Photography and Life
Last year, when I was between jobs, I decided to try photography more. I started a small business and began looking for opportunities. I bought some gear for flash photography, I studied some courses, I looked for contacts and… I took plenty of photos.
I photographed products, food, business offices, local businesses, portraits, sports, and different kinds of events, I took photographs for families celebrating Christmas or waiting for a child.
And I loved every minute of it. And it wasn’t only because of the money. I had other reasons.
People, my friends, my family always asked me why. Why I do things for free, why I care about getting each little job, why I spend 14 hours in poorly lit gyms to photograph young athletes and more. And, regardless of what I disclosed to people, my answer has always been the same. I am trying to leave something behind.
Whether is writing articles for Fuji X Passion, capturing a once-in-a-lifetime moment, collecting awards and medals, or writing on my books, the answer is always the same. I try to leave something behind.
Maybe people will not remember me as the next Ansel Adams or the next Robin Sharma or Mark Manson, but I honestly think that we should all strive to leave something behind.
For me, photography has changed lots of things.
It changed how I look at the weather, it changed how I look at my trips, my simple roads to work and back, it changed how I never used to look at the color of the sky or look for patterns, for scenes out there in the world.
Photography taught me how to see the beauty but also the bad, the pain, the suffering. It taught me how to always look for colors, for lines, for compositions, how to prepare my trips better or how to simply get out more and enjoy being out more.
Photography taught me how to isolate parts from a scene, how to create a happy scene even if the surroundings are bleak or how to change the mood of a picture by playing with contrast and luminosity.
So you see, in a way, I owe photography a lot.
In my quest to take better photos, I travelled more, I went out more, I attended many events and met a lot of people. But lately, taking pictures, just taking pictures, seemed not to be my whole purpose.
I kept thinking that I owe photography to speak more about it and to try and let other people know how I feel about taking photos.
In a way, this is the reason I don’t write so much about gear, about cameras, lenses, filters, and things like that but focus more on stories, on creating, on sharing my experiences and thoughts with people.
This is the way I feel like I am giving back something, this is the way I feel like I am actually helping and leaving something behind.
It might sound weird or pompous but what I try to do is to build something, to write something, to do something that will withstand the test of time. I do not want all my photos to be forgotten and lost in stupid algorithms, in apps that are less and less used by real photographers.
What I want is to create, to win contests, to be published, to reach people and convince them that photography is special. Photography is more than comparing cameras and lenses, frames per second or filters used.
Photography is creating a story. A story that influences others into buying a camera, into visiting that place they saw in my photos, into getting them hooked on a marvelous adventure.
I keep looking on YouTube at photography videos, and all I see are people talking about 8k, about autofocus capabilities, about dials, flippy screens and more like those.
But I’m not seeing people or not seeing so many people talking about creating, about learning more of this craft, about building ourselves to be better photographers.
People don’t take photos to create art. They take photos to stay relevant, to have a social media presence, and to be there where everybody is.
People don’t want to learn, to study, to showcase their best work. They just want quick and instant gratification. Likes and hearts at their pictures, even though I am sure they know that 99% of the pictures uploaded on social media are weak and uninteresting.
So, what motivates me? What drives me? I think it all started with a photo I took in England. I was representing my country at a sustainability workshop, and we were split into teams trying to solve different problems.
I had just finished touring a large part of England for 14 days, and my SD cards were full of pictures, so during breaks, when we got to talking and knowing each other better, I just said that I am into photography and my colleagues asked to see some pictures.
So, I showed them the picture above, and they decided we should use it for our team’s presentation.
However, upon finishing the presentation, the colleague who was speaking for our group and presenting the team, told the audience something in the lines of “and of course Stefan, who plans to save the world”.
Now, let me be the first person to say that I never planned to save the world. I have been working in sustainability for close to 11 years now, and it never crossed my mind to save the world. What I want is different.
I want that by doing my job to influence a group of people. Be it the company’s employees, be it friends, be it family. People who see me do the work, people who see me trying to get better, to improve myself, to look for solutions for companies when it comes to sustainable reporting, carbon footprint and other things like that.
This is what I want. To inspire a small group of people and maybe have some of them get involved in the domain, maybe start to recycle better, use less plastic, be more conscious about their electricity or water consumption and so on.
Maybe have one or more of them go further and start talking, start spreading their knowledge to a small group of people and so on. Because I truly think this is how you change. How you change people, how you change attitudes, how you change behaviors.
The planet is not going to be saved by glossy magazines or marvelous speeches. It can be helped, however if more and more people start to understand things, get involved and interested.
And you may ask now, “well, that’s all nice, but what has it got to do with photography?” Well, just about everything.
Photography is just like the world. My plan was never to become the next Ansel Adams but rather to work on a smaller level, a local level and draw people in with my love for this art.
During my period as a photographer, I managed to catch unique moments. Couples waiting for their babies, chefs delighted by their food, kids having their first kindergarten parties, business owners proud of their new offices, young players making their debut in the national league, goals that helped teams qualify for major competitions, etc.
When I talk about photography, these are the things I love to talk about. This is what motivates me. I don’t enjoy talking about gear because I don’t feel it will improve me as a photographer to spend hours watching reviews in which sensors or pixels are compared.
What I look for is people who want to advance their craft, who want to advance, and who have a genuine desire to help others.
I rarely get to see photographers talk about their emotions when taking a picture, about the things they want or need to be better, about their failures and about how hard it is to keep this art afloat in a world where billions of pictures are uploaded daily.
Photography, for me, goes beyond the simple act of taking pictures. It means maybe a lovely hike, it means seeing new places, it means spending hours in my car until I reach my destination, it means bad weather, it means bad clients, it means hours and hours of editing photos. But the most important thing of all, it means joy.
Having a good picture, having something beautiful coming out of my hands, is a feeling that you cannot put a price on it. Yes, there is joy in having others cheer your photo, and award it, but it is my joy that matters most to me. Because I know the story of each photo I take. I know what it took for that photo to end up there, and I know how much I worked on each photo.
It also means joy for your customers. From a mother hanging a picture of her baby on the shelf to a young player holding a memory of his professional debut in a sport.
These are things you will never forget in life. And you want them captured. Maybe they will never sell like an Adams picture, but your work will forever be in that house. People will watch it, remember it, times will pass, and your work, a little piece of you, will stay there.
In 40 years, people will maybe forget who the photographer was at their wedding, on their theatre debut, or on the birth of their child, but they will hold on to the pictures and treasure them.
That’s why photography is important. Not just to us, who take photos but to our friends, our customers.
I grew up in Eastern Europe, in a communist country. Up until the age of 14, I think I had about 5 pictures of myself.
No pictures of my first walk, no pictures of me at Christmas, and Easter, no pictures of my birthdays and so on. Because we couldn’t afford a camera.
And yes, some memories are lost, things get hazy after 30 years pass by. I only remember those years from my parents’ memories and my own. But I have no proof of what happened, I can’t see how I grew from year to year, how my parents stood behind me, etc.
I am not saying this to make you sad but rather to make you understand that we are privileged now. We can take decent photos with just about anything, so we have no excuses now.
And therefore, it is so bad that we always keep searching for better tools instead of trying to improve ourselves, instead of trying to create pictures that mean something and will last a long time.
And in a way, it is bad that in a time when we have all these magnificent cameras and lenses, we use them to take snapshots or copy what others do.
We are so determined to see pictures online, regardless of their quality, that we are willing to upload anything. And people will like and comment on it because later, they too will upload a snapshot and expect you to like it and comment on it.
Almost nobody waits until they have a good photo to upload. Everybody needs an instant gratification, instant success, and to be honest, photography is no different from other jobs. You need to put in the work, the hours, you need to fail, you need to have bad customers, you need to study, to go and scout locations, to search for inspiration in the works of the masters of the genre and in time you can succeed. Because this is how it happens in real life too. You rarely get the best job on the first try, you rarely meet your match on the first date, and you rarely get a huge salary from the start.
As I mentioned in a previous article, I stopped reading most photography magazines and unsubscribed from most photographers I followed. And that is because I saw them constantly changing gear, trying new lenses, new cameras, experimenting with film and so on while their photography stayed the same. I rarely saw a professional photographer change three or four cameras in a year and still improve his photography.
What I did see were photographers using their same kit, their same old battered lenses and cameras, going day after day to jobs and trying to get out new pictures, better pictures.
I truly believe people, or most people, have a creative side to them, a certain talent. Now, this could be painting, writing, or dancing but it could also be building an engine faster and better, designing a shoe or a car or taking a good photograph.
But good painters, dancers, engineers, photographers are driven by what they do. They strive to get better; they never settle, and most importantly, they take joy and pride in their work.
Watching a bland raw file catch color, catch light, catch feeling, seeing it printed, hanging on a wall, this is what drives me.
And you might not like my photographs and can show me other pictures, better pictures, but I don’t care. I take pride in my work; I take pride in the effort I put in and in the things that get released from my hands. And this, this thing improves my life. It improves my mood, and my confidence, it makes me smile.
It sometimes makes me forget that I work 8-11 hours a day, it makes me forget for a moment about bills, about troubles, about day-to-day expenses.
That beautiful moment when I get my work published, when I get my work paid for, is something special. It is what life should be like. More often. And this, this is what I want to be part of my legacy, of what I leave behind. Not just some decent or good photos but rather the love, the passion I put in, the things that drive me to be better.
Now, I don’t know what life holds. I may be shooting Fuji all my life; I might get a sponsorship from Nikon or receive a gift from Sony. And to be honest, it wouldn’t matter at all. What matters for me is to keep that spark, that joy alive for as much as I can and try to pass some of the love for the craft to others. Because in the end, if you read this article, it doesn’t matter if you are a Fuji fan or a Sony fan or shoot with Canon or Nikon.
What really matters is that you love photography, you love taking pictures and maybe like me, want more than having your pictures posted on a small Instagram screen.
“My name is Stefan Panaitescu, I am 38 years old and I am from Bucharest, Romania.
I work in sustainability and corporate social responsibility and I love my job.
I am an avid traveler and in my spare time I run a travel blog and I try to get out as much as I can and shoot with my Fuji cameras.”