Photography can be split into two different categories. On the one side, photography is used to document something for your memories, like the photos your parents took of you when you were a baby. On the other, photography is used to document something for the purpose of sharing and for others to see.
The thinking behind each type of photo differ and my parents certainly didn't take into consideration the composition and the way the eye will browse over the photo when they took the shot on our trip to Disney World. They were documenting the family together, in front of Space Mountain. That was the reason for having the camera there in the first place.
But when you aim to become a professional photographer, or are one already, the purpose of your photography changes, and therefore the execution of your photo work changes too.
How to Nurture This Change
There are many YouTube videos and people telling you how to develop your own voice in your medium, and for us, it’s photography and video. It’s to make us think about our way of telling a story and how we capture certain aspects of that story.
But, I disagree with aiming to find my own voice, because what’s the point of having a voice if no one is listening? You need to make it at least interesting and entertaining for someone to pay attention and listen to what you have to say, and to do that, you need to think about how they would interpret what you are showing them and if your message is coming across as you wanted it to.
So when I go shooting, I compose, but not only for me. I do it for an audience. I put myself on an imaginary stage in front of people I’ve met and others I haven’t. Before I take the shot, I question whether this audience will see what I am seeing and whether it’s showing or telling them what I want to bring across in the photo, and whether there is any story to tell at all with the image I'm looking to shoot. So it’s my voice, but it’s their reaction and interpretation I’m really aiming for.
Now, this approach of having the imaginary audience isn’t always the best answer here. But, I remember my English teacher in class during school telling us to write for a best friend. Tell the story like you would tell it to them. This made my writing much more relatable and I could envision their reactions to certain parts of the story. I do the same with photography. I have a best friend, and I shoot with the idea of showing him these images.
This method of imagining your friends or people you know as an audience is one you can use and try out. If it works, it works, if not, go another route. It’s to take the pressure off of you and your photography, to rather think about the image and the people you’re taking it for. And, I think it’s even selfless, and not so much about “me” and rather about the work and its purpose.
Another Distraction That Helps
I remember shooting a model and seeing her tense up. This has a massive effect on the facial expressions and it’s instantly visible in the photograph. When this happens, I try to distract them a little from themselves and their stance or gaze, by asking them to open up their mouth a little. This immediately lets them focus on doing so, and will distract them a little. Try it out. You’ll be amazed by how once the model takes the focus off of themselves being photographed and focuses on something like opening their mouth, it gives a much more positive, natural energy from the model and translates beautifully in your photography.
Next time you go out to shoot think about what it is you are shooting for and who you are aiming to show the images to. It’s a great way to provide yourself with direction and to give yourself a set structure.