I’ve got a question for you and please feel free to leave your thoughts below. As I was prepping for my “Inside the Composition” course that I just released, I realized this was a great time to write about it. I’d love to see a good conversation on this one.
I’ve got a topic that’s been swirling around my head for years so buckle up… it’s a good one and could stir up a little controversy with your peers so I encourage you to start a discussion to see how others feel. Have you ever heard the term “Photo Collecting”? I actually haven’t officially heard it before but some other photo educators and I use it when we chat with each other. Essentially photo collecting is kind of like collecting stamps or coins or something similar. You identify an important stamp (let’s say, “The Inverted Jenny” – yes it’s a real stamp) that you’d like in your collection, and you work to get it there. You didn’t create the stamp so it’s not about stamp making – it’s about collecting the ones that you like and feel would be a nice addition to your collection.
Photo Collecting is similar. You identify a photo you’ve seen and then you work to go to that spot and get that photo. It could be one from a national park, or an iconic monument, or even a cityscape. Here are a few examples…
These are all photo collecting spots. I saw them and decided I wanted them in my portfolio so I went there and collected the shots. No matter what I did I was going to walk away with a good photo because these locations are proven “great photo” worthy. With Photo Collecting, you’re not necessarily creating something new, you’re simply collecting favorites that have already been photographed before and adding them to your collections of photos. Sure, maybe you put a little “spin” on the photo and try to photograph it different -but for the most part you’re going out and collecting a photo from a location.
Is Photo Collecting Bad?
You may think I’m saying this is a bad thing. But I’m not. I actually think photo collecting is an important part of your photographic journey for a couple of reasons:
1) I think photo collecting helps build confidence. It’s like learning to play an instrument. Anyone who picked up an instrument (that wasn’t forced to) picked it up because they heard a song and said “I want to play like that”. So they learn the song. And in return it builds CONFIDENCE. Learn enough of them and you’ll start to develop your own style as well. That’s a good thing. Going to some iconic places where I couldn’t help but get a great photo was a great confidence boost for me in my early stages of photography.
2) I think photo collecting can add to our experience of a place. When we experience a location through the camera, we experience it differently than just standing there looking at it. We notice so many more nuances and character about a location that way. Both in camera, and on the computer later when we get to experience it all over again (when most others don’t). Like I said, that’s a good thing and I think Photo Collecting has it’s place.
But… You Knew There Was a “But” Coming
But I also think learning to make your own photos has just as important of a place. And I believe that’s where you get to show off your true skill as a photographer and to build the fundamentals that will stick with you so you can make photos that really resonate with people. I believe most of you reading this care A LOT about your craft as a photographer and you want to get better (and yes, most of you reading aren’t pros – you just like photography). There’s a difference in this, than only caring about making pretty photos so that friends and family would hit the LIKE button on social media (not that it’s not fun to have your photos “liked”). Many of you belong to camera clubs right? I’ve been to many camera club meetings over the years and when it comes time to show off photos or print comps, when people see yet another photo of Mesa Arch, or the Antelope Slot Canyons, or Death Valley Sand Dunes, you can almost hear the sighs in the room and one person poking their friend next to them and saying “I’ve been there and have that same photo”. And if you don’t hear people saying it, you know darn well you (or them) are thinking it 😉
I don’t want to sound harsh, but you don’t get any “Street Cred.” in your photo circles for showing off yet another image of Monument Valley while you were standing in the parking lot at the visitors center (though it is very pretty). You know it was well as I do, when someone sees this they’ll unconsciously say “Wow… that’s great… I’ve been there to and I have a similar photo”.
You did indeed put in the work to get there, but everyone knows you put your camera in the same exact place that 10’s of thousands of others did and clicked the same photo. As I said, it’s not a bad thing and when your non-photographer friends see it they probably think you’re amazing. It’s definitely a good confidence boost, and I think that’s important in our growth.
But there’s another aspect to this photography thing and that’s learning to make your own photos. Photos that you found. Photos where you worked the composition and created something new. Photo Collecting doesn’t have much to do with composition – it’s more like paint with numbers right? You already have a preconceived notion of what to include, and not include in the frame, before you even got there because you likely saw a bunch of photos of that same place before the trip.
Here’s what I want for you. I want people to see your photos and think “Where is that?”… “How did they see that”… “I would have just walked right past that photo”. One of my greatest works as an enthusiast photographer was when I went to Norway years ago. I came back with some of my favorite photos of all time, and I didn’t have one photo spot picked out. I just drove. Now, I was driving around in Norway which is kind of like cheating 🙂 but it was still a great ego boost to see my work from that trip knowing that none of those places were the usual hot photo “spots”.
How Do You Get There?
So that’s the magic question right? How do you get to that point where you’re not just collecting photos at the popular photo spots. Well, I think the first step is to not go to the hot photo spots all the time. One of the best tools I’ve ever used is Google Earth. I zoom in to my local area (or an area I’m traveling to) and I just pan around looking for things. I found this spot nearby years ago by doing just that.
I also go to some popular locations around me, but I try to put a different spin on them. Maybe I include the sun or moon in the shot. Or maybe I get down low and use a shallow (blurry) depth of field. Can I find interesting patterns, shapes, or use the concept of simplicity somewhere? Just something different.
I drove by a big open field the other day with large trees spread out in the distance. It hit me that on a foggy sunrise morning, it could look really cool if I zoomed in on one of them. So now I have another photo to go out and take. You may not succeed in making the most amazing photo ever taken at that spot, but it gets you closer to learning to see on your own. And one of those times you’ll go out and I bet you’ll get something really spectacular because you did what most people aren’t doing. You’re practicing with INTENT, and you’re trying.
Plus, I think it helps keep you interested in your own area. I just think (for the most part) people aren’t able to always travel to these iconic locations all the time (and this is in general, having NOTHING to do with the pandemic). So how do you keep yourself motivated during those times when you’re not traveling to still make some interesting and rewarding photos? By looking for new places or new ways to photograph some of those places.
I’m a member of a Facebook group in the Northeast US. It’s a very lively, engaged and vibrant group and they post photos often. As I watch the photos, most people post the same photos from the same places. But every once in a while, I see a photo of a location (the same location that everyone else posts photos of), but this person took a very different perspective. And you can see it in the comments that everyone else noticed it too.
So that’s my challenge to you this new year. Don’t make it a resolution. Don’t make a big deal out of joining a 365 photo group or anything like that. Just decide that you’re going to try to do something different with the locations that you will be in (whether it’s near home or not). You may fail many times, but you will succeed at some point.
And, if you’re feeling really motivated to try to get your composition skills to the next level, I also hope you’ll check out my “Inside the Composition” course. There’s even a few free lessons to watch on the course page.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a very Happy New Year! 🙂
Photography’s for my own enjoyment & entertainment. Inspiration is the first & foremost of my photography these days. Yes I have some photo collections of my local area and of travels just for memory, unless required for a class/competition, but not too many.
I feel that photographs should represent you, your inspiration/imagination/interpretation of what you see, not just going to snap the same as others. Also use a personal post processing – what your eye saw, hold back on the presets & your story will be told.
When inspiration & enthusiasm is at a low I take a step back & revisit basics.
Matt, you have raised some very interesting points I thought about as I was making the transition from iPhone to Hasselblad late in 2019. I realized with my iPhone (used a lot between say 2010 and 2019), I took a lot of photographs. Some would fall into the category of “document the moment in time.” The visual counterpart to “been there and done that.” Some I took for more of an artistic sense. As a quick summary, my cameras have ranged from a 1963 Kodak Instamatic with pop up flash, through a Yashica manual film camera from about 1976 until about 1998 or so. Then for a short period of time an APS film camera. Then my first digital Olympus C3030Z from 2000 until 2006. Then a Nikon D80 from late 2006 until 2019, although mostly supplanted by a series of iPhones. It was getting the first Hasselblad, the X1D II that changed my thinking in the way I approach photography. While I usually take landscapes, flowers, “cityscapes” and architecture, automobiles. and museums, I tried to capture the evolving scene of Philadelphia during the year of the pandemic. When Hasselblad introduced their latest camera, the 907/CFV that allowed the digital back to used on a series of Hasselblad film cameras, I bought the 907/CFV and a 500 C/M film camera. It takes photography to a whole different perspective. The details of the photographs are incredibly sharp. And extraordinary large. Yet, one doesn’t just hurry, take a photo and leave. When I’m walking, I’m looking at light, shade, objects. For me, I’m shooting manual mode to see a better perspective of what I might capture. I have purchased the Composition class and look forward to working my way through the course (By the way, 1GB wired connection makes the downloads a snap — although I see the point of course tracking with the on line videos. More than any camera equipment I had in the past, these Hasselbad’s have really changed my photographic approach. The topics in the class will help get me to a different plane.
As someone else commented, my primary interest in photography is documenting the places I visit with my friends and family. As another person said, for me taking photographs is a very personal experience and is a way to capture the emotions and memories I had when visiting that location. While at these locations, I look for opportunities to take interesting “landscape” photos of the surrounding area, especially at sunrise and sunset. While the majority of these photos are not interesting enough to be shall we say “portfolio-worthy”, occasionally I surprise myself and come up with a nice photo to share with family and friends. My goal is to improve so that I obtain a higher percentage of portfolio-worthy photos and that overall I am taking “better” pictures. I had a colleague at work who was definitely a photo collector. He would visit the iconic places to take photos at the prime times of the day. I enjoyed looking at his pictures because they were “his” beautiful pictures of Mesa Arch or Bryce Canyon, but I never felt the need to visit these places just so that I could add pictures of them to my portfolio.
Much appreciated Matt. Always good to be reminded to keep your eyes and mind open. Some of my favorite photos of my own are the ones that are just unique. That being said, I still love the ones that are specific to a given location.
Downloading your new course as I write this. It’s nice to read that I’m not the only one who gets dirty to grab an image that’s different to everyone else’s, yet it’s the same view as they’ve all seen. Except like you, there no fog or fabulous moody and angry cloud overhead. then they’re either still in bed or staying in because a storm is about to hit.
Unlike you, unless I strike it rich, I’ll never get the opportunity to take the great shots like you and Blake. No such fantastic scernery here. I live on a small island that is like 9 miles long and 3 miles wide. It’s pretty much shaped like a triangle and the island is called Guernsey. I both collect and create pictures and have in excess of 150,000 photos in my collection all taken on and around the island.
I would have over 250,000, but i went through them and kept only what I considered where the best. i went through them and if they immediately caught my eye, i kept them. if not I tossed them.
Being an island we are obviously surrounded by the sea and i often go out climbing on the rocks to get pictures that no one else would because they stay on dry land. I’ve lost 2 cameras and lens been knocked off the rocks by a wave that sneaked around behind me. I managed not to lose the camera, but it froze to death as this was in January. The waves were so strong that I couldn’t get back to the beach and ended up in a cove and having to climb a fifty foot cliff to get to the beach on the other side. Try that in went clothes!
I hear what your saying and I’m totally looking forward to learning more on how to get great compositions. I often drive past sites and think, hmm that would make a great picture. I missed a chance yesterday, rather annoyed I didn’t have the time to grab it. The sun was really bright and the air so cold that another island appeared larger and closer than normal. It was so sharp you could have cut yourself on it.
I’ll make sure I have the time, next time. Thanks for putting the course together. between you and Blake, I’m broke. All the best for the new Year and keep on taking great photographs.
Matt you always ask the hard but easy questions… I learned to question myself and challenge myself doing more than snapping, …your homework section proved one thing to me in the first part of this course I’m now forming areas of likes , looking for texture ,colour, I love the water edge shots from the floor, grabbing areas of colors/ reflections, missed if taken at waist high. The unusual angle looking for natural frames. something I had been doing but looking back now can see i am making it part of my techniques. as an amateur, didn’t think I had, yet its getting better as I see my photos are improving. My ratio of better shots definitely confirm, again from learning to watch what appeals in others talents, I am improving too. I guess too photo collecting , its like copying a picture , not to copy but to learn how to achieve the end result, learn a process , practice the elements and see if your good enough to produce the same end result… bit like learning to writing we all copy the shapes and use the guidelines , but when we become confident in the process then we can add a flair or slant and make it unique. …plus sometimes its just plain nice to say – I saw , I did , I now know its also something that’s mine too , and share. –
We all need to do it as you say it helps us form our own ideas , see what others see and maybe offer a different angle . plus if we stuff it up , can see what went wrong and why , how lighting can play a part, change moods – Leonardo DaVici showed that in his life how moods , frame of mind influenced his paintings … feelings conveyed and how an image can be perceived .
I love I now have more ideas and look at things around me as …”that’s a nice photo , or “”wow that’s great lighting , and take in a scene even if I don’t have my camera “- thanks for that , you inspired me too.
I absolutely collect pictures but maybe for different reasons. The chances are slim to none that I will ever get to see these iconic locations and I enjoy other peoples shots. Really enjoy simple thought provoking photos. I love your landscape pictures of Italy and thank you for sharing them.
Most of my own photos are places that are dear to my heart and I want to capture them in the best way I can to preserve the memories I have connected to an area. I really like to think outside the box and approach my shots from a different angle than people who have seen the same thing many times. One way is to get in closer to my subject.
Thank you for continuing to prod us to stay engaged in the process…
Thank you thank you for this article. Just what I needed to start off 2021, a new perspective. I have only been photographing seriously since 2014 and have taken many photo workshops from a variety of photographers, all amazing. I have my own “collection” and a few more on a bucket list. Reading this article brings a new perspective. In the last week I observed what you referred to as an image that is the same as someone else’s. We recently had a cold storm blow through Southern California that painted the local mountains with snow. A FB friend went to a popular spot in LA where the mountains are a beautiful backdrop to the city skyline. When he posted his image of the snow capped mountains, the skyline AND the rising full moon, I was totally envious and angry with myself not to have driven the 50 miles to the spot to get my own image. But low and behold, just about every photographer in town headed to that same spot for the same image. My IG and FB friends posted almost the exact same shot. And none of them personally know each other. Glad I didn’t make the trek for the same cookie cutter image. On the other hand, yesterday I accompanied my cinematographer son who is also a budding photographer for a trek east so that he could look for images for a project that he has in the works. I learned so much from him as I watched what would catch his eye and what steps he took for the composition, from the framing to determining exposure time and aperture. He uses a film 4×5 camera. I was totally impressed with his process which was like a choreographed dance. His vision is unlike any I have seen from photographers that I know who mainly create pretty images. I learned so much from my son and your article has provided me with a new goal to step outside my comfort zone. Thank you!
Good day Matt. An excellent thought provoking piece. I think I fit both sides of the coin, but lean more toward “making photographs” as opposed to being a collector. Years ago I produced a photography book that I thought was unique. There were no descriptions, locations or even page numbers! Yes there were some “stereotype” photos, but I wrote this as part of my preface. “Mostly, I went into the field, took a considerable number of pictures with receptivity to people and ideas that would influence the way in which I observed my subject matter.” I went on to say “These photographs however, are for you. For you to see the art in nature whether you are a photographer or not.”
By the way I want to thank you for the suggestion on photography with progressive lens glasses. A little slower, but my pictures are now “occasionally” out of focus.
Nice that you like Norway, Matt! (by the way, I’m from Norway …). What you say about Norway, I say about The United States. I have visited a number of the national parks. Oh, what a wonderful nature you have!
I think this has to do with how used you are to the landscape. What is “normal” becomes a bit “gray”. I think it’s important to be inspired to rediscover the area you live in.
Context is important surely. Learned a lot from this discussion. I use many of these principles locally but when it comes to my holidays I have to make sure my wife ( a very tolerant lady) does not have a miserable time whilst I am exploring the area for the best shots…. I like the idea of using Google, but I often search the internet the night before and find the best sites for photography and sure put my own stamp on it as others have intimated. I find the panoramic approach quite useful so I can then chose just where I want to “design” the photo u[on my return and my wife remains my wife as a result of this approach (perhaps?).
No one has mentioned family photography….every shot you take is unique and over time one can design a fabulous portfolio. Recently made a photobook for my brother’s 80th and there I was re editing many other photographers’ work over the years (before I was born or able to hold a camera) as well as my own to make a truly unique piece of work that many others in the family also wanted….I tweaked it for them too! HNY
What if I said that the beauty of a photograph is not the photograph itself but its relation to other photographs that exist. Here’s a thought experiment to prove that. You have been transported back to 1945 and have your digital DSLR with you. You take a spectacular photo of Maroon Bells, make it into a print, and exhibit it. Everyone thinks it is fantastic and you are hailed as a gifted photographer. Now it is 2020. You take the identical picture and exhibit it. The reaction is “been there, done that”. No one, especially no photographer, has any praise for you as a creative photographer. Now it is 3020. Mankind has suffered a terrible calamity which has reduced the population to only a few hundred million worldwide. Civilization has been pretty much destroyed and we are slowly re-establishing it. You yet again take the same picture. No one you show it to has ever seen it before. You garner the same praise as you did in 1945. What changed? Maroon Bells has not changed. Your photographic skills have not changed. Why is taking a picture of Maroon Bells today not just as worthwhile as it was in the past or in the dystopian future? It’s because your photography is judged partially in terms of what else exists, and not only in terms of its organic quality.
Excellent gedanken experiment! Our camera club has recently begun using both a star rating system (for ‘absolute’ quality) as well as 1st 2nd,3rd, HM awards for ‘relative’ quality to address just this issue. Both serve useful purposes for a photog trying to hone skills. The star improvement (hopefully) measures personal skill growth over time and the place awards give immediate satisfaction for competitive juices. It remains a work in progress getting judges to see it that way.
Wow Colin! What a great thought. I think it touches on a lot of things. Mainly, who are you showing your photos to. I actually could put that photo of Maroon Bells up in my home and (in 2020) everyone who comes in my house would think I was an amazing photographer. I know this because I have a photo of Multnomah Falls in my home and all of the people that come over marvel at it. If I showed that photo in Portland, I’d be laughed out of the room. Heck if I showed it in just about any photo circle, they’d laugh at me too. In the end, I think there’s a place for all of it. Sometimes photographs can just be for us, and that’s okay. Sometimes we may make a photo and our egos get in the way and we want it to be appreciated and that’s okay too. It all depends on who you share it with and what your purpose is. Thanks for a thought provoking comment. I’m going to steal this one 🙂
Many years ago I finally made to Yosemite. It was terrible. I didn’t find anything (or hardly anything) that I wanted to photograph that I hadn’t already seen before! I was joking that at every bend of the trail and new vista there was a (virtual) concrete slab with three dimples for the tripod and a brass plaque with an exposure recommendation. Yes, I did my share of those iconic views while I was there. And yes, much more recently, I made my way to Mesa Arch and came away with a slightly (but not very) different view. But mostly I try to do my own thing. Thanks!
I haven’t heard the term photo collecting, but I see what you mean by it. I have several iconic pictures and the first one that came to mind is Maroon Bells. Ever since I saw a picture of it I had wanted to stand right on that lakeshore to personally see it. I wasn’t prepared for the line up of tripods along the shore of the lake and I got there 1 1/2 hours before sunrise. It was still a gorgeous sight to behold with aspen a pretty gold and the mountains dusted with snow over those glowing maroon colored peaks. I have a print hanging in my house. The beauty of going to these kinds of places is there is usually an abundance to explore and photograph in the area that you can make your own. Taking photographs is a very personal experience for me. When I look at a photo I’ve taken, I can remember every emotion I had when I was standing at that spot. I appreciate your instruction in various photography subject matter, but I also really appreciate these thought provoking words that help examine my own journey in photography.
I struggle with the concepts of “collecting photos”, or taking a “snapshot.” My major interest in photography is documenting the travel trip I take with my wife. Although she is tolerant, (up to a point) of my diverting time to photograph the places we visit, I can not always take the time to “work the scene”. When I review the photos of my trips, or when I present a slide show, what comes across to my viewers and to myself, are the memories that the images invoke. Perhaps to me that is a different kind of photography
In New Zealand we have #ThatWanakaTree. There are interesting shots of the photographers lining up to take the shot of That Tree. I have wondered at the embarrassment of being in the queue. However, if you are selling, it is perhaps commercially useful to have that in your stock. If you are studying the work of a great photgrapher that has done that composition I can understand the benefit.
I’m looking for my own tree.
Those iconic shots are iconic for a great reason! The trick if not to photograph them as so many others have, but to photograph them from a different vantage point. Same area, different view. You can walk down into Monument Valley to put a rock or tree, or bush into the foreground to make it your own.
We have a local park that has a Christmas/solstice celebration every December. (except this year 🙁 ) I stood there with the whole photography club taking a photo of the huge bonfire and the illuminated 3ft tall letters in the background with the park’s name. ALLERTON. Everybody took the same shot….and so do I. Then I walked 180 degrees behind the letters and bonfire. I photographed the exact opposite of what everyone else was doing. Of course, the letters were now NOTERLLA, but that was a simple flip in Lightroom and a unique image was created.
Iconic shots are easy to get to. If you want unique shots, go where people don’t go. Hire a guide so you don’t have to spend years seeking these shots out.
Scott Kelby showed how he hires a whole group of guides along with boats, models, and lights/fires. It’s a staged photo, carefully planned and executed right down to the minute for sunrise or sunset.
Lots of ways to get unique photos.
Am I a collector or maker? I think both. I’ve spent a lot of time chasing sunsets , colors and light for a specific location but never completely happy with the results. Only to move a mile farther west and down lower along the beach did all the color smack me in the face and that wall hanger was mine.
This happened again when I started shooting photos of family mountain bike racing. Started with two or three people to capture per lap, got to where I would practice on others in between my guys, going for looks, expression and such. The more races I did the more everything I had looked similar, I then started to try and capture a more complete image with a feeling of motion as well as expression. I found that being there was important, light, background all the things normally used to take an image and have it be good to great photos I did, but to make it mine required me to visualizes and prepare everything from camera thru post to the print I wanted to show the world or the kid on the bike.
I was introduced to Photoraphy by a friend, John Ruskay, with whom I travelled into the Canadian wilderness. He was a B&w guy, who favoured the work of F 64, and introduced me to their stuff. We challenged each other constantly – “this is a Paul Strand weekend” or it could be a Weston weekend. Consequently all of joint efforts where in Black and White. As Canadians we did not have easy and or cheap access to the locations of the Groups’ images. What we did have though was access to their eyes and image ideas.
Many time we would end up looking at the same thingy – waterfalls, deserted shack, barren field – but hardly ever had the same vision. Yes, after printing the images, we had many debates about angles, light, and exposure.
Thank you Matt…..Module 3, Lesson 1 -” WHY” of your “Inside the Composition” course completely altered my outlook on my pursuit of “Photo Collecting”. Thinking back to those times when I was trying to duplicate a shot that has been taken inumerable times by so many photographers, I asked myself “WHY”. Having no good answer I now seek photographic subjects that both interest and challenge me. This article put it all in perspective and I thank you for your insight as well as the oustanding course you just released.
Great article. I never heard the term “photo collecting” before but it’s the perfect one for describing the phenomenon. I can also use it to explain to my partner why I’m not interested in taking a photo of the iconic place we are visiting and just enjoy the experience of being there.
Matt, I am curious about how exactly you were able to use Google Earth to find a location to photograph that you didn’t know existed. I have never used Google Earth, though I did just check it out a little after reading this post. I am always look for some new and different location near me, and would love to know more details about how to did this.
Hey Betty. I opened it up in my web browser and zoomed in and just scrolled around my area to see if I could spot anything. I like water so I concentrated on places I know I can get to along the beach or intercostal areas. I’m not very techie and know enough about using it to be dangerous but I honestly just click around and hope for something good 🙂 Hope that helps! Happy new year!
Hey Matt ,,, I have a couple of thoughts on photo collecting: a) photo collecting is usually what folks do for art, collecting investments, things you like etc. For instance, I am a photo collector with such signed photos like tieninam square, vj day …
b) by your definition, ansel was a photo collector. For example, the iconic image of yosemite valley: original photographer was Charleton Wakins (1861), and William Henry Jackson, and Charles Weed (1859), and Eadweard Muybridge (1867). So,w as Ansel really original? OR, was his shot HIS interpretation. Just some food for thought. Folks, go do your own interpretation of grewat places. I did.
Matt, I think the challenge comes from dealing with all the crowds at all the iconic photo spots. I make it a point of always looking behind or around me for the shot no one else sees. Case in point is Mesa Arch. When I visited, the crowd was huge and I was really turned off. I walked a mere 30 feet away and captured one of my all time favorite images, totally different from the “arch shot”, and was the only one to do so. I’ve tried to paste the images here, but don’t know if they will be visible.
Thank you for a very in-depth commentary on “seeing’ things to photograph. I am an amateur photographer who wants to be a good image taker. I have always wondered how some of my camera club members ‘see’ things I don’t. As you stated I have gone to a lot of places to capture that singular great shot. Mostly, I have come back a bit disappointed. It seems that I cannot see to capture what some others see. Your correct, I think I am trying to mimic photos that are already taken. I have not decided to be different, but rather be a copier of those images already taken by others ‘eyes”. Your article has spurred me to take several passes where I am photographing at the moment, different angle, different height, different choices, different composition.
I think your #1 had the right idea, then you sort of settled on getting a better/different photo than everyone else. Here is my challenge (to myself). There was a time when I was jumping for joy to catch a BIF. I then moved on to catching a BIF that was in focus. From there I moved to Osprey’s and Eagles pulling fish from the water. I am now trying to catch an Osprey diving at the point just as the bird touches the water. I think this is more in line with your analogy of learning to play a musical instrument. As you get confidence, you look for a more difficult piece to play.
Exactly Howard. And eventually you’ll master that Osprey shot and have to move on. Now the diving shot won’t be as much a challenge anymore and you’ll start trying to get the shot with two fish, or the Osprey fighting mid-air with something else. Trust me… it’s an obsession 🙂
I admit it!!!!….I AM A PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTOR. 🙂 As I “chase” various scenes and places, I have had to answer the question from many people who say, “Why are you going there to photograph THAT? There are a million photos of that place.” My answer has always been…..”Because none of those photos that you see are MINE!”
Yes, I am guilty of photo collecting. But, it puts me out there to find other photographs to make, puts me out there to use the equipment, and to use the skills that I have learned and developed. Yes, I’m always after that “perfect” photograph (knowing it can’t be captured by me)……but, I keep trying. And, photo collecting encourages me to learn from you — how to see the photograph…..see the light….see the scene….work to capture that eye catching photograph.
I have come to realize it’s all about the art….my art……capture, process, see, learn, repeat, move, turn, etc., etc. And thank you for teaching me. 🙂
Good article and many ideas to consider.
I think what you are describing as the goal in your essay is what my art teacher called “the mind’s eye” which is simply to see things in a unique way. In art class we copied the masters to learn how to use the various tools and experience different genres and styles. I think this is the idea behind you offering to include the original files with some of your courses so others can engage in guided practice, i.e. working with a purpose.
Once the copy phase is over, an artist or photographer should have the skills and techniques learned to develop their own style.
I collect quotes and two that I like pertaining to rules are:
“Remember: The rules, like streets, can only take you to known places.” — Ocean Vuong
“The novice knows the rules, the craftsman knows the exceptions.” — Confucius (paraphrased)
Thanks for keeping us on our toes Matt!
Great points here, Matt. Another real plus of “making photos” is that you can use what’s around you. Lacking the funds and time to travel far, I find a lot of inspiration in my local spots. And, even though I’ve been to a few iconic places and grabbed shots like everyone else, I prefer driving around my state and region, visiting wildlife refuges and beautiful landscapes, finding opportunity in sometimes the humblest scene. I’m occasionally tempted to save up and go on one of those group photo tours with a big name photog but then wonder, why? I’m fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful regions of the country (Pacific Northwest) and, when I want to learn more, I can tune into videos at home. Even my city backyard has provided me with terrific shots. Thanks for reminding me I don’t have to suffer the Fear Of Missing Out in the pursuit of making my photographs.
Thanks, Matt, for a thought provoking discussion with the takeaway of “be different” in 2021. It is a good starting point for thinking about next year. I would add “Have fun” no matter what!
It’s a fascinating post Matt and one I have thought about for a while.
It’s not just landscapes or travel photography where photographers collect photos. Sports photography has a similar set of “Inverted Jennys”. I had a list of photos that I worked my way through for my sport, rugby union – the winger diving in the corner to score; the full back leaping to catch the ball and the fly half kicking the ball. It taught me loads about taking action photos. But then I realised there were parts of the sport that the fans loved that togs completely ignored so I made my own list.
And my list keeps evolving… that’s the joy of photography 😀
Your music analogy struck a chord (!) in me. I’ve felt annoyed at times when someone says “that’s been done before” as if to say it isn’t worth doing or can’t possibly be worth evaluating. I’ve heard the Vienna Symphony play The Blue Danube in the magnificent Vienna concert hall but that doesn’t mean I can’t listen to or evaluate the quality of the local middle school orchestra play the same piece. It’s a good thing when everyone appreciates something beautiful and tries their best to replicate it. You never know if it can be made better unless you try.
And Happy New Year to you, too, Matt. Keep the thoughtful articles coming.
A few years ago, I watched a lesson/tutorial, can’t remember which one though, and it was photos taken at Palmer House Hotel in Chicago and at the Outdoor Theatre at Millenium Park as well. I was thrilled to go there myself a few weeks later and practice what I had learned. I tried to take the same shots to compare. It was such an experience! It have me self confidence with my Photography. I was proud to see that I could make quite good pictures even if I don’t have the high quality equipment that professional photographers use. I loved the experience!
Years ago in college my professor said to “go photograph in the manner of…” meaning pick someone to emulate then use that as your departure point to then make your own mark. Early in high school I was under the mentorship of the late Al Weber whereI started in the footsteps of Ansel Adams. I was fortunate enough to visit both in their homes as a teenager. Later when Al was an instructor with Adams, I attended the Ansel Adams Yosemite Workshop while in college.
Weber liked my spunk and we remained friends until his passing a few years ago.
Under Weber, Adams and others I realized that shooting sticks and stones was not for me to continue down my path and I divorced myself from the crowd. I was lucky!
As digital hit its stride in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I started back in the fray with Al Weber who realized I had not only mastered the craft he instilled into me 30 years prior, but had pushed over the top it to his liking and now I returned the favor of mentoring both he with my digital photography craft. It didn’t stop there as now I became a colleague and respected instructor with Al at the helm and a new generation of both young and mainly old evolving into the brave, new world of pixels and electronics now the lingua franca of photography.
Looking back those many year, it was good to walk in the footsteps of such genius, but better to follow a path on my own leaving my own footsteps for others to follow and surpass my vision.
Kudos to you !!!
wonderful websites Larry…respect!
Very interesting point. Marc Adamus and Nick Page discussed this recently. Instagram and geotagging has made it very easy to go to a specific spot and get a guaranteed good photo. And I’m certainly guilty of this as well!
However, I think one of the ways our photos are still unique is through processing. Take any iconic spot, and I always enjoy seeing shots from different people even if the composition is the same because everyone processes slightly differently.
That’s true Jeff. And everyone sunrise or sunset is different. Though I would also say if you’re following Nick and Marc you’re also processing like them too as they have a very specific style and use the same panels, with the same glow settings, etc.. 🙂
I got into photography late in life and definitely heard people say that it had all been done before (famous and familiar shots). I remember feeling a little discouraged at arriving late to the game, as if. Thankfully it didn’t take me long to switch my thinking to “Yes, but, they haven’t been shot by me”. Once we move our insecurities out of the way and photograph to learn, then to develop and perfect our abilities, beautiful things can happen. Just use the other photographers as mentors and tutors and go your own way. I know that my best shot is the next shot so Thank you, Matt, for your continuing and wonderful instruction.
I’m not one for photo collecting. Sure, I can and will use others’ contributions as inspiration as in a good spot to take pics etc, but I have no wish to emulate the originator’s image. If I’m standing in the same place, it will have my take on composition and any post-processing.
The bottom line is that I primarily take pics for my enjoyment. If I publish anywhere, I am open to feedback of any kind. Maybe one day I’ll see about trying to sell some stuff.
Thanks, Matt, for your insight.
Having been on 3 Marc Adamus trips and getting to know him and his style, he considers himself as much of a painter as he does a photographer. Capturing the image is a small part of the process and he uses PS masterfully to “paint” the image the way he envisioned it when taking the shot. He may spend 30-40 hours with his canvas before it’s finished.