A few days ago, I discussed how it’s ok to go and photograph well known locations, and even copy well known compositions. I explained that you can learn a lot in the process of going through trying to emulate a shot you know so well.
I’d like to think that the reason most of the readers to this very blog are here, is because they are either seeking inspiration for what they do, or at the very least, looking for some advice on how to develop as a photographer. Particularly in finding one’s own ‘vision’ and ‘style’.
I’m afraid I can’t help you find your own style, but I can at least help you figure out how to work on your own vision. Vision for me, is all about what is seen in the mind’s eye. When we stand and look at some scenery we’re often able to imagine a completed photograph in our mind when we spot one or two compositional objects around us.
As much as I think going to well known places can be hugely instructional. I don’t think that travelling the same well trodden route as countless other photographers is an easy way to find your own vision.
Firstly, you may suffer from ‘I’ve seen this place so many times, shot a particular way, that I can’t see it any other way’. Yes, being overly familiar with a place before visiting it can actually make it more difficult for you to find your own view.
Secondly, even if you do find your own take on a well known place, it’s just extremely hard to make it ‘your own’. This is the main problem for me. Well known places are harder to stamp your own individuality upon, because of familiarity.
For me, I’d much rather find my own places to photograph.
Firstly, I’m less burdened with pre-visualised views based on other photographer’s efforts. I feel I’m able to avoid the trap of doing what everyone else has done, because no one else has done it.
I also have more of a chance to find what ‘I see’. My ‘vision’ get’s more of a workout.
Secondly, If I’m able to find good compositions in less visited places, I’ll have more of a chance of making them ‘my own’.
Working with anonymous places may have all these benefits, but they also have a few challenges as well:
Firstly, it’s really really hard to work with anonymous places. The reason they are often anonymous is because easy to find, obvious compositions aren’t available (otherwise there would have already been a lot of visitors turning the location into an iconic spot).
Secondly, it takes a lot of effort to find good compositions in lesser known places. Whereas with Iconic well known places everyone knows where to stand. With anonymous places we have to go out there and scout for locations that no one has found before. This takes money, effort and a whole lot of time.
But if that isn’t enough, finding original places and compositions require creativity and talent: the skill of finding a good image where no one else has done so before is the elusive ‘x-factor’ that all photographers should seek.
Thirdly, a degree of conviction is required, and trust in one’s own judgement that there is something here to photograph that no one else has seen before. Unlike iconic places, anonymous places aren’t tried and tested. Photographing them means being vulnerable because you have no other photographers to back you up in your decisions. You may doubt yourself because you think ‘if there were compositions here, surely someone else would have found them already’?
Choosing anonymous places requires hard work, and guts. Shooting them shows independence. It shows you’re not happy to follow what everyone else is doing (in my opinion a great attribute to have). Shooting them allows you to start with a clean slate. Being the first explorer of a place that hasn’t been photographed before can be scary and exciting at the same time. Scary because you may be wondering if you’re wasting your time, and exciting when you find something beautiful when you least expected it.
I’d much rather choose anonymous places over the iconic. I’d prefer to avoid the tried and tested. At least that way I’d be working towards my own vision of the world.
The world is certainly big enough, with most of it un-photographed and undiscovered, for each of us to find our own voice. And some of it is staring you in your face, right now, just waiting for you, and easily within reach of your doorstep.