Enlarging your personal vision
How do you find passion and soul in your photography?How do you develop your own vision? How do you move from a collection of random prints to a cohesive body of work? Creating personal photographic projects can help you to begin thinking in terms of a series of photos, instead of single isolated images.
Some photographers worry about trying to create a “personal style”. But personal style isn’t something that you need to develop. Your style will come naturally as you give yourself permission to photograph what you truly love, and discover what attracts you to a particular subject, situation, or place. If you have ambitions for a solo photographic exhibition, this will also help you to develop a body of work that has structure and personal meaning, so that when you have the opportunity to show your photography in public, you’ll be ready.
This is the technical part, the craft of photography. It’s about understanding f/stops, apertures, ISO, depth-of-field, and the language of composition. It’s about getting to know your camera, and basic photographic concepts.
Rather than rushing out to buy a new camera, it’s about learn everything you can about the camera you now have. If you have that preparation you can concentrate your energy on the photographic opportunities, rather than being stymied by lack of familiarity with your equipment.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be totally prepared before you begin a project. No one is ever finished with preparing, practicing, or learning. We all start fresh with every empty memory card, blank canvas, computer screen, or piece of paper. Just begin. Think Nike’s slogan, “Just do it.” Beginning (a new project) releases a tremendous amount of energy, so make that first shutter click, and get going.
Without passion for what you are photographing, none of the rest matters very much. Many developing photographers have told me that they really don’t know what they want to photograph. They do a little of “this”, a little of “that”, and then a little bit of something else. As a result, their photographs end up looking like everyone else’s, and second-rate imitations at that.
Discovering what you are passionate about, photographically, can be hard work. Ask yourself the question, “Why do I photograph what I photograph?” When you walk around with the camera, what draws your attention? Why do you find one subject worthy of photographing, and walk past something else that another photographer finds so fascinating?
Every photographer needs inspiration frommasterphotographers, and other visual artists, whose work they turn to for inspiration and spiritual solace. What books of photography (not books about technique, Photoshop or Lightroom, but portfolios of photographs) do you have in your personal library? What books about art in other media? It’s important to have access to many inspiring images in books, art galleries, museums, and the internet, in order to discover what resonates with you.
Like any other skill, like playing the piano, or flying an airplane, you need to practice your photography. For practice to be useful, it needs to be organized. Sitting down at the piano and noodling around every once in a while, has little value compared to the disciplined practice of scales, learning pieces, and all the rest. The same holds true for photography.
If you are going to improve your photography, you will need to tolerate many failures in order to arrive at the successes. Even the most famous photographers have gone through hundreds of images that didn’t work, to get to the one you see in their exhibition, or book.
Practice is for vision, as well as technique. Practice is forever. You will always need to practice. Find a regular place for it in your life schedule.
You can’t make photographs if you don’t have your camera with you. That’s why I have a small mirror-less crop-sensor, interchangeable-lens camera that I can easily take along on those times when it’s just too much trouble to carry my much larger and heavier DSLR.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, master and father of street photography, and of “The Decisive Moment”, said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”. How many of those 10,000
images have you taken so far this year?
Purpose is having a goal for your practice, having a plan. “Intentional photography”, is another way of saying purpose. But, while it is important to have a purpose when you go out, defining a purpose can also be tricky. Setting your purpose too narrowly can blind you to other photographic possibilities encountered along the way to what you thought was your goal.
Purpose also includes exploring, or “sketching” with the camera. It’s the process of taking visual notes without worrying about a future goal. You may be looking for a future project, but this is not a project in itself. You are scouting; exploring the question of whether a particular place or situation holds possibilities for later.
You are looking for subjects that make you say to yourself, “ I like this. It resonates with me, and I want to do more of it. That “Yes!” is just the first step. Then you need to ask yourself if you are willing to devote the time and energy that will be required to make it happen.
You may go through this exploratory process many times before you find that “something special” that will make a great project, and begin to develop a plan of action.
It’s not about workflows and rules, or equipment. It is about attitude, and learning to open your eyes, and feel passionate about what you see. Everything else is just a means to help you in reaching and expressing that goal. Are you passionate enough about this idea to pursue it persistently to the end, wherever it leads? Most photographers are not willing to make that commitment.
Keeping a notebookis important. Writing down your thoughts and observations as you continue with your project means that you don’t forget them. When I begin a new project I start a new journal, and put everything related to that project into it so everything is in the same place. This can anything from philosophical thoughts, references to books, contact addresses, resources, and whatever else you need to remember.
You need to find a place, or a number of places, that you can make your own, photographically. At least one of your places should be close, convenient, and easy to get to, because you need to be able to come back to the same place, and subject, over and over again, to discover how things change over time, and what else is happening. If you keep coming back to the same place, and spend the time to really see what’s there, something interesting will happen, but that type of discovery doesn’t happen quickly.
Places can hold many possible stories within themselves. An important part of your “exploring with intention and purpose” is discovering which of those many stories you wish to tell with your photographs. It takes time to determine what stories a place has to offer, so it is important to take the time, and not try to rush the process.
If you spend enough time in the same place you will eventually take all of the easy, obvious images that place has to offer, so you have to push your vision further to find something deeper. It doesn’t even need to be a place in the geographical sense. It could be a state of mind; somewhere that makes you feel a certain way, and gives you confidence that you can find images there.
Every place has its community members who make it their home. Whether that community is made up of people, animals, insects, trees, buildings or whatever, it is your job as photographer to get to know and understand them. This is another reason why finding a place to photograph that is easily accessible to you, is so important.
It’s about the old quote that 80% of life is just showing up, or the NIKE ad, “Just do it.” Get out there, and take many photographs. When you begin a project it’s impossible to know where it is going to lead, or how one subject is going to lead to another.
Participation is also about taking part in the larger photographic community. It’s about going to workshops, reading books, and looking at many, many great photographs. It also means sharing, and getting feedback from those whose opinion you trust. Mentors, coaches and feedback from others are all important contributions to your photographic growth. Anything of great significance is accomplished with the help of other people.
This is about continuing to the end of your project, and finishing it. Persistence is about time. It’s about “Keep doing it!”Nothing can substitute for taking many photographs, and continuing to do so again and again; studying the results thoughtfully, and continuing. It’s not about tips and tricks or seminars, it’s about getting out there and doing the work.
Taking great photographs takes more time and effort than most photographers are willing to spend”.
Sometimes you may feel that you can no longer find anything new, and you’re just taking the same photographs over and over again. That’s called burnout. When that happens to you, stop for a few days, review what you’ve done so far, and ask yourself the following questions. What were you trying to do? What worked? What didn’t work? Do you understand why?
Ask for feedback. Go back and try again. Try a new approach. Unfortunately, many photographic opportunities cannot to repeated, but new moments always appear, so let the past go, and move on to the next photograph.
Eventually you’ll ask yourself, “How do I know when I’m finished with my project?” As you work on your project, constantly editing down your image collection, removing those that no longer measure up to your more experienced vision, and adding new images that reflect stronger composition and deeper emotional content.When choosing the final images to represent your project, if you find yourself struggling to find enough “good images” to include, instead of having to make hard decisions on which ones to eliminate, then it’s possible that you aren’t finished with your project yet. You may need to go back and do more work.
Post-project Depression, or the normal letdown at the end of a project, can be devastating, if you let it. Once the exhibition opens, the book is published, or whatever marks the successful completion of a project for you, it is natural for your energy to drop, as it seems that there are no more goals to reach, or reasons to continue.
This can be a very delicate time for some photographers, who find themselves unable to move on after a major project is completed. Some just quit, and never do another project. It helps tremendously to have the beginnings of the next project in mind before the current one draws to a close, so that you can look forward with new energy, rather than backward to the energy and excitement connected to a prior project which needs to be let go.
It is important to get your finished project out into the world, in whatever way that means to you. Today’s digital world offers many new ways of presenting photographs, including putting a portfolio on a mobile phone or tablet, web sites, and social media sites. But there is still a place for the physical photographic print that can be held in your hand, or hung on the wall, to be studied over time.
Possible forms of presentation include framed prints, acrylic prints, books, folios, chapbooks, portfolios of smart phones or tablets, web sites, and social media.