By Steve Skuss
I really get a kick out of some REAL photographers. They’re so intense. Things have to be JUST SO. As you might guess, I have an example:
I was attending a public talk aimed at bringing up the quality of the snapshots taken by hikers and other casual wildlife shooters. The subject of waterfalls was discussed, and the attendees were presented with two versions of the same falls. One had the traditional smooth, silky water that real photographers always present. The other had the crunchy, rough and tumble “frozen” water that is what most casual shooters get when they fire off a pocket camera or cell phone. “Which one,” the presenter asked? Sadly (for him), easily two-thirds of the group chose the frozen water. He quite forcefully informed the audience that they were “wrong”.
So, what’s the deal? Simply, the audience and the artist were a mismatch. It was a bunch of hikers and naturalists. They were interested in REALITY, not some phony artistic interpretation. Yes, running water blurs to the eye, but not in the way a slow shutter speed makes it look in a photo. A churning, bubbling mess is much more realistic. But to an artist, well, that just isn’t the way it’s done.
So, of course the lesson here is that in your own photography, keep in mind why you took the picture in the first place, and your intended audience. Friends and family will always say how great your images look. Then you try posting online, or join a camera club, and things may suddenly seem to fall apart. If that happens, I suggest you consider the source of the comments, and consider your intended audience. Just like in life, your photos need a goal or intent, and you need to align those photos with people who have a similar mindset.
As you attempt to widen your audience beyond family and friends, so will the comments you receive. In a sense, you shouldn’t ignore any of them, but you do need to pick and choose which ones you want to have an impact on your future shooting. Everyone’s opinion is legitimate. They will say what they are thinking. It’s just that some of those thoughts really don’t apply to the intent of your image.
Let’s say you want to be a pro shooter. You better seek out and listen to the people who do that sort of thing. Start shooting that way, show those images to your water sport friends, and you very well may get lots of yawns. Show those same friends a picture of a crashing surfer that is blurry, overexposed with water spots on the lens and they might think it is the best ever. The pro shooters will just tell you to sell your camera gear.
So here is the thing: don’t try to be something you’re not. Don’t let someone lead you where you don’t want to go. Take advice from people who are aligned with your personal goals. Most importantly, align yourself with the audience that you wish to have. If you want to shoot family picnics, do that and offer the images to the families. Don’t try to win a national photo contest with those same images. It may not be the photo that is wrong, it just may be the wrong audience.