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Why Am I Taking This Photograph?

One Man and His Dog Malvern Hills photograph by Steve Gosling'What should I photograph?'; 'How should I photograph it?'. These are questions I frequently get asked on my workshops. The 'what' is relatively easy to deal with - we should photograph what we are interested in, the subjects that we feel passionately about, the things about which we have something to say.

Photography is a form of communication so I believe there should be a purpose behind firing the shutter. Underpinning every successful image there should be an idea, thought, concept or emotion. If not then why are we making a photograph? 'I just like it' is not sufficient justification for getting the camera out. The most important question in the photographic process and one that doesn't get asked anywhere near frequently enough is, 'why am I photographing this subject?'.

If we are to avoid repeating the shots taken by others and if we desire to make our photographs more than a cliche we need to find our own unique response to what is before our camera. A technique I suggest to photographers struggling to find their own, individual take on a subject is to consider how they would describe it in the form of one, two or three words to someone who hasn't seen it (words, not sentences because sentences are not easy to convert into photographs). The next step (and by far the hardest part of the process) is to consider how then to portray those one. two or three words in a visual image. There is no easy way to master this skill - practice and experience are the keys to success.

Pastel Dawn Loch Leven Scotland photograph by Steve GoslingBut once we are clear about our purpose for photographing something; when we have decided what we want to communicate to the viewer of the image then the 'how should I photograph it?' question becomes much easier to answer. All decisions about composition, where to place the camera, what exposure is required, whether filters should be used or not etc etc are much easier to determine once we have clarified what we want to say.

Ideas, thoughts, concepts or emotions should be the beginning of our creative endeavours. A quote from Brooks Jensen (taken from his excellent book, 'Letting Go of the Camera'): -

'Photographs - at least good ones - are always about ideas; without ideas photographs are merely images. For an image to be idealess is as emasculating as a paragraph without a thought'.