Grace Aretakis/The Daily

When I came to college, I made it a point to bring along my digital camera in hopes of creating my best work yet. I have been practicing photography since the very beginning of high school and I have yet to find another artistic outlet that better amplifies my voice and speaks to my creative soul. After spending years in art classes, I fell in love with the process — fleshing out the story I wanted to tell, finding underground spots around Chicago to shoot, dressing my friends up to fit the narrative I was building and editing my photos in Photoshop and Lightroom after the shoot. There was nothing better than watching a concept in my head come to fruition. I planned to carry this passion with me throughout college, but this plan was quickly shot down by the expectations of my course load. I felt as if I couldn’t do much of anything outside of schoolwork; the days seemed to blend into each other and life had felt so monotonous. Hours on the weekend that used to be dedicated to playing around with Photoshop turned into more time spent scrolling through Canvas and submitting assignments for the fleeting gratification from a burst of confetti on my computer screen. I watched my trusty Canon Rebel T6 collect dust on my dad’s bookshelf, then later on the desk in my dorm room.

When summer came around, I brought my camera home, promising myself that I would carve out time to take more photos. My two jobs and familial obligations were the fingers crossed behind my back. I quickly got busy bouncing between a virtual fellowship and working at my local mall. My mom once asked to see some of my recent work and to cover up my feelings of inadequacy, I brushed her off, claiming that I was simply too busy to go through the process of coordinating a photoshoot. The best I could show her were a few underexposed Polaroids and some snapshots I took for my friends’ Instagram profiles on my phone. My camera lens watched me as I continued to ignore its presence on my dresser throughout the summer. Was I too busy to go out and take pictures, or was it out of fear that I had lost my ability to create something great? The former proved to be true to an extent, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I no longer had any inspiration to create anything new. 

It wasn’t until the very end of the Fall 2021 term that I realized how much I really missed photography. I got the chance to go out and take pictures of my friends on my camera, and I was surprised to see that I had taken a few shots that I really liked. It surely wasn’t my best work to date, but after over a year away from my camera, it was a step in the right direction. Constantly having to grind through school work without any sort of creative outlet is greuling. Just as I was on the brink of burnout, I realized that I needed to find my way back to my favorite hobby. My mom had been right — I wasn’t going to ever have the time to take pictures unless I made it. This also meant I had to swallow my fears of creating mediocre art. Progress, especially in the arts, isn’t always linear. What was most important was that I would be doing an activity that I loved, which is something that I lost sight of for a while as I became bogged down by my school schedule. I had to pick up my camera again with confidence and trust that the greatness would return in due time. 

Greenlight District

By February, I was taking pictures again for SHEI Magazine. The very first shoot I did with them felt like a breath of fresh air. Holding the camera was akin to an embrace from an old friend and hearing the sound of the shutter was like listening to a favorite song that I haven’t heard in years. I was finally reunited with my love for taking photos. We were able to shoot in a local grocery store, and it filled my heart to be able to once again do something that I love so much. I had a ball playing around with different edits and overlays in Photoshop to figure out what I wanted to do for my final edits. It felt like a personal breakthrough. On top of this, I also recently picked up point-and-shoot film photography with a cheap camera I bought at a flea market. Shooting on film can definitely be a risky game, but it serves as a quick alternative to carrying my bulky Canon Rebel around whenever I want to capture timeless moments with my friends. Between photoshoots for SHEI and my film camera, I now feel refreshed by my new outlets to do photography. 


Taking the time to do activities outside of academia has been the key to reducing my burnout. I feel less stressed by the often overwhelming amounts of schoolwork when I have the chance to distance myself from it and decompress. The college lifestyle is not a sustainable one; my weeks are defined by late nights, numerous cans of Celsius and a poor eating schedule. It’s difficult to break these cycles when every week feels so monotonous. Photography is the wrench in this cycle that I forgot I needed. To me, there is no sound more satisfying than the shutter of my camera. There’s something really special about capturing an experience in one frame. Photographs have the power to tell entire narratives between the four corners of a frame. I can take a picture of a scene, whether staged by myself or candidly taken in the city, and someone else can see that image and fill in the blanks. Pulling from their own experience, one can remember the feelings, know the smells and through that snapshot of life, a connection is formed between the viewer and the subject. There are so many intricate factors that go into taking a quality photograph: angles, exposure, lighting and so on. Do I want a low or high angle? Is the lighting too bright? Too dim? Am I creating the mood that I want to convey to the viewer? These are all the details that I take into consideration whenever I’m doing a shoot. My artistic voice is evident in the way that I stylize my portraits with vibrant colors, natural lighting and striking angles. I then further enhance my pictures with a form of manipulation, whether it be through digital editing software or by hand.  The photos I take have the ability to speak for me where words may fail. No matter where my academic life takes me, I owe it to myself to keep using photography to display the lens through which I see the world. 

Pity Party.

MiC Columnist Udoka Nwansi can be reached at