In my first post I briefly noted why I take pictures. I enjoy the geek, the creative, the challenge and the escape. These are my motivations. But what if we dig a little deeper? What does photography do for me, and perhaps for many others too?
It’s easy to keep plodding on taking pictures because “it’s what you do”, while forgetting what excited you about photography in the first place. In this post I want to try and take a more sophisticated, psychological, look at why I enjoy making images. In doing so I want to discuss how we might promote our own motivation and why this is important.
As human beings, when engaging in various activities we are driven towards three basic psychological needs. Activities that satisfy these needs will be more meaningful and enjoyable. Not only that, but these needs allow us to engage more positively, learn better, perform better, and be happier. This means our motivation not only impacts what we do, but also how we do it and what we get out of it!
I believe that photography is such a popular pastime because it manages to satisfy these needs so abundantly. The needs can be remembered as the psychological ABCs; autonomy, belongingness, and competence.
Autonomy refers to our volition. That is, the degree to which you are able to determine what you do and, importantly, how you do it. What pictures are you taking and are who’s controlling how you engage in photography?
Belongingness is the extent to which you feel cared for, valued by, and connected to others. This also means having the capacity to contribute to others in a meaningful way. Are you connecting with others, in a meaningful way, through your photography?
Competence is the perception that you are able to achieve desired tasks. Not only are you able to take nice pictures, but are you making the pictures in the way you want to?
As you might have noticed, these needs are much more about the process of your photography than the outcomes. That’s a good thing. It means that we can dictate our experience and ensure that these fundamental human needs are not left to chance. Below are some very brief examples of how I make sure my needs are satisfied.
Set myself very clear photography goals.
I set myself very clear and specific goals when making pictures. This might be to get a specific shot, recreate a particular style, or go somewhere new. Either way, I am making shots that are meaningful and interesting to me. Being clear about what I want to do in advance, and planning how to do it, boosts my sense of autonomy. Settings goals that are about the photographic process rather than the outcome can ensure that I achieve my goals and promote a sense of competence.
Constantly try new techniques.
I go out of my way to get better by creating new images that really interest me. The picture might be ridiculous or unnecessary but if I decide it might be fun then I am going to do it. Techniques I have tried include light painting, multiple exposure, and the Brenizer effect (I find these while trawling Flickr, youtube, Vimeo, and blogs such as petapixel). This allows me to drive my own photography and gain that autonomy. While learning and mastering new techniques I also gain a sense of competence.
Take pictures with others.
When I take pictures I try to do so with others (whether they are photographers or not) to promote my sense of belonging. I always make sure these are people that will be positive and embrace my ridiculous ideas. to those I am with I also want to be able to contribute ideas, positive feedback, challenge and friendship.
These three basic needs influence what activities we find enjoyable as well as the psychological outcomes we accrue. How we manage our own photography can determine the extent to which the needs are satisfied. This means we are able to determine our own experience, enjoyment and well-being through photography.
How might you promote your own autonomy, belongingness, and competence?