The Purposeful Photographer

pollinator moth butterfly on jasmine flower

Shooting for myself brings a freedom to my work I never had in the past. When you shoot in a specific field, there seems to be a ton of rules you have to follow and there’s not a ton of room for something different. It can get suffocating.

I’ve been an art director for magazines for fifteen years. When I give directions to photographers, there’s certain shots I’m looking for. For instance, when someone is shooting for a cover, cleaner backgrounds, ample space around the subjects, and shot in portrait (long) are minimal requirements. These little rules build and build.

When I originally started my old photography business, a lot of these rules carried over into that work. Most of my portrait work, I was always “shooting for the cover.” Don’t get me wrong, this is probably much more helpful in portrait work than hurtful. I just imagined everything I shot how it would fit into a magazine layout.

So when I finally started shooting for myself, what changed?

wild confederate jasmine southern flowers

small red rose processed with vsco fuji 800

The quick answer, I had to shake off a lot of these rules I created for my own work. It changed little things like how I exposed an image, whether I framed an image in portrait or landscape, and just shooting for an emotion or feeling. This is my personal experience and I’m sure this process is actually the opposite for a lot of people.

As I continue shooting, though, the more I crave a purpose for my work. As much as I love creating for creation’s sake, I feel like there needs to be a bigger reason someone would want to look at my work. However, does the purpose need to be career or money related?

delicious bowl of mandarin orange slices cuties

freshly squeezed orange juice in a jug

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valencia oranges on an orange backdrop

Whenever we invest time into something, there needs to be some kind of pay off. We go to school, we get an education and a degree. We go to work, we get paid. We eat better, we lose weight. Whatever it is, that goal, that result, is a big motivation to keep going.

For some, there’s pure satisfaction for just practicing a skill but at the end of the day, I want to grow.

A friend of mine told me the other day that as long as I’m enjoying the process, just continue shooting because people are enjoying the photos I share. I 100% agree with this. I’m the worst at stopping to just smell the roses and enjoy each day for what it is. It’s something I have to be mindful of daily.

I’ll always be conflicted, though. Is it better to go with the flow and do it for yourself or will it lead to complacency and never achieving bigger and better things. In the end, it’s a question we have to ask ourselves—what do we actually want.

And knowing what we want can be the hardest thing to figure out.

valencia orange being picked

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The main thing is to not let the question of “why” you do something stagnate your process. Even if I’m not sure what my goal is right now, every photo I take is another step in growing as an artist. I’ve been dabbling in different processing techniques, subject matter, and lighting situations despite not having a “goal” for my work at the moment. These are things I may not have tried before and, who knows, maybe it’s exactly what I need right now to get to that next place in my journey.

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2 Comments

  • A good, thought-provoking article. I’ve come back to it a couple of times. I’ve shot for a couple of different reasons over the years, depending on what I was getting paid to do, and I’ve also floundered a bit when “shooting for myself” — catching myself being caught by the old rules. I’ve learned to just keep shooting through “it.” It is indeed part of one’s growth as an artist and can lead in indirect but meaningful ways of discovering one’s purposes in shooting. And I think it’s OK to have more than one purpose 🙂

    • I’m taken aback by such a thoughtful response. I’m glad to know I’m not alone. There’s so many little rules I’ve made subconsciously at this point. I’ve noticed people have said my photos look very clean and all I can think is that I try to keep things simpler in my photos so that text can lay on them without lots of heavy contrast. But when I notice that, I can try to change it though it’s tough.

      I think this topic was much bigger than an evening spent on a blog post. I feel like I meandered through a few different ideas. I agree more than one purpose is great when shooting but maybe it’s just harder to fulfill more than one goal at a time. And on the same note, shooting without a purpose is very difficult for me. I’ve always admired people who can take “snapshots.”

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