Let me tell you a story about a photographer. He started out taking photos with his phone. Then, he was lucky enough that he was able to buy a shiny new mirrorless camera. Complimented with 35mm prime glass and a sexy vintage leather strap.
He took it everywhere. It was his new baby. He took shots. Then he took more. He couldn’t stop taking them. He shot street, architecture, landscape, travel photography, portrait. He walked what must have been a thousand kilometres. He spent most of his waking hours watching videos of how to edit in Lightroom. He read books on the theory of photography and the science of light. Yet at the end of all this, he wasn’t happy with his work and he didn’t know why.
The first thought in his head was to blame the camera. A new, more expensive lens could solve it. It could be his laptop. With a more powerful processor and higher resolution screen he would improve, he was sure. Even after all this, something was eating away at him. He knew he could do better.
Well, it brings me great pleasure to tell you all that his work did improve and he became much happier with his art. Not through upgrading his camera. Not by upgrading his computer. He did it by discovering what made his photography unique and harnessing it.
If you haven’t already guessed by now that photographer was me.
I know that this will be a familiar old tale for many of you out there in Medium land. And I would like to help. Help you find your voice in a world full of sameness and copycats. Help you to cultivate your creativity.
I start with the hardest one of all. Be selfish. This doesn’t mean keep all your sweets to yourself. But rather, do things for you and not for the pleasure of others. Take some time to asses what it is about photography that makes you tingle with excitement. Try not to fall into the trap of taking photos that you believe will get you the most attention on Instagram. That is a cold and lonely road. Make art that brings you happiness, and the adoration will follow.
Leave Instagram for inspiration.
There's that ‘I’ word again.
If you can’t already tell I have a particular issue when it comes to Instagram, creativity and uniqueness in photography. Now, there are a ton of excellent articles about this so I won't go too deep. But if you can, take yourself away from the echo chamber. Use other mediums to discover new artists. My personal favourite being books. There is something very inspiring and unique about interacting with photography from the printed page. It adds so much more weight and mystique and could be the spark of inspiration you are looking for.
Don’t copy, but do acquire.
No matter how hard times get. When you are at your lowest ebb and everything you feel that everything you are producing is tripe, you must not copy another artists work. It can be very, very tempting. People may even be fooled by it and think it your own work.
But you will know.
Deep down, a little doubt will eat away at you, growing to the size of a black hole. A hole down which all your esteem and self-worth will fall. It will not bring you satisfaction.
Do, on the other hand, acquire. There is nothing wrong with using elements of other artists work to influence your own. It has been common practice since the dawn of time. Moreover, it is essential to developing your sense of place in the photography landscape. Where are you positioned in relation to other photographers? Mix and match elements at your pleasure. But make sure the result is your own.
“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”.
Be your harshest critic.
Take a step back and analyse your work. Choose 20 of your favourite shots, print them and lay them on a table. Now look for commonalities throughout them. Ask yourself what it is that you like or dislike about them. Why?
Analyse them in relation to their tone, mood, structure, editing style, subject matter, orientation, use of colour and use of shadow and light.
The ultimate goal is to be able to recognize what makes you tick as an artist and a person. What has exposed itself subconsciously through your work? You will find that themes and motives have seeped through without you even realising it.
Early on in your photography life, you might not feel comfortable critiquing your own work. If that is the case do not despair. A good thing to do would be to ask a friend or fellow photographer to give you feedback instead. It is surprising what insight a fresh pair of eyes can bring. Most of all, keep pushing yourself and never settle for just ‘ok’. Be honest and you will improve
Don’t give up.
It is important to be aware that you are not the only photographer who struggles to discover his own style. Everyone I know has been through this at one time or another. So please, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. It will get easier and you will find your original voice. As a photographer, you must keep pushing for improvement in times of difficulty. How you overcome these difficulties will go along way in defining you as an artist and defining your uniqueness.
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”– Albert Einstein
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