why I pick up my camera

I was asked earlier this week to elaborate more on what I shared in my presentation last week, so I thought I’d go ahead and do that today. When I was asked to speak at Click Away I knew exactly what I’d pick as my topic. I’ve been teaching photography for 6 years now. Over those six years I’ve watched as several students have gone on to build thriving businesses. Many of my past students could be teaching me now. I’ve also seen many develop a love for photography only to allow various thieves to come in and rob them of that love. We all have different things in our lives that rob of us of joy. Some are obvious to us, some take a little longer to recognize. In my session at Click Away, we worked to discover our personal thieves and reminded ourselves what captivated us about photography in the first place.

I’ve watched from afar as many students get so excited to learn how to use their camera and then go on to take more advanced classes only to get discouraged. As social media, namely blogs and instagram, grows it is so much easier to see what other people are doing…what other photographers are capturing. With all that access comes endless opportunities for inspiration and growth, there also comes more opportunities for joy to be stolen. Thieves look different for every photographer: comparison, the quest to always have a ‘perfect’ photo, camera gear, editing skills, etc. For me, I can easily look around at the talent of other photographers and get discouraged about my own skills. If I’m not mindful and careful that discouragement can cause me not to want to pick up my camera. I have to watch out for thieves as a photographer – and in life in general.

I began my session, by sharing the following photo and asking the women to share everything ‘wrong’ with the shot.


Total chaos. Every year we do an Easter egg hunt at my grandparents house. Lesley and I hunted in that yard up until we started having kids. This photo was taken on Easter 2013. I wanted so badly to get one shot of my grandpa with all of my kids and Lesley’s kids. My grandpa had given my oldest several bags of books to borrow and I asked my son to move them out of the picture. He wasn’t listening. He was too busy trying to push over my aunt. I tried every trick to get the kids to look my direction. None worked. I think my dad is trying to hide behind the girls so they don’t run off. My grandpa is yelling at me because he can’t hear me. I shot for several minutes and that was the best shot I got.

At first I was disappointed. I mean not a single person is actually looking at the camera. It didn’t take long before I realized how much I cherished this shot. If everyone had been looking at the camera and smiling, that would not reflect those that I love. So many of the stories would be lost. This photo is a treasure to me.  Six months later my grandpa unexpectedly passed away. This is the last shot I have of him with all of my kids and Lesley’s. If he was smiling in this shot, I might like the shot. The fact that he has that expression with his hand held to his ear and chaos surrounding him – makes me LOVE this shot. It reminds me of WHO he was, not just what he looked like.

There are numerous things ‘wrong’ with that photo. You will never see it displayed at photography competition. It won’t grace the cover of a magazine. And I don’t care. It is one of the most vivid reminders of why I pick up my camera. At the end of the day, I want to capture the WHO and the stories of those I love, not win a photography award or accolade.

I also shared this next photo:9.14why-02

The photo above was taken with my phone during what felt like a very mundane season. It is grainy. It is messy. It is a bit chaotic too. During that season of life I often felt like my youngest daughter would never transition from smoothies in a bottle to eating with a spoon. It was a moment repeated over and over again every day. In the background, laundry is piled on a chair and my other kids are pulling each other across the wood floor with a blanket. It felt like a hard phase. It was a hard, mundane phase.

The phase is over now. She eats at the table with a spoon and a bowl. We enclosed part of our front porch to make a laundry room so that chair is now usable all the time. The kids still sweep the floor with each other though. When I look back at that photo, I am immediately reminded of the difficulty and beauty of that phase of life. It is another reminder why I pick up my camera everyday.

I shared several other examples at Click Away and we talked about some other stuff too. My session was 90 minutes long, no one wants to read this blog for 90 minutes! I ended my time with this final photo of my grandpa and oldest daughter.9.14why-03

Whenever Grandpa saw her, he would always ask, “How’d you get to be so pretty?” She would smile and reply, “from my Nana.” On this particular Saturday night, she picked out a special dress because she thought her Great Grandpa would like it. We got to his house and started walking down the driveway. He was sitting in his usual chair, working in his garden. It is where we often found him during the growing season. My girl walked a bit and then stopped to wait for him to look up. In that moment, I was captivated by the two of them. By the story they shared. By the simple routine repeated most Saturday nights. I pulled out my phone quickly and was able to snap the photo. It isn’t a perfect shot. It is a grainy photo shot. I’m sure someone judging this photo on technical merit could list a million things wrong with it. And that is fine. To me – it is priceless. It reminds me why I pick up my camera every day. I pick up my camera for me. For my family. For those that I love.

It has been nearly a year since Grandpa last asked her that question. From time to time, my daughter and I look at the photo above and we relive the story. Though with time her memory of him will fade, hopefully that photo will remind her of the special story, the special relationship she shared with her Great Grandpa. She’ll remember the beauty he always saw in her. And I’ll keep picking up my camera.

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  • Share - This was so, so good.

  • Celena - I came to tears as I read this. I wish I’d had more pictures together with my mother before she passed in 2009. I only have 2 that I truly cherish, even though they’re not great shots and they’re FAR before my time as a photographer. It hurts my heart to see people with more photos of them sitting/standing rigid and smiling at the camera than photos of them LIVING life and interacting with one another. They’re both important, but the life ones are more so. Without them, how will you RELIVE the pure joy you got from daddy’s tickles? How will you experience the love and fascination you had of mommy’s hair because it’s a different texture than yours? How will you know that Papa treasured you beyond anything else I’ve seen in this world and you treasured him just as much. Thank you for writing this.

  • Susan - Lovely post! It had me tearing up. It is so moving and exactly right. I am sure your full presentation was great! I would read 90 minutes of it on the blog. 🙂

  • Kath - Absolutely beautiful post. I got a bit choked up, especially on the last paragraph. I am sure your talk at Click Away touched many many women.

  • P Koziol - I LOVE this post!

  • Tessa - Wow. Such a lovely post and wonderful reminder. Thank you for sharing. I often struggle with comparison and feeling like my pictures are unworthy. Your words inspire me to shut out those feelings and pull out my camera for the reasons I originally set out. My children are growing, changing. I love looking back on different seasons of our lives. Images I can never capture again. Thank you!

  • Sadie - Oh Ashley. This post has me in tears. The relationship with her and her grandfather is so precious. Makes you realize how important those relationships are. And I would have loved to have read a 90 min blog post by you!

  • Kim - Beautiful!

  • Candice - That is wonderful Ashley! I have to remind myself of that too! I am in the midst of a tough season but I need to capture it!

  • Tessa - Ashley, thanks so much for this! I have tears … I love the last photo and the story behind it. I also related so much to the picture of Little One with her bottle. I am in a mundane season also right now, and I know that one day I will look back on these days and my heart will ache. I took a picture with my phone of my two youngest with me … it is just our feet as I have my baby propped on my lap nursing and my 2 year old is snuggled next to us with her baby doll. So, there are some plastic feet in the picture too! Anyway, when I looked at that picture, I know it will be a reminder of these days … all of our feet snuggled together. 🙂

  • Jamie - What a beautiful reminder.

  • Jill - That last photo is perfection!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Angela - Thank you, thank you for posting this. I really appreciate it! Wonderful to hear your thoughts, and I am challenged to get some good (to me) shots of my family and not worry about the technical aspects.

    The photo of your girl and her Great Grandpa reminds me of a picture I took last summer. I was in Michigan with my mother and grandmother (who has dementia). I was pregnant with my first and feeling very nostalgic seeing the two of them together. I snapped a quick photo of them going through old photographs, remembering. It’s not that great of a photo, but I savor it because my grandma finds remembering increasingly difficult. And I love seeing the joy on my mother’s face as she spends quality time with her mom. 🙂 Precious memories.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing!

  • Jessie - Oh boy this made me cry. This was just beautiful. Thank you

  • Beth Ann - Beautiful! What a wonderful reminder. I have let my camera fall by the wayside, my latest ‘robber’ is that it is old, out of date and needs professionally cleaned. Really it just needs to be used 🙂

  • Emily - Oh that last one brought tears to my eyes. All of those photos are cherished by the most important person! I much rather prefer the imperfect than those posed and photoshopped!Thanks for sharing your heart.

  • Aunt Sandy - WOW. That’s the best way to describe this post with tears in my eyes. Thanks so much for sharing your pictures and thoughts of Dad. I don’t think I have ever seen any of these pictures of him. You captured him to a tee. You captured how amazing our Saturday nights were with him. You captured how much he enjoyed his Grand Daughters, his Great Grand children, and, how much joy they all brought to his life. I love the picture of Firecracker waiting for Dad to look up and say “how did you get so pretty”, I sure miss that. I am so glad you have the gift of taking heart felt pictures, chaos, and, all. After all, that’s our family.

  • Birdy - It would be a great pleasure to me to hear out your speech.. it is one special story you tell us readers so often here on your blog… and I fell your words moved the listeners of Click Away… at least, they moved me to tires, as you show the beauty of life in simple pic-reminders!

    Love from Germany and the -fatcatconnection-


  • Christina G - I just got a call less than an hour ago that my grandfather passed away, so this post hits so close to home for me. Thank you for posting this. I needed it today.

  • Karen Choat - Perfectly imperfect pictures are my favorite. I love having the posed pictures of course but it is the imperfect candid shots that bring back a memory, of what was happening at that moment. I have a few of those imperfect pictures only in my mind because I did not think to pick up the camera. My father had been ill and hospitalized for a time and because things did not look good and I was keeping my granddaughter for spring break my daughter and her husband drove up to get her so I could help and be with my dad. We all went to the hospital so they could visit with my dad and I remember watching my sil tell my dad about winning 3rd place in a golf tournament using my dad’s clubs that he could no longer use. My dad was dying, in a lot of pain, but I remember the huge smile that spread across his face when Sean told him that story. Later that night I stood by my dad holding his hand when he left this world. He was suffering so badly at that moment and when I cannot wipe that vision from my mind I flip back to earlier that day and see that smile. I wish I had a picture to share with my family but am thankful I have it at least in my mind. Keep taking those imperfect pictures Ashley and keep doing the magic you do here on your blog. You are a gift.

  • Debbie Mayfield - I am sitting here at my desk with tears in my eyes. I absolutely love the photo of your daughter waiting for her great grandpa to look up. Priceless!!!

  • Michelle Hill - oh boy, tears again, haha. You are a constant source of inspiration. Thank you for sharing your “soap box” with us. And for the record, yes, I could easily read a 90 minute blog post from you 🙂

  • susie - Great post! I would read all 90 mins too! I guess you have a lot of new blog ideas… do one per week!

  • Kelly J. R. - This post makes me want to drive right over to my grandparent’s place and take some photos of them together. They are both in their late 80’s and now I’m panicking that I won’t get a shot of them together again.

  • Paige - Tears tears tears! THIS blog is what has made me pick up my iPhone or point and shoot camera. And not to delete all the “imperfect” photos I have. To not be afraid to share photos that aren’t shot with $500 cameras with spiffy straps and bags. Not that there is anything wrong with that awesome equipment. Its just not a part of my story. But my story is still worth capturing. Thanks for your dedication to promoting that!

  • Lisa Miner - Absolutely beautiful and inspiring. Thank you.

  • Krystina - Thank you for this post. I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately and haven’t been taking as many photos as I could’ve been. This post has given me a breath of fresh air. Now all I want is to pick up my camera and go.

  • Jeannine - I love love love that first photo of yours. In this day an age of instant gratification seeing your shot straight away and endless editing I get so bored of “perfect” photos. In that first shot my eye was drawn directly to your grandfather. Wasn’t that sort of the point. I can tell from his pose just what sort of character he is. Sure, you could have had some beautiful garden backdrop behind, but that red brick takes me right back to my grandparents’ suburb. I know exactly what that suburb probably looks like and can imagine the inside of the house. That shot, much more than any shot with “imperfections” cropped out conveys what I feel you were trying to capture. I love it!

  • Kate B. - Just beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  • Sarah - Hi, I love your blog and am captivated by the beauty of your pictures! I was wondering what would you suggest for someone who has NO experience behind a camera. I’m not even an amateur photographer. Once upon a time I bought an inexpensive Nikon cool pix at Costco but I never even use that anymore. Mostly, I’m relying on my iphone to capture our family pictures. I’m inspired by your blog to at least ask this question. What if I wanted to take the next step but am still sooo far off from taking a workshop? I’d love to learn more but am intimidated by the cost, and how much there is to learn! Can you suggest some baby steps?
    Much thanks,

  • Crystal - Thanks for this post, I really needed to read it. To remember that I am the caretaker of the everyday memories, not perfect photos.

  • amber - Well, didn’t expect that post to make me cry! I love reading your heart on this blog. Thank you so much for sharing here. Such a bright spot in my day…& what a sweet, sweet memory of such a special guy. We have one great grandma left in our lives & my kids get to visit her every week. Such a tremendous gift for sure.

  • Kristi Rediske - Wow-you have me crying but in a good way! I love taking pictures-non are as good as yours but i am picky, now I realize i need to look more at my pictures for the real story and not perfection-Thanks!

  • Heidi Jo the Artist - Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing with us, for those of us who weren’t at Click Away. You are an inspiration!

  • Flor - loved your post Ashley. seriously, you almost had me bawling at the end. I’ve been in a little funk and haven’t been picking up my camera lately. and now I think back at how much I have missed! thank you for sharing your heart and the importance of letting go of the ego and just capturing that special moment <3

  • Sharla - Bawling at work, thanks 🙂

  • Ashley - Beautifully expressed, and such a great reminder! I’m still learning photography, and it seems the more I learn, the more I let the thieves in. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Ali - I am not usually one to comment but I felt like this post was meant for me to see… I have been struggling with continuing to pick up my camera, to see past the flaws in my own pictures… This reminded me of what is really important about taking pictures and why I too need to pick up my camera every. single. day.

    Thank you for this beautiful inspiration today!


  • sayonada - This should be labeled “NSFW” as I am crying at my desk right now. Lovely post, Ashley Ann.

  • Ingrid - love this post x

  • Rachael - I love this so very much. I’m taking a beginner DSLR class right now and feeling those joy thieves at work. This beautiful reminder to hold on to the joy is so timely that it’s like you were reading my mind! Thank you for sharing your beautiful work, even…no, especially the technically imperfect pictures of a beautiful life.

  • Jenny B. - Make me cry, why don’t you!? 😉 Just kidding. Well, not really since I am about to cry. 🙂 It’s good, though. Such important reminders. I was just thinking earlier today that I need to be more mindful of what’s in the background when I’m taking a photo, and I was wondering how I’m supposed to make sure the light is in the right place AND have a clutter-free background when everywhere I look in my house, I see clutter. 🙂 I needed to hear this today. It’s OK if all the photos of my kids have messes in the background. Someday, we’ll look back on those messes and they will help us remember what these days were really like.

  • Catherine - Wow, where DID these onions come from??? 🙂

  • Katie - Wow…just as so many others, I was brought to tears, at work! (good thing I am pregnant so my male co-workers think nothing of it!) The expression of your family’s relationships is so real and wonderful and…loving. 🙂 You hit the head on all my fears of inadequacy in my photography and brought me back to a fresh perspective, to a new beginning of my love for “recording” the blessings that surround me. Beautiful, Ashley!

  • Lindy - Oh Ashley–this brought tears. One of my favorite things in the world is watching my 90 year old Granny with my four kids. How she loves them fiercely. I can just hear that conversation taking place between your daughter and your Grandpa, and it just makes me smile. Love among the generations–priceless. I’m so sorry that he’s gone.

  • Laura M. - Perfect. This post was the perfect reminder that I needed. Taking your online class helped me to FINALLY understand shooting in manual, which improved my photos so now I have so much of a better time capturing the people I love the way I see them all the time. THAT is what is most important to me. And also….I could totally read a 90 minute blog post of yours, just maybe not in one sitting. Kids need things and all. 🙂

  • shadi - Beautiful picture, beautiful story!

  • Diana - Lovely thoughts! I love that picture of your daughter and her great grandpa. What a special moment to capture!

  • Jenny - This was a great post. I would have TOTALLY spent 90 minutes reading it, were there more… 😉 Thank you.

  • Carolyn - Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful post. It is one of the many reasons I enjoy your blog. Right now I feel like I am in a very mundane season, but your words and photos are very encouraging. I will continue to pick up my camera, searching for lovely things to be grateful for each day. Once again, thank you.

  • amy cornwell - Like everyone else, tears. So, so precious.

  • Denise L. - This is EXACTLY why I pick up the camera, and Ashley, you have illustrated it perfectly. Thank you.

  • Megan - For the record, I have read your blog for lots longer than 90 minutes (mostly going through all the old CL/CP posts).

    But I love all of your photographs – the perfect and “less perfect” ones. I’m a total photog beginner and hope to maybe take your class (or another online class) someday to start learning what the heck I’m doing with my Nikon.

    Hey, can you give me the name of the doc in Dallas that you all used? I posted on an old thread about it – our referral is looking like it will likely be a CL/CP kiddo, and I want to read up as much as I can in the meantime.

  • Brenda - Goose-bump inducing! Beautiful!

  • Flower Patch Farmgirl - This is so good,friend. Your grandpa cupping his ear!!! Thanks for the reminders about what the whole point really is.

    PS – I thought my kids were the only ones who do that weird blanket thing… ALL THE TIME. 🙂

  • Daniel - Yes, like some of the others… I would read a 90 minute blog post from you as well. Get to work. K, thanks. haha 🙂

  • Mel - All of these are beautiful. My photography was robbed this summer, I felt burnt out, doubtful about the quality of my work and I put my big camera away in a box for 3 months and walked past that box every day with no inclination to take it out. Losing my passion actually scared me (I feel like its one of only a few things I actually do well) and its been a hard road getting back to it, but when I take a look at my photo files I know I am so grateful for what I have captured and need to get back on track. I make myself bring it with me now, and I got a new love for iphone photography this summer. I still worry that if I am taking photos of my kids playing, then I myself are not playing with them, so I am better about limiting it around them and just maximizing 5 mins instead of 20 mins of me trying to get the perfect shot. I really love this post, and identify with it so much, every single photo of yours brought a smile to me.

  • Jane Bee - I was one of the lucky ones to be at your presentation at ClickAway. You so inspired me and reminded me about what makes me love photography. Catching the moment that captures a memory is so much more important than getting the most technically perfect photo. You have a beautiful family. Meeting you and Chris was one of the highlights of my trip.

  • Shelly Cunningham - I am crying over the loss of your beloved grandpa. I am so sorry.

  • Emily | Gather & Dine - I really needed to read this post. You are one of my favorites because you have such a refreshing perspective on things. and btw, I would also read your blog for 90 minutes. 🙂

  • Carrie - I love this post. It’s something I need to read often. It’s hard not to want to be technically perfect in every shot and just enjoy the journey of getting better with every picture and every story.

  • Crystal - Goodness, I probably would’ve been crying during your whole session! such good reminders!

  • Renee Bergeron - Yes! Everything about this post is perfect.I often find myself not picking up my camera because my laundry basket is in the living room, my house is a mess, the kids are still in their jammies. Thanks for the reminder!

  • jenny - oh, thank you! you are so very right! and i needed to be reminded of this. lately i’ve been skipping out on photos when the house is a mess, or they’re sitting on that couch that i hate, etc, etc. but i’m missing out on saving those beautiful memories of exactly where we are in life… thank you for reminding me that i take photos for me… for my family. it’s so crazy that i can forget that 🙂

  • Melissa - I check your blog frequently and always find myself inspired, not just by your heartfelt photography but by your words as well. At a time when I find myself personally challenged (why do I even bother taking photographs? I’ll never be really “good”, etc.), this hit home. Thanks.

  • AshleyAnn - Sarah – There are a lot of different tutorials regarding photography out there you could start there. I know you said you don’t feel ready for a workshop, but I think you might like my phone course. It would give you composition and storytelling basics that you can use with your iPhone and your Nikon. I think it would be a great step in getting your feet wet with photography. From there you will be able to decide if you enjoy photography enough to dig deeper with a ‘big’ camera or if the basics meet your needs instead.

  • Maloree - Fact… your posts get better and better everytime. You are a beautiful writer. Thank you for sharing this cherished moment from your family.

  • hannah singer - love this beautiful sweetness. thankful for a minute to catch up here this morning, love your sharing. praying for y’all this week xo

  • Sarah zavdi - Thank you so much for responding to my question! I am going to take a closer look at your courses which I always had considered way too advanced for me.
    Thanks again!,

  • Susaan - Because of my years of reading your BLOG and following your family, I always keep my camera out and at arms reach. Just this weekend I was able to capture some priceless pictures of my grandchildren over playing in a simple blow up pool. These pictures are not perfect from a photography stand point, but they are priceless to me.

    Thank you for teaching me to keep my camera out and handy.

    Susan in San Diego

  • Liv - Beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  • Valerie - Ashley, you inspire me! This is the reason that I learned photography. It’s so easy to get frustrated that my abilities do not match so many of the talented women on Clickin Moms, nor do they even meet my expectations a lot of the time. The important thing is to have captured them, even if imperfectly. Thanks for the reminder.

  • brittony - thank you so much for this. i hope you gave out tissues at your session.