Ian Cameron • Exhibition Psychology

The essence of good landscape photography seems to boil down to three things: composition, timing and light and I believe that this final ingredient, light, its colour, quality and strength is the single biggest influence on the success or otherwise of the final image.

Many years ago before I took the leap from amateur to professional landscape photography, I recall walking into an art exhibition in Chicago. There were three artists displaying their paintings and as I was at a loose end and I love looking at pictures in I went. The artwork was contained in a large hall, the three artists were down at the far end sitting together and speaking to various folk that were viewing the exhibition. The artwork was displayed on three walls one dedicated to each of the artists.

Exhibition Psychology

I have come to the conclusion that I respond to images very directly and very quickly and my attention was immediately drawn to a single medium sized abstract on the end wall which I instantly fell in love with. I went straight toward it and then spent the next ten minutes or so marvelling at it and I’m afraid gave most of the other images fairly scant attention. Eventually, still filled with admiration for this one picture I approached the artist’s desk and gushed over it to the artist responsible. He probably thought I was an English eccentric but thanked me never-the-less and told me he’d put me on his list in the, “like it camp”. Somewhat perplexed I asked him what he meant and he flipped his list around informing me that he had more comments about this one picture than any other. There were three columns on the list, “ love it”, “hate it”, “don’t recall it”… In short the “love it” list was loaded with admiring comments, but what astonished me was that the same picture had also courted some of the most vehement comments, but the column labelled “don’t recall it”, was just about empty.

He looked up at me and laughed and said “now that’s a good picture, because love it or hate it at least folk appear to remember it”.

It is a point that has always struck a chord with me and one that I still try and include in my own photographic exhibitions.  After all if you have hired an expensive hall and gone to the expense, stress and time of producing your own works of art you want it to at least be remembered, though I have to admit for it to be admired is preferable.

Exhibition Psychology

A year or so ago I set up an exhibition of my work in the north of Scotland, advertised it and did everything practical and cost effective to promote it.  I also did what it seems a great many artists and photographers don’t do and tried to be present during the exhibition as much as I possibly could.  I suspect my presence there helped me sell more pictures than perhaps I would had I not been present at all.   The reason I decided to be there as much as I could is because I regard it as an opportunity to meet the folk that might purchase my image and hang it on their wall, a singular honour and matter of personal pride that is not, and has never been lost on me, and definitely not one I take for granted.

The revelation for me though,  was the  enormous amount  that I felt I had learned from watching the reactions of the folk that viewed my work, which happily for me ran to two to three thousand during the three weeks or so it was on.  I was also lucky enough to sell a great many images and found myself having to replace stock several times during its course and that enabled me a chance to build up a profile of the folk and type of image that sold.

Exhibition Psychology

This is what I found from my own observations in respect of my own pictures.  I have no statistical analytical skills but my wife does and it was with this in mind that I tried to gather information for the aforementioned profile.

There were roughly equal percentages of men and women at the exhibition and most seemed to adopt my own viewing approach, a casual glance at a picture and move on, but certain images courted a much lengthier stay.

Of these images  I was quite surprised at the two approaches, men were much more drawn to the dramatic, wide angle and often the darker, moodier image, their reactions to the pictures struck me as quite odd.  I noticed that they would actually reel back from the picture to admire it.  I also observed that having apparently enjoyed it, that not a single one of this style of image sold.  The pictures that sold best were universally mid to short telephoto images, pastel in colour, generally light or high key and compositionally composed in horizontal layers.

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That style of image seemed to elicit a different response, instead of reeling back from it, the individuals would tend to shuffle closer, lean forward and point and trace with fingers outstretched toward it.  On approaching the exit door they would rarely intimate to me that they liked this or that particular image, they invariably walked out without a word and then half an hour later the men would return with their partner and both would make their way directly back to the same image and often a sale would result.

Can you draw conclusions from this?  I don’t know and my wife says that I should always bear in mind the old adage there are lies, damn lies and statistics,  but these are my conclusions in respect of my pictures.

In most cases it appears the female chooses which images hang on the domestic walls and the male will tend to choose only for office based environment, usually seeking the assistance of a female colleague for the final decision.  Although occasionally the female chooses independently of their male partner it never once occurred the other way around, in most cases it seemed to be at least a joint decision with the veto going to the women.

Exhibition Psychology

If I want to sell my work it would appear that I must aim to please the female perspective and that generally seemed to be satisfied with images that displayed the following attributes, pastels, soft warm colour hues,  generally low in contrast and high key, (not moody), layered horizontal compositions almost exclusively with a slightly compressed short telephoto perspective.  Quintessentially the exact opposite of the sort of image you would expect to see dominate the front cover of a photographic magazine..  Having quizzed a few buyers about their decision it invariably came down to an image that would fit well with their chosen décor yet didn’t shout or demand attention.

Finally if you observe your potential buying public reeling back from a picture which never-the-less they seem to be impressed by, at least to the extent of telling me how much they like the image, then there isn’t a cat in Hells chance of me selling the image to them to hang on their wall.

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About Author

Ian Cameron

Ian Cameron is one of the most recognised Landscape Photographers in Scotland and the whole UK today. His aim is to always go after that hard to catch transient light.


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    Terry Urban on

    Very interesting article. It really give me a lot to think about. With my own work I see this between me and my wife as far as what shots I take and like and what shots I take that my wife likes better. I did not see this till reading the article. I have not shown any of my work in a gallery I have only been doing photography for just over a year.

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