…and what do they want? A complicated question. Here are some initial thoughts.
Photo essays – the subjects
Although I have done some straight commission work, more interesting to me is the work done with no particular customer in mind. For example, when I cover a hunting meet, I don’t know in advance what sorts of shots I will get, nor who might be interested in them.
Not surprisingly, some of the customers are the subjects in the photos. They enjoy seeing pictures of themselves having fun or all dressed up for a special event. They are fond of their horses, their hounds, and their friends.
And then there are the kids, who may or may not see the photos online but who have parents and grandparents.
A special case of subjects are the staff of the hunts. They’ve seen all too many photos of themselves already, and yet they occupy a large number of shots, being the core of the hunting activity.
Still, whether or not the subjects are actual customers, they care about how they are portrayed. You might not sell a print to a huntsman, but you can probably irritate him quite effectively by portraying him in an unflattering situation, and lose an invitation to come back.
What interests me
I am interested in both the romance of the hunting scene and the participants that enact it, especially those in the animal world. No hound is ever going to buy a print, nor any fox, rabbit, heron, deer, etc. And yet there is little more thrilling than getting a shot of the elusive prey, or a glimpse of the other dwellers in the natural world.
The partnership of man and beast in pursuit of prey, the fair balance between hunter and hunted, the practical rituals that have arisen for the sport, and its emphasis on traditional values and character growth are what keep me interested in this subject.
This photography is just hunting by another means.
You yourself are the only audience that matters
As a photographer, I am most pleased when I can capture a hunting-related picture with particular merit, in composition, liveliness, or something else. Sometimes I am gratified to find those shots have an audience besides me, but I’m the one I care about pleasing.
Ideally I would only release “best” shots in a photo essay about a hunting event, but there are other considerations.
First, I find it a good practice to impose a structure for a photo essay, to tell some sort of story. For that reason, it helps to be able to show scenes of interest, even if they are not quite of “best” quality. Perhaps they have messy backgrounds, or are otherwise more snapshot-like. It’s good to keep the standard up, but I will compromise a bit for the story.
Second, I have to keep in mind the human subjects of the essays, especially the field members. If I have a chance to take a series of shots of field members jumping and include them in an essay, even if it overbalances the story, well why not? It gives them pleasure, and that pleases me. And it’s surely part of the overall hunting scene.
Thus my photo essays have a mix of shots I really like that came out well, shots that are passable that show something important, and shots that will primarily please others. The ones I like best typically have the smallest paying audience. It may not be a very commercial approach, but that’s a different issue. At least it keeps me smiling.