One of the unique things about photography is the many different categories of photography and types of shooting you can do. Regardless if your a pro or a serious hobbyist, or even a soccer mom taking family snaps, photos tend to fall into a category or niche`. There's portrait work, sports, landscape, nature, glamor, macro, wedding and event, and so on. Some people specialize, some folks try to do it all.
I make my living shooting motorsports… I shoot a lot of motorsports. But as I stated before, I'm not what you'd call a race "fan." I enjoy the racing and the cars, to be sure. But I'm not in it as a fan or to be around the cars… my true passion is the photography.
Given that, I shoot a lot for leisure as well. There's nothing I enjoy more than some quiet time alone just walking around with my rangefinder taking photos. I enjoy taking photos of my kid and I've been known to dabble in photographing pretty girls. Truth is, I probably enjoy shooting the pretty girls more than the race cars… I've always been a fan of pretty girls and enjoy being around them. Go figure!
Lately I started thinking about who I'm shooting for or who my obligation is to. Because I love what I do, I'm shooting for me and my enjoyment. But, let's face it, when I'm trackside, I have clients and I'm shooting for my dinner. Money is definitely a motivation that can't be left from the equation. And even shooting pretty girls is also somewhat client driven, but typically its a trade in kind since most of the girls aren't in a position to match my day rate anyway. But that's ok… it gives me the freedom to shoot what I want to shoot, build a portfolio (and reputation) and to even say no.
Of course photos of my kid can be a mixed bag. First, he can be a reluctant model. But the "job" requires a mixed bag of technique. You get action, sports, event, portrait, candids… fortunately, no wedding yet (I DON'T do weddings and I assure you I won't shoot that one either).
The point of all this brings me back to the title; Who Are You Shooting For?
I realized recently that with the different types of shooting I do, each comes with different motivation and (if you're serious) obligation. Compensation aside, I realized that creatively I shoot differently based on who the audience is going to be.
It would be nice and albeit noble if I could simply announce that I am slave to no one… only my craft and my vision. But let's face it, we all have to make a living. And I think we all crave some level of approval. I think we all want to make pictures that others enjoy and admire.
So given my three main categories of shooting, motorsports, pretty girls, and my kid, it occurred to me that I had subconsciously developed a self-imposed sense of obligation to each. I realized that when I shot motorsports I did it with a goal of pleasing the audience…. clients, race fans etc. But when I shoot pretty girls, I feel an obligation to the subject. And of course, with personal photos I want to please myself and provide joy for other family members.
Because I shoot a lot, I been doing this on auto pilot and somewhat subconsciously. You probably have too. But for me, it was the glamor shooting that made me more aware of it. I found myself being very protective of my subjects and working harder to make them comfortable and happy with the results. Also, I think it is an issue of trust. Winning a model's trust can go a long way to getting the most out of a shoot. It provides them with a comfort level that allows them to relax and extend their reach to get something good from the session. When they know you have their best interest at heart, you'll get the real deal.
Ultimately, my obligation shooting race cars is to my client and race fans. Simply put, they are the end viewer. With glamor photography my obligation is to the subject. With family photos I'm shooting with an obligation to the subject and a limited audience of close family members.
The big challenge is recognizing and acknowledging that obligation, accomplishing the goal, all-the-while remaining true to yourself, your art and your vision.
Of course, there will be those idealistic artists who will argue that you're selling out and that you should only shoot art for the sake of art. I don't buy it. Yes I'm selling… but I'm not selling out. If your "art" doesn't have an audience, while it may be art, no one is seeing it. Kind of like the tree that falls in the forest with no one around; does it make a sound? Or maybe like having sex… by yourself? Ok… we'll leave it at that.
Your pictures deserve an audience and like it or not, you have an obligation to emotionally move that audience.
Try applying this criteria to your own shooting. Whether you're a pro, serious hobbyist or the family's designated camera guy/girl. Think about who's looking at the end product and what they're hoping for. Work to that goal while striving to stay honest to your own creativity and esthetic. It might just change the way you shoot.
And yes… I might be wrong.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: If you're in the San Francisco area, please make a note; I'll be presenting at Apple in San Francisco September 19th, 2011 at 6:30PM - There will be a photo presentation, discussion and brief explanation on how I use Apple's Aperture and other tools in my workflow. Hope to see you there.