On passion, and why you must suffer to succeed in photography - Part 2

Benjamin Stevens


Welcome to Part 2! In Part 1 we ended on discussing the ability to endure suffering or setback with an eye to a greater good or a higher purpose.

Are you willing to put in the groundwork and reap the rewards later? Indeed, are you willing to put in the groundwork even if there is no guarantee that rewards will be reaped?

Make peace with endurance

I make peace with driving on rough, car-shaking roads because it heightens the sense of remoteness. I make peace with hot days and copious flies because it means serene desert nights and fewer crowds.

In competing with yourself and striving for incremental improvement, you will inevitably develop an advantage over others.

Unique compositions are one such advantage. Rising at dawn to catch the morning light, you are witness to a misty lake with ducks flying overhead. Since you were the only photographer that bothered to drag themselves out of bed, your images can’t help but be unique.

Sometimes your fingers might freeze to your tripod. You might be craving a bacon and egg sandwich. Maybe you rise early and there won’t be any dawn light. Or there won’t be any mist. You might leave your favorite lens at home and have to improvise.

But if you have a true passion for dawn photography, these setbacks mean nothing to you. The flame of your burning passion is not extinguished that easily.

To be honest, you don’t even have to enjoy early mornings to any great degree. But you do need to be prepared to do what it takes to get the shot. Although somewhat of a cliché, this attitude will help you endure the setbacks that other photographers are simply not prepared to endure. Endurance builds resilience, and resilience increases the odds that your photographic jaunts will be memorable and meaningful.

Enduring setback after setback is how you become a great photographer. It’s how you develop the ability to articulate your work to others. And to tell a story, you must have a story to tell. What setbacks have you overcome? How can you relate these to photography or other people?

Behind every great photograph is a photographer with a passion that sustained them through setbacks and failure.

The exquisite ‘cutouts’ of Matisse and elegant line drawings of Picasso came late in long careers of painstaking work and wild experimentation. In writing as in painting, simplicity often follows considerable torment. - Constance Hale

Passion helps us perform the painstaking work which is unavoidable in any craft. Passion is sustaining and helps us clarify what we want to express and how to express it.

Most importantly, it gives meaning and purpose to the torments we will inevitably suffer.


© Benjamin Stevens

Passion encourages creativity through mindfulness

We cannot by definition show disinterest in things we are passionate about. Disinterest would turn to boredom and then to inattention. Neither of which are conducive to mindfulness or creativity.

So why not make the choice to only photograph things you are passionate about?

When we combine mindfulness with passion, we give our creative impulses a chance to shine.

On how this might be achieved, Henri Cartier-Bresson suggested the following:

I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mold us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds — the one inside and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come from a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.

In other words, creativity — photographic seeing — is a balancing act.

Photographic seeing is not seeing in the literal sense, although our eyes are open. Rather, it is the ability to observe the world and our reactions to the world at the same time. This is the balance we must strive to maintain.

Seeing the external world is easy, but mindfulness allows us to observe our inner world at the same time. In other words, our reactions to what we see. And when we have a clear understanding of what moves us and what doesn’t, our self-awareness expands.

We respond to our environment and then as if by magic, the environment responds to us. In this way, the internal and external worlds reinforce each other and allow a greater depth of seeing.

Mindfulness helps us filter the endless information that passes through our eyes. It helps us discover new passions or strengthen existing ones.

Instead of devoting our mental energy to trivialities, we devote it to becoming self-aware photographers. We know what turns us on, and we instinctively know where to find it.

Regular wins, no matter how small or insignificant to others, build confidence. Confidence gives us the courage to strike out on our own. To break free of the popular photography aesthetic and respond fully to the artist within.

If you’re struggling to find passion in your life, sit in a quiet place and practice mindfulness meditation. Observe the rich tapestry of life, unfurling before your eyes with startling beauty and regularity.

Have the courage to try new things. Give yourself the mental space to observe your reactions. And then trust your gut with everything you can muster. This can seem somewhat of a hollow suggestion to some. But no-one knows what they’ll respond to until they give themselves the chance to respond.


If you had the choice to endure any kind of suffering, then passionate suffering would be a good candidate.

While you may share the same passions as others, no one experiences them in quite the same way you do. You must have the courage to trust your intuition. You must resist the temptation of conformity — inviting as it may be — and walk your own path at all costs.

Passion also helps us through difficult times. Passion and suffering go hand in hand, but the wise photographer can use suffering as a tool for self-improvement. It is only through setbacks that we learn. It is only through suffering that victories taste so sweet.

Finally, passion encourages mindfulness and thus creativity. When we mindfully engage in the world, we can discover new passions or deepen our understanding of existing passions. By observing how we react to certain subjects, we become ultra-specific on what we love and why. The strength of our photographic seeing increases and we become better at expressing our authentic selves as a result.

Comments / 0

Published by

Photographer and writer who is passionate about creativity, mindfulness and philosophy.

Seattle, WA

More from Benjamin Stevens

Comments / 0