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It’s not just enough to be good – you’ve got to find your own unique voice. The question is – how?
This article will take you though several things that you can to do help you discover and carve out your own one-of-a-kind path as a photographer.
This may seem obvious, but there are still a lot of people who go about this all the wrong way. They ask themselves, “What field of photography has the most demand right now? What area will be the most lucrative?” And then they go out and try to fit themselves into that picture.
But you will never be as successful doing this as you could be taking pictures of what interests you.
Why? Because when you are interested in something, you will enjoy it more. You will go out of your way to portray it in a good light. You will be more creative and want to try new things. This is so important and yet most people don’t even think twice about it.
If you love food, take pictures of food. If you are an animal whisperer, maybe you would adore being a pet photographer. If there’s nothing in the world that feeds your soul like going for a hike, you would probably make an excellent nature or landscape photographer.
When you are passionate about what you do, it is a simple fact that your joy will propel you forward. You will not be dragging yourself out of bed, you will be leaping from the mattress full of excitement and enthusiasm, and that in turn will carry over into your work.
This powerful question will get your mind working on new possibilities. Though you may not have an epiphany each time you ask yourself this, you are always encouraging your brain to make new pathways and connections. And every once in a while, you will have an “ah-HA!” that makes it all worthwhile.
If you are serious about photography, you should always be taking pictures of what you are most passionate about. But it’s also just as beneficial to try new things and take pictures of different subjects, too. This doesn’t necessarily mean forcing yourself to take pictures of things that you aren’t interested in, but finding ways of taking pictures of anything in such a way that you find it interesting. It pushes you to always stay fresh and always continue learning and growing. Reading books and taking classes is fine, but I believe that the best teacher is firsthand experience. If you are continually searching for new subjects and new ways of photographing them then you are keeping yourself on your toes, and you work will never become stale.
Passion and excitement are the fires that fuel brilliance, and in order to keep that flame stoked you will need to look for ways to keep your own interest pulsing within you. I know from firsthand experience that when I go out and do something I’ve never done before with my photography I take a giant creative leap and everything that I learn carries over into each project I take on next.
Contrary to popular belief, reading more books and taking more classes does not always make you a better photographer. Don’t get me wrong; they can be incredibly helpful tools that help you learn and grow – to an extent. However, there is a point that most photographers reach where studying and learning stops being helpful and becomes counterproductive. How do you know that you’ve reached that point?
When you find yourself critiquing and criticizing your work more than you are simply enjoying it.
You might be thinking, “Now wait a minute. Hold on. Critiquing helps me to get better! That’s how I learn. I see what worked, what didn’t, and I can correct and improve.”
Yes, in an ideal world. And usually this works in moderation. However, I’ve seen more photographers shut themselves down long before they ever truly delved into their potential because of this #1 creativity-killer: perfectionism. They over-analyze all of the details of their photos, attempting to make everything in each one of them just right.
Photography is not supposed to be perfect. There are technical tools that we can use to improve our photographs, but they are only that: tools – not rules. Just like people, photos are technically imperfect – and yet that’s what makes them so beautiful. Each photo is an impression of a moment in time that will never again be recaptured. And only you, from your unique viewpoint, have the ability to take that picture.
Some of the most famous photos, considered by many to be the best of the best, have imperfections! In fact, most of them do! Not only that, everyone has different tastes. Something that one person might call a “problem area” might be the reason that someone else LOVES that exact same photo. Are you going to deprive dozens of people the enjoyment of your art simply because one person said “this part isn’t in perfect focus.” Screw focus! Seriously!
If you take the picture and you like it, then what anyone else says doesn’t matter. The “rules” are great to a certain extent, and then after that they start to hinder you. You may discover that you like those blurry abstract photos more than the ones in crisp, clear focus. And you might just find that there are a lot of other people out there who love this type of photography and would even hang it on their wall. But if you stop after that first blurry photo because some teacher or even just random person said that it makes it a bad photo, you may have just shut down the possibility of an incredible photography career because you limited yourself to the same box that everyone else lives in.
Stop trying to make your photos adhere to everyone else’s rules, and they will stop looking like everyone else’s photos.
The true “greats” in any field not only break the rules, but reinvent them.
Most photographers believe that searching for the problems and imperfections is not just the best way to improve, but the only way to improve. I disagree. Although this can be helpful to an extent, it is way more beneficial to just go out and take photos.
In fact, this is the best way to get good at anything: do it. Over and over and over and over and over again. By doing it, you train yourself to see the beauty in things and intuitively find the best angles. You get to the point where you don’t even have to think about it any more because it comes so naturally.
Take hundreds of photos. Don’t limit yourself. Yes, you can ask yourself as you are taking the picture, “How can I make this better? How can I frame this in order to enhance the features that I want?” But in this day and age, there’s no excuse not to take a photo if something catches your eye. With a digital camera, there are no negative consequences for filling up your memory card (unless you don’t have another one and still need to take more photos.) The more you take, the more selection you have to choose from.
Some of my very favorite photos that I’ve taken were simply on a whim. I saw something and thought, “hmm, I like that. I don’t know if it’ll make a very good photo, but there’s only one way to find out.” Click, click, click, click…. click. I’ll take the same picture from a few different angles. I’ll zoom out, zoom in, try different things. And often the one that I took as an extra is the very best one.
Try different things! Take the “technically correct” photo. Then break ALL off the rules! That’s how you step outside of the box and do new things.
Oh, and avoid those stupid forums where photographers sit around critique each others’ work. Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I’ve learned to stay away from them. People spend more time critiquing photos than they do taking them, and they’ve gotten so good at looking for problems that they see them everywhere. I’ve uploaded pieces of my best work to those sites, pieces are well loved by my agent, the design industry, my followers, and gotten critiques like, “Sorry, but there are parts of this that aren’t in focus. It’s just confusing and the photo doesn’t work.” Then other people rave over it and hang it on their wall and treasure it.
Just because one person says it doesn’t mean it’s true. Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Photography should be first and foremost, fun!
Every photographer experiences those moments when we miss that perfect shot. That rare species of eagle (so to speak) flies over our head and we weren’t ready, or the exposure wasn’t right, or we got the shot, but it was blurry, and so on. I’ve seen a lot of people spend hours, and even occasionally days, agonizing over what they missed.
Photography isn’t how many shots you get or miss, it’s about how many you take – and keep taking. I have missed thousands of great shots – and screwed up thousands more. I take more “bad” photos than good, and though I do feel disappointed sometimes when I really wanted to get something and it didn’t work out, I always shrug my shoulders and say, “hey, it wasn’t meant to be.” Then I get out my camera, and go take some more pictures.
I can’t even tell you how many times I tried to get pictures of a bird of prey feasting on it’s dinner, and the shots didn’t turn out. I had so many “missed” opportunities. And then one day I looked out my grandmother’s kitchen window and just two yards away was this hawk eating a mouse. Because of the window between us, I was able to get as close as I wanted without scaring the bird away. There are always more opportunities.
When you have the attitude of not worrying about whether you get a shot or not and just enjoy the process, you invite more opportunities in. Life becomes magical.
The #1 most important thing you can do to improve your photos and find your unique voice is to HAVE FUN!
Is it really that simple? Yes, yes, and yes!
When you are having fun and trying new things and exploring and enjoying yourself, you are naturally more creative. Ideas will occur to you that you never thought of before. Things will naturally fall into place. Having fun is the key to being good. Seriously.
Taking beautiful photographs is something that comes from the heart, not the mind. So many photographers spend all their energy researching the perfect equipment and collecting fancy lenses and filters. They strive for the technically perfect photo, and if they don’t achieve it they criticize their own work and hide it away.
Before I started photography, I don’t think I ever truly saw what was around me. In a sense, I was walking blind through my world, never noticing how pretty the cracks in the sidewalk were, or just how many colors there are in a single flower. To me, that’s the gift of photography; not the end result, but the ability to see the beauty of the world around me in a new way, and have the chance to capture it and share it with others. I do it for the joy of it, and if other people can share in that joy then it is wonderful. Still, even if others don’t, photography has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.
Photography is a journey. If you are trying to create work in order to sell it, you are probably over-thinking it. If you do it because you love it, you are creating what comes from your heart and soul. Do it because taking photos makes you feel good, and people will see it and like it because it resonates with them, and makes them feel good.
Being truly unique is about getting all of the other voices out of your head about what you could do and what you should do and how things are supposed to be done. It’s about quieting all your thoughts and then listening to the stillness and the silence where all of the new ideas are and getting in touch with your spirit. This is where you will hear the inspiration that will cause you to make uncommon connections and spawn new and great creations.
Do those things that feed your soul – eat delicious foods, read inspiring books, spend time with creative people, listen to music that transports you to a whole new world. It is often in those moments when you are simply enjoying life that the best ideas occur or you have the most wonderful photo opportunities.
Those very things that inspire you are often hints and nudges in the direction that you could take your photography to move it to the next level.
About the Author
Tien Frogget (www.tienfrogget.com) is a third generation artist with a passion for creativity and beauty. She is a virtual renaissance woman and enjoys a wide variety of creative media besides photography, including painting, writing, filmmaking, music, cooking, dancing, and graphic design. It is the diversity of her experiences and passion for living that fills her creations with unique perspective.
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