There Are Only Two Types of Photographs

There Are Only Two Types of Photographs

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.

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Anonymous's picture


I shoot because it's something that I enjoy, and because it brings me peace.* It has nothing to do with making a record, or about other people seeing them - indeed, I've been shooting for over 20 years, and I only decided to start sharing them at the end of last year.

* I would point out the growing awareness of photography as art therapy.

Cliff Mueller's picture

So the above makes a third type. I relate to your description.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

I'm not sure it's quite that simple, Wouter. There are broadly speaking three groups of photographers - amateurs, "pro-sumers" and pro's. The boundaries between them are blurry, but that'll do for discussion purposes.

At one end, it's pretty much "happy snap" stuff. Or is it?

At the other, it's "do as I want, or I don't want you". Pro's have to deal with that. Most of the rest of us aren't prepared to put up with it. Is it too much of an ask? I'm not the person to answer that one - I can say this, though - I wouldn't enjoy it, but that's a reflection on the person that I am.

Which drives very many highly experienced and very capable photographers into NOT showing their photos to other people, or towards doing as they please with complete indifference to anyone else's views about their photography.

Where am I? Delusional enough at my age to think I'm in the middle group.

And some people in the first group aren't as simple minded as the classification I've dumped on them suggests. Many of them WANT to be "good photographers". Many of them go on organised shoots, conducted by experienced photographers who are sharing their knowledge and helping their "students' to improve. Many belong to photo clubs. Some seek guidance from more experienced photographers, on a mentoring basis. And I've been privileged to help here - and VERY impressed with their efforts and their progress. Even more so, the day I asked one of them to share her work and asked how she processed them - and she didn't understand what on earth I was talking about - her photos were all as shot, straight out of the cam - unbelievable stuff!

Is my stuff as good as yours? - as good as any of the other pro's I know? Certainly not - I am having way too much fun to take it all that seriously. Plenty of other "pro-sumers" do, but I choose not to be one of them. My stuff is technically good, perfectly acceptable within the various commentaries on composition etc- but not "arty" enough to have mass appeal. And yet - I've had two people in the past fortnight tell me they are overwhelmed by the photos I took for them, so it's not all bad.

One "fail" by pro standards is a disinterest in artificial lighting, although I do use it for some purposes. Normally, I prefer to shoot by "available light" - I started doing that as a teenager, and I have no interest in changing.

Another is "long exposure" stuff. Happy to let others do it - I don't want to and won't - when I shoot a water fall, I want it to LOOK like falling water (not custard poured off a cliff). Everyone else on the planet is perfectly free to tell me that means I'm a crackpot, but I'm also entitled to have MY viewpoint.

And that, for me, Wouter, is the key. Absolutely everyone is entitled to have their own viewpoint - and to take whatever photos they like. That results in difference. Difference is interesting. If we were all the same, it would all become hopelessly boring, and nobody at all would want to look at ANY of our photos.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Nope! It's even simpler. There's only one kind of photographer! The one using a camera 😋

Michael L. McCray's picture

not really it depends on what you define as a camera and what is film I have been creating images for over forty years.

Pedro Quintela's picture

With time I learned some things. One is that what really counts, at least to me, is when your image touches someone´s heart. Your family, a friend, a client... don´t matter, because each one has its own place.

That said despite your expertise when you shoot something you know from the start what you´re aiming. So at the end there are no categories, but a person that grabs a camera and wants to create something.

I hope I explain my idea clearly, sometimes my english gets a little stuck.

Um. No. Actually, I can't get past the first paragraph. Do you think that photographs are only for "documenting"? Nope. So much nope.

Pedro Quintela's picture

I meant that it works as an income creator, storyteller to family/friends and even to help me maintain my sanity.

Ravi Putcha's picture

Focusing on one's own voice at the expense of what a client wants is a tricky business. One's own style of composition, processing is one thing, having a limited color palette for all clients' is another. I think the latter is excessively self-focused and likely to repel many clients - sure, losing clients is not the end of the world and money is not everything but it surely deprives an artist of many opportunities and possibilities each opportunity brings with it.