(Editor’s note: This guest post is from an avid workshop attendee, Thomas Lehman. He is a retired medical school professor with a deep interest in travel and making great photographs on his way. In this post he asks a question all of us will benefit in considering.)

The most important question

“Why am I taking this photograph?” is one of the points most often overlooked in the field. Most people just point and shoot to document an event.A considered photographer will be worrying about exposure, contrast and composition.But even these details (important as they are) miss the most important issue.What is the message the photograph is to convey?

Male lion in profile. Photo by Thomas LehmanThe story

We often ask this when looking at someone else’s photograph, but too often we don’t ask it of ourselves.Some famous workshop leaders will ask in a review session,“What were you trying to say when you took this picture?” This is a polite version of saying “This is garbage.”And if you can’t answer the question, then your picture probably is garbage.

Stop for a moment when you are working in the field and think of an idea. Ask yourself, “Why am I taking this picture and what do I want the viewer to see?” Doing so will make you a far better photographer.

In the wild

In wildlife photography, there is little need for another picture of a lion in Africa. A 600mm headshot of a lion in Africa is simply the photographer saying, “Look, I was there with my camera and I saw it.” Perhaps that’s really the message the photographer intended. But there are many other messages that can be conveyed in photographs in similar situations. It might be the excitement of the hunt showing a lion in one corner of the frame and its prey in another. It might the danger of discarded plastic water bottles to the environment by showing one in the mouth of a lion cub. It might simply be the wonder of the world and our commonality with a photograph of a group of lion cubs playing like kittens.

Lion cubs playing. Photo by Thomas Lehman

No matter what the subject(s) you choose to photograph, a moments reflection on the intended message will help you to better chose your shots in the field, refine your portfolio and increase your audience.