how does capturing an image connect me to something external to myself? Why such a deep-seated urge to shoot?

  2. I wouldn’t describe myself as obsessive, but compulsive might fit. If I’m not making photographs, there’s a definite sense that time is ticking away and I’m somehow missing out. However, my photographs are for me first-and-foremost. While it’s nice to have someone else like or comment on one of my pictures, I never create them for that purpose.

    The Garry Winogrand quote “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed” fits me very well. I take my photographs because *I* want to enjoy them. Anyone else liking them is, of course, a nice feeling, but of no real importance in driving what I do.

    1. I love that Winogrand quote, it’s often been a driving force for me too, and in some ways has fuelled many camera and lens purchases. Not just thinking “how will this scene look like when photographed” but “how will this scene look like when photographed with this particular camera and this particular lens”… The variations then are virtually limitless!!

  3. An interesting discussion there Dan! I think the obsession can be turned into something positive if you’re totally driven by something and can make it your life’s work.
    I admit when I started learning about photography it was hard not to be obsessed with social media validation. I think at some point we all seek it. But I think it’s just a phase when we feel insecure or unsure about what and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
    The Winogrand quote is excellent and so honest but I’ll pick the E.Erwitt quote -” I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
    It’s interpreting things in Your way and the whole process is a meditative one. That’s why photographers can remember every shot they took, they observe and live in the moment

    1. I completely agree about remembering every shot. On more than one occasion I’ve shot a roll of film only to realise it hadn’t been winding on. But the memory of the compositions I framed in the viewfinder was just as strong. That’s one of the most meditative parts for me, taking the picture with your eyes and mind, whether the camera actually captures it or not.

  4. I am not sure if passion obsession would define me as I truly want to say something with precision in the final image, and when a camera has not the colors I want then I rely in software. But I have changed to cameras that get me to my preferences in editing with just modifying the settings and whose lenses have a natural rendering. Nevertheless I recall two or three Japanese photographers, masters, saying separately that usually Westerners focus much in cameras (or asking them which camera were they using) rather than in photographing. To get balance I use the cellphone (uncomfortable, artificially processed) and try to get a good composition, I try to forget a bit the falling in love with the experience of photographing and turn the act into an effort to make a photograph.
    What I have found anyway is that in this time it seems I only need an optical viewfinder (it doesn’t matter if it is the one as in film compact cameras or in SLRs) to get close to what I see.

    1. Yes I think that is one of the western obsessions. See a photograph, then immediately ask “what camera did you use?” as if it was purely the work of the camera with no input from the photographer whatsoever.

      I used to dance salsa, and a friend of mine from Columbia once asked me why we English were so obsessed with always progressing to the next level, the next move, the next class. “What does it matter which class you are in”, he said, rather exasperated, “just enjoy dancing!” He had a good point!

      1. Latinos are obsessive with salsa! (I am an Aymara native, not Latino) because the dance is a way to flirt with Latinas women. It creates a context in which both, even being strangers, can have physical contact and measure acceptance. So I understand why the Colombian was curious about your actual interest in the dance rather as a medium for an end, to enjoy to meet others. For my part I don’t understand the rhythm, Aymara dances usually have no contact and are like stories of combats or culture of fields, so I am not able to dance it, not without looking like a broken robot xP
        You did well in advance your knowledge of salsa, you have a genuine interest in it.

      2. Dancing is a very strange beast Francis. Something I loved with salsa is that it gave a safe format and set of boundaries to allow two people to enjoy an experience together that was intimate in terms of physical proximity, but was not a prelude to anything more, that this usual close proximity might lead to. In other words you could have great fun dancing, with any of the potential awkwardness of pursuing and dating, and all that’s associated. I could dance with a dozen women in one night and go home happily without having any suggestion of romantic entanglement with any of them.

  5. I think we tend to be more obsessive with gear than with the art of making photographs…
    I find taking photographs very relaxing, and like you I take them for myself. I don’t even try to commercialize anything, and I don’t try to make them good enough to compare with other people or to sell them, though it’s something I wouldn’t mind if I get good at this.
    For now, it’s basically an expressive outlet.

    1. Yeh, gear obsession seems a huge issue for so many. I wonder whether this is simply in our makeup, and thousands of years ago humans lined up their flint and wooden tools and compared them with their neighbours…

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