Not Having a Photographic Why is a Big Mistake to Avoid in Photography

Sunrise over the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia. Photograph in color by Amar Guillen, artist photographer.
Sunrise over the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia.

Error #2 to Avoid in Photography: Failing to Find a Good Reason to Create Photos

Strangely enough, when I ask photographers why they take pictures, the only answer they can give me is a long introspective silence.

Have you ever asked yourself this essential question of why you practice photography?

Some people answer this question by saying that it helps them to relax, take their mind off things, and to think about something else for a change. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these answers, but for me, I must object. For me, they are insufficient.

If you do not have a photographic purpose, then you are committing one of the three fundamental errors of photography. It is essential to have a solid photographic purpose.

The reason is simple. If you do not know why you are doing something, how can you come close to reaching a goal and attaining a photographic vision of success?

In the context of photography, without a strong photographic purpose, you will not succeed in creating relevant, consistent, and coherent series.

Your photographic “why” or purpose will profoundly define why you take your camera and venture onto the field.

Without it, you will certainly create some interesting pictures, but these moments of success will be brief, unpredictable, and inconsistent. The photographic “why” is your main strength, it is like a motto that will allow you to define your attachment to photography. It is the one that will motivate you, push you to move forward, and to work towards your next goal.

The photographic “why” may also motivate you to fulfill the goals you have in your own life. You might have already asked yourself what the meaning of your life is, why you get up every morning, and why you chose certain paths. Your photographic activity may help you to define your purpose in life.

If you have not already done so, I advise you to define clearly and precisely your photographic “why”.

In doing so, you will avoid one of the three fundamental mistakes in photography. You will only be able to improve yourself and create interesting photos for your audience.

Error #3 to Avoid in Photography: Not Being in the Action

In the description of the first two mistakes, I shared some advice on how to find simple solutions. Reading, learning, and thinking is an excellent start to developing a method.

But never forget that acting will truly enable you to be effective and achieve real results.

This is not true in the definition of your photographic artistry or your photographic “Why”, it is also true in all fields.

I will always remember meeting a photographer in Yosemite, California. I was taking some landscape photos when he approached, and we began a conversation.

I remember I could not say a word. He asked me why I was not photographing the waterfalls that were so numerous in this region.

I did not have time to answer him before he began explaining the technique of long exposure to create a dreamlike and unreal atmosphere with the waterfalls.

For almost 15 minutes, he gave me a lecture on the pros and cons of this photo technique by explaining the choice of photo filters, the right speed, the calculation of exposure time, the management of depth of field, and the composition.

In the meantime, he had taken out his phone to show me his photographic portfolio. Not seeing any long exposure photos, I asked him if he could show me some so that I could experience an expert’s application of skills. I think it is always helpful to learn from others.

I was incredibly surprised that he had not discovered his purpose yet. He had an encyclopedic culture on the technical subject, but he had not acted according to a defining “why”.

I could explain further, but I think you understand what I meant.

During my photo workshops I always tell the participants that:

  • Knowledge without action is worthless.
  • Learning without application is useless.

I advise you to always learn and deepen your knowledge, but to act and check that you are on the right track.

If you are content to acquire encyclopedic skills on technical subjects without applying them with a central purpose in mind, then you will be wasting time.

This is true for:

  • The approach to photographic creation.
  • The shooting.
  • The editing.
  • The development.
  • The printing on paper.
  • The presentation of your photographs.

Always apply what you have learned. Always practice what you have just learned.

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I hope you now understand the three fundamental errors in the approach to photographic creation.

For the record, remember the effects of:

  • The absence of a photographic artistry.
  • The absence of a photographic “why”.
  • The lack of action.

I hope I have convinced you that it was essential for you to find answers to these questions or to correct your shortcomings.

You absolutely must act if you really want to create interesting photos for your audience and viewers. You need to adopt a method by writing down all the ideas on paper or on your computer.

Come up with simple ideas to implement before you go out into the field.

Next, prepare your sessions or new photo project according to this method.

Finally, you will apply everything you have learned in the field. You will implement your strategy and methodology.

By avoiding these three mistakes, I guarantee that your photographs will be more interesting and will have more impact. This is what happened to me many years ago now. If it happened for me, it could happen for you.

Be humble, patient, constant, persevering, and persistent because the road to excellence is long.


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