We’ve all heard that old saying, “There’s no accounting for taste.” There’s so much truth to that. Tastes vary so much from one person to the next that no matter what, there is no one right answer that will satisfy absolutely everyone. That puts photographers in something of a conundrum. Of course, we want to produce photographs that people will love. But we can never guarantee that these images will be broadly loved because there’s just no accounting for taste.
What’s more, within photography, there are so many different aesthetics. You’ve got the divide between the film and the digital aesthetic. Some of us love that old film look—the beautiful grain, the natural softness that comes with these images. Things like the rich, warm tones of Kodachrome. But other people may prefer the digital look, which is typically sharper, crisper, clearer, often without color casts unless the photographer chose to add them.
There are different techniques that produce their own unique aesthetics, too. Black and white photography can have an old-fashioned look, or it can feature stark contrasts. HDR photography is known for its loud colors and broad exposures. Tilt-shift photography can make real scenes look like something out of a model or a diorama, and for some, things like macro photography are the most pleasing aesthetic because we love seeing minuscule things blown up larger than life.
That’s the thing about photography. There’s just so much that we can do to tailor to personal tastes. Lots and lots of different techniques, each appealing to different subsets of people.
That’s where the quandary comes in for some photographers, particularly those of us who make our livings selling art prints or producing books. What shall we do? It is true that some things are more likely to appeal to broader audiences than others. So should we focus on creating those things that appeal to wider audiences? Or do we create according to our own personal aesthetics, whatever the consequences may be? Some of us may be lucky in that our personal tastes happen to line up with what is broadly popular. But if those tastes don’t align with popular appeal, then what? I think in these cases, the best choice is always to follow your heart. Really, in all cases, we should always follow our hearts rather than bending against mass appeal. Even if it’s not the most popular thing, create according to your tastes. Why? Because that’s the best—and in fact, the only—way to create something that you’ve invested a large part of yourself in. And that investment of yourself? That’s how you create a piece of art that truly means something, whether or not it appeals to the masses. If you’re out there taking pictures, but you’re not quite on board with the styling because you’re going against your own personal aesthetic, then the images won’t mean as much to you, and the end result could very well be lackluster.