The “Why” of Photography

When I am out with my camera, creating photographs, I find one of the most important questions I can ask myself is “Why?”. Not so much “why am I taking photos?” but rather “Why am I taking this photo? Why does this scene inspire me?” which makes me pause and think about what in the scene it is that really interests me, inspiring a slew of other questions that can help me take a better picture in the end.

Is it how the subject blends with its background, or is it how it stands out from the background? If it’s about how it stands out, that can make me rethink my composition, my aperture, even the lens I am using. Why does it stand out, and how can I emphasize it in my picture. How can I draw people’s eyes to it. Should I blur the background? Or try for detail in it, that may just distract from the main subject? Which elements of the background will either add or detract? This helps me choose what angle I will be shooting my image from, and how much depth of field I want.

Once you realize what is important to the image that you see in your mind, you can begin to find a way to make those same factors important when your shutter clicks. The “why” helps to filter the image in the mind.

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
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4 Responses to The “Why” of Photography

  1. animalartist says:

    Galen, I always enjoy your photos and your commentaries, even if I don’t have the time to say anything.

    My question in this instance is, “What do I want this image to say?” Sometimes it’s just that it’s a particularly beautiful scene, sometimes it needs a little more “focus”.

    • For me, “What do I want this image to say” and “Why do I like this image” are two sides of the same question. They are a way of helping us “focus” on what is important in the scene to each of us… our own internal editor

  2. I am still in the ‘how’ stage of my photography. Too much thinking, taking into consideration the why, what, when and where also, can stifle, confound or confuse those beginning to get a handle on the ‘how’. I think getting to where you are, and probably most of your readers, the ‘why’ stage comes much easier and is a great question to ask when you know what choices will absolutely produce the desired results – when you finally decide on the why of the image.

    I am finding that learning more of the ‘how’ leads to ‘why’. Inspiration is all around and that I think, is the best part of ‘why’. Often inspiration presents itself, and the ‘how’ befuddles when the ‘how to’ is put forth in my case. I also agree with animalartist. Great photographers like yourself can produce images with a story. That answers all the questions.

    • Thanks Donna. I think for me the “how” and the “why” are sort of a circular question, a snake biting its own tail. The why leads me to how I want to photograph something, and the how then often leads me to ask why I want to photograph something so that I can better figure out how… And then there are just too many darn questions, and somebody better just push the shutter release button or the when will be missed.

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