Photo Tip – Find the Three words that convey your photographic message

'Lion Siblings' - © Andy Biggs

Elephant Tusks - © Andy Biggs

This week, I had the chance to visit B&H Photo in New York City and hear my friend Andy Biggs talk on ‘a day in the life of a professional wildlife photographer’.

As usual, Andy did a great job of connecting with the audience.  During the presentation, he shared ‘keeper’ shots as well as the series of shots before and after that were rejects.  The presentation allowed us to climb inside his mind as he attempted to get position to get the shot. All of this was insightful and worth an article, but for today, I would like to talk about Andy’s intro into his presentation.  It really resonated with points I try to make to fellow photographers … and in Andy’s case, is really nicely backed up by his body of work.

At the start of Andy’s talk, he noted that as a beginning photographer, he wanted to define specifically who he was as a photography and what message he wanted to convey through his work.  Andy decided he needed to distill his message down to three words.  Yep, THREE WORDS. For Andy Biggs, the words were:

  • Timeless.
  • Hope.
  • Remote.

When I review one’s photography, my first questions has always been “What’s your message?  What are you trying to convey?”  Often I get a blank stare as feedback.  I can usually correlate the blank stare to images with a weak composition or lack of subject.  Perhaps these photographers are beginners.  Perhaps these photographers are still finding their way.  Regardless, they will become better photographers if they strive to have a message in their images.

Even good photos often have the photographer answering my question with long ramble explanations..  For these photographers, the longer the answer, the more I can expect a portfolio that is a mix of subjects and (many times) over use of the latest plug in tools.  While I am a fan of experimentation, I still think the portfolio will benefit  from a unified vision for the artist.  Without direction, one’s photo journey is a ramble. Direction can be a good thing.

Elephants and Clouds, Serengeti NP, Tanzania - © Andy Biggs

I love Andy’s self challenge of distilling the vision to three words.  In my past life, I was often involved in product branding.  The challenges were always in trying to distill the offering to a tightly worded value proposition and in developing a brand/trademark a name that conveyed the customer benefit or primary product attribute.  Andy was developing a business … it made perfect sense to use classic branding methodology to develop what he calls his vision and business would call his value proposition.

Timeless. Hope. Remote.  Andy has done a great job of staying true to this vision.  As you look at the images within this article, do you see it?  Do you feel it?  Andy’s shots often include predators, but do you see lions on the kill? NO.  Andy isn’t selling ‘the circle of life’.  Andy is selling that special feeling of an Africa that was there long ago and still there today.  Andy is selling a feeling of a simplified setting in a peaceful land.  Andy is selling a tease that the future can support this beautiful wildlife setting.

Two Firaffe Heads, Lake manyara NP, Tanzania © Andy Biggs

In this article, we are sharing several of Andy’s images, but we have not handpicked the ones that support the article.  If you visit Andy’s galleries at, you will see a consistency of the theme throughout the images.

This formula of 3 words and a gallery faithful to the words has worked for Andy.  So what is the message you wish to convey?  Can you distill it down to three words?  It will take some thinking time, but I feel the time reflecting will pay off in your future images.

Lioness Hiding in the Grass, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania - This article has featured a lot of Andy's B&W images, so we thought we would close with this color image just to show that the message can be consistent across both B&W and color - © Andy Biggs

We also encourage you to visit Andy’s blog, The Global Photographer, as it is full of photo and safari travel tips (but beware, Andy is a gadget freak, so if you read too much, you’ll end up buying a lot of new toys).

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