A fifth photographer’s problem

I have written extensively about what I describe as the four “photographer’s problems” (or questions.) These are issues that every serious photographer should consider regularly. I mention these in classes and during presentations to get photographers thinking about photography’s important issues, rather than obsessing about the gear they use. I am surprised to say that I am thinking of adding a fifth question, but I am not 100% sure. Writing this blog entry may help me think out loud, as I decide, four or five?

My four questions are obviously a riff on the four questions that are part of the ritual Seder (meal) at the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Passover’s four questions raise issues that Jews (and arguably all people,) should periodically ask themselves. My four questions for photographers raise similarly important ideas that all photographers should regularly revisit. These include:

• How do you get the person, place or thing that is in front of the camera onto the film, chip or paper in just the way you want?

• Exactly what it is you want to say with your photographs and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?

• How do you get paid to do what you want to do with your photography?

• What technology/software/camera gear will keep you focused on what you do best, as you solve these problems?

I believe all photographers should periodically ask themselves these questions regardless of the kind of photography they are doing and regardless of their skill level. Each one of these questions is worthy of a blog entry (or two.) Most of them have been the focus of such writing. To read the whole blog post, explaining those four questions (and why I like using them,) read the entire blog entry, The four questions each photographer should ask themselves at: http://thewellspoint.com/2010/03/26/the-four-questions-each-photographer-should-ask-themselves/

Recently, a friend wrote me, prompting me to think about adding a fifth question. His suggested I write a blog entry called:

“A photographer without a project is like a ….?”

He followed writing:

“Since my class with you, I have always been working on a project. First was …. Next was ………., followed by ….. which is losing steam rapidly. It is a bad feeling being project-less. ”

In answering him, I suggested it is not necessarily about “needing” a project or a goal, though having one may be helpful for sustaining motivation. Projects are good things because they challenge photographers to work on many different intellectual and creative levels. A good project requires exceptional photography but it may also require networking skills to get access, logistical skills to execute complex shoots, etc., etc., etc. The best projects help us grow as photographers and as people. But having a project is not the most necessary thing for every photographer.

To me, the most important thing any serious photographer should do is know themselves and their work well enough to understand exactly why they photograph!

For example, I make my living as a photographer, as I have blogged about extensively. But I do not primarily photograph for money. I photograph out of curiosity first and foremost. I photograph because doing so takes me to new places, into the lives of others and generally on what I think of as little adventures. I do a great deal of street photography, which is at its core an unending series of those same small adventures and surprises.

Other photographers pursue their work for other reasons. For example, many sports photographers love the game, the competition, and their photography is merely a tool to be part of it. You can say the same about travel photographers who use the medium to satisfy their urge to see new places. Portrait and wedding photographers tend to be people photographers and that shows in their work.

So the real question is what part of the photography keeps you motivated and excited? Do you do it for money, for the joy of interacting with new people or because you like the problem solving challenge. (Do not underestimate this last one!) Is the finished print what turns you on and are all the steps along the way just things you need to do get to the best part? Is the magic found in turning your wildest act of imagination into a fixed image? Is photography an excuse to be alone? Does it serve as a shield against the horror you confront, if you are working as a photojournalist? I could go on and on. This is a question where there is no “right” answer!

The sooner each photographer digs deep and figures out why they photograph, the sooner they will be on their way to being the best photographer they will eventually become. Many photographers photograph for multiple reasons, but if you dig far enough, you will find the prime reason you photograph (as well as developing a better appreciation of the other reason(s) you photograph.

I am not 100% sure I want to add a fifth question, but that may just me being stubborn. If I did, it would be something like “What drives you to photograph?” The argument against a fifth question is that “Four questions” does have a certain ring to it. On the other hand, that may only because of my Jewish heritage and my experiences (largely positive) with Passover Seders (meals.)

Any question that makes for better photography (and happier photographers) is probably worth asking so I guess I will be adding that question, “what drives you to photograph” to my presentations.

One response to “A fifth photographer’s problem”

  1. I am happiest when photographing. “The fifth question” challenges me to ask – why?
    The reason/s could be surprising.

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