Photography is about WHY not HOW

Photography is not at all about the technique but about the reason. My friend Seshu had just published a blog post about how to make your photos sing. it is a good post but many photographers don’t even know how to make their photos talk.

A few days ago I went to the Delhi FCC for a farewell party and ran into Prashant Panjiar, a photographer whom I like and respect. Prashant had just completed a very interesting  multimedia presentation of his latest work on farmer’s suicide in Vidarbha and it reminded me of a somewhat similar story I had worked on in Punjab in 2006. It was a good time to catch up and discuss the changing realities of the photography industry and what makes a good photograph.

Photography is not about HOW you take your picture but about WHY you do that

We agreed that a good photo is not necessarily elaborate or difficult to make. It is in the simple moments that the beauty or power is found. It does not have to take a long time to produce if – and it is a big IF – you connect! If you have the sensitivity to feel the moment and to empathise. If you love your subject and if you have something to say about it. It is true for documentary photography but also for any other aspect of photography, be it portraiture, nature, food, fashion or weddings. You must have something to say. You must bring yourself into the picture or it will only be another picture out there and will never shine.

For his story on the farmers’ suicide Prashant had traveled for three days between villages looking for homes where a suicide case had just happened or for a family that had suffered. “We had a deadline and had to deliver the pictures fast” he said. “Sometimes you come to a place and you only have fifteen minutes to take a picture. You can’t wait for the good light or build trust as you must get to the next village before dark. This is where experience comes to play . . . I have been there before, I’ve seen this pain somewhere and can recognize it intuitively”.

Being a photographer is not about the camera or the technique, it is about what you have inside your mind. It is the sum of all your life experiences and your point of view. It is where you’ve been, how much you cried, how much you’ve loved and been loved, how much you have experienced pain and how much you care. Photography is not about the HOW but about the WHY. It is about the reason behind your images and not about the exposure or the focus.

Many photographers are more concerned with how to take pictures then with why they do it and what they want to say. A good picture is very simple to find but you must look for it inside first, and for this you need to experience life.

  • Hi Sephi,

    Seshu has told me many good things about you! This article validates everything he has shared with me. Photography is ultimately about respect and love. The word respect literally means to “look again”. When we have the courage to respect WHY we pursue photography, the immutable beauty of our work and subjects prevail. The quality of intention and service is very clear in your work. This image tells such a fascinating story that invites me into the world of this family. Thank you so much for sharing your gift and wisdom with us!

    Best Wishes,
    Parris Whittingham

  • Hi Sephi,

    Seshu has told me many good things about you! This article validates everything he has shared with me. Photography is ultimately about respect and love. The word respect literally means to “look again”. When we have the courage to respect WHY we pursue photography, the immutable beauty of our work and subjects prevail. The quality of intention and service is very clear in your work. This image tells such a fascinating story that invites me into the world of this family. Thank you so much for sharing your gift and wisdom with us!

    Best Wishes,
    Parris Whittingham

  • Hi Sephi;

    Very well said.
    I’ve just been to 4 portfolio reviews of my work, and I received 4 completely different viewpoints.
    For me creating images is all about passion for what you do, and compassion, for your subjects, Sensitivity
    for what is going on around you, not just clicking random photos.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!
    All the best!
    Andrew Adams

  • Hi Sephi;

    Very well said.
    I’ve just been to 4 portfolio reviews of my work, and I received 4 completely different viewpoints.
    For me creating images is all about passion for what you do, and compassion, for your subjects, Sensitivity
    for what is going on around you, not just clicking random photos.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!
    All the best!
    Andrew Adams

  • mariomattei

    Lots of wisdom here. I agree.

  • Maria

    That’s the reason I’m doing photography and I hope that this is what I’ll see when I graduate from college and get out in the real world.
    Thank you for your inspiering words.

  • johnwairephoto

    …could not agree more!

  • Julie

    wonderfull article….so true…thank you…

  • mariomattei

    Lots of wisdom here. I agree.

  • Maria

    That's the reason I'm doing photography and I hope that this is what I'll see when I graduate from college and get out in the real world.
    Thank you for your inspiering words.

  • johnwairephoto

    …could not agree more!

  • Julie

    wonderfull article….so true…thank you…

  • Nancy Cole

    Thank you for this affirmation on true purpose and connection! This is the essence of what comes through in the best photo essays we see at PhotoPhilanthropy, and is exactly what we encourage photography students to do as they explore their choices.

    • Thank you for your comment Nancy. I had a look at your website and you are doing a fantastic work. Will try to submit a story there as well. cheers

  • philip deepu

    we should capture a piece of happiness and aggressiveness what have in every life. it will convey that they have not failed yet towards state (govt) and circumstance

  • Nancy Cole

    Thank you for this affirmation on true purpose and connection! This is the essence of what comes through in the best photo essays we see at PhotoPhilanthropy, and is exactly what we encourage photography students to do as they explore their choices.

  • Thank you for your comment Nancy. I had a look at your website and you are doing a fantastic work. Will try to submit a story there as well. cheers

  • Most welcome Maria. Go out there and make a difference!

  • philip deepu

    we should capture a piece of happiness and aggressiveness what have in every life. it will convey that they have not failed yet towards state (govt) and circumstance

  • Christopher Crookes

    This photo expresses a lot of human emotion and the black and white contrast brings out the character of the photo – it certainly tells a story

  • Christopher Crookes

    This photo expresses a lot of human emotion and the black and white contrast brings out the character of the photo – it certainly tells a story

  • “Approve”

  • Sue Anne

    Sephi, I just stumbled onto your blog via The Invisible Photographer. Your writing is so fluid and speaks to the heart on many issues. I love photography but feel writing about my work brings me even more satisfaction and allows the truth to come through. Wonderful blog, I look forward to trolling through your archives.

  • Sue Anne

    Sephi, I just stumbled onto your blog via The Invisible Photographer. Your writing is so fluid and speaks to the heart on many issues. I love photography but feel writing about my work brings me even more satisfaction and allows the truth to come through. Wonderful blog, I look forward to trolling through your archives.

  • Thank you for writing me Sue. I appreciate it.
    cheers

  • Deepak Chourasia1

    Well that is a truth, problems sell more than a happiness. Because we all suffer and very touchy about bitter experiences. Whenever it comes to talk about india our photographers sell ugly india to the world because that is what sells. I m no different may be I will do the same. But that is not a justice to our country.

    Nice blog though.
    Deepak Chourasia
    http://Www.deepakchourasia.com

  • Deepak Chourasia1

    Well that is a truth, problems sell more than a happiness. Because we all suffer and very touchy about bitter experiences. Whenever it comes to talk about india our photographers sell ugly india to the world because that is what sells. I m no different may be I will do the same. But that is not a justice to our country.

    Nice blog though.
    Deepak Chourasia
    http://Www.deepakchourasia.com

  • Deepak Chourasia1

    Well that is a truth, problems sell more than a happiness. Because we all suffer and very touchy about bitter experiences. Whenever it comes to talk about india our photographers sell ugly india to the world because that is what sells. I m no different may be I will do the same. But that is not a justice to our country.

    Nice blog though.
    Deepak Chourasia
    http://Www.deepakchourasia.com

  • Anonymous

    Thats so true Sirji. There is something I strongly believe ” Great photographs are made by great human beings – every photograph has a bit of photographer in there” and it definitely connects with the WHY a photograph is taken. I am hoping to join your workshop in Mumbai in Sept and hopefully my work will allow me that. Great post once again. 

    • Thank you for this comment Mayank. I look forward to seeing you in Mumbai in September. Cheers

  • mayankpandey

    Thats so true Sirji. There is something I strongly believe ” Great photographs are made by great human beings – every photograph has a bit of photographer in there” and it definitely connects with the WHY a photograph is taken. I am hoping to join your workshop in Mumbai in Sept and hopefully my work will allow me that. Great post once again. 

    • Thank you for this comment Mayank. I look forward to seeing you in Mumbai in September. Cheers

  • Great and wise words, Sephi. I strive to keep always this in mind while I shoot, while I plan/think about my projects etc. Thank you for sharing.

    This reminds of a sentence from the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama I have read once: “When one presses the shutter, not only reality, but one’s aesthetic sense, one’s memories, one’s emotions, one’s connections with the scene being photographed, all of these are always captured”

    Fabrizio

    http://www.fabrizioq.com