Why do photographers create photographs? That’s an interesting question, and it’s one that, of course, has no concrete answer. It’s about validation in large part, but there are as many different kinds of validation as there are photographers. We all have slightly different goals, some large and some smaller. But no matter what these goals are, whether your goal is to make a living, to become famous, or to simply share your artwork with friends and family, all of these goals are just as valid as any other goal you could have in mind. There is, and there can be, no one right reason to create photographs.
So with these thoughts in mind, let’s take a look at some of these motivations. Perhaps you’ve not yet decided on what path you’d like to take as a photographer. If so, this might help you decide! Along the way, I’ll share a few insights so that you have some idea what it’s going to take to achieve some of these goals.
Photographing for Enjoyment
For many photographers, the only validation or motivation they need to keep taking photographs is simple enjoyment. These photographers don’t necessarily care if they ever make money on their photographs or see their art in museums. They just enjoy the process of creation, and they’re happy to learn at whatever pace feels reasonable, with whatever gear they can afford. Their sense of accomplishment comes from making the photographs.
And for a lot of photographers, this is the only way to go. When we start monetizing our images, whether by selling them to magazines or galleries or by starting our own portrait business, then the art becomes a job. For some of us, when art becomes work, it becomes less enjoyable. This is something to think about if you’re on the fence about becoming a career photographer or simply keeping your art as a hobby. If you’d prefer to take photos just for yourself, then that is just as good a motivation as any other.
Photographing for Publication
Other photographers may have dreams of publication. Newspapers, magazines, online publications—these are all great goals to strive for, and in order to accomplish these goals, photographers will need to spend lots of time polishing their skills. Publication is a competitive business, so for the photographer interested in this path, a competitive spirit is needed. You’ll need to be on the cutting edge of photography in order to compete with all the other photographers who are submitting images for publication.
But the rewards are worth it! There is a little thrill that comes each time you send an image in as part of a query or as a submission. And, of course, the biggest thrill of all is when your images are accepted and put into print for all to see.
Photographing for Contests
Contests are a fun goal—and they’re a goal that dovetails nicely with photography as a hobby. If you’re not looking to make money from photography, but you’d like just a little more validation on the quality of your artwork than you’d get from friends and family, then take a look around and see what photography contests might interest you. County and state fairs often have contests, and you’ll find them at local, regional and national levels, too.
To compete, you’ll need to pay careful attention to rules. For instance, a county fair contest might have several different categories, like portraiture, landscapes, and black and white imagery. Other contests may center around a cause, like raising money for a wildlife rehabilitation center, in which case, you’ll likely need to submit photos of wildlife. Check out contests in your specific areas of photography, and when you do win an award, you’ll experience a thrill like no other! Plus, you’ll have a nice trophy or ribbon to help you remember your accomplishment.
Portraiture and Event Photography
This is a lofty goal, indeed, but for many photographers, it’s the people that make the difference. Portraiture and event photography is unique in that it puts you in contact with all kinds of interesting people. Families who want mementos for their mantlepieces, couples who are getting married and so on—these are all people who need your help to create lasting images. The photographer who is interested in this kind of photography is one who enjoys helping people create memories.
And to get into this type of photography, you’ll need people skills in addition to photographic skills. You’ll need to learn how to build a rapport with your subjects so that they feel comfortable in front of your lens. You’ll likely also have a higher investment in your business than most other types of photographers because you’ll need to invest not only in all the basic equipment that any photographer might use, but also websites, portfolios, assistants, and portable equipment so that you can handle lighting and whatever other concerns crop up on location. That said, when you’ve successfully created a collection of photos for your clients, you’ll enjoy the deep sense of satisfaction that comes with creating a lasting memory for someone.
Selling Fine Art Photography
For some of us, the validation comes with the sale of a favorite print. We spend hours upon hours in the field, hunting for amazing subjects, exploring the world around us. And then we spend yet more hours honing our digital negatives until we have something that we think is ready for the world to see. The next part of the challenge comes with trying to sell that image—and there are lots of options. Some fine art photographers sell online, others sell at art fairs, and still more chase the dream of gallery exhibitions.
This is a type of photography that requires patience. Many more people are interested in photographs of their weddings or their families than they are in buying fine art prints to hang on their walls. You’ll be marketing to a select group of art aficionados, and sales can be few and far between. But, when those sales do come, you’ll experience a sense of achievement that will make all the hard work leading up to the sale worthwhile.
In the end, the most important thing is to have fun with photography. Figure out what goals you have, and what things motivate you to create. Not every kind of goal and not every kind of validation is for every photographer. Whether you create for the enjoyment of your friends or as a way to make a living, make sure that you choose goals that you find personally fulfilling.