The photographs we take are designed to be viewed by someone – that may just be yourself, but most of the time there’ll be other people looking at your photos. These ‘audience’ or ‘viewers’ look, judge and react to pictures differently.
In this article, I’ll walk you through ways to understand your audience. This will allow you to capture images that are more engaging, emotionally connecting and interesting for the purposes of increasing popularity for social media and growing a photography business.
Firstly, it’s worth knowing that is hard to completely controls who sees your photography, especially if you post images online. You can certainly create images that appeal to a certain demographic, but these won’t be the only people viewing – why does this matter?
There is a false expectation that some photographers carry that if they follow you online then they like your images – this may not be the case and lead to lower levels of engagement than expected.
Audiences may connect with due for a variety of reasons; your personality, you’re local, you’re consistently online etc., They may be interested in becoming a photographer themselves and looking for ideas rather than celebrating your work. It’s important to know this to measure expectations sometimes.
Building an audience of online followers requires time and patience. Use analytics to establish the genders, age, locations, availability and devices of your audiences to help craft your work (in line with your beliefs & style) accordingly.
Everywhere! Your photography’s audience, in the digital world, is all around you. They may be your next door neighbours or people on the other side of the world you’ve never heard of.
Either way, where your audience is doesn’t really matter, as you can always find a way of connecting and communicating with them online.
What is more important is to know what they like, and why they like it.
Firstly, this is different for everyone. If we all had the same tastes then taking a popular photo would be a formulaic process – but it’s not. Yet there are some basic human and psychological factors that make some photos more appealing than others.
Simplicity is one of the most appealing aspects of a photo. We’ve got enough going on in our lives that delivers chaos, busyness, confusion and drama – this is where photography can offer an escape. Many photographers become such as a way of escaping something in their personal lives too – so why wouldn’t our audience feel the same?
Capturing images with a clear and obvious message, something with a single subject of impact helps audiences know what the shot is about instantly. They don’t want to spend ages figuring out and looking for purpose.
We live in a world bold headlines and people vying for our attention – your photography almost needs to do the same to stand out. The less your audience has to think about the more time it gives them to emotionally react.
Image: Above – The image is clear and recognisable quickly. Below – The same subject, while some may see artistic merits, takes longer for an audience to unravel and connect with.
Appeal to the familiar too – but this doesn’t mean being boring! Taking photos of scenes that are iconic, established and ones that don’t challenge status quo make people feel comfortable. But don’t let this stop you from adding your own style in these instances.
Give your audience something they’re missing. Our day-to-day lives may lack drama and interest. We have to live excitement through the stories and news others. Look to capture images with an abundance of emotion – whether happy or sad, an engaging image should make a person feel something, enough to react at least.
Being unclear as to what of photographer you are breeds a type of nervousness in audiences. Taking photos of landscapes, portraits, flowers, dogs and street signs for example doesn’t offer consistency which audiences pick up on.
We like consistency; our tv schedules, weekly rotas, daily meetings, and regular walks – all offset the drama in life and give us stability. A photographer who offers the same (high-quality) types of images, again and again, can become successful using the same approach.
While this may take time to establish your own style and niche in photography once you know what you love, run with it. Delete old images off your website and social feeds that don’t represent the future of your work to create a platform of consistency.
Image: Above – The image is underexposed and hard to describe quickly. Below – A correctly exposed photo leaves one less thing for your audience to navigate, meaning they can connect faster.
Being negative is something that will turn people away too. If your image captions are akin to ‘I don’t really like the shot but posting it anyway’ – then stop posting altogether!
Trying to build an audience through sympathy or guilt isn’t going to do your reputation as a photographer any good. It’s hard to shift a first impression. It’s unlikely people will come back to you even if you try to be more positive. Focus more on the positives of your work and what you love about it and ask if others love it too.
Work privately on the errors in your work, but don’t let your audience feel unsure about your ability in total. Share moments of human frailties as a photographer but keep the produce of your work elite.
If the technical quality of your photos isn’t optimised this could also stop people from liking your work. Getting your shots sharp, well exposed, correctly framed and beautifully edited are the foundations of photography. Practising your photography to make sure you’re offering the best possible product will fight half the battle for you when appealing to an audience.
You may be able to talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?
Image: Technically proficient photos are what audiences expect these days. Photography by Chris Sale
Quality – every single day of the week, and more!
The quality of your work is far more important than the amount of images you post, share, print etc. Audiences don’t have enough time to look through all your photos to assess how good this ranks amongst others you’ve taken. You get 1-2 seconds of their attention to decide whether they want more of you or not – those precious seconds need to win them over.
10 average photos will never stand up against 1-2 incredible images. Don’t believe that posting lots of images in the hope of filling up your audience’s timelines will bait them into following you – it will in fact do the opposite.
Despite all the guidance, tips and tricks I’ve outlined in this article, one thing remains at the heart – don’t take pictures you wouldn’t normally take just for the sake of popularity.
It’s far more rewarding and humbling to know that you and your audience both love the work that you produce. The internet is permanent, everything you post is forever, so make sure what you share is something you love.
As you grow you may look back at your earlier work and think the standard isn’t good enough, but remember that it was the best you could do at the time – and that’s enough.
Have a look online and at local art fairs at the accounts and photos of other photographers. What makes you want to know more about them – why are you following you them? A little bit of analysis goes a long way in the digital world. While everyone might have different reasons, they will all filter down to the tips and guidance I’ve already outlined.
But finally, will all this said working against the tropes of ‘what makes a photo popular’ doesn’t automatically mean it won’t be, which seems like a contradiction in terms, but let me explain.
Any photo can be popular and well received – if it has the right audience. Finding and growing the right audience for your photography is what we’re all looking for but that doesn’t mean you should compromise your photography for others. Crafting a niche is seen a popular move to escape the mainstream but still become popular in a different arena.
Image: Never let audiences dictate what you shoot. Remember why you started taking photos in the first place.
Doing the basics well and enjoying your photography should be the first thought that comes to mind when you have a camera in your hand. As soon as starts to become less fun, you may be at the whim of audiences and trends shooting images you wouldn’t normally.
Bookmark and save this article so you can find it again in the future to refresh your memory. If you’ve got any other questions about photography chances are you’ll find the answers in some of our other articles and tutorials below.