Photographers: Those Who Draw With Light

The word photography was first used in the 1830’s. It is derived from two Greek words, photos (“light”) and graphein (“to draw”).

To draw with light.

It’s a beautiful summary of what we do.  When I discovered the original meaning, something deep within stirred.

Today we live in an oversaturated photographic space.  As I write this, kids are heading back to school and my social media is filled with cute children equipped with backpacks and books.

I then looked at my Instagram account and saw saturated image, after saturated image.  I had to ask myself: Have I become desensitized to photography?  Do I require florescent sunsets and vibrant flowers in the foreground to stimulate and inspire me?

I was then led to this personal reflection:  What if photography didn’t exist?

Social media would be boring.  If photography didn’t exist, we could rule out video.  A larger dependency and reliance would be given to the written word.

It’s hard to imagine a world where something so entrenched in our culture doesn’t exist.

Somewhere between the space of oversaturated stimuli and baulking at the thought of it not existing, is a place where I am reconciling why photography matters.

Recently I began blogging.  I write personal reflections about life, faith and family.  My photography is used to support my written words.  I’ve noticed that I can be granted a few moments of someone attention when I intertwine my words with an image I’ve created.

Keith photographed the approach of Hurricane Irma in 2017.  His image, Irma’s Approach went viral and sold numerous prints.   People’s relatability and emotional connection to the storm they personally experienced caused them to bond with his piece.

As people who “draw with light”, we are more than documenters of moments (although that is exactly what each mother did before they sent their children off to school).   The time invested to learn the art, the financial requirements for gear, travel and education are all proof that there is a deeper need for self expression and enjoyment in the art of creating, drawing with light.

There’s no single piece of art that has touched each eye that has viewed it.  The beauty of art is that it’s subjective.  Created first from something deep within the artist, and then appreciated by those who it speaks to.

Your photography will speak to those it is meant for.  At it’s source though it’s a personal expression of your experience, a journal of your travels, and your interpretation of a moment.

And at the end of the day, when the contest winners have been chosen, the gallery has selected their artists they want to feature, the prints have been packed up from the art festival, or you take account of the numbers of like on social media, the question that should be last on your lips are these:

  1. Did I enjoy the process of creating this piece
  2. Am I happy with what I have created and is it my best.
  3. What does this piece say to me and how can I share it with others?

Of course not every image you capture will be able to have these questions answered in the affirmative, but every once in a while, everything will line up in the field, your processing will flow, you’ll create magic, and you’ll know that the piece will become a benchmark of your life.

Dear artist, don’t stop drawing with light.

What Photographers Can Learn From Walt Disney

It was the 1940’s as the world was in chaos with the first world war.  One father took his daughters to amusement parks to escape the realities of life and have some fun.  While there, he sat on a bench and watched other parents sitting clearly bored while their children played.  He asked himself “What If I created a place where both parents and children can have fun”.  In that one thought, Disneyland and what would become Disney World was born.  So what can photographers learn from Walt Disney that can be applied to our art? A lot.

     1) He looked at something that was, and asked how he could do it better

At the time when Walt took his daughters to amusement parks, they were known for being dirty and unsafe.  In fact, when he approached his wife Lillian about his idea she questioned him.

“When I started on Disneyland, my wife used to say,  ‘But why do you want to build an amusement park?  They’re so dirty.’ I told her that was just the point — mine wouldn’t be.”  –Walt Disney


How does this apply to photography? 

Look at what others are doing, identify what you like, what you don’t like, and ask yourself how you can do it better.  Use the work of others, new locations, and new techniques as a platform to jump from to create something that excels from where you began.


     2) He ignored what was expected of him.

Walt was in the business of animation, not in the business of amusement parks.  Of course as a result he had people who thought he was crazy for taking on such a huge task that was not only unexpected of him, but clearly out of his comfort zone.

“Almost everyone warned us that Disneyland would be a Hollywood spectacular—a spectacular failure. But they were thinking about an amusement park, and we believed in our idea—a family park where parents and children could have fun—together.” –Walt Disney


How does this apply to photography? 

Doing what is expected, and what has always been only leads to more of the same.  Ask yourself what would happen if you incorporated elements outside of your genre into your artwork.  Perhaps you can include mixed media, portrait lighting into nature photography, a new post processing technique that captured your interest.  Ignore and push past what people have come to expect of your art, and ask yourself what could happen if you worked from a curious heart.


     3) He was confident in his vision

Walt knew in his heart that he was on to something.  He identified a way he could make the world a little brighter, and because he acted on that seedling of a thought, millions of parents and children enjoy “The Most Magical Place On Earth”.   Had he listened to those who doubted, who couldn’t see past what was already being done, we wouldn’t have this magical kingdom.

“There are whole new concepts of things, and we now have the tools to change these concepts into realities. We’re moving forward.” –Walt Disney


How does this apply to photography? 

There’s one thing you can be certain of.  You’ll never have the desire to try something different if you don’t allow your imagination to wander, and you’ll never create something different if you don’t allow yourself to explore and play.  If you have a seedling in your imagination of what could be if you tried, take it, hold it close, nurture it, invest in it, and see what happens.  Wander and wonder produces vision.


*Inspired by Disney Institute’s blog post:  Leadership Lessons From Walt Disney: Disrupting Industry Stereotypes \

All images used are property of Disney.