The Most Important Question In Photography – Why?

Eagle Photo by Scott Bourne

(I apologize in advance if this post comes off as preachy or is too ethereal. If it does, don’t blame the message – blame me as a failed messenger. It shouldn’t change the fact that the content is potentially valuable to you.)

As I’ve gained more experience as a photographer, I’ve learned that the question “WHY?” is easily the most important one to ask. I ask myself “why?” almost every day.

  • Why did I buy that piece of gear?
  • Why did I go to that place to make photos?
  • Why did I pick that subject to photograph?
  • Why did I choose that post-processing solution?
  • Why did I share my photos in that manner or place?

Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why” really informed pretty much how I look at the entire world now. Especially my photography. It boils down to one single truth.

People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.

With that in mind, I really started to analyze my own decisions. I got serious about this. I started building decision matrices and mapped out what my true motivations were. I added a dose of Michael Masterson‘s “BDF” formula (Believe, desire, feel) and came up with a list – a hard list – of why I (and many people) do the things we do.

It’s not a complete list – but it’s certainly long enough for a blog post and it’s honest – brutally honest….

  • To be appreciated
  • To be right
  • To feel important
  • To make money
  • To save money
  • To save time
  • To make work easier
  • To be secureTo be comfortable
  • To be distinctive
  • To be happy
  • To have fun
  • To gain knowledge
  • To be healthy
  • To gratify curiosity
  • For convenience
  • To be liked
  • Out of fear
  • Out of greed
  • Out of guilt

Some of these are fine reasons to do something – some of them are a little sad. Unfortunately, in the photography world, and because of the way “discussion” is carried out on the camera forums, for most people – especially newbies – the last few govern more decisions than all the others combined.

Much of what happens in photography (and from here on out in this post you can easily substitute the word “life”) is driven by fear.

Here’s an example…

“If I don’t get that new camera everyone will think I am lame – or my photos will suck – or I won’t be cool.”

As I said, very sad.

Marketers know this so they find something to make you fearful of – and then they offer a solution. Politicians also do a version of this. They focus you on something to be afraid of and then tell you the other guy is to blame for it.

Humans are silly – we actually fall for this stuff!

Once I figured all this out, I started making sure that I was happy with my own motivations and that I could articulate (with specificity) why I was doing the things I do. I decided to (as much as humanly possible) not let fear guide my actions. I also decided to be more deliberate in how I live my life.

It was at this time I came up with what I call my “Artist’s Statement.” I published this on my personal web site.

Cranes in the Fire Mist by Scott Bourne

The core idea of today’s post is to get you to move away from making photography related decisions based on manipulation (whether it be from forum trolls, marketing schemes, peer pressure or basic fear of failure) and move you to the point where you are making those decisions based on inspiration. For instance, because you have something important you want to say with your camera, or you want to concentrate on creating beauty so you can share your light in a very dark world.

I know some of you may think this is all mumbo jumbo, or needless touchy-feely stuff. There’s not much I can do about that. I can only hope that the few among you who are very serious about improving your photography will look past that and give the ideas I offer up here some serious thought. If you do, I am quite sure you will see more success and be happier in the process.

WHY – are you doing what you are doing? If you cannot answer that question, it may be time to re-evaluate and start down a new path.

Whatever you decide, I am rooting for you.


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