Why do you photograph?

Self portrait of photographer wearing Fujifilm X100 t-shirt from Uniqlo

The reason that compels you to take photographs affects how you take your photographs.

Even before you decide how you take a photography, you need to ask yourself why. What is the purpose of taking such a shot? Different reasons have different expected outcomes. To achieve the expected result, you may have to shoot in a certain way.

Before I elaborate, let me briefly explain how this post came about. I dropped by at John 3:16 Photo Supplies two weeks ago and I met Liew Tong Leng. He is a veteran photographer whose name pops up regularly in regional photography competitions. I received some very useful pointers from him while he helped to explain the basics of photography to a lady.

A customer who was also listening to the impromptu lesson asked Liew for critique for some photos. After making a few comments, Liew posed a question: why do you photograph? He went on to briefly explain that it is important that you know why you shoot before you start taking pictures.

His question made me contemplate. And I decided to share my thoughts.

Why do people photograph?

Your goal for taking a photograph affects the decisions you make when you take the photograph. Everything you do in photography involves decisions. Some choices include the angle you shoot from, the composition of the image, the aperture size, the shutter speed, the focal length, how you make use of the lighting… and the list goes on.

Here are some purposes of photography that I can think of. There are probably many other possibilities that didn’t cross my mind. Feel free to point them out to me so I can add on to this list.

Remembrance – People take photographs as mementos of significant events in their lives, such as graduations and weddings.

Record – It could be photographs of your car as proof for insurance claim in the future. You could also be recording the progress of a particular activity.


Competition or Exhibition – This category requires you to fulfill certain criteria decided by the competition organizers.

Commercial – When you are being paid for your photographs, you are obliged to conform with certain restrictions or demands of the client, depending on the manner of work involved.

Fun – Photography should be for fun. That is the most important part of photography.

Before you take your next shot, bear in mind why you shoot and make take that into consideration when you take your shots.

Photography zen

Why you photograph affects your photography zen, which is what I call your unique style and the philosophy behind your shots. It is not a special term but one that I came up with in an attempt to describe my thoughts.

Lets take a look at Jingna, a.k.a zemotion, a famous young photographer. At a tender age of 21, she has already won several awards for her photographs. Her works are breathtaking. You have to see it to believe it. It is ” the happiness and joy (she) had in (her) heart when viewing beautiful things” that makes her photograph. To capture beautiful things. And capture she does.

My point is, when you know why you shoot, you will be able to find your own photography zen if you fuel your vision with passion. It will be very hard to achieve such zen if you do not know why you shoot.

Recently, I covered a car wash event. If I went there thinking that I’m just there to take photos of the event, I won’t be able to get myself into the groove. Instead, I was there to take photos of the participants having fun and engaging in teamwork to make the event a success. That made a difference and I knew the type of moments and scenes to look out for while I walked about.

Do you know why you shoot? Why do you shoot? Have you found your photography zen?

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