Who, What, Where, When... Why?

I recently listened to a brilliant podcast from the guys over at The Togcast where Charlie Waite interviewed Paul Sanders and threw him straight in at the deep end with the fantastic question "Why do you need to photograph?". It got me thinking...

I want to photograph because I can't actually do anything else, I've never wanted to do anything else, it's like a burning passion within me.. When I take pictures I feel properly connected with who I really am, and what the world is all about.

Paul Sanders, ep #42 Togcast

Before I started out on my own photography journey I naively assumed that you could become a very successful photographer just by taking a photo and sharing it online, with little to no effort required after the shot had been taken & processed. But, having picked Facebook as my photo sharing platform on which to build an audience, it quickly dawned on me that people really like knowing the story "behind the image", so I found myself turning into a story teller. These "stories" always covered the basic building blocks - who is in the image, what is this an image of, where was it taken, and finally - when. These blocks were - 9 times out of 10 - covered with a single line "X taken at sunrise this morning" or "Sunset at Y last night", etc. The early days of my photography journey found me taking shots of familiar places in Dorset, so often the "What" and "Where" could be combined (most people know where Durdle Door and Corfe Castle are!). I noticed a lot of other togs following the same template, too - but these stories almost always (and certainly on my own part continue to do so) exclude the big question in a good story: why?..

It's such a big question, Why did I take that photo of Durdle Door? - there may be a topical answer to the question, like I've never seen Durdle Door covered in snow before or; because the angle of the sun meant the sun would rise through the arch., but on a much deeper level, and going back to the original question, why do I need to photograph? Or; why do I want to photograph?

For me, the answer to the question is always evolving, and some may associate it with a maturing in my attitude toward photography. The answer in the early days was most definitely: because I want to be noticed, I want people to know who I am as a photographer... After a few months I'd started to build up a portfolio of work, and a small following of people who liked my work, so the answered morphed into: because I want to sell prints, I want to make money & a career from photography... At this point in my history as a photographer I "discovered" Twitter, and the various forms of competitions hosted on there on a weekly basis, like WexMondays, Fotospeed's print monday and ShareMondays, so the answer once again morphed into because I want to win competitions & be noticed.. This stance almost amalgamates the first 2, I wanted to win competitions so my name would be known, and I would sell more prints as a result.. These changing attitudes I think were reflected in the work I was producing, for example - when I wanted to sell prints, I'd choose to photograph locations that I thought had "mass" appeal, and hence would sell. When I was trying to win competitions I'd pick locations that perhaps reflected previous winners or compositions that were known to be preferred by judges on the panel..

Without knowing it, and without explicitly saying it in my image stories, I was always answering why..

What I'm starting to learn, however, is that the answer should really only be shooting for yourself - not for other people. I've seen a number of incredibly talented photographers try (and fail) to win competitions, and sometimes people take it personally because they are taking photographs for other people, not themselves. It's a pretty dangerous trap to fall into and can lead to you devaluing your own work based on the opinions of other people, and trying to do and shoot something that isn't your style.

A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.

Edward Steichen

I hope that people who look at my recent work would answer the question Why does Daniel Sands takes photographs? with the simple answer - because he enjoys it. Hey, maybe even "because he's good at it", but not "because he's trying to win X" or "because he wants to sell Y". How do you think your followers, or friends, would answer the question about you and your work? How would you answer the question about yourself right now?

I don't think there's any right or wrongs in photography, nor do I claim to have all the answers (I wish I did!), I'm just wanting to share my own views and experience, in an open and honest manner, I think photography has awesome power, not just in the viewer, but in the taker.

That's all for now, I hope you're enjoying reading my random thoughts!

If you'd like to leave a comment please get in touch via email, Twitter or Facebook.

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