As the designated photographer, have you ever experienced these two scenerios: you are visiting at a friend's home and one of the guests proclaimed, "You just have to get a picture of our dog, Sparky, sleeping by the fireplace." You are driving out in the country and your spouse says, "Stop the car we have to get a picture of that meadow of flowers."
Before I push the shutter release button on my camera I always ask myself:
Why am I taking this picture?
When teaching digital photography at Walla Walla Community College, one of the first class session questions I am asked is, "When you take a picture what do you think about?"
As one who has been taking pictures for more than 50 years I have to admit the subject has to be striking or at least have great compositional elements before I push the shutter button. In the back of my practical mind I am always asking, "Do I really want to take time to edit this picture and file it on a hard drive?"
There is no right or wrong answer why someone takes a picture, but some of the following questions may help find ways to improve your photography and artistic eye.
It Is Beautiful?
I cannot recall how many times when I have been traveling that someone in the group will proclaim, "now that's a beautiful picture," and when I looked at the scene through the camera lens I could tell immediately it was not good enough to even post on Facebook.
Luckily Nikon cameras have a sound effect that everyone in the group around the photographer can hear a picture being taken, and there is also a delete button which no one can hear.
I think we have all experienced that not every beautiful scene is a beautiful photo.
Does It Evoke Emotion?
This is a great reason to take a picture. If you are inspired then there is a good chance your viewers will feel your emotion.
For example when a photographer captures the emotions of a person smiling, a child crying, a dog jumping for a Frisbee, rolling dramatic clouds, children blowing out the candles of a birthday cake, then chances are it could be a good photo.
Does It Tell A Story?
This is one is my favorites. When I look through the lens I always look for the potential of a story.
A recent three-picture sequence I photographed near Palouse Falls was: (1) a freight train headlight in the distance; (2) the train approaching with at least 80 railcars of different colors and shapes; (3) the train caboose and the silent tracks.
Other examples that lend themselves to stories are: farmers markets, winemaking and barrel rooms, exploring parks, hot air balloons and the Walla Walla bike races.
Do I Want to Remember This Moment?
This one is always a highlight of my field class because photos of the setting sun, rolling vineyards, alfalfa fields, winemakers and wine tasting, frankly, can be very boring. I think most hard drives are filled with memorable moments that will be rarely, if ever seen again.
But, this exercise can be a very good learning tool, especially if the sunset is offset, the alfalfa fields are golden, the winemakers are backlit, and the vineyards are rich with dark and white fruit, suddenly bland pictures can become great memories.
Everyone has a different reason for taking a picture. Some are beautiful, some are emotional, and yes, some tell a story.
By asking, "Why am I taking this picture?" your camera technique and artistry should improve.
Don Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, he is also on Facebook and he will be teaching two photography classes at WW Community College this spring.