National Photography Month: History and How to Celebrate

It seems there's a call to celebrate one thing or another just about every month. The month of May is different.

During May, we're encouraged to celebrate those who have captured our history, our culture, our accomplishments, and our failures in images -- both still and moving. For the thirty-one days that make up the month of May, we celebrate the joys and benefits of photography.

Photography is History

Photographs, properly cared for, are like time machines. They are snapshots into our history, our ancestry and our legacies from the past. They freeze an instant in time and give us a window into the lives of those who came before us.

Historic photographs allow us to see our ancestors -- both famous icons and everyday folks -- as they appeared in either posed, staged photographs or in unguarded moments. We can see Abraham Lincoln sitting for his official presidential portrait, and we can see the world changing when the first landing craft dropped its ramp on the beach at Normandy on D-Day.

Through photographs, we can relive great moments in human history in exquisite detail. We can study Neil Armstrong's descent down the ladder to step onto the moon. We can imagine what it was like for him to lift his foot and see the first human footprint on the moon's surface.

Through these images, we see the birth of the space age and the dreams of a generation embodied in a single astronaut doing his job.

We can watch Lady Diana Spencer enter St. Paul's Cathedral in London, then exist as Diana, Princess of Wales. Every little girl's dream of becoming a princess shines through those images.

Celebrating photography is a celebration of the human race, the global family to which we all belong.

National Photography Month is a Celebration for All

National Photography Month is a time when photographers -- professional photographers, amateur shutterbugs, and selfie extraordinaires -- can focus on sharpening their skills.

May became National Photography Month in 1987 when Congress recognized the role photography plays in modern society. The American Photographers Association is one of the primary backers and supporters of Photography Month. Through it and other organizations and groups, the month is a time of activities, festivals, photography contests, and exhibits.

With the transition to digital imaging, interest in National Photography Month waned for a time. However, industry organizations saw the benefit of celebrating photography in all its forms, and National Photo Month as made a comeback since 2007. It now has a fresh, modern look for the digital age.

How to Celebrate National Photography Month

Professional photographers, including videographers, take part in activities in celebration of their art medium. But that doesn't mean amateur photographers and selfie enthusiasts can't participate. There are multiple ways to pay homage to the amazing contribution of photography to our world.

  • Photograph the normalcy of your life. You don't have to wait for a vacation or special event to take a photo. Capture the moments of your everyday life in unplanned, spontaneous snapshots.
  • Make a photobook. Most of us have a stash of photos stuffed in a closet somewhere. May is the perfect time to get them into a scrapbook or organized into a photobook.
  • Your pet. Internet sensation? Could your pet be the next "Grumpy Cat?" Who doesn't love pictures of adorable pets? Set up an Instagram account for your pet. The world is waiting for you to share the cuteness of your pet. It's wildlife photography from the comfort of your own home.
  • Make a family tree with photographs. Family trees are a great project for everyone in the household. Dig through old photos and take new ones to make a photo version of the traditional family tree.
  • Visit a photo gallery or museum. Some of the most iconic and inspiring works of art -- whether they're painted or photographs or film/video footage -- are on display in museums, art galleries, and local libraries. Make it a family outing to visit one near you for a trip through history and local culture.
  • Enroll in a photography course. Whether it's at a local college, online, at a local hobby store, or just a group of enthusiasts, get involved in photography through a course of your own. Whether traditional or digital, it's a skill you won't regret acquiring.

Get Involved

It doesn't matter what stage of life you're in, National Photography Month is a time for having fun and getting involved. Whether you're into old Polaroids or the latest iPhone, tap into your inner shutterbug during May and grab those perfect snapshots of your life. You'll thank yourself in the decades ahead.

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