Why and How: Creating a Purposeful Photo
Have you ever wondered how some photographers manage to win the most prestigious contests or receive credit at elaborate exhibitions?
The answer is simple. They create photos with a specific purpose in mind. When they want to participate/win a contest, report, or exhibition, they create photos designated for each entry.
When I create art photos in the field, I am intentional with my actions.
In this article, I will share with you why a photo should always be created for a specific purpose. Experience has taught me that this is the only way to create photos that have an impact and meaning.
Table of Contents
- The Little Story Behind This Article
- A Photo Is Never Universal
- Dealing With Insufficient Judgement Criteria
- Why: Creating a Purposeful Photo
- Reason #1 for Creating Purposeful Photos: Being Satisfied and Happy
- Reason #2 for Creating Purposeful Photos: Pleasing Your Audience
- How: Creating Purposeful Photos
- Tip #1: Define Your Photographic Why
- Tip #2: Define Your Photographic Artistry
- Case Study: A Masterpiece Photo for an Exhibition
The Little Story Behind This Article
When I started my career as a professional photographer in 2003, I turned to illustrative photography. At the time, I thought that it was an activity in which I could fully blossom. I planned to travel in total freedom and thought that I would have the freedom I needed to take the kinds of pictures I wanted to capture.
I had not done any marketing analysis. It was a field I knew nothing about. It took me seven years of intense work to understand my error of judgment.
In 2004, following underwater photos published in the American magazine Divers, I was contacted by Sue, the manager of the photo agency Seapics.com. She asked me if I wanted to collaborate with the agency. I accepted immediately. The connection quickly became an unexpected treasure. Over the years, Sue and I became friends, and we remained friends until she passed away.
At that time, I was passionate about black and white photography of shipwrecks. I found that the creative technique of black and white made them even more majestic and graceful. I took a lot of time to develop the images.
Then I proposed them to Seapics. Each time, Sue would politely turn them down. After several unsuccessful proposals of subjects that seemed interesting to me, I asked Sue what the reasons for these refusals were. She explained that for magazines and book publishers, black and white was not a good technique.
Black and white simply would not sell for the marketing realm, specifically in advertising. Moreover, magazines and pamphlets were being printed in offset, which made it difficult to correctly calibrate the printing line for color and black and white.
Because of Sue, I better understood why a photo should always be created for a specific purpose in mind. A photo designed for a mainstream magazine is not going to be the same photo presented to a magazine for an art gallery. In addition to the judging criteria, a photo must meet the individual needs of the client.
When I became a photographic artist, my understanding became even more refined.
In the rest of the article, I will share with you my experience and the reasons why you should always consider the purpose of your photos before taking them.
A Photo Is Never Universal
In previous blog posts, I have discussed the definition of a good photo. But I have not mentioned an essential point, which is that a good photo is never universal.
What I mean to say is that a good photo cannot please everyone. I believe that if a picture pleases everyone, it is because it is average.
If you continue to see a certain picture again and again, you may think that it is popular because it is a good one. However, this is not always the case. You may be seeing it everywhere because certain art directors, magazine boards, or publishers think that it is good, when in reality it is simply average. However, mass marketing does its job of increasing popularity.
Since the photo can be seen on billboards, newsstands or in Internet advertisements, you get the impression that everyone finds it beautiful and interesting. Well, they do not. It is appreciated by people who have access to powerful social media and marketing channels circulating to a large number of people.
In my job as a photographic artist, I find that photos that sell for more than $100,000 are unknown to the general public. Moreover, they are often exceptional photos of incredible quality.
You should not confuse the concept of a good photo with a photo that is seen everywhere. Just because a photo is popular does not mean that it is good. These are two totally different things.
I think that when a photo is good, it is good for a specific use.
Dealing With Insufficient Judgement Criteria
In several blog posts, I have shared with you some ways for judging photographs. I have developed both objective and subjective methods.
To judge a photo, you must always use a checklist of judging criteria.
However, these judging criteria are insufficient to determine whether a photo is actually good or not.
You must also consider its use. For example, during a trip you will take pictures for a social network to share your experiences and what you have seen. Or you may take photographs for a festival as part of an exhibition or gallery. The number of possibilities for the use of the photo is endless.
Regardless of your wishes or interest in the photo, you will want to find a purpose for it, for having a purpose for the photo increases its value. There will always be an objective or a goal you may want to achieve. If you do not photograph with this state of mind, you will quickly lose your passion, and your photos will become more and more average.
During all these years working as a professional photographer, I have learned one essential thing. Each photo must be made for a particular purpose.
It is in applying a judgment checklist and identifying a specific purpose, that a photo transforms from being an average photo to an exceptional one.
I will give you some reasons for why this is important.
Why: Creating a Purposeful Photo
A photo must be made for a specific use because each audience is different.
Let me give you a personal example. A few years ago, I proposed an exhibition at the international festival of ‘Montier en Der’ in France which was my collection of art photos "Parallel Universes". Although it was a great commercial success, my proposal was turned down. I had suspected that this might happen.
Even if my photos were all taken in nature on ponds in Dombes, they did not correspond at all to the subjects exposed at ‘Montier en Der’. The festival highlights illustrative photos that are best suited for an audience including those enrolled in an amateur school class or adults unfamiliar with photography. It is a generalist festival. The jury that selects the exhibitions is composed of illustrative photographers and not photographer artists. My exhibition had almost no chance of being selected, but I wanted to test if this event corresponded to my activity as a creator of abstract conceptual photographs. I found my guess to be right.
This personal example explains why a photograph(s) should be made for a particular purpose. For example, a photo for a themed contest will certainly not be commercially successful. Abstract art photographs will not be accepted for amateur exhibitions directed towards the general public who may not possess artistic cultural appreciation.
An art curator will not be interested in reportage photos as part of an art photo exhibition.
Likewise, the editor of a magazine will not be interested in art photos to illustrate an article.
I could multiply these examples ad infinitum. If I had to give you an important piece of advice, it is to remember that a photograph must be made for a specific purpose.
I will now provide some good reasons for why you should heed this advice.
Reason #1 for Creating Purposeful Photos: Being Satisfied and Happy
When one of your photos is selected for a contest or when one of your series is selected for a festival exhibit, you will be overwhelmed with pride and joy. It is pure bliss.
I understand you. I feel these same emotions when my art photos catch the eye of esteemed collectors.
You feel satisfied. The creative energy within you is multiplied tenfold. You have only one desire: to return to the field to photograph again.
You will propose these new photos for contests, exhibitions, or a report. The loop is endless.
To achieve this feeling of fullness because you have reached a personal goal, you must photograph with an idea in mind. Your photos must be created for a specific purpose.
Reason #2 for Creating Purposeful Photos: Pleasing Your Audience