Ultimately, both the famous and the anonymous photographers offer something worth learning. Wikipedia publishes a list of famous photographers. I never pass up a visit to any museum of art or any collection of high quality images. I would like to think I have developed one of those individual, instantly recognizable styles. I find it rather impossible to look seriously at any photograph and not learn something about image making and presentation.
The galleries at As I Found It and Ideal Totem are stuffed with just this kind of creative view of the world. For example images are often reproduced in a variety of monochromatic and color variations.
My personal philosophy is quite simple. I try to present my subject in the best possible way, given the prevailing conditions. This is however, highly subjective and purpose dependent, resulting in the occasional failure or lack luster outcome. See As I Found It’s and Ideal Totem’s About Us pages for more detail. Many other blog essays also deal with this general subject. look back over the past year or so for a wide variety. It may seem simple but when examined it is anything but.
When lack luster images happen one of three thing seems to have influenced the objective: the light conditions were poor, or I lost a crisp focus on the subject and/or purpose, or I lacked the skills and necessary equipment to deliver the vision I set forth to create. The reality is I am good at what I do and when compared to others I possess a unique view of the world, but is it instantly recognizable? Why, not at all.
You can do what I have done, continue to hone your individual skills and express your unique vision.
Dennis’ tips for allowing your unique vision to escape (in no specific order):
1. Subject Focus: You could select a few subjects that you feel passionate about. If you have knowledge of the subject it is often easier to see past the superficial and bring out the deeper meaning and emotions. Not all subjects carry deep emotions or have any truly deeper meaning, but that does not mean they lack the challenge of making the mundane interesting. It is what gives you satisfaction and intellectual pleasure that counts most.
2. Style: Style comes down to how you express your vision. It is some combination of methodology, technique and technology. This is a function of: the technology chosen, post exposure processing, your over all approach, the subject and conditions. It is making choices and maximizing the results.
3. Learning: Be open to learning from others as well as from your own experiences. I never discard a poor image without first examining it closely to see why it failed. I suspect that I am like most of you and only like about 10 % of the total images I generate. Sometimes I don’t like any of them because they simply fail to properly represent the subject. If possible, go back and try again, applying your knowledge of what went wrong until you have captured the essence of your initial vision. Keep in mind the original purpose of making the images. It is nice to take pictures of your child’s birthday party and if some qualify as high art, all the better. If the purpose is to record the event for relatives, future nostalgia trips or to embarrass the child later in adulthood then high art is simply not necessary.
4. Rules: Rules in photography are not so much absolutes as they are guidelines. Lets face it, if we did not set them aside from time to time, originality would be lost. On average, the “rule of thirds” applies aptly, but when it comes to presenting a certain subject the best possible way, at a given moment in time, then maybe not. Simply put, experiment, try it all! Today multi-media is so inexpensive that all other costs are greater. It is more expensive to travel even a short distance than to fill your reusable flash card. Unlike the days of chemicals, film and paper that made us careful and aware of the cost of each frame, today’s digital photos are, in and of themselves, freebies and 100% recyclable.
5. Critic: You are your own worst critic, as every artist is. It is critical to be honest with yourself and with others. We all know this, but more often than not, we are more honest with others and less honest with ourselves. The best way is to look at all our images critically, but not despairingly. Apply a critical eye to which images work and do not work and evaluate honestly why that is so. A great image of someone or something you detest is still a great picture. Understand why. You are not forced to show it to anyone else. If you find anything that is not quite right understand that too. It is back to the learning thing, isn’t it?
6. Inspiration: We all need it. Some of us thrive on it. Some of us inspire others. All of us are inspired by someone or something. It is that inspiration that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. Let it work for you. I carry a pocket camera with me almost all the time because sometimes I find a unique moment and point and shoot. They are not all great. Most are just ordinary, but every once in a while I get inspired to go back with my SLR and do it right. We all need to be open to the idea that inspiration occurs when and where we find it or when and where it finds us.
Once, my wife and I were touring a 15th century cathedral and I was inspired to photograph the vaulted ceiling. I laid on the floor and did just that, much to her embarrassment I must add, but the results were outstanding. That is the lead image above. That image is outstanding because it did exactly what I wanted it to do while meeting the normal photographic standards. It is un-cropped, essentially right out of the cameras. One could very easily crop the left side to make it more centered and balanced. One could leave it as it is. That is where the personal vision comes into play. That is how you free yourself to be you, expressing that unique vision. Are there other things one could do? Of course, dozens. None are necessary better then any other, none are inherently more or less creative, all are different.
7. Practice: Don’t always wait for moments to find you, sometimes you need to go exploring with an active eye. Keep a lookout for anything new, different, and hopefully, exciting. If I have learned anything living in Alberta, it is the prairies and mountains are never the same. You can travel the same path 100 times and easily get 500 different images! Practicing is just as important in photography as it is in music or any other endeavor. I am convinced that I have trained my eye to see what the lens sees. I know, from experience, that I can size up and compose an image two to three times faster than most. By the time I get the lens cap off, I know what I am going to shoot, at what focal length and from what position. I would like to think this is raw talent; the truth is 50 years of practice.
8. Self Expression: Why do we take pictures or make images? For me, it is my form of artistic expression. For others they sing or play an instrument, draw, sketch or paint, while others act or write. For me, photography is my most important self expressive activity. If you choose photography as your expressive medium, you are also choosing to share your unique vision of the world, with that world. Few if any of us are photographers unless we intend to share our art, our vision with others.
Having looked at this cathedral’s valeted ceiling above and in essay one and here, I thought a couple of other shots might suggest the richness of possibilities of simply looking up. They are below. You can find more images not unlike these at As I Found It.
Lastly, it is chance, pure and simple that often has the greatest influence on our work. It is what we make of those chances that ultimately defines our individual vision of the world and culminates in the expression of our unique style. Most forms of self expression are directed outward from ourselves towards others.
Some would say photography is not just self expression, it expresses or even defines who we are. I think I am still trying to define myself and so for me, photography expresses what and who I am at any randomly given point in time, although I am not sure that it ever captures any real totality of my existence. I have often said, “Some day I will grow up. When I do, I’ll let you know.” I strongly suspect my epitaph will read something like this: “He always said he would let us know when he grew up. He finally did.”