The Joys of Photography

The Joys of Photography – BBC Countryfile – October 2023

Click! With one finger depression, or tap on an LCD screen, it’s captured. A brief moment in time. A moment so fleeting it is consigned to the past, never to be lived again. So what draws us to take a photograph in the first place?

There’s always an emotional connection to what I’m about to capture. It’s a record of an experience. It might be the enjoyment of a beautiful walk, the love of a sensational view, or the sheer wondrousness of an unusual combination of factors over which I have no control. Cue the weather.

I’m sure it’s because I’m primarily a landscape photographer that I’m mesmerised by the uniqueness of a moment in time. It doesn’t matter whether an exposure is several seconds or several thousandths of a second, we can never truly re-capture a moment.

Rarely will all those variables align again in exactly the same way. The world spins on its angled axis, but the solar year is a different length to our calendar year, hence the need for a leap day every four years. If, in a year’s time, I stand in exactly the same spot to where I’m standing now, the light will be different. The sun won’t be in precisely the same place. Nor will the immeasurably varied weather conditions be similar either.

The weather shapes and transforms our landscapes and images. That teasing glimpse from the top of a mountain through a hole in the cloud below not only records the physical experience of conquering a cherished summit, but it also reminds me I only glimpsed the view because the weather permitted me to. The weather can tease, and it can reward with breathtaking visions.

This respect for the weather is why I signed up, like thousands of others, to be a BBC Weather Watcher. Perhaps it highlights a competitive element to my photography. With tens of thousands of weather-related images received every day, there’s a definite dopamine hit when I spot one of my smartphone images in a regional, national, or Countryfile forecast.

And what better reason to take a photo than to share it with the world? Social media thrives on images. I’m fortunate to live in the stunning Shropshire Hills, and have sometimes wondered if others thought I was gloating when I shared photos of the area. But then came lockdown.

Climbing the Shropshire Hills and taking photos during my legal hour of exercise kept me sane during unprecedented times. My photos reminded me there was still a world out there. But they didn’t just remind me. A social media follower once thanked me for sharing my lockdown images. They missed exploring the hills due to travel restrictions, but took pleasure from their virtual visits via my photographs.

I realised then that I also capture and share photos to take people to places they can’t, for whatever reason, visit for themselves.

Sometimes I take a photo purely because it allows me to zoom in on my subject, and appreciate the intricate beauty of a leaf, flower, or insect. Photography can reveal what the naked eye can’t always see.

Taking photographs allows us to express our personality and creativity. My photographs are, literally, my view of the world. They reflect how I choose to see the world around me. While the camera never lies, it’s the photographer who frames an image, selecting how it is portrayed, leaving the viewer to imagine what lies beyond the frame.

I’ve spent time in the Lake District with my father, where we would plant our tripods firmly in the ground, side-by-side, barely a foot apart, with our lenses pointing in exactly the same direction. And yet, we captured completely different images. Proof that the same landscape affects and inspires us in different ways.

There’s always a moment of trepidation after I’ve pressed the button. Has the camera captured what I saw? I often see a photo in the landscape before I bring the camera to my eye. There’s elation when the LCD screen image matches that in my mind, but frustration when it doesn’t.

Our photography becomes a visual record of our journey through life. It captures the moments that stirred our emotions. They reflect our view of the world and of our place within it. Photos help us express our creativity and share those visions with the world. They become the tools for evoking memories and telling stories. 

And all it takes is a simple click.

© Simon Whaley