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Why and How: Creating a Photo for a Specific Use - Part 1

Have you ever wondered how some photographers manage to win prestigious contests or make exhibitions?

The answer is simple. They create photos for a specific use. When they want to participate and win a photo contest, they create photos for that purpose. It is the same for a report or an exhibition.

When I create art photos in the field, I do it knowingly.

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 impact and meaning.

Silhouette of a red deer stag during the rut of the deer. Photo created for an exhibition. Photograph by Amar Guillen, photographer artist.
Silhouette of a red deer stag during the rut of the deer. Photo created 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. I thought at the time, that it was an activity in which I could fully blossom. I had in mind that I was going to travel in total freedom and that I would be given all the latitude I needed to take the pictures I wanted.

I had not done any marketing analysis. It was a field I did not know 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 She asked me if I wanted to collaborate with the agency. I accepted immediately because it was unhoped for. Over the years, we became friends. We remained friends until she passed away.

At that time, I was passionate about black and white photography of shipwrecks. I found that this creative technique 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 refuse them to me. 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.

They were not selling for advertising. On the other hand, the magazines and the books being printed in offset, it was difficult to correctly calibrate the printing line for color and black and white.

Thanks to Sue. I understood why a photo should always be created for a specific purpose. A photo for a mainstream magazine is not a magazine for an art gallery. In addition to the judging criteria, a photo must meet the 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 why you should always think about the use of your photos before taking them.

A Photo Is Never Universal

In previous blog posts, I have shared with you the definition of a good photo. But I have never mentioned one essential point. A good photo is never universal.

I am implying that a good photo cannot please everyone. I think that if a picture pleases everyone, it is because it is average.

You may imagine if you see a picture everywhere it is because it is a good one. It is not. You see it everywhere because art directors of magazines or publishers think it is good. Then mass marketing does its job.

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. First of all, it is appreciated by people who have a great power of diffusion to the largest possible 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. And yet they are particularly good photos that meet their public.

You should not confuse the concept of a good photo with a photo that can be seen everywhere. They are two totally different things.

I think that when a photo is good, it is good for a specific use.

The Judgement Criteria are Insufficient

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 grids of judging criteria.

But these judging criteria are insufficient to say whether a photo is good or not.

You must consider the use you will make of it. For example, during a trip you will take pictures for a social network to share your experiences and what you have seen. Or you will take photographs for a festival as part of an exhibition. Another possibility is that you will take pictures for an exhibition in a gallery. The number of possibilities for using your photos is large.

But whatever your wish, you will have to make your photos for a particular use. That is why your photos will be good. You will have an objective, a goal to achieve. If you do not photograph with this state of mind, you will disperse. Your photos will be 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.

By applying a judgment grid and having made a photo for a specific purpose, that is when a photo becomes really good.

I will give you some reasons why this is important.

Why: Creating a Photo for a Specific Use

A photo must be made for a particular use because for each use the 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. I proposed my collection of art photos "Parallel Universes" which was a great commercial success. As I expected, my proposal was turned down.

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 exposes illustrative photos, easy to read for an audience ranging from elementary school classes to adults not familiar 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 no chance to be selected. I wanted to test if this event corresponded to my activity of creator of abstract conceptual photographs. It was the case.

This personal example shows you and explains why a photograph or photographs should be made for a particular purpose. For example, a photo of a contest will certainly not be commercially successful. Abstract art photographs will not be accepted for exhibitions for the general public who may not have the artistic culture to understand them.

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 at all interested in art photos to illustrate an article.

I could multiply the examples ad infinitum. If I had to give you an important piece of advice, it is to remember that a photograph in a general way must be made for a given use.

I will now give you some good reasons to follow this advice.

Reason #1 for Creating Photos for a Specific Use: 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 experience pride, joy, and happiness. You are happy.

I understand you. I feel these same sensations when my art photos catch the attention of collectors.

You are satisfied. The creative energy within you is multiplied tenfold. You have only one desire: to return to the field to photograph.

You will propose these new photos for contests, exhibitions, or a report. The loop is closed.

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 Photos for a Specific Use: Pleasing Your Audience

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