Photography: The ‘How’ or the ‘Why’?

how_or_whyWhether you are a beginner to digital photography or a well seasoned pro, chances are as technology (and even style trends) change, there will be something new that you want to learn photographically. You may be a master with camera settings, an expert in different photographic disciplines, or perhaps you are a flat-out beginner who is just getting started in photography. So the question is, what’s more important to you when learning a new photography technique, the “How” or the “Why?”


There are plenty of places where we can learn photography from, such as books, forums, online videos… but in today’s fast paced world we all tend to have a “want it now” mentality (myself included!). When you look at the outstanding photos that others have posted online or in print, you become inspired to take beautiful photos yourself. Perhaps you’ve seen a nice portraiture and were wondering how you could take a similar photo? What I am getting at here is this: Would you just rather someone told you the settings to put your camera on, quick and simple? Or would you prefer to know a bit of the theory behind ‘why’ you use those particular settings and ‘why’ they help you achieve the effect in question?

Sure, it’s easy to know the settings and angles, and you will be able to take great photos in no time – which seems to be the problem facing today’s photographer; no time. If you just want the “how” then chances are the next time you see a photo you’ll be asking it again “How did you take that photo?” But, if you learn the “why” behind the process, you’ll never be left in the dark.

When it comes to photography, what’s more important to you – the How or the Why?

About the author

Dave Seeram is the Editor of PhotographyBB Magazine, photographer, Canucks fan, Lostie,  fanboy, Dad, blogger, entrepreneur, and part-time superhero. Dave is the owner of this blog, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the PhotographyBB Magazine and CLARITY: PHOTOGRAPHY BEYOND THE CAMERA
11 Responses
  1. I want it know it all. The How & the Why. But if I had to choose one, I’d pick the How first. I am a complete beginner. I’ve had my camera since December & I have yet to make myself learn more about it. Been browsing a lot of photography sites tho. Maybe too much. I should be using that time to learn my camera. I guess it’s coz I want to know it all & I want to know it all now. Which really isn’t possible. Learning takes time.

  2. Metatron

    Clearly it’s the How. Photography is just my hobby, but I`m taking it pretty seriously and I don’t want to get upset, because I got that nice shot and it would need that effect, but I just wouldn’t know, how to get it right. That’s why it’s important to me to learn all the techniques I can, even the ones, that seem to be useful only for teen girls 😉

  3. I have always favored the why. How tends to be limited to a specific, say a camera model where why can be transfered from camera to camera. It does not matter if its digital, film (yes, there are still some of us out there that use film) or medium format film.

    One piece of advice I give new photographers or even advanced hobbiest, shoot in manual model with manual focus. You will really understand how a picture is done without resorting to presets for landscapes, portraits, earthquakes and what ever else is now being pack into a camera. After all, it all comes down to light, how to use it and how to manipulate it, composition, where the focus of the eye goes and how it gets there, and patience, take the time to get the couple of real good shots instead of filling a card up with shots of the sunset to get the “one you wanted”.

    Once you know the basics, getting effects, the how, is easier to understand and be able to adapt to other situations – fireworks reflected in water, a flower blossom under water, mist on a landscape, etc.

    End of soapbox 🙂

  4. tmt

    I think the “why” is more important because the how cannot be applied to every gear. So if I took a pic in a theatre with an f/2.8 tele and with iso 800+, then the how is pretty clear, you can’t stop the lens down to, like f/16, because you won’t catch a single photon 🙂 But if you know the “why”, you will (nearly) automatically get the “how”, or you can come up with some new ideas to play with.

  5. Philip Procter

    Even if someone were to tell my how, the first thing I’d want to know is ‘why’. Typically, if I see a picture with an idea or style that catches my eye, I may never be able to duplicate the picture but I want to know how to recreate whatever special thing it was that caught my eye.

  6. Flacker

    I think I agree with Frances. I want to know “why” first so that the follow-up “how” makes sense.

    One of my favorite tasks in a recent photo class was when the professor showed the class a set of flawed photos (too dark, blurry, weak composition, etc.). The students then had to explain why the error happened and how to correct it. It was a great learning exercise.

  7. debeesantosh

    Both are equally required First why and then how.
    I can see the discussion threda, but where is the link to document/article that will cater Why and how?
    The author need to provide a link on top of the thread so that we can access Why and How articles.


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