I have been considering making a bit of a change that would put more of my photographs out there and at the same time tell a story. Consequently, I have been thinking of adding a new category of posts which I call Visual Narratives. Consider them as photo essays; A series of image which should be viewed collectively, in a sequence, to tell a story. I think this should be a nice addition to my singular short story images that I already post. Hopefully, this should provide a new avenue for producing my images and to give an idea to the depth of the story I am telling with my camera.
Have you ever wondered how the “Great Photographers” have been able to capture a scene or a moment in such a way that the image becomes memorable or even iconic? It is because the photographer came to connect with not just the subject matter but the surrounding environment and was able to organize the elements or move himself or herself into position to best capture, visually, the elements which most represent the moment. That is what I refer to as getting a feel for the moment.
It is an ability to get attuned to the subject matter so much so that you recognize, by gut-feeling, how best to portray it and produce the strongest possible image. Now, it is possible to create strong images through manipulation of colour, contrast, lightness and darkness. But, applying that as a formula to your images will leave them without the one thing that I believe matters most – emotion. The adjustments become mechanical at best and do not in any way magnify or better express the mood or emotion of the image. It is possible to create a strong image without excessive manipulation you just have to better express the mood.
To summarize, I believe that every image should be rendered in a manner which best suits the mood and manipulations should be applied as merely corrections to adjust the image so that it better expresses the mood.
I remember reading an extract from the book “Fast Track Photographer” where the photographer stated that most photographers compete in the photography market and fail to compete in the photography market. What he was simply saying is that some people are caught up in selling a photograph while others know what photograph the can produce and instead sell a brand which guarantees a particular quality of photograph. How does this relate to the title of this post? Let me explain.
Well, creating your own style of photographs as opposed to photographing just what appeals to the market creates an exclusive audience. It creates an audience who finds appeal in the sort of photographs you produce and that ensures a market for your photography and allows you to set a price on your photographs beyond those who compete in the photography market.
However, creating generically appealing photos which appeal to almost anyone creates an issue. You are no longer exclusive, your photographs can be duplicated by anyone on the street so there is nothing which ensures your position in the market unless you take some exceptional photographs. And, limits what and how much you can charge for your photographs.
So if you want to really compete in the market you have to figure out what really makes your photographs stand out in the crowd and capitalize on that otherwise you will not be selling to your market. You will be selling to a more general, less exclusive market.
Last year, I spent about 3 months studying the styles and techniques of various other photographers whose work I came across online. My objective was to enrich my knowledge of photography, and in so doing develop my own style. What I achieved was further from my goal than I would have desired.
In the three months of learning on how to improve things like tonality in my black and white photographs and developing a better understanding of my editing software, my photography prints improved – visually. Indeed they were more eye catching and stunning but slowly I noticed that my photography did not look anything like what I had started off with. These improvements on my photography did more than improve they radically changed it to the point it was unrecognisable. Sure, they had this great magazine appeal but I didn’t feel the deep, emotional, timeless connection to them any more. My photographs were no longer my own. Instead, they were those of the authors who had mastered those techniques I had picked up along the way. I had become a human photocopier. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it is bad to learn the styles of other photographers; I am saying it is bad when you don’t move past that and make elements of the style your own – i.e. change it so that the photograph expresses your vision.
After going through that funk for three months I saw an anime series where one of the characters was an artist. Whenever she did a piece she went almost into a trance. She was in her own zone – “Listening to the beat of her own drum.” Suddenly, I realized what I had forgotten. I had completely pushed a side the very essence of my style of photography. I had forgotten to listen to that little voice inside of me that drew me to a scene.
So here is a little tip for the New Year’s resolution. March to the beat of your own drum.