When’s the last time you asked yourself who your audience was, or who you were shooting for? What difference might it make to your craft, depending on who “they” were?
You’re your own first viewer. You saw these things before they were photos, remember, and saw them through the process of composing, exposing, and editing. And it’s not at all uncommon, having lived with our photos and ourselves for so long, that we take for granted what they’re saying is as evident to someone else as it is to us.
Shooting “for” a friend or mentor is a way around that particular trap. I put the “for” in quotes ’cause you don’t necessarily have to tailor every last aspect of your photography to that one individual (in fact, I’d suggest you don’t, ’cause you’re likely to end up crestfallen if you’re relying just on the input or approval of one person, even if you are that one person). Instead, I’d suggest that it keeps us from falling into the trap of creating self-absorbed, solipsistic crap. There’s plenty of that around as it is, so there’s no need for you or I or anyone else to add to it.
Which brings us to the ultimate acid test: putting your work out before the public, whether for sale or for show. Even our best critics, the ones we can count on for criticism that’s useful and perceptive, aren’t exactly going to prepare you for someone passing judgment on your work with their wallet. If you go that route, just bear in mind that low sales don’t mean you suck any more than robust sales mean that you’re the second coming of Brassai.
Of course, any of these audiences (even, or perhaps especially, counting ourselves) can be notoriously picky and fickle lot. Putting your work out there, whether it’s to anyone who’ll sit through your latest batch of snapshots, or a trusted friend/mentor or two is invaluable. Sometimes we know so well what it is that we set out to do, and the meaning we sought to convey, that we see it plain as day even when it isn’t there. Having a fresh set of eyes on your work is a necessary first step to let us know when we have, or haven’t, “got it.”
At some point, that transitions to us being able to take on that “outsider” role for ourselves and to be able to view our own work objectively after all the subjectivity that went into making it. It might feel a bit odd at first, but it’s a worthwhile habit to cultivate; when you’re not just shooting for yourself, you’ll be on your way to finding something that resonates with more people, but also on your way to making sure your images are saying what you mean them to say.