Why I Take Photos

I believe answering the question presented in the title of this article is one of the most important exercises any serious photographer can undertake. 

You should answer the question write it down and keep it in sight to remind yourself why you are investing money and time in this hobby.

This is especially important when you are in a creative rut, feeling imposter syndrome, or start chasing likes and followers on social media. 

This isn’t to say that your “Why” can’t change or be modified as you progress as a photographer. But chances are the root reason you take photos will remain pretty much the same. 

When we start our photography journey everything we experience from the equipment, software, all of the locations, the different genres of photography, and the processes are new and exciting. The learning curve is steep but we improve quickly and the advancement and progression keep us interested and looking forward to the next photographic opportunity.

Bucktail Falls with autumn leaves

However after a while, the newness wears off, progression and improvements slow down as we become better photographers, and the drive to get out there a create new images, especially in the same old locations, lessens. We can lose our way.

I have not reached that point yet. But even after less than a year I find myself pressing the shutter button less often and am more picky on the subject I photograph.

Today (the day I’m writing this article) I watched a video by William Patino related to this subject. What I took from the narrative is that reminding ourselves of the reasons we started to take photography seriously is a great way to find our way back to being more creative and enjoying the hobby as we did in the beginning. 

Below is that video if you’d like to watch it.

Keeping Myself Centered on My Why

I will document My Why later in the article, but first I want to tell you why Will’s video struck a chord with me. 

For most of my life, I have taken “snapshots” of things I like. Mostly nature, things like interesting or colorful subjects. Many times scenes that for all intents and purposes have no subject other than the scene itself is the subject. I mean why can’t a wide-angle scene be the subject? Does a subject have to be a tree, animal, color, or mountain? Can’t the subject be the amalgamation of everything? Or a holistic view that catches my eye where all the pieces make up the subject.

I guess this can be the subject of another article.

The reason I’m asking these questions is because of the compositional education that I’ve taken. Trust me this seemingly tangent will relate to My Why.

I’ve been taught that a good composition has balance, and draws the viewer into the photo by a leading line or series of lines or shapes to a subject. Once the viewer is drawn to the subject we keep them in the frame by using dark features that act like eye blocks. These darker blocks can also lead the viewer to the subject or highlight the reason we took the photo. 

Yes, this is an oversimplification, and there can be other compositional elements in our photographs. But let’s not be comment keyboard warriors here and agree in general terms most professional photographers and especially photographic judges state that a photo needs a main subject.

artistic cedar trees

I joined the Syracuse Camera Club this year. One of the reasons I joined was that they have monthly competitions that are judged by experienced, non-member, professionals. I believe the feedback and critiques I get back from my entries will improve my photography.

Some of the feedback has been editing advice – some helpful and some not. Other critiques have said my photo lack a main subject and the judge didn’t know where to let their eyes go. 

Another issue some of my photos have is that I need to make the shot more interesting by changing the height of the camera. Even in some photos where I did make an effort to get a lower point of view. I will however say that even though I like my photo maybe another angle would have been better.

The judge is only making a point in saying that the photo would be more interesting if taken from a different angle. The judge often states that they are unsure if that is possible due to cliffs, water, trees, etc. but in their opinion, the photo could be improved. They are looking for perfection and if the natural environment doesn’t allow for the perfect photo of that subject to be taken, well find a different subject for submission to the competition.

Often this is hard to hear as you know you did your best with the photo but as competitors this part of the game if you will. 

All my life as an observer of nature, a scientist, and an environmental consultant I have taken thousands of photos documenting plants, animals, rocks, geological processes, spills, environmental and engineering issues, and countless other things from the human perspective. 

Basically, I took a snapshot. 

So that is a tough habit to break even though I know better when trying to take an interesting landscape or nature photograph.

Cranberry Lake from suspension bridge

So What Does This Have to Do With My Why?

The reason, or why I take photographs is to document something, whether that be a scene, plant, animal, rock formation, sunset or sunrise, anything natural, and share the image so those that never get into nature can at least see the beauty and wonders of the natural world.

In a deeper sense, the woods is where I feel most at home. Even nature centers are better than being where there is pavement, houses, people, and noise. I call these nature centers with their stone dust trails, stairs, and bridges faux nature. Yet I realize these places might be the only nature most people get to see and that is good, but for me, the best places are off the trail where few venture. This isn’t to say I won’t go to State Parks or Land Trusts to enjoy the woods and photograph, but I feel much freer in places with no trails.

Now getting into the woods isn’t why I photograph. Photography might be a catalyst for me to get off my ass and get into the woods, but the reason I take images of the places I go is to share them. It makes me feel good when someone says thanks for sharing that picture I’ve never seen that. Or I could never get to that location. 

If they appreciate the beauty and wonders of nature they might be enticed to get outside and wander, or maybe even start to understand how nature works. Something that is appreciated is more likely to be saved or preserved.

Modifying My Why

I said my Why is to document a natural subject or scene. You can equate documenting to a snapshot if you will. Meaning there might not be what an expert photographer would call a good composition. However, my goal is to convert the documentation of a subject into a more pleasing composition.

Improving the composition of my images will also lead to me becoming a better photographer and hopefully reach more people who can enjoy the natural world. 

So the first modification of My Why is to focus on presenting a natural subject in a pleasing image for all to enjoy and share on my website, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, X, and Vero.

FB and Instagram are where most of my friends can see the images, and Flickr, X, and Vero are more to draw in new people to my work.

My Why Statement

So My Why is to share all of the things I see and think are cool with my friends and anyone who wants to follow me on my website and socials.

Not all of these images will be compositional masterpieces because some scenes are too chaotic and busy to look good to expert photographers. Yet, they still are beautiful and wondrous and should be shared. 

This is why I have galleries on my website dedicated as favorites or to a genre of nature of my better-composed photos and other monthly image galleries where I post so-so images for those that enjoy nature as it is a busy chaotic place with a lot going on.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not the compositional police.

Todd Marsh

I will continue to enter photograph competitions not for the purpose of winning or gaining photography clout if you will, but rather to listen to the critiques of those with more experience than I have and improve my skills as a photographer.

I also think along with posting why we take photos it is important to let those that look at our processed images know what we do in the editing process. What is our goal with the RAW images we capture and how do we modify them? 

You can read about how I plan on editing photos in the following article.

How Do I Edit My Photos (to be published soon).

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