Camera as a Tool Box – A Guest Post by Quinn McDonald

This is the first of several guest posts from blog visitors who answered the question  “How has photography had a positive impact on your life?” — a question I’ve been exploring in my recent series “Why Photography?

Quinn McDonald tackled this question in the following post:

Hong Kong, in those years, was a noisy city that you would never mistake for your home town anywhere in America. The smells of lacquered duck, thick spices, the suffocating stench of Durian fruit that hung in the humid air all clashed with the raw sewage running down the gutters. I rose half a foot over the tallest person in the street, and the metallic snicking sound of my shiny new Pentax SLR loaded with 35mm slide film marked me as a tourist–and a new camera owner.

Carrots and Artichoke © 2010 Quinn McDonald

For 10 years, going on a trip meant taking the camera bag—about the size of a diaper bag and much heavier than a laptop. Loaded with lenses—the smallest was the size of a fist, the largest, the length of my forearm, I lugged camera gear through airports and train stations.

I never thought of myself as a photographer. I took photographs to help me remember the details of the art museum vernissages I produced for a large multi-national company.  Was the company logo in the right place? The right color? Were the cutlines on the photos as ordered? Did the caterer use only first-rate vegetables? Photographs helped me answer details I could never have assured the client had happened otherwise.

Jobs changed, travel continued. The camera bag stayed home. Trips were so much easier, lighter, faster. That’s what I aspired to be: light and fast. I traveled 100,000 miles that year, had a housekeeper walk out when I was 3,000 miles away from my 7-year old, and in one unforgettably wrenching week, watched my dad die, my divorce come through, and my boss fire me for taking an unscheduled day of vacation to bury my father. I didn’t have time for a camera. I was trying to provide for my family.

Technology shrank the camera, and made it impossible to use. Technology and I struggled. I lost. How was I going to get along with cameras that had confusing icons? What did that half circle mean—point it at the rising sun? A waning moon? A sliced tomato? I never knew.

What I did know was that the best camera is one you know how to use well enough to take with you. And my iPhone did just that. Within 24 hours of buying my iPhone, I knew how to use every feature it came with–including the camera. It was effortless to download the images to the computer.  My camera was a different tool: I could show clients writing samples and training classes.

The camera is a great visual guide: when I had to take something apart, I took photos of each step, then looked at them in reverse order to reassemble. When my car dripped mysterious fluid, I took a photo of the puddle and the source of the leak to show to the car repair shop.

I’ve watched a hummingbird egg hatch by taking photos of a nest over my head, out of reach of my eyes, but not of my iPhone. I took a photo of the sunrise to mark the last day of writing the book. I took a photo of a tree growing through a tree house, and the images became pages in my art journal.

As an artist, I use the camera to help me see an object one way, so I can draw it the way my mind sees it. This is the reverse of what most people do—they take a photo to show the world what they see through a viewfinder. The artichoke photograph (above) is round, but I wanted a pointy artichoke, and that’s what it became when I used Micron pens and Copic markers to recreate it.

Artichoke Art © 2010 Quinn McDonald

The Hong Kong of many years ago vanished, replaced by an industrial center of tall buildings and massed human traffic. But the stranger filled with wonder still exists in any city of the world, there to witness change, now armed with a camera smaller than the original lens cap.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps her clients through change and re-invention. 

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. I’m glad Bo is running this series. It’s interesting to have a glimpse into why and how others use photography in their art and in their lives.

    I love your Artichoke Art, Quinn. 🙂

  2. Bo Mackison says:

    Thanks, Quinn, for sharing how photography is useful to you as an artist, even though you say you are not a photographer. You have some creative and useful ways to use your camera.

    And I love both of your artichokes. The drawing is lovely, I love the texture and shading.

  3. Great idea for guests discussions. I was intrigued by Quinn’s website. Some very interesting thoughts. I recommend a visit.

  4. Love how your photography has evolved..and how you use it to record your daily world. This is such a wonderful..and informative series!!! Terrific artichoke!!!

  5. I loved the story, the words. I could read a novel written by Quinn. I would love to read a novel about a photographer traveling around. I love stories I can relate to. Wonderful writing. Oh, your photo and drawing is great, but once again I really did enjoy your writing.

  6. So fascinating to read of how others use the camera. Excellent post.

  7. Thanks to all of you for the generous heaps of praise. Wow, they feel good! Being a creativity coach feels like I’m doing something to help. Something small, but something that works. Preston, I’ve been a writer most of my life, but you don’t want to read any fiction of mine. I’m a truly horrible fiction writer! But I DO have a book coming out. . . nonfiction though.
    Gandalf, Robin, Preston, Sue Henry–if you want to experience coaching, I will happily offer a free session. Hard to explain, interesting to experience. I can be reached through the website or blog. If Bo will allow me to post the link, here’s the link to contact information:

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I can attest to the fact that Quinn is a skilled coach.

      Quinn, you are more than welcome to post your link, and I hope the others will take you up on your offer. It’s a win-win situation.

  8. Your missive is as fascinating a read as any good novel on the market, and so descriptive that I could very nearly smell that first scene. What’s fascinating is your use of an iPhone for various photographic purposes. At 5’2 lugging around my current kit isn’t for the faint of heart (or weak in body) and there are times I almost can’t face it. Anyway,…this is a great post. I look forward to visiting your website next, Quinn. Well done!

    Thank you, Bo, for inviting folks to share their visions. I’m enjoying myself!

Leave a Reply