Shutter Therapy is a phrase I created several years ago and one I use frequently throughout my articles. I don’t remember defining it, and, inexplicably, the phrase is now widely used by many friends and photographers, in Malaysia and around the world. With a little time on my hands post-Olympus Malaysia, I found myself introspecting on what Shutter Therapy was, what it signified when I started using the phrase, its origins and why I set time aside for some Shutter Therapy every weekend? This post is a result of that introspection and my attempt to answer these questions.
In early 2008, I purchased my first DSLR, an Olympus E-410, and in some ways, this marked my deep dive into photography. Almost a year later, my father passed away and I found myself in Kuching, my hometown and a Malaysian city, feeling rather depressed. I needed to get out of the house and find a way to deal with the miserable emotions that surrounded me. I figured photography was a good option since it required enough concentration and mental effort to occupy my mind – and it worked. When I was out shooting, I felt free, mentally unhindered by negative emotion, and discovered a sense of satisfaction when I managed to get a shot I wanted and liked. That well of positive emotion was extremely powerful, and self-reinforcing. After that first shoot, I was home, looking through the photographs when it struck me that the short, impromptu photography session was best described as “therapeutic”. In other words, I’d just experienced my first dose of Shutter Therapy. The therapeutic quality stuck and I quickly found myself craving for more each weekend. Soon, I realized that photography had evolved into an obsession.
The subsequent association of Shutter Therapy with street photography was accidental. By the time 2009 came around, I found myself immersed deeply into photography and trying my hand at all the genres open to me – from studio portraiture with models to fast-paced fashion shows, and the one that I was most involved with, was macro photography focused on insects. After two years of pursuing bug photography, I realized that while I had developed a strong technical grasp of photography and the gear, I had not developed my artistic sense. Sure, my images were sharper, properly lit (controlled or ambient) on the subject and had accurate white balance, but my composition was poor and my images did not tell a compelling story. The problem was no longer “how to shoot” but “what to shoot”. Realizing that I needed to improve my “seeing” skills and push artistic development, I took a break from insects and looked at an entirely different genre – street photography. I started to use the Shutter Therapy phrase more often and started to actively describe my weekend street shooting sessions as shutter therapy sessions. Now, when I invite friends out for a Shutter Therapy session, it usually means shooting on the street.
So back to the original question, what is Shutter Therapy?
In my view, Shutter Therapy is when you go out with a camera and have fun shooting. The keyword here is FUN. For the experience to be therapeutic or cathartic, you need to have fun while you’re shooting. When I’m out and about on the weekends indulging in some Shutter Therapy, I shoot what I like, and the subjects that attract my attention at any given moment. This freedom to shoot what you like and experiment is important, and forms an integral foundation for Shutter Therapy. There are no strict rules in place and even the generally accepted restrictions of street photography are done away with. Shutter Therapy can be as short as an hour or last the entire day and it isn’t restricted to the weekend alone. It can be indulged in solitarily or with a group of friends, provided everyone is out to shoot some images and have fun. I personally avoid having too many people in the mix, as it becomes a large social gathering where there is more talk than camera action. The kind of gear used is not a point of consideration, an iPhone is just as welcome as digital MF as long as you’re making images that you’re happy with. I personally prefer smaller cameras and lenses, but remember, it’s about being true to your preferences and goals.
What are some of the benefits of practicing Shutter Therapy? In my opinion,
- Fun fun fun! The anticipation of heading out on a weekend morning, to get out there and shoot some photographs. It’s an excitement that is difficult for me to explain, but one I’m well aware of and look forward to.
- Keep the mind and muscles sharp. An understanding and mastery of the technical bits and the gear require constant exercise. This helps keep reflexes and muscle memory sharp, not to mention a sense for timing and a familiarity with the gear. Photography is much like sports (anything that requires hand-eye coordination), the more you practice the more efficient you are at what you do. While I can control camera settings and the basic exposure triangle of shutter speed, aperture and ISO controls with ease now, I get rusty and inefficient if I don’t use them for a long period of time. I, personally, don’t intend to spend time relearning what I know – I just want to keep building on top of it and getting better.
- Improve your photography. Like most things, improving your photographic output does not happen overnight. It takes patience, sweat, heartbreak, and significant (some would argue immeasurable) time and effort. The most effective way to improve, is to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. There are workshops, online tutorial and guides a plenty and there are photography books written by professional photographers, you may even have a great photography mentor, but you can only reap the benefits of all these aids by going out and spending time shooting.
- Improve productivity. I generally allocate less than half a day (the first half usually) for Shutter Therapy, and am done by lunch. This leaves the rest of the day to meet friends, run errands, catch a movie, or simply read a book at a cafe. Shutter Therapy rarely gets in the way of my weekends, and instead continues to be a highlight of my weekend, even after all these years. I plan my sessions around other commitments for the day. And the best part for me, is at the end of each Shutter Therapy session, when I know that I have a new set of images for an article and to share with all of you.
- It’s free. Assuming you already have a working camera and lens (kit lens is perfectly fine), there is no cost of entry. You can just grab your gear and indulge in a little Shutter Therapy at any time!
A great Shutter Therapy session should end with an equally great cup of coffee.
I hope that helps clarify Shutter Therapy for you. Over the years, it has become an integral part of my identity as a photographer. While other photographers, prefer to and excel at writing about specific techniques or the philosophy of photography, my approach to photography and the view I chose to share is one that looks at the lighter side of things. I don’t claim to be a comprehensive photography expert, and may not have a long list of accolades and awards from competitions and societies like Magnum or Nat Geo, but I have managed to do one thing better than anyone else: ensure I have fun and maximize my experience from each Shutter Therapy session. I may not be a world famous photographer, but I will be a happy one if people know and embrace Shutter Therapy!
This is an experiment you should try at home and one you might get addicted to!
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