If you were the last person on earth, would you still take a photo?
Some thoughts on for whom you are photographing.
Imagine yourself strolling down the streets of a tiny town in Cuba. You’ve got your camera around your shoulder and the sun is slowly setting, allowing the late light to paint beautiful patterns on the worn walls. You pass by an open-air restaurant where all the tables are set and it is empty of people. The wind has made the table cloths move so much that half of the glasses have tipped over and some of the plates have fallen to the ground. A huge tree branch is hanging over the setting, the longest twig with its huge green leaves is just touching the middle table. The sun shines through the leaves, creating lines in the swirling dust.
It is a simple but impressive setting. This is the kind of photo that would get loads of likes on your Instagram account. Or be perfect as an opening image for a magazine. Or, with the right post-processing, probably sell very well in a gallery.
Your arm is about to pick up the camera.
There is just one thing.
You know for a fact, that you are for sure the very last person on earth.
There are no other humans alive.
Would you still take the picture?
I believe the question is one of the most important ones to answer as a photographer. It tells you whether you work and play for yourself or want to be seen as great in the eyes of others.
You go through different phases as a photographer. Usually, when you realize that you have a love for photography, you just play. There is no one that steers your camera in a specific direction, other than yourself. You decide what to take photos of, without any larger goal in mind.
Then, you start to sell your work. You find the first client that is willing to pay — good or bad — for a few of your photos. And then you find another one. And then another one. Suddenly, you are able to make a living on your passion. And somewhere along this road, things start to change. Your focus started to shift from taking pictures of what you love, towards taking pictures that other people will probably love.
But if you want to be able to call yourself an artist, you need to work towards shooting for yourself, not for others.
It’s a good thing though (at least for a while). Working for others will teach you a lot about how the business works. And you could continue to work for others, for the rest of your career. You would be able to call yourself a photographer. But if you want to be able to call yourself an artist, you need to work towards shooting for yourself, not for others.
”Clients” is not limited to just magazines and agencies. In the ”new era of photography”, your clients could as well be your thousands of followers on Instagram or the readers of your newsletter. It is easy to make a living on your passion nowadays. Yes, I said that it is easy to make a living off what you love, you just need to believe it and never stop working towards it.
Whoever your clients, customers or followers might be, they like you because of what you do. And you need to stay on track at all times, making sure that you do not shoot for a result that you think as many as possible will like, but to shoot whatever feels good in your stomach!
In a world where everything circles around collecting the affection and appreciation of others, it is not an easy task to do what you love exactly as YOU like it. In a time where everything is social and the only way to win life is to make as many people as possible interact with you.
Do you work solely for your own pleasure? Or are you chasing the confirmation and likes of others, altering your photos towards what you think people will like? Do you take pictures just because you love the sound of the shutter or do you do it because you can’t wait to hear the notification sound on your phone, saying that someone ”liked” your shot?
You probably didn’t sit down at one time and decide that ”I will try to find motifs and compositions that as many people as possible will like”. It is not your fault. In the same way that camera manufacturers (or any kind of company) is trying to tell you why buying their product is essential for your continuous living on this planet, social media companies are doing everything they can to make you spend more and more time on their platforms. So it is really easy to get caught up.
Not only does the urge to please other take up a lot of focus from your work, it also takes away a lot of time. You feel that you’ll have to spend hours on blogging, tweeting, instagramming and so on. Time that could be more wisely spent on producing a larger body of work.
What is happening nowadays is the same thing that has been a struggle for photographers since the advent of the camera. The fight between working commercially and working artistically. Money or passion. It’s a fact that you need some kind of income to survive and to be able to do what you love. Before you are an established photographer, you will have to adapt to the magazine or the other clients that you are shooting for, in order to produce what they are expecting.
You have a vision. You have a unique way of seeing everything around you and of creating your photos.
I’m a photographer and I have the opportunity to work with what I love. And within that work, I can do it exactly as I like it. I work towards being able to go out every day, and take pictures of exactly what I feel like taking pictures of. Editing them exactly as I want. And then, it is just a question of finding the audience that loves what I do.
You have a vision. You have a unique way of seeing everything around you and of creating your photos. It might not be fully developed yet (it will never be, actually). You should nurture it by listening more to yourself and less to others. Do what YOU want, every day, or at least a part of every day.
So, imagine you are the last person on earth. Would you continue to take photos or is everyone that you shoot for gone?