Ever get stuck trying to figure out whether your pictures are really any good? The reason is simple. You’re not getting inside other people’s heads. See your pictures are your audience will see it. As photographers, we see the world as components. Light. Composition. Aperture. Shutter speed. So much so, that the first thing you usually hear in most critiques is about the technical problems. But if you’ve ever watched your clients look at their pictures, you’ll soon discover this simple fact. They like the strangest things. That’s because they don’t care about the technical components. They just look at the picture and react.
A good picture is never a laundry list of elements. Technical perfection matters little if you don’t get your point across. Photography is using those technical elements to create the reaction you want. If you don’t know how some moments emote, if you don’t know body language, how lenses affect mood, or when blurry is too blurry, then you can’t make the most out of your arsenal. Think of performers. Great performers are finely attuned to their audiences. For example, illusionists are masters of anticipating reactions. Their whole craft rides on it. If they don’t know where you’ll look, how you’ll feel, and what you’ll do, they can’t create the proper deception.
Most photographers, on the other hand, are blissfully unaware. Few have even the slightest idea of how their own pictures communicate. When you see another photographer’s work, you know right away if it works (or, at least, if you think it works). You can figure out why it works after the fact, but the idea, the thought, the feeling – that was there from the get go. You just know it when you see it. But when you take the picture yourself, because of your own involvement, you’re denied that reaction, blinding you from the ability to assess your own pictures the way others see you.
Instead, it becomes guesswork. Will someone see this? Will they react to that? Without this understanding, the only way to know a picture works is to make it like someone else’s. If that picture worked, so too must yours, the logic goes. It’s the surest way to find yourself stuck in and endless cycle of replication. You’re either throwing out what’s already been done, or you’re throwing pencils at the wall to see what sticks. The key to gaining sovereignty over your work is to be like a performer. Understand the craft of creating reactions. Once you do so, you own your images. You become a creator. When you know what your pictures say and how people will react, you can take acceptance and rejection in the proper context. You can push boundaries and discover new ground. When you understand others, you can understand yourself.
Very well said, Spencer. I do learn from you with every post you share. Thank you so much.
Awesome stuff Spencer! Very nice article and I like the fact I can read it in 3 minutes flat!
Short and to the point.
Spencer Lum says