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Photographers, Focus on What’s Important


Focus on what’s important… pun intended. I’m not referring to lens focus or how to get sharp images. If that’s your main concern right now, just Google tutorials on autofocus, zone focusing or micro-adjustments. When I say ‘focus on what’s important,’ what I mean is the purpose, meaning, emotion or reason for your photographs.

What is the function of your photographs aside from displaying an aesthetically pleasing visual?

Ask yourself this question, “what do you want people to do when they see your photographs?” What do you want them to feel, or do physically? Do you want your viewers to think, contemplate, buy something, hold, share, remember, cry, question, act, like, thumb-scroll, start a discussion or print? What do you want viewers of your photos to do?

It’s a question very few of us photographers ask or think about outside of commercial work. Outside of commercial photography we hardly ever think about the viewer, why should we when our work is personal? But if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us want recognition, praise or some form of an ego boost. And yet as photographers, we mainly think about ourselves and the subject matter, rarely the viewer.

So what is important about your work, your practice, your photography? Are you taking photographs for an archive, historical purposes, to sell some clothes or promote a notable course? If so, great, but what about the photograph? Is its main focus to be a vessel for another function or purpose?

Let me put it this way: a wedding photographer is capturing a special moment, so their clients can remember their special day (simplifying). A fashion photographer is photographing apparel to help sell it (simplifying). A forensic photographer is taking photographs for analysis, evidence and for historic reference in a case (simplifying). The photograph is just a vessel, a medium that is documenting something for a specific purpose or function. So what are you photographing for? What is the purpose or function of your photographs, and who wants that?

What are you trying to express or share? Where do you want your photos final resting place to be? On a social media platform or in a frame on a wall? What would a plaque next to your work say? I hope it’s not something like “my photographs capture the human condition” or some other cliché and derivative statement. If we are honest with ourselves, somewhere in there is our ego that wants recognition and praise. So what do you take photographs for, honestly and truthfully?

Whatever you deem important within your photography practice, is. Whether it’s making money, selling prints, getting more likes, selling your work in a gallery, having your work printed in a publication or capturing moments for your family album. Whatever it is, it’s noble to you.

I only hope that, whatever you capture, for whatever reason, there is integrity in it. There is purpose and meaning, even if the purpose is to be meaningless, there is still intention. I hope when you physically press that shutter button, you’re focusing on what is important.

About the author: A.B Watson is a New Zealand photographer based in Auckland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, head over to his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.