People Don’t Want To Know What You Photograph

Bird Photo by Scott Bourne

People Don’t Want To Know What You Photograph

(They want to know WHY you photograph…)

I’ve written about the WHY of things before. And most of my inspiration for those posts is from Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” ( It’s one of the most important books I’ve read in terms of moving both the financial and the creative side of my life.

Today I want to talk about the simplest application I can think of for Simon’s book.

Let’s talk about Artist Statements. Do you have one? It’s far more important than your ABOUT page.

Bird Photo by Scott Bourne

Depending on your goals, you may consider your photography anywhere from casual to serious. Maybe you just want to share photos with friends and family and call it a day. Or maybe you may have dreams of turning pro, or being published, or having a gallery exhibition. If your goals run to the latter, an artist statement might help.

If you have a blog, portfolio or any other kind of Web page online that you use as a way to share your work, you probably have (or have thought about having) an ABOUT page. Most everyone has one. But most of the ABOUT pages I read tell me the WHAT. Photographers often tell us WHAT they shoot with or WHAT subject they like to photograph or WHAT sort of style they use…

In my experience, people who are interested in following your work are far more interested in the WHY you do what you do than the WHAT. Our society has focused so much on the what – that we generally default to that when describing ourselves. “I am a bird photographer.” That tells you the what, but not the why. When I look at where I’ve found critical or commercial success, it’s always been tied to me sharing the WHY not the what.

Bird Photo by Scott Bourne

I’ve been sharing this concept with the photographers that I mentor for many years, and it’s proven to be successful. So successful that I constantly edit my own WHY. I want to keep it up to date and highly tuned.

I also prefer to use an “Artist Statement” as opposed to an ABOUT page. You can argue whether or not you think you or I qualify as an “artist.” I personally will leave that discussion to others. For my purposes, being an artist is all about intent. And proving that you have artistic intent usually is heavily tied to being to being able to articulate, with great specificity, the why.

This is a deep topic but I can whet your whistle with this short discussion and my own (recently updated) Artist Statement.

Perhaps it will motivate you to come up with one of your own. Remember – people care less about what you do than they do WHY you do it.


For me, bird photography as art is about two connecting themes: extraordinary craftsmanship in terms of technical mastery of photography and a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of the nature behind the image.
At a deeper level, however, I pursue this art form because of its almost religious qualities.

One day, I can have a vision in my mind that represents a photograph I want to make. This vision exists only in my head and my heart – it’s a silent vision which has the power to bring me out into the field, month after month, and year after year, for a chance to turn that vision into something tangible that I can meaningfully share with others.

The other religious aspect of my work is focus and devotion to an idea over which I have absolutely no control. None.

I learn all that I can about the natural factors behind each photographic opportunity, but I never know how they will play out. My artistry focuses on the beauty of things which are random. Avian subjects operate within their own free will, on their own time and according to millions of years of genetic imprinting. In short – the bird flies its own path and it’s highly unlikely that I can have any real influence over that path.

This is different than working in a photography studio where I have control over the set, the model and the lights. As a photographer who makes avian art, my gift is to know how to “show up prepared” to interact with beauty that I do not control. I must learn to be at peace with my subject on their terms, not on mine. In other words, the only way to be successful is for me to give up all control. The feeling of peace I get when I find that perfect space is worth more to me than gold.

I am just human and heavily flawed, and I struggle with finding the patience and the path. But when that struggle becomes the hardest, I remember my calling. I speak for the creatures which have no voice. Perhaps this is why the experience is so emotional for me. It matters.

Each time I get to a perfect moment and capture that moment with my camera, I experience joy as well as sadness. I am joyful because the finished work provides me (and others) with a lifelong memory of a successful vision. But I also feel sadness that the pursuit is over.

After that moment, the cycle begins again, and I launch the pursuit of the next creative vision. I hope to share that vision well enough that others may someday wish to help speak for the birds too.

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