So if photo buyers are looking for images that tell a story, just what the heck does that even mean? This is a common question I get (minus the “heck” part). All too often such concepts regarding the business of photography are totally vague and abstract. Aspiring photographers want concrete facts, a formula for success, a business plan that will get the ball rolling and the checks cashing.
Like all things in art, the idea of telling a story with an image is subjective by nature. There are no set guidelines, no formulas for success. Personally, I think that this is why many photographers get stuck on surgical perfection of technique and shy away from the more difficult and more abstract concept of telling a story with an image. It’s far easier to focus on exposure, light, histograms, the pros and con’s of one type of metering mode vs another, and the like.
On my Tetons workshops, often times participants will end up wandering around a world renowned photographer’s gallery in town. No names here for a reason, but if you have been to Jackson Hole then you know which gallery it is.
One thing that I have come to expect is that questions regarding technical quality inevitably come up. When these photographer’s have become so used to hearing from their peers about what is and what is not a good image, seeing these massive prints for sale carrying $10,000 price tags that don’t hold up to their mindset of technical perfection, they are confused. They all admit that the subject matter of the photographs were fantastic and dramatic, but often times in their minds this sort of impact comes second to the mental checklist of what an image is supposed to have in order to be good. That mental checklist probably looks something like this:
Proper use of light
Right choice of depth of field
Surgically clean background
Catch light in the eye
Proper head turn or posture
Nice and tight
So not that there is anything wrong with this list. Some of it is definitely what all photographers strive for no matter what their intended use. Other parts of it are subjective – such as the blurred or surgically clean background as well as propped posture and being tight on the subject.
The devil is in the details here, and it is the subjective aspects of a photograph that are often times what allows it to tell a story and what, in the photo buyers mind, is really the point in the first place.
Now none of this is to say that you should take sloppy photographs or that you no longer need to strive for perfection. On the contrary. A bad photograph is still a bad photograph. What I am saying is that the look and feel of what many photographers strive for is not what buyers are looking for – surgically clean and perfect portraits of animals. The fact of the matter is that these are a dime a dozen and have been for a long time.
Thank about it, if everyone is striving for that same sort of image, then how many of those images are on the market? If the law of supply and demand is added to this equation then you see that this is absolutely not what buyers need another photo of. Take a look at the accompanying image set as an example. In the first photograph, we have a red fox laying on a sand dune. How many of these photographs, or something similar are out there in the world? Now take a look at the second photograph. How many photograph’s of red foxes like this do you think editors have access to?
So then how exactly does one tell a story with their images? That my friends will be the next journal post…