Important Questions Photographers Should Ask Themselves

When it comes to improving photography skills, I find that a lot of newcomers are asking all the wrong questions. I understand that learning about your gear, how to fully master your cameras and lenses and get the best out of them is important, but photography is an art form and there are a lot of other important things to learn and consider, outside of just gear obsession. In this blog entry I want to discuss the more critical questions that you should be asking yourself, if you are a photographer and you want to take your game to the next level. 

I have also made a video (click) on this topic, for those of you who prefer to listen to my voice while multitasking, doing other things at the same time. I am not here to judge, so I provide options. 

The most common question that I get is - what is your camera settings for this image? How did you manage to capture this photograph? More often than not, it was the how, the technique, that most people are interested in, especially beginners and newcomers. I understand that technicalities cannot be avoided, but allow me to steer you off to a more important question that can make all the difference - what are you shooting?

The subject content in your photograph is the most important consideration of your photography. You must know what you are shooting. Most people don't pay enough attention to this and just worry on getting the shot, without knowing what they are doing in the first place. Deciding what to include in your photograph is the most important thing to do, and you should do that first before deciding how to capture the image. The problem with not deciding your subject first - your images come out looking empty, with no focus, no emphasis on important subjects, just random sunset, another landscape shot of the buildings in the city, another normal scene on the streets, another portrait of a beautiful model, but nothing else significant. 

Decide on the story that you want to tell, do you have an idea that you want to express? Or is that feeling or emotion that you want to convey through your photographs? Photography is a powerful medium to tell stories and you can use that to your advantage, if you know what the story is that you want to tell first. If you are shooting portraits, what is it that you want to tell about the people in your photographs? If you are shooting a location landscape, what is special about this location that you want your viewers to see? The "what" is a very powerful question that you must not ignore, it will make all the difference!

I certainly hope it is not due to peer pressure. My friend has one, I want one too. It looks cool to own a DSLR or mirrorless camera, let me get one, just because I can afford it. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I hope if you are serious about photography, you will evolve beyond these initial reasons. 

The worst trap that I have seen a lot of photographers fall into, is the FOMO (fear of missing out). They see some YouTuber celebrity use a new camera and they must own that. Oh wow that is a new shiny looking drone, let's get one. The YouTuber shows some nice drone footage, and everyone wants to be able to fly a drone and get that eagle's eye footage. But why? Why do you want a drone? Just simply because you saw another photographer doing it and you want to do the same?  You got some nice aerial shots with that new expensive drone, and that's it? What are you doing with the drone after that? Are you going to tell people that the reason you are doing photography is because you got influenced by that celebrity YouTuber who has 1 million subscribers? You have got to be able to think a little bit further beyond that, figure out your own reasons for purchasing any gear. 

Everyone comes into photography from different background, and picks up the camera and shoots for different reasons. Your photography may not be the same with mine, and that is perfectly fine, but you need to know your "why". Understanding yourself is the key to improving your craft. If your purpose of buying the camera is to capture precious moments of your newborn baby growing up, then you should be focusing your learning or skills on family portraits, or capturing moments. You need to have a genuine reason to do your photography, then you have a genuine room to grow. 

Having an audience is important. It is like singing, it would be sad if you have a great song, and an amazing voice, but no one listens to you when you perform. Photography is a two way street, you shoot, and then you share your photographs, there will be other parties to view your images. Even if it is as simple as shooting some nice photographs for friends, and just a few people enjoying your photography, that is a valid audience. 

Growing your audience is the next step. You have a lot of tools today, and it is not difficult to find people who like your photography - social media is a great platform to showcase your photography work. Instagram, Facebook, even YouTube, you can find people who come and appreciate your photography. Then it comes to this important question - are you shooting to please your audience, or are you shooting truly for yourself? There is no easy, clear cut answer to this. 

If you just shoot for yourself and don't care about what others think, then your audience will look away and won't come back for your work, because you don't do enough to connect with them through your photography. On the other extreme end, if you only shoot to please your audience, you know what they want to see and you constantly obsess with the "likes", "comments" and positive validation, it will burn you out very fast because you are not doing what you want. There has to be a compromise between doing what you love, and shooting for others, and the balance is not always 50/50. The important thing to remind yourself is not to lose yourself completely, you still have to be you, and you must have your own voice. 

Knowing your goals, or deciding your direction very early in your photography journey can be beneficial. You can focus your energy and not waste time on things that do not help your progress. 

Ultimately, you have to ask yourself, what do you want to accomplish as a photographer? It is not that difficult of a question to answer. Do you want to be exhibited in a gallery? Do you want to publish a photography book? Do you want to win a photography contest? Answering these questions can lead you much closer to your goals. Of course, please don't be greedy and take all of them all at the same time. 

Say, you want to work hard to have your onw solo exhibition. Then you need to start to look at all the right places and find the right connections. Visit your local galleries, get to know the right people managing and curating these galleries. Attend the exhibition talks, look at the images that are being exhibited, the standard, level of photography that is acceptable to the gallery, and spend time speaking to the artists, photographers, and more importantly the curators of the gallery on how they select, sequence and arrange the images, Learn how exhibitions work, how to they select or feature artists in their upcoming calendar slots. You need to find an opening, you need to get your name out there, people don't just come to you and ask "hey your photos are nice, let's do an exhibition!" You need to work hard and earn your spot! 

Similarly, if you want to publish a book, then start reading more photography books. Observe the pattern on how the projects fall into place, it is not a short term thing, photo books usually feature long term projects. Look at how the images come together as a project, and also start communicating with the photographers whom you admire that have been published! They can be reached via Twitter, emails, or any other means, we are living in the digital era, and you can ask for some pointers.

Want to win a photo contest? Then study the past winners of that particular contest. Find out who the judges are for the coming contest, study their background and visit the contest events, if any, get to know the people and ask them questions, do not be passive! 

I think a lot of photographers these days feel so entitled, that they think they are so good, and people should just award them for the amazing photography work that they do. Photography is not just instant gratification, there is a lot more than that. Want an exhibition? Work hard and earn it. Want to win a photo contest? Study and understand the contest and give yourself a winning chance! Nothing comes easy, awards and titles don't just fall down miraculously from the sky. 

This is perhaps, one of the least asked questions, but ranked no less than any other questions in this blog entry. There is no point in pursuing photography if you do not have the passion to do it. Without passion, photography is cold, and soulless. 

You cannot fake passion. You either have it, or not. You can see the passion in the photographers from the way they talk about their photography work. The length that they were willing to go to get the shots, how much they have sacrificed or how involved they were with their work, you just feel the passion through and through. Real photographers talk about photography, not gear. 

Passion may not just happen right away. Some photographers develop their passion much later on, and it is only genuine passion that you can be driven far. The passion is much like the "force" in the Star Wars universe, the passion will sustain you, and it will open doors, create miracles and you will find yourself accomplishing great feats. You will not turn pro and be an award winning photographer overnight of course, it is a slow, burning process, but passion is a constant that will continuously drive you to your goals. 

Those were the 5 important questions to ask yourself, if you want to improve your photography. 

Do you agree with the questions, or if you have further thoughts, I'd love to hear your opinion, share them in the comments. 

The most important thing, at the end of the day, is to love what you do, and truly enjoy photography. Shutter therapy must go on!

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