Photo tourist or photo artist? Which are you?

I think there are two kinds of landscape photographer:

  1. The photo artist

  2. the photo tourist

The photo artist is someone who wants to show others their view. They are looking to find their own voice, to show others what they saw and felt.

The photo tourist loves to visit really beautiful places and come home with mementos. They are happy to go to a well known location and make their own version of a well known composition. They enjoy being outdoors, seeing these rare and special places and wish to capture a good photograph, even if it may be a ‘cover’ of a well known composition.

eight different photographers, eight different ‘cover’s of a well known composition. All valid, all beautiful efforts in their own right.

eight different photographers, eight different ‘cover’s of a well known composition.
All valid, all beautiful efforts in their own right.

In the past decade, I’ve seen a massive rise in photo-tourism. Indeed, some of the photographic-tours I have run in the past have now become overrun with photographer-tourists. Take for instance the set of photos above. Eight photographs by eight photographers. All are a ‘cover’ of a well known view of the town of Hamnøy in the Lofoten islands. All are very nice images in their own right. The view is from a bridge and each morning during the months of February and March the bridge is often crowded with photographers - all making their version of a well known composition.

For many of us, reproducing a well known composition is a lot of fun. It’s simply enjoyable to be out there, and to come home with some nice images from our travels is great.

But, I am left wondering if when we take photos of a well known location, particularly a well known composition, whether we really understand that the only reason why we are able to capture these scenes, is because someone else found them for us? If you had been living under a rock for most of your life, and someone took you to Lofoten, would you naturally gravitate to a well known composition unaided by someone else’s photographs?

I don’t think so.

So which are you? Are you a photographic-tourist, or a photographic artist? Are you more interested in just coming home with beautiful, if unoriginal photographs of a well known place, or are you more interested in trying to find your own point of view, of trying to show others what you saw and felt?

I realise that it’s really really hard to find original compositions. It’s also much much easier to follow others. But when we follow others too much, we lose the chance to find out who we are and to show others what we saw and felt. This of course, may not be everyone’s motivation in making photographs: many of us just simply enjoy being there, and making images. It’s irrelevant to some of us whether the work is original or whether we are making our own version of a well known scene. If we enjoy it, then that’s just great.

We all get something out of the photographic experience and indeed, we can all learn a lot by copying well known compositions. They often teach us so much, that I think there is great value in imitating the things that inspire us. It’s just that we all need to be honest with ourselves when we’re relying too much on someone else’s ability to see a composition, and just how much further we have to go to find our own view.

Finding our own view has never been an easy task. Indeed, good photography isn’t easy. Nor is it something we master in a short while. Good photography is about being an individual, of being independent, of showing others how you see the world. Good photography is a life-long endeavour of self improvement, of development. Sure, go ahead and copy well known compositions if they make you happy and you learn a lot from the experience, but at some point, we should try to leave the well beaten path and start to show others what we saw and felt. That is why we should all photograph: to show others what we see.

Being original is hard work. The things that really matter in life often are.

Enjoy your journey :-)