When I Press the Shutter, I Feel the Smile of God

Why do you snap a photo? Sometimes it’s because you want to preserve a memory or keep a record of possessions for the insurance guy. That’s how it was for me in the beginning. But I soon realized I really loved taking photos. I tried to analyze my new obsession. One day, as I clicked the shutter, I felt the smile of God. I don’t care if you believe in God or not, I’m just saying that for me it was a real moment. God smiled when I took the shot. That’s when it hit me. I do photography because when I press the shutter, I feel the smile of God.

Do you remember hearing of Grandma Moses? She died in 1961 at the age of 101. That’s remarkable but her legacy is that at the age of 78 she began painting. And she discovered she was pretty good. Her paintings started to sell. Some of them even fetched $5,000 to $10,000. She appeared on magazines covers like Time. People marveled at her ability, especially since she didn’t start painting until late in life.

I share her story because I resonate with it. I didn’t get serious about photography until I was 64 years old. I remember the exact day. I’d been walking along the New Jersey coast and spotted a rare snowy owl. I pulled out my cellphone and took a photo. When I got home I was dismayed to discover the owl was a tiny little dot on the shore. I enlarged the photo and my snowy owl turned into a collection of pixels. At that moment I decided to get serious about photography. Two days later I purchase my first Nikon DSLR and I’ve been hooked ever since.

My journey into photography turned me into a believer of evolution. Why? Because I found myself rapidly evolving.

I started shooting wildlife photos. No bird or animal was safe from my shutter. But that started to get old. How many times can you photograph a bird? By the way. some people love bird photograph. I’m happy for them but it was no longer my passion.

I turned my attention to landscape photography. I still love a good landscape shot but that too became mundane. I realized many landscape photographers went to the same places and shot the same things. I mean, if you want a good photo of Mt. Rushmore you show up with your camera and the boys will be there waiting for you.

From landscapes I transitioned into portrait photography. I even had studio space. I loved it until I realized it made no difference if I liked the shot. Portrait photography was all about the client, not about the art. Too many times I’d show what I thought was a beautiful photo to a client, only to hear something like, “But I look fat.” I know professional photographers that use Photoshop to slim down clients just to appease them. I just couldn’t keep going down that road.

I started to do event photography and enjoyed it. People are infinitely interesting. To capture candid shots of them at an event brought me joy. I still love the challenge of being in the right place at the right time to capture a special moment.

I then stumbled on street photography. I love taking candid shots of people in their natural environment. What do I like best about street photography? It’s an art form. I’m the artist. And I’m the only one I need to make happy.

What is street photography? It’s simply getting out in the streets with a camera and having the guts to take photos. There’s joy in catching the “decisive moment” in a scene. It doesn’t matter if the person in the scene hates my photo. They may never even know their photo was taken. The purpose of the photo is not to prop up someone’s vanity but to document a moment in time.

Why street photography? It’s an unusual art form. To be sure, there’s not as much money to be made. But there’s a joyous freedom in looking and taking the perfect shot.

I live in Kalamazoo County Michigan but shoot wherever I am.