Stop Trying to Impress Photographers

Stop Trying to Impress Photographers

I have been doing photography for about 10 years. In that time I have moved from hobbiest film shooter to professional commercial photographer. This is what helped me make the leap.

If, like me, your aim is to become a professional photographer, or you want your work to be seen by the general public, then trying to impress other photographers is not the way to go. This is not to say that a critical review from a photographer isn’t important, but far more important than the view of the photographer is that of the art buyer or consumer. 

What Is the Difference?

While a photographer might be impressed with your medium-format camera or 20 lights set up all perfectly balanced, they are not who the image is intended for. If we take food photography as an example (I am a food photographer), then we need to look at what makes a great food photograph.

For a photographer, it might be the perfect composition, great dynamic range, sharpness and detail, and perhaps the complexity of the lighting that impresses them. To a consumer, they want to see the food looking amazing or for the overall feel of the image to engage with them. Of course, our concerns help achieve this, but as photographers, we often lose sight of the bigger picture and we become obsessed with the technicalities of the art. The consumer, however, is interested in the image as a whole. They would much rather a basic one light set up and the food looks amazing than having something extremely complex at the cost of the food.

We have probably all had a similar realization with portraits. I reach for my fancy camera to take a portrait at a wedding, the subject later takes a selfie and they publish the selfie on social media. Most photographers would prefer my image, but the image they have taken portrays them exactly how they wish to be seen. It's their preferred angle, lighting, and poses. As a portrait photographer, focusing on that rather than technical lighting, postproduction, and camera gear would serve us much better. 

So What Is My Point?

During a recent workshop of soon to be pros, hobbyists, and pros who are new to the field, I found a lot of very interesting and useful technical questions being asked, but throughout the session, no one asked what the viewer would prefer. The questions were geared toward what was technically better.

In order to sell more, be seen by more people, and to make a career in photography, I think it is really important to read around the subject. Of course, we need to know about the technicalities of photography, but it should be applied with the buyer or consumer in mind. Most people who book photographers are not photographers. 

To sum up my ramblings, I encourage you to go away and work out what the consumers of your images want to see, rather than what other photographers want to see.

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30 Comments

Studio 403's picture

So true your post. My heritage from my Grand father to my Day operating a 3 story small town Deptartment Store. Myt family excelled in “what do our customers want and expect” ? Now 72, I remember as a young boy, Dad asking me to deliver “Mrs Jones silk stockings” to her home, before nylon hose. Great post

David Pavlich's picture

I do an occasional paid shoot, but most of my "pro" work is selling prints and entering exhibitions. If I listened to photographers, I would have only sold about half as many prints. A lot of my prints are tone mapped HDR stuff. I know it's not for everyone, but the average consumer likes the vibrant colors, especially when the shot is a bit different. HDR works well with mechanical stuff and that's what I use for the tone mapped images. But if I post one of these shots on a photography forum, I'll get grief from the "purists" which is fine. They aren't selling them. :-)

user-167100's picture

"I weep for the future"
-- Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Scott Choucino's picture

Exactly my point :)

Monte Zucker used to say “Beauty is in the eye of the checkbook holder”.
It is a quote I think of every day.

David Pavlich's picture

I was surprised when I decided to sell some of my prints that the HDR stuff did as well as it did. Most comments were of the "it looks like it was painted" or "really different subject." None of these people were seasoned pixel peepers which never surprised me. They're just people that like colors and different.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Personally, for me to be satisfied, I only really need to impress me. Which, in theory, is pretty simple, but I'm a picky coot so it has yet to happen. ;)

Great reminder. I sometimes see the saying "beginners see subject, pros see composition, masters see light." pop up.

While there's some truth to it academically and critically, your customers are still at step one. Keep in mind what made you like photography in the first place and chase that rather than technical nerdism.

Charles Burgess's picture

Great reminder on the old saying "Beginners see subject, pros see composition, master see the light" - the typical viewer (a non-photog) sees with an "innocent eye." For a non-photographer, the experience in seeing a photograph is much like the childhood play of peek-a-boo that provides continuing enjoyment even after the first "boo".

Kristen Mozaffari's picture

Thank you for this. A lot of people seem to forget it.

Scott Choucino's picture

Thanks for reading :)

Hal Moran's picture

... and your article applies to more than just photography. Any business that doesn't listen to the VOC (voice of the customer) is headed for trouble. You only have two options in business - improve or else! If you don't improve, you'll face the consequences of or else. #Lean

Scott Choucino's picture

Absolutely, business thrives on customer satisfaction.

The important distinction here is self expression vs service performed. I see it all the time working as an artist in video games: a lot of creative people don't realize that its their skillset being leveraged, not their sensibilities.

Duffy Doherty's picture

It's a matter of Craft vs Art. Craft moves the economy. Art moves the soul...

Scott Choucino's picture

Couldn't have said it better myself.

It's funny, for a post lecturing people on what they should be focusing on, you seem to want people to follow your example as to what you think is good.

You were surprised people didn't ask your Insight on how they should take pictures? Perhaps they already know composition, and their concern was finding the right gear to help achieve the results they want?

I know some people love praise and having people hear them speak, but seriously... Did it ever occur to you that they were at the conference or that particular seminar simply to ask questions to help improve them technically, since that's often the push in order to make money in this industry?

Scott Choucino's picture

Sorry Brian, I am not sure what the question is.

The workshop was about food styling, their motives may have been different, but the point remains. Is that what you mean?

Thanks

RJ Gauvin's picture

Many excellent points made in this post. I have works that are popular in some circles(nor take public credit for). It's like any other career, you have to pay the bills. Sometimes you have to work on projects your not happy about doing, so you can work on projects you want.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Some good points Scott Choucino ! Thanx for sharing!

Great article. Another thing to consider. My best selling images are usually photos from local areas even though are not my “best” photos. People recognize and connect with those places.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yes, content is king!

Danally Ly's picture

Great Point!

Good advice for folks doing photography as a business. Not necessarily good advice for those doing it as Art. Call me a snob, but there is such a thing as refusing to compromise one’s vision to suit the market. Naturally, that might mean you never sell a single piece. But it’s still a legit attitude that I respect.

John MacLean's picture

Peter Lik comes to mind. Candyland colors sell, even if they are over-baked. Not my thang, but the general public seems to eat up his hype. A lot of photogs see right thru the BS though. To each their own.