From Shooting Everything to Shooting With Intention

live awake for your life and the people who matter most

It’s easy to get lost behind your lens, hunting down your next masterpiece… and when it feels like you’re on the verge of magic (or on the opposite side, the magic feels like a lost cause), it’s easy to feel the need to hold the shutter down… click, click, click, click.

It’s like a reflex to push the shutter in hopes you get SOMETHING.

Ever felt that way?

For me, I get the shutter finger jitters most when I’m photographing for clients, because half of my brain is focused on the scene and what’s happening (as it should) and the other half is like:

‘Marie, you MUST create magic for them. Do not miss a thing.’

In the past, this little voice has caused me to shoot everything amounting to nothing when I cull…. feeling like an ‘over-shooter.

So what defines someone who “overshoots?”

I’ve struggled with this answer. Several photographers I’ve mentored have felt like they overshoot.

Here’s what I think: if you’re clicking, clicking, clicking with no motive other than hoping not to miss a moment – a moment which you aren’t exactly recognizing – maybe it’s time to slow down + take in some observation-practice.

If you’re clicking, clicking, clicking with a motive – you’re on a hunt to nail that something in front of you in the best way, moving + working the frame to get the photo you’re after, then I think that’s shooting with intention.

See the difference?

A few weekends ago, I was shooting with intention. I thought I’d share how that felt, because not so long ago, I’m not sure I understood the difference.

Kids + pets are a busy combination. Normally, I’d be running around like a fool, hoping that I’d find SOMETHING worthy of shooting, and couldn’t barely keep up!

Instead, this time, I waited and hawk-eyed moments that presented themselves as something – for some reason – I had to keep. Maybe these will be meaningless photos to you, but I already printed my faves to display in my home.

These moments matter to us.

Shooting in this approach helps to feel fully in control of the scene even when you aren’t technically controlling what’s happening.

Question: Do you wait for moments or do you work to make moments happen? I’d love to know (and so would other photographers) your approach and works for you. Comment below!

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So what defines a moment worth shooting?

I can’t answer that for you. Only you can answer that for yourself. And this takes a great deal of practice + time in the field, as I described in how I discovered my inner message here. For me, a moment worth shooting is simply something in the scene in front of me that screams SOMETHING I wanna remember: a detail about a story, motion that I can stop forever, or something that makes me feel an emotion (love, anger, laughter, anything).

Have you ever tried any shooting exercises where you sit there and watch for something in particular – maybe even without your camera? Strategic observation is the best tool and something you can practice anywhere, anytime to help you become an intentional shooter.

One last tip, when you become familiar with shooting something in particular – weddings for example – the more you shoot the situation, the stronger you become. Without a doubt I know this to be true, because some of my best photos are of my children… my #1 subject.

I’ve picked up the camera and felt rusty in a way in a new situations. On other side, last summer coming off of 5 back-to-back weddings, the photos got stronger with each wedding, due to the environment becoming familiar. Even with each wedding completely different, there are still similarities in the moments to watch for. So with practice, you have heightened anticipation skills!

If you feel like you’re shooting a bit on the overkill side, take time to think about why you’re shooting in the first place. Are you consistently shooting new subjects or are you working a familiar scene and mastering it? Seriously, comment below. I’m reading!

Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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  • Oh my goodness, Marie, this is so me. I’m an overshooter. I see a moment, and then I either overshoot trying to chase my toddler down for that moment or I get too wrapped up in it and end up with 50 photos by the end of 10 minutes. When I cull, I’m almost always happiest with the first photo, so I wonder why I keep shooting. This post speaks to my heart. I need to shoot with intention to get out of this digital clutter!

    • I think what’s helped me most is really being aware of the need to slow down & be patient. It is so much easier said than done, of course, when in the moment (and with busy toddlers to boot). Keep up the awareness and you’ll see a difference! 🙂

  • I still struggle a little with overshooting. Mine is mostly fear of missing the moment. I end up having so much to cull. But wanting to spend lesss time at the computer I have really paid attention to what is going on when I begin to feel the panic of missing the moment. When I start to feel like I am going to miss something is when I really need to take a breath and become more aware of what is happening around me and be okay if I miss something. The last session I did I shot about half as much but got the same amount of amazing images and I felt more present in the session.

  • I tend to shoot with intention, but still take too many thinking that there’s this moment and this variation of it and I have to get all the different variations because one will be the best, then culling is a nightmare because I can’t bare to choose which variation/facial expressions are the best and most important to the client(only friends so far)!
    In recent days I have found thinking in the language ‘making a picture’ rather than just capturing a moment helps, because then the movement and composition/light is helping to decide when is a better time to capture that moment, and I will keep shooting to get it right, but once I know I’ve got the best I can stop.

  • I work with a photographer (2nd shooting) who clicks the shutter a million times for one moment. So, when I feel I’ve captured the moment sufficiently and move elsewhere or just wait, he pushes me to keep shooting and then later explains that I’m missing moments I should be capturing when he doesn’t realized that I’ve already captured them. I think there is a fine line between getting the moment and overkill and then there is just spraying and praying. I was proud of myself after reading your post because this is one thing I don’t think I do on my own time. I tend to wait for moments and snap 3-4 shots and then move on. There’s always exceptions, as you say, for quick moving subjects. I’ve never been disappointed in the culling process and think I’ll stick with the way I do things. Thanks for such a great post! 🙂

  • I always try to shoot with intention, but you are right, it takes practice. Even within one shoot, the shoot always results in better photos towards the end. Great article. Thank you Marie!

  • Thank you for this. I have thought for a while now that I was an overshooter, but after reading your blog post, I realized I’m not actually. I will shoot something over and over trying to get it right, but I am after something, not just hoping something will happen. Of course, there are days I am just feeling uninspired and I am just shooting because I feel like I need to push through it, but those days don’t turn out much though. I also realized that I have been practicing observation, shooting the moments that matter, for much longer than I thought, only I have been shooting them with my iPhone rather than my SLR. Thankfully, there is mobile LR and such, but recently I have decided that I need to start keeping my SLR closer. I am currently working my confidence back up enough to go back to film. However, I think there is some merit in taking it back a bit and practicing with your phone. There’s less pressure with the phone to “get it right”, and it is something you can just casually grab when you see a shot without introducing the importance that a SLR can bring. “It’s just a phone shot” can be freeing sometimes. Thank you again for your inspiring words.

    • Thanks for the comment, Samantha! I’m glad this post was helpful to you. I’ve so been there too where I push just to get through – when I’m feeling uninspired, not into what I’m shooting. You are so right that there is less pressure when using your phone too and I’ve been finding myself in this ebb and flow of using my phone a ton, then going back to the SLR, then going back to the iPhone. Anyway, thanks for the feedback! 🙂