Shoot with a purpose

I’d say shoot to kill but it sounds too morbid, so I am sticking with purpose. 

Nowadays, carrying a camera around is easier than in the past, since so many people are using their smartphones to snap pictures. This is good in principle, because practice makes perfect, but we have to appreciate that there is bound to be a hell of a lot more pictures that are basically worthless and should be deleted immediately. Now that we’ve gotten this out of the way, let’s move on.

The one thing that helps most photographers (myself included) to get better and improve the quality of their images is shooting with a purpose. This means that there is a logic and a “theme” to their shooting. It does not have to be the same topic or theme throughout their entire life or throughout the day for that matter. But having something in mind helps a lot.

One of the most rewarding photographic experiences of my life was my participation for over three years in the Dogwood 52 week photo challenge, where each week the participants went out and shot a particular theme. You can check out my submissions to the challenge for every week of years 2016 through 2018 and about a third of 2019.

Having a topic in mind helps you focus and tune into potential images while at the same time filtering out all irrelevant distractions. Doing so for a whole week trains the mind to and the eye to search for images, or to set them up in a studio for that matter. It is a very powerful exercise and you can see the improvement as time goes by.

It doesn’t have to be a challenge though; it can be any number of different angles that you can employ in this endeavour. For example, you can decide to only shoot with a 35 mm or a 50 mm. You can opt to only shoot upright instead of “landscape” for a while and see where that gets you. You can try shooting only wide open or fully stopped down. You can decide to only shoot at night. With a flash. On a tripod. At ankle level. Over your head. With a drone. Only blondes. Or redheads. Let’s throw in brunettes for good measure. Only B&W. Street. Macro. Underwater. Well, you get the idea. Try stuff, explore different themes and concepts, see what intrigues you, stick with hit for a while and see the output of your work get better and better as time goes by.

This is what will help you not only discover where your true photographic interests lie but also develop your own personal style, which, at the end of the day, is all that matters.

So, yes, carry a camera or use your smartphone if you prefer (more on that another time), but as you head out for the day or for a trip or for any photo expedition (even to your backyard or the living room – doesn’t have to be a safari in Kenya) think ahead: what will I shoot and what am I trying to achieve.