Photographer’s Mind: The Curious Quest for Humility

How often have we heard something like this:

“I am a great photographer wearing pro gear, and I’ll show you a quick way to master taking great pictures.”

While that may be one style of photography, I’d like to suggest another outfit, one that wears a “hat of Humility” and carries a “camera of Curiosity.”


When we relate just to ourselves, we get selfies. Pointing only to our limited experience, selfies leave our viewers numb. C. S. Lewis, the writer and theologian, said:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

As we learn to think of ourselves less, we attend to natural subjects with more absorption, and respond to people we photograph in greater depth.

Let’s take two brief examples, first from portrait photography, and then from nature photography.

How we commune with our subjects counts far more than gear. In a portrait session, imagine you are photographing another person. Your relationship with them makes the results worthwhile, so think of your portrait subject as a collaborator and ask for his or her ideas. Although you may not include their suggestions, just listening creates the mood you want and gains the model’s confidence.

In the field of nature photography, the photographs of National Geographic photographer Franz Lanting are superb works of art.  Lanting himself is also an excellent model for a humble approach to the craft. He does not charge into a scene. Instead, he slowly and gently moves into the living space of earth’s creatures, with a non-threatening attitude. His life work speaks volumes, even more so as Lanting is soft-spoken. Through his work and writings, he conveys a reverence, and curiosity, for nature.

What if? and Other Starring Questions

“Art to me is a question mark.” – Brian Hugh Warner (Marilyn Manson)

An important quality of creative musicians and photographers, curiosity is never idle. Being curious means that we are fueled by a set of questions. The supernova of these questions is: “What if…?” Asking it, we illuminate many possibilities. The query is accompanied by other starring questions such as “What is…?”, “Wow can…?” and “What can I find…?” These empowering questions are like wind in our solar sails; they propel us outward, away from our self-centeredness, toward discovery.

Curiosity helps us to notice the little things.

An Exercise in Curiosity 

Closer to home, I discovered a daily curiosity exercise. On my dog walk, I ask my dog “What are you sniffing?” to try to experience the world as she does and learn from her nose. A basenji breed, she is always intensely curious about the creatures she can sniff. With no planning, she takes a walk and, mesmerized by aromas of some animal’s trail, sniffs deeply with her black nose like a vacuum cleaner just a half inch above the sand: “OMG… oh… a crab!!”

My dog is always hunting for novel experiences. My pooch helps me to imagine an invisible world, one that for me is full of undetectable aromatic experiences.  Watching her, I learn to be curious.

Being Curious

So, now that we are open to curiosity, how can we become more curious photographers? Two ways.

1. Turn Your Questions Into Quests

“To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.” – Sam Keen

Ask. Seek. Be like Monty Python. Take on a quest and turn your questions into Quests. Asking novel questions continually can propel us to move, act and search to learn more. Creating quests from our deepest questions, we need to be patient. As the visionary novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: “Be patient with all that’s unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves.”

2. Come Back Around With Humility

Asking questions, we feed our curiosity. Our curiosity helps us learn. Asking questions before we engage our photography subjects, we will learn more about them. Since knowledge can become infinite, we may realize that the more we know, the more we don’t. There is always more to learn, and more than we can ever know. Realizing this fact, humility is bound to come back around into our being.

Curiosity and Humility Together

These two qualities, curiosity and humility, are always becoming, ever flowing together in our stream of consciousness. Photographers find these qualities go together; they let us take pictures with the spirit of wonder.

Bottom Line – Framing the Right Question

So the next time you go out, don’t ponder your ISO, F-stop or depth. Instead, ask “what if”? Go on a quest that is less about finding answers than about asking the questions and the joys of curiosity.

“Asking a question is the simplest way of focusing thinking…asking the right question may be the most important part of thinking.” – Edward de Bono

Mobile Interactive

Here is a short movie I made by being curious and exploring a cave in the Bahamas where red shrimp seem to float in space.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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