Why Do You Take Photos?

posted in Psychology of Photography

Why Do You Take Photos?

Motivation is a fundamental human condition. Many (myself included) believe it to be the most important concept when considering any activity we participate in, whether it is photography or anything else. This is because why we do something will determine how we do it and what we gain from it (e.g., enjoyment, creativity, well-being, etc).

importance of motivation mjgholland photography

The importance of motivation

In this post I want to look at what we are motivated towards and why this is important. So let’s consider why we might take pictures.

What are you motivated towards?

There are many reasons to take part in photography and all can fit into one of five categories. These categories are called motivational ‘regulations’ because they describe what drives you to act (i.e., what regulates your behaviour).

The regulations are listed below and illustrated by our fictional photographer called Hamish. (Scientific titles are included in brackets in case you want to look up more information)

For fun and pleasure (Intrinsic Regulation)

This describes when Hamish simply loves being out with his camera. There is no other outcome that he seeks apart the pleasure of doing photography. The process of taking picture is all the reward he needs.

jumping mjgholland photography

It might not be a great shot but it was good fun

It’s who I am (Integrated Regulation)

In this case Hamish does photography because it is a part of who he is. It defines his identity as a person and reflects what he considers meaningful in his life. It may not always be great fun but it is important to him.

It’s good for me (Identified Regulation)

This is when Hamish takes photos because he recognizes benefits that are personally meaningful to him. These might include the social interaction, getting outside, and a chance to be creative. Again, he might not always enjoy it but he recognizes that it is good for him.

I would feel guilty if I stopped (Introjected Regulation)

This regulation describes the times when Hamish feels obliged or coerced into taking part. Perhaps he feels he will let someone down if he does not go on a shoot. Interestingly, he still chooses to take part but does so to avoid a sense of guilt.

I have to for a reward (Extrinsic Regulation)

This is when Hamish takes photos to receive some reward or avoid a punishment. Rewards might be money, praise, social status, etc. Unlike guilt that comes from himself, these outcomes derive from others.

Each regulation differs in the amount that your photography is self-determined (i.e., meaningful to you and controlled by you). Fun and pleasure describe the most self-determined reasons to photograph while rewards and punishment describe the least self-determined reasons.

Tanera Beg mjgholland photography

I enjoy the escape and relaxation gained from the wilderness. It is meaningful to me and enhances my experience of photography regardless of the images I leave with.

Why are the regulations important?

At any given time you might be motivated by a number of reasons reflecting different regulations. More self-determined your reasons the more you increase your chances of greater enjoyment, creativity, learning, and well-being. Therefore, we need your photography to be meaningful and driven by you.

Understanding the regulations and recognizing your own motivation allows you to influence your own photographic experience. Deliberately structuring your photography so that it is meaningful and enjoyable is key (and often overlooked).

So how do we drive our own motivation?

In short, push yourself to make the photos you love, in the way that you want to, and with the people that engage you. The final images we produce are often important but do not neglect the process (afterall, this is how you are spending your life!).

As I noted in a previous post, we can influence our own experience by focusing on our psychological ABCs. The more you feel a sense of Autonomy, Belonging, and Competence the more your photography will be enjoyable and meaningful. Look out for future posts on how I promote my own ABCs.

enhancing motivation mjgholland photography

The psychological ABCs enhance the quality of our motivation

For more information about the science behind this post Google “Self-Determination theory” and “Basic Psychological Needs Theory” (or clink the links).

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