Audiences are a tricky beast! Who are these people? On the broad scale, we often categorize our audiences into two groups: Those who look at prints, and those who consume photography digitally. But that is painting with a very, very broad brush—and it’s vital that we go deeper to really understand audiences and their various disparate fragmentations.
I’ll get into why it’s so critical that we understand these audiences in a bit. First, let’s take a look at how these audiences fragment into a variety of smaller groups. For instance, on the digital side of things, it’s not good enough to simply say “digital viewers.” Digital audiences can be subdivided into social media audiences, those who visit photographers’ websites, those who subscribe to email lists for PDF images, those who follow digital photography magazines, and so on.
Those categories can be further subdivided into even narrower audiences. Social media is the easy example here: Facebook audiences, Instagram audiences, people who watch photography slideshows on YouTube, people who follow photographers on Twitter. The list goes on.
And on the print side of things? It’s easy to assume that this subgrouping of audiences is more simplistic, but in truth, there are lots and lots of ways to consume printed photographs. There are people who collect coffee table books full of photography. There are people who consume art at museums, people who frequent galleries hunting for “the one” to purchase—again, the list goes on.
Now we get into why it’s critical to understand these audiences. That’s because each of these audiences is looking for something different. On social media, people often want sharable things that encourage them to click like buttons and share things they enjoy with their own friends and followers. Some social media sites encourage discussion, which means the people there are looking for “meaty” photographs that they can talk about at length.
People subscribing to email lists aren’t necessarily looking for sharable images, but rather images that hit their inboxes with impact. These are often people who enjoy pouring over a photographer’s collection of digital images while they sip their morning coffee.
The same can be said for the print audiences—everyone here is looking for something a little bit different. People browsing galleries and buying photographs are often looking for large single images that make a statement. People collecting coffee table books are looking for a story told through a series of images, or they’re looking for a collective body of work to enjoy.
I’m sure if we really dig into this, we’ll find that I’m missing dozens of these little subdivisions—but the subdivisions aren’t the main point. The main point is that when we understand these audiences, we can find them, and choose which among them to make our own.
By this, I don’t mean creating photographs to suit particular audiences. Rather, I think it’s better to find the audiences that suit what we’ve already created. If you enjoy creating images in a series, then perhaps those who subscribe to PDFs or collect books are audiences for you because these are people more likely to want to look at groups of images. If you’re largely a creator of single statement images, then posting them on Instagram or displaying them in galleries may be the way to go.
For every photographer, there is an audience. The key isn’t to mold yourself to fit one of those audiences, but to find the people who are looking for what you have to offer.