Why Do Photographers Shoot?

Why Do Photographers Shoot?

There are all kinds of photographers out there. Those who shoot fashion, products, street, editorial, and all manner of other genres. There are those who trust Canon, those who worship Sony, and those who swear a Leica is the only camera you need. We all have our different gear and varied subjects, but there is one thing that unifies us all. We all make photographs. What is it that makes all these different photographers with their myriad gear make photographs? Why do they release the shutter?

American photographer Garry Winogrand is often quoted as saying that he photographed things just to see what they looked like when photographed. This simple approach gave him all the excuses needed to play with the techniques he did. The slices of life he captured tell us stories that were contained within the frame he chose. As viewers, we can only guess at what he was trying to show, but as the artist, he had a clear idea of why he did what he did.

I sat down to answer this question about myself in a moment of reflection and began to wonder about other photographers I know and respect. Their work is vastly different from mine, and that cannot simply be situational. What makes them choose their subject matter? What makes them post-process things the way they do? So, after setting out on my own internal journey, I contacted four people who I know and admire as photographers to hear what they had to say on the subject. 

My Case

Personally, I photograph things for their intrinsic value. We as humans have a love for recording our history reminiscing about it in future days. For me, photography plays that role. It allows me to capture moments the way I see them and immortalize them for my viewers. When I shoot, the first thought I always have is, "That is worth recording."

Moreover, I am a curious person, but also one who lacks the self-confidence to have the interactions that lead to satisfying that curiosity. Photography gives me the excuse to push myself into situations I would never be in, otherwise. It allows me to satisfy my curiosity. 

These two things combine to push me into finding subjects that both interest me and potentially won't be around for much longer. In my work, I love to photograph young children. They change so quickly, and the joy we are able to experience by spending time with them is a drug like no other. For my personal work, I look for disappearing lifestyles and cultures. All of these things are fleeting and allow me to extend my curiosity into the lives of others. 

Andrew Faulk

My good friend Andrew Faulk is an exceptional photographer. He shoots everything that tickles his fancy and does it with never-ending passion. His ability to adapt, understand the essence of a subject, and draw out what he needs from it is what sets Faulk apart from other photographers. Here’s what he had to say about why he shoots:

Photographers are chameleons that adapt to their surroundings. I hate being static and enjoy the many hats I get to wear as a photographer. It doesn’t matter what I am shooting as long as I am behind the lens. The moment I pick up my camera, I feel as though I have entered a warp zone where time no longer exists and daily stressors vanish. Everything becomes quiet. With each press of the shutter, I eject, hitting a momentary escape hatch from myself. That fix of augmented time is a drug and the disassociation from myself is a dragon I want to chase.

Etienne Bossot

Etienne Bossot is a French photographer and tour operator based out of Hoi An, Vietnam. His talent for composition, anticipating moments, and quickly putting his subjects at ease shines through in his work. His Pics of Asia tours have been successfully drawing participants from all over the world for six years and it's not just because of his stellar images, Etienne is a fantastic teacher. For him, photography isn't about the images. When you meet him, you get a sense of how down to earth and focused on human experiences he is. This is what separates Etienne's work. 

It is more about everything that comes with photography than the act of taking photos, and that is what I love about travel photography. The experience we live, the people we meet, the places we discover because we want to take interesting pictures is what makes it all worthwhile.

Fer Juaristi

I first met Fer Juaristi at a workshop he was co-teaching in Seoul seven years ago. His passion for life and beauty was the first thing I felt from Fer. In the middle of our workshop, a jackhammer began pounding the pavement at some nearby roadworks. Juaristi instantly ducked behind a rock and came up smiling a few moments later. "I'm Mexican, noises like that scare me," he laughed. His playful, life-loving nature is what gets him out the door. Photography isn't his driving factor. For him, it is just a way to express what he felt. His keen eye for composition and light are unmistakable. When you see a Fer, you know what you're looking at. I have him to personally thank for my love of hard, directional light. In his own words, this is what photography means to him:

Being fulfilled with my life is been a long time dream for me. Seeing people get old and not enjoying life has been a big mystery to me. Since I was small, I promised myself to find something that gave me energy instead of stealing it (AKA finding a passion). Photography mixes all the things that I love and it also makes me confront my social fears. It pushes me and makes me smile at the same time.

Tomasz Trzebiatowski

Tomasz Trzebiatowski runs FUJILOVE. He’s a musician, photographer, and entrepreneur. His work is gorgeous and deceptively simple. Trzebiatowski feels his frames, then photographs them as they are. His work of the Swiss forests, his fellow musicians, and the light of cities he passes through shows a deep understanding of his subject matter. 

For me, the decision to press the shutter is very intuitive. I react to shapes and light, to all possible elements in the frame almost subconsciously. I can’t define it, it’s a juxtaposition of different factors (including my own mood) that make me feel like any particular moment is worth capturing it on a photograph.

In Conclusion

Photographic devices render the world differently from the way our eyes interpret it and getting to know how those two interplay is extremely important. Perhaps even more important is learning how to translate your vision onto the two-dimensional medium we work with. Each of the photographers here translates their feelings very clearly through the medium and there is something to learn from each of them. 

What makes you shoot? Are there any photographers you’d like to ask this question of?

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Kawika Lopez's picture

I’m all about creating, which in and of itself, is highly rewarding for me.

If I start to break down a deeper meaning though, I am extremely driven by the idea of stripping away anything unpleasant or extraneous from an image, leaving only that which is pleasing and beautiful.

I love the process and challenge of using the frame exclude anything that’s trying to make an image bad. Using tone color to accent or minimize particular elements. And using composition and depth to draw your eye to the subject and away from things less significant.

Its the process of using photography to represent a time and place in the best and most attractive possible condition you can. In doing so, I have begun to look for the beauty in everything I see, even my daily life.

i like freezing that one moment in time. even if its a building that doesnt move. i would love to have more pics of me from when i was young. but freezing that one moment or emotion in time is what does it.

Michael Kuszla's picture

Totally agrre. I love your post (as usual) and your references.
I think that you'll love the vision of David Du Chemin. An awesome photographer that I have the pleasure to follow his mentoring program.

"Why Do Photographers Shoot?"

I have never shot anything with a camera; however I photographed lot of subjects and shot lots of feral pests and targets
"SHOT" and "SHOOT" would have to be the worst two shocking words in the photography language.
"the police are looking for the 'shooter' --- ****!!! ; what sort of camera did he used?
Police office doing routine vehicle check on a country road--- "so what ya doing out this way driver?"
" I'm shooting things officer"
In America that would likely be the drivers last words. I'm still alive while playing that joke during a routine vehicle check and answering with "I use a cannon" didn't help when he asked what I used

I used the PHOTOGRAPH weddings and I had portrait SESSIONS. I also did AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY but these days I TAKE and MAKE PHOTOS of this and that for something to do and I now PHOTOGRAPH most subjects with a little Olympus camera instead of that big bulky cannon that nearly got me SHOT (dead!!)!!
I don't do much shooting these days but I still have my firearm licence in case I go out shooting with my son; although we are more likely to be photographing nature (with cameras; his mounted in a drone)

Sorry a bit off topic; but the heading of the article Ped me off!!

PS: I would love to post a certain photo I have; but out of respect to the sadness of so many in the USA after another school 'shooting' I will not.

Get a grip my friend. There's nothing shocking about either of those two words being used in photography.

"Shoot" because every word in English should have less than 5 letters : it's just about the attention span of an average American, and "photograph" is like… double "ph", double greek root, God it sounds like the patronizing BBC ! And honestly, we are already quite lucky they don't say it "shoo". You not wanna make 'em shoo you bro !

Studio 403's picture

I like this post. I often take the “why” I shoot to extremes....at 71, I didn’t know I didn’t know I could be creative. The more I went snapping, the deeper I began to see the creative world. My personal paradigm did a 180. My life and how I see things has so changed. I trudge in the path of creativity, always looking, seeing like never before.

Ed Sanford's picture

I photograph because I can’t sketch, draw, paint, sew, sculpture, mold, forge, shape, ironwork or fashion. It is the only means I have for showing what’s in my mind’s eye.

"SHOT" and "SHOOT" would have to be the worst two shocking words in the photography language. Esotericusbulshiticus!