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What are you doing with your photos

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What are you doing with your photos

Why thinking about who sees your photos matters

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Have you ever thought about who sees your photographs and why?

How do you decide the different audiences for your work, does anyone help you with this?

Keith Cooper looks at the different audiences for his photos and suggests a process that may help you decide why you want to take photos of particular types, and how you might want to use them.


Thinking about your photos

There are more and more photos around us these days, and we all absorb these in different ways, There are lots of different channels by which such imagery arrives in front of us, so many you’ve perhaps not even thought about how they differ.

The thing is that all these photos have had some reason(s) to make their way to you.

As a photographer you have a wide degree choice as to where your images go, whether it’s phone snaps on Twitter, prints on your wall, or like myself, sending photos to a paying client.

All our photos are not taken for the same reason, but it can sometimes help to step back and think about why you take different photos. This may seem easy in some cases, such as recording a family event or holiday. Other photos can easily fall into the ‘because I felt like it’ category, which whilst a step in the right direction, may not actually be that informative.

Let’s start then with a broad list of why you take photos. For myself this is something to write down on a piece of paper, that you can put down and add to as new stuff occurs. I’m also going to suggest not doing it on a computer or phone – a hand written bit of paper in your pocket or on the sofa as you watch TV is much more immediate.  [Showing my age perhaps, but also based on years of HCI and design research before I took up photography]

Write down 7 reasons you take photos

Of course if you can come up with more, so be it. If you find it difficult then perhaps the next step might help? Why seven? – it’s enough to make the task a bit more taxing…

So, who looks at your photos

sample image files

A few pictures taken one afternoon

Let’s consider every photo you took in the last 6 months. That’s every photo.

The person who’s likely seen most of them is you. I only say most, since we all make mistakes, pressing the shutter button by accident, forgetting to turn on a flash unit, or other technical faults. I happen to keep in my backups, everything downloaded from a memory card and never delete files in-camera, so even my errors are somewhere I could always check.

You may regularly cull ‘bad’ images from your camera or phone, or like myself you may just go through what’s downloaded and give a very quick yes/no/maybe rating.  This is your first selection of what could be seen.

The next stage is to consider who looked at the photos you’ve decided to share in some way. This may be quite specific such as your relatives, or more general, such as your 97 twitter followers.

Where do your photos go – where do you make photos available for people to see?

Examples include social media in all its forms, or photo competitions at your local camera club. Note that this is just the channels you are using where your images could be seen, we’re not considering ‘likes’ or prizes.

Who or what controls visibility of your photos

There may be other people selecting what gets used or seen – ‘gatekeepers’ or ‘curators’ of your work

What people or systems control visibility of your photos

If you put photos into competitions, then it could be the judges. For social media it could be the reactions of followers or even brands that decide you are an ‘influencer’. For a print exhibition you need a gallery that is willing to let you put your stuff on the wall. That comes at a price and or need to convince someone that your work is somehow deemed ‘worthwhile’. Who decides  what worthwhile means?

Your answers to some of the questions should help you appreciate some of the routes by which your work as a photographer is seen by others.

…Or not seen, since I’m sure there are people who take photos entirely for their own sake. There’s nothing wrong with not showing your work at all, just that this article is possibly not for you ;-)

A reason for some of my photos appearing

For myself, one of the curators of my images is Karen, who runs much of the business side of Northlight Images. She runs the Northlight Twitter account [NIprophoto] – I just dabble in it every so often [Northlight99] with rather more random stuff.

She looks for photos that have some impact and maybe show examples of aspects of photography we work in that people might not think about. This can even include photos I might casually take at business networking events, where tweeting something that looks different than assorted casual phone pics reminds people who you are and (hopefully) what you do.

Karen also looks out for how our photos are being used commercially, what competitors are up to and how their stuff is used. This gets fed back to me in various ways, from subtle, to the more direct: ‘Go and take a better photo of X than this’ :-)

Putting it all together

After thinking about why I take photos and what is done with them I came up with four broad reasons that also had clear uses for them. I could make a longer list more finely differentiated, but this one felt right.

1) Paying clients.

They get the photos they’ve paid for. This depends on what we’ve agreed to provide for them, typically defined by a job brief. As part of the process, we may have put together a PDF sample portfolio specific to the client’s needs. These images come from a collection of images selected by myself and Karen.

The portfolio pictures we use come from the entire collection of what I’ve ever taken, although some may require checking with clients that we are OK to use them for publicity (we always retain copyright).

However, it’s also worth noting how my images get used – typically only a few of those supplied get picked for specific uses. We always ask for links or sample brochures if possible, since you can’t always predict just how an image or part of an image will fit in the end product.

Casting molten steel

Casting molten steel

Some images may be used for display on our web site or on Twitter and general marketing.

2) Testing stuff.

I get sent quite a few lenses/printers/papers/software etc. to test and write up reviews/articles. It almost always involve taking  new photos or using images I’ve taken before.

This builds interest on our web site and builds good working relationships with companies. It also generates some much appreciated advertising revenue. The traffic to the web site benefits the commercial parts of the site from an SEO perspective.

From a personal POV, the testing forces me to explore aspects of photography I might not otherwise think of. It also gets me to ‘just go out’ and take photos, a lot more than many working photographers I know.


Test prints, from testing a new paper. Images are local and taken whilst travelling.

The photos are used for articles/reviews and sometimes also by Karen for promotional purposes. Some pictures might be even be useful answering assorted photography forum questions.

The testing and articles means I’m often asked to speak about aspects of photography, such as when I created all these prints at ‘The Photography Show’ in the UK.

keiths TPS prints

Useful, but worth remembering that the audience is primarily other photographers and they don’t buy prints or commission photography work.

Every so often a print may even be selected for updating what’s hanging on the walls of our house…

3) The because I enjoy it photos

Taken when travelling, of places – very rarely of people. These are the photos where I’m using my technical skills to try and capture some emotional aspect of a scene or location. They are photos that I want to have personal meaning, and if I do it well, strike some chord with people viewing the image.

Hood Canal

Hood Canal, Washington. – see also the ‘making of‘ article

Some that make good prints may go in a gallery on this site. Others are used when writing articles/reviews. testing specific equipment or writing about photographic techniques.

Occasionally people ask for prints after seeing them on the web site.

Once again Karen get to make use of any she wants for marketing, and prints may be approved for display at home.

On a few occasions I’ve exhibited prints locally, usually after being asked by a venue. In selecting images for prints I believe it’s important to have someone else to help you curate what’s going to be shown. Photographers are notoriously bad judges of their own work. I trust Karen to look at several very similar prints and tell me why one is better, or even why none of them will do.

The giant 47 foot long photo print of Leicester generated a lot of publicity, but precious little in the way of direct print sales or paying work. It falls into the ‘testing kit’, ‘because I enjoy it’ and ‘local’ categories.

large print of city centre on wall

Leicester city centre at dusk

See – making a 47 foot long print for details about its creation.

4) ‘Local’ photos

A subset of 3). I long ago realised that living in the middle of the UK, there was almost no market for big prints [see Local sells], so although I may put some in a gallery on our site, they are mostly just there because I like them.

I’ve maybe given away a few prints (much easier when the likes of Canon and Epson lend me big printers) but sales tend to be to local businesses looking for large local prints for offices, meeting rooms and reception areas.

Nice ones may also get used for promo use, and local ones of Leicester are put into a collection and available for potential stock use.

Some are planned, some are just opportunistic. When someone asks if you want a free helicopter trip over your home – the correct answer is ‘yes’, especially if they take the doors off…

I’ve an extended collection of views over Leicester taken one afternoon that have proved popular and useful for the business too. However, definitely in the ‘Because I felt like it’ category.

Leicester clock tower

Leicester clock tower

A side note for context – YMMV ;-)

Just for a bit of context, I’d note that I rarely ever have a mobile phone with me and apart from longstanding use of Twitter and LinkedIn (on a desktop computer) I have no interest in social media from a personal or business point of view.

‘Likes’, much as ‘picture credits’ offered by people wanting free photos, don’t pay any of our bills. Sure, we’ve all heard of someone getting photography work through their IG following – we just don’t hear of the many more photographers wasting hours a day in response to a few casual ‘likes’ from distant strangers who might not even be real (are any of them?).

From a business POV, the returns compared to the effort required, simply don’t stack up – I realise this is not the popular view, but I’ve not much altered my opinions of it over recent years, or of many of the snake oil sales people I’ve seen promoting it.

I’ve quite a lot of photography business articles on the site if you’re curious about this area of photography.

So, what do you do with your photos and why do you take them

I hope this has been helpful and that thinking about what you do with your images can help you get a bit more from your photography.

Although, my examples have a strong ‘business’ element, it’s what I do…  One question that has helped me, is what photography would I do if I won the lottery and didn’t need the paying work? It made me realise that most sorts of work I do is already driven by an enjoyment of exploring that particular area, and that I wouldn’t like photographing weddings/babies/pets even if you offered me 10 times my day rate.

It’s all too easy to concentrate on the technical ‘craft’ side of things and forget that you’re taking photos for reasons. Having an idea of what they are is definitely helpful for myself.

Part of my thinking about this was after reading Thom Hogan’s thoughts on the importance of having a curator, and identifying just who or what may be taking that roll with respect to your photographs.

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