The Six Steps to Creative Mastery – 5: What’s Your ‘Why’

As we near the end of this mini series on the 6 steps to mastery I’m going to talk a little about the reason behind our photography. What is it all about? Why are we driven to share images with the world? Or perhaps more specifically why do we take photos in the first place?

These are never easy questions to answer but if we have a clear idea of what it is that drives our creativity, what it is we want to say, we’ll be better able to create shots with meaning. After all, photography is a means of communication as is any art. We choose to show photos because there’s something in them that we want to share.

Reviewing the ‘Why’

Once we know how to create a photograph and have the inspiration to know what to shoot it becomes a valuable practice to review the ‘why’. If we’ve adopted a project based shooting strategy we can explore the ‘why’ of each project in addition to the bigger picture within which our creativity sits.

Our reasons don’t need to be big worthy ones. It’s more important to be honest in our appraisal. ‘I take photos to ensure I carve out regular time for myself’ is a great one. Acknowledging that our photography feeds and nurtures us in this way is a healthy driver for our work and adds real value to it, this alone will make it more important that we continue on our creative path.

To help refine our reason it can be beneficial to spend time with our subject, seeing it as more than just a thing to take a photo of. Before beginning the process of compositional evaluation take some time out to simply be present with the land, the flora, the fauna or whatever it is  you are choosing to shoot. Work out what  your connection is, what strands of commonality flow between you both, what is being communicated here.

Share Time and Space

I often liken it to a portrait session. We have two basic choices. Firstly we can work with the person in a very impersonal way, paparazzi style and just grab an image of their likeness perhaps also in the way that many school style photographers have to work due to time constraints. Or we can share some time and space with the person, begin to get under their skin and know the truth of them rather than the surface mask. This will always result in a more telling set of portrait shots.

Try applying the same connection process with your subject, whatever that may be. One student of mine commented on how his photos of nature were always bland and lacking emotion. He mentioned how the only good shots he took were those of his wife so I suggested he try to see the beauty in the tree that was in front of him, to ‘fall in love with it’ even. Immediately, by slowing down, he began to see more depth and it showed in the next set of shots.

Feeling the Difference

When approaching a subject it’s good to try to touch base with our emotional response and to feel what our subject would like our photos to say about it. This may all sound quite ‘woo woo’ and esoteric but give it a go. See and feel the difference it makes. You may find the slowing down involved takes you out of your head space into a deeper realm of emotional connection. The ‘process’ becomes as personally important as the end result.

Related to the concept of the ‘why’ of our photography is the choice of who we take photos for. If we are to capture our own authentic creativity in our craft it’s important that we shoot for ourselves rather than for social media, friends, potential buyers or even clients. This is where our growth will be. Even as a professional it’s important to spend a fair amount of time shooting for our own enjoyment, experimentation and progress.

By doing this we can find our own style, craft images which have something to say and that fulfill our own agenda. This is what the waiting world wants, not more chocolate box shots.