Make Your Photography Say Something


Take Your Photography to a New Level – Create Images that Say Something

If you want to create great photography, make photographs ABOUT something rather than OF something. Create images that say something.  Make image that say something in your voice, from your perspective.  Far too many amateur photographers are so wrapped up in the latest giz whiz camera technology that they forget get to create interesting, intriguing images.

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” – Ansel Adams

I admitted it. I do my fair share of creating “of” images. Lot’s of my “of” images end up as stock. A photograph of a hat over white or a banana or the local town hall or whatever. Standard documentary stuff, copies of a certain thing to be used by designers to illustrate a simple point. Like this is what a banana looks like. Or this is what the church in Every town looks like.

But I always strive to create images that are more than the simple reproduction of a thing. I strive to create images with deeper meaning. Images that are about something. Images with ideas. Images that tell a story.

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As Ken Rockwell put it:

 “Worry about what you’re trying to say, and worry less about your camera.

Tell me a story. Make me laugh. Right a wrong. Make me dream. Encourage me to get out and make a difference.”

With landscape images many times the “of” picture is the first one you might take of a place.  Its not until you explore the scene that you get a sense of the essence of  location and begin to create images “about” the place.  To give an example, here is a place in Windsor, Vermont that I revisit often.  The first time I saw this old barn complex I probably just drove by on my way somewhere.  The second time I probably took a shot from the road.  But then I went back again and again in different season and stared to find interesting compositions and really explore the soul of the place.

Recently I’ve been working with some high school student excited about photography so the last time I visited the barn location I shot some video to give them an idea of how I work a scene. All the time I’m walking round the scene I’m thinking about images for the various markets I sell in – stock, the book cover market and fine art.

Create Your Own Vision

Photography can be an artistic medium or it can be a mechanical copy machine producing the same image over and over.  When I’m on vacation do I take the iconic “trophy” shot.  Sure, its fun to stand next to the sign that says “Stand Here” get the “Kodak”  shot.  But I don’t stop there, I look to create images of things that interest me.

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Find Your Own Voice

I think far too many amateur photographers have more than enough equipment in their closet to say nothing at all.  They subscribe to all of the gadget magazines, buy all of the latest and greatest professional equipment, argue online about the sharpest lens or the best camera company and then dust off their cameras once or twice a year for that trip to a National Park to stand next to their fellow vacationers to take the same shot that has been taken a zillion times before.

Every afternoon/evening in Zion, hoards of photographers line up — shoulder to shoulder — on a small bridge to take a postcard photo. It starts with just a few in late afternoon, but soon the group can be more than 60 people, several rows deep. They are all taking the same roadside photo — a distant sandstone peak with a river in the foreground. – Ben Horne

Meanwhile back home interesting and intriguing stories get left untold because the photographer has become numb to their surroundings or they simply haven’t given themselves permission to photograph in places without hundreds of other photographers signaling to them that its ok to start photographing.

My wife always comments “did you feel that guy breathing on your neck?” when some photographer sets up directly behind me.  Its like the lazy fisherman arriving at the fishing hole late in the afternoon after you’ve been working a trout stream all day.  “How the fishing? What’s working? Catching any?” and then they start fishing right next to you.

Go out and explore the world from your perspective.  Find your interests.  Tell stories.

Imagine how boring the world would be if we just keep seeing the same images over and over.  Its like a musician covering a standard.  Do we want an exact copy of the original song?  We don’t need a copy of the original, we have the original.  If you are going to cover a song, do it in your own style.  Put the song through the filter of the unique individual that is you.

Put down the magazine review of the latest amazing megapixel camera, stop hanging out on pixel-peepers.com and head over to a museum and start looking at art.  Try to figure out why some of the art moves you.  Makes you feel.  Go to the library and look at books from the great photographers.  Look at Robert Frank’s The Americans – discover how a story is told. How a theme is developed.  How a personal vision is expressed.

Until you figure out what you want to say with your work, its just going to be more noise in an endless flow of images of the same things over and over.