I’m not asking if you shoot weddings, sports, or just make snapshots of your family. These are one way to define a type of photography, but there is another way to describe your pictures.
If you have your subjects turn and look at the camera and say “cheese” there is a good chance you enjoy making photos for mainly your personal use. You like making photos and putting these in photo albums so you can revisit these moments in time. I think everyone likes to make these types of photos for recording their family history. Earlier in my career when I managed 1-hour photo labs I saw some incredibly well done photography that would fit into this category.
I had a few customers who did an excellent job of getting good expressions of their friends and family looking at the camera. The photos were not so tight of the people that you didn’t know where they were, but they would show their friends in front of the Eifel Tower where you could see the people close to the camera with the location in the background easily identifiable.
This type of photographer, snap-shot or memory jogger photographer, is concerned in recording a moment in time and who was there at that moment.
Another style is abstract photography. This would be an instrumental composition with no words to use music as an analogy. The composition and lighting may be well done, but the viewer’s responses are usually wide-ranging.
Ansel Adams is one of the most prominent abstract photographers. His photos create a mood and tone rather than deliver a specific message.
Elliott Porter, another giant in the genera of abstract photography, gave a prefect example of the portrayal of beauty or eliciting of an emotion with his photography rather than a photojournalist statement of fact. When asked (by a photo editor for a news magazine) what he would do if he came upon a stream polluted and covered with oil Porter said, “I could not help but show the beauty of it regardless of the tragedy.”
In some abstract photographs the subject is recognizable, yet others may be so bizarre there is no subject recognition at all. The common theme for these types of photographers a striking image. A specific message is not the purpose.
Then there’s the communications photographer. Their goal is to deliver a precise message. Many techniques used by the abstract photographer are employed, but the message is the thing.
Some communication photographers are conceptual in approach. Their work is thematic. The theme maybe as simple as illustrating an intangible, say hot or cold or “going green.” Their photos communicate an idea.
Life magazine was one of the first places Americans were exposed to photojournalism. These photographers deliver a message, but beyond the message they are pursuing truth. They want to tell the subject’s story accurately in order to obtain a response from the viewer; to make those seeing the photos want to take some action.
In between the conceptual photographer and the photojournalist are many breeds of photographers who are concerned with capturing a message and having the audience engaged with it.
Some photographers can move easily between these approaches. One day they may be covering a news event for a wire service (photojournalism) and the next day shooting and annual report or recruiting guide for a college. They know how to adjust the approach so they are not violating ethics of the professional photojournalist.
What do these styles have in common? The finest photographers shoot what they love most. This enjoyment usually means they have invested time into their subjects and know them well.
Understanding these approaches will better help you identify the best photographer for your projects. Maybe you’re the best for the job. Maybe you need to hire someone to shoot the project for you.
Most clients look beyond a photographer’s ability with the camera. Can you trust this photographer to do the job on his own? They will be representing you. Do you need to be there directing this person?
If you have a message you need communicated you don’t need have a snap-shooter or an abstract photographer – they can fill the “holes” where the pictures are to go, but that doesn’t express your message to your audience.
Be sure your photographer can communicate your message and be someone you can trust. It is easy to hire a known quantity. It’s not so easy to find the one who will get the job done, but the search is worth the trouble.