This won’t have much of a point until I explain it at the end, so bear with me for a few minutes while I meander through a brief summary of my life story, the important bits anyways.
The first time I picked up a camera was all the way back in 2012 when my grandparents got me a basic little point and shoot for Christmas. I have no idea what drew me to the idea of photography, but whatever it was got me hooked. Maybe not completely hooked — as a 10-year-old boy I had much more important things to do with my time, like sword (stick) fighting with my best friend or running away from security guards through our apartment complex in the middle of Seoul, South Korea.
But when I did have a spare minute, I was outside taking pictures. Horrible, awful, blurry wastes of digital storage space, but pictures nonetheless. It’s always easy to be cynical of your past self from the present because you can see how far you’ve come, but at the time I had no idea that my “art” was bad. I did know though that I was having fun, and that was all that mattered.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2015 and I was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had become a little more competent by then, but not by much.
Being the budding environmental scientist that I was, most of my photography subjects were bugs and flowers, both of which were plentiful in that country (making it one of my favorites to this day).
I don’t have much more to say about this period of time other than I named Facebook albums of my photos things like “Morning walk and afternoon caterpillars,” or “An afternoon rain,” which is really all you need to know about middle school me.
While I still very much enjoyed taking photos, I hadn’t quite yet based my whole personality around photography. That wouldn’t happen for a few more years ...
Fast forward again to 2017, and after just moving to Kyiv, Ukraine and starting as a sophomore at my third high school, I decided to sign up for an actual photography class.
That Christmas, five years after I was gifted my first little point and shoot camera, I convinced my parents to get me a “real” one — my first DSLR. For the class, of course.
Partially because of the new camera and partially because there are far fewer interesting tropical species of plant and animal in Eastern Europe, I began to branch out.
I signed up to take photos of pretty much every single school event, sports game and theater production, and experimented with different genres on my own as well.
That year I got my first exposure to almost every possible genre of photography that there is and I didn’t say no to anything. That included getting all-access media privileges at a Metallica cover band concert, lighting books on fire in abandoned buildings, taking light stick self-portraits at sunrise or messing around with long exposure light painting.
Today, more than 10 years after I first started, that original side hobby has made me invaluable friends, given me excuses to travel the world, provided me with a stream of income throughout college (way too much of which I “invest” back into new camera gear) and most importantly, been something that I could be consistently passionate about and enjoy.
Having a hobby — or hobbies — separate from school and work is something that I think is important for everyone. With everything we have to do and manage on a daily basis during the school year, it is so easy to become burnt out, tired and unmotivated.
Being passionate about something completely unrelated to schoolwork and knowing that I am always able to take a break from those sources of stress, and sometimes just life in general, to focus on that hobby is something that has been incredibly helpful to me to try to combat that burn out.
And that was true long before I finally figured out what I was doing with a camera. You don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it, and that’s the best part. Just take a look back at some of my earlier pictures.
So this is my call for you to go pick up your metaphorical camera, or paintbrush, or bicycle, or potted plant, or niche Wikipedia interest, or baking ingredients or whatever else it is that might give you a welcome break from life every once and a while.
Ryan Reynolds is a photographer at The Beacon and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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