Making your photography your own
Photography is fun. At least it should be. Learning composition should be fun too. Some seem to want to turn it into a dry subject full of jargon and theory. This, to me, is about as exciting as accounting (no offense, accountants).
I recently read an essay on composition aimed at beginning photographers wherein the author delved deeply into an artistic theory having to do with relative size and perspective of objects in a landscape photo, citing numbers and ratios and no end of “inversely proportional”. All this to say that an object that’s closer to you appears bigger than an object that’s farther away. Huh? Even Bailey the labradoodle knows that. After about the fifth interminable and repetitive paragraph of this I was ready to either nod off or just give up photography all together.
I don't know about you, but when I'm photographing, I don't care that an object half the distance from the main subject than a similarly sized object contains 5 times the square root of pi more importance in the composition than another object that is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the photographer's position and the nearest McDonalds.
It's enough to make your head spin.
Give us a break. This is supposed to be fun, not rules of engagement.
So when I read dry and boring essays on the technical aspect of artistic creativity, I cringe.
As teachers and writers, we shouldn’t be putting our readers to sleep before they can even pick up a camera. We should be inspiring them with ideas and possibilities. (Leave the theory to the art majors)
Certainly, there are compositional rules and guidelines that are useful. Certainly, there are techniques and approaches that will consistently render competent photographs. But these are learning tools. These are building blocks. They are the same building blocks that an artist eventually learns to tear down and rearrange, leading to personal style and vision.
I must admit that this concept of style eluded me for many years. I’ve read the articles and listened to speakers talking about communicating feelings or exhibiting a personal style. Went right over my head.
I started catching a clue when I began exhibiting my work and paying more attention to the work of others, especially those photographers I knew personally. After awhile, I could tell who took a picture without having to look for a signature and people would tell me that they could identify one of my pictures from across a room. It’s about getting to know someone.
What it really comes down to is the way we each look at the world, how we show just what it is that captures our attention, our amusement, and our awe. When someone looks at your photos, they get a glimpse of how you view the world. They get a glimpse at the real you. This is where personal vision and style come from.
This can be scary. It takes no small amount of courage to put yourself out there for all to see.
How do you begin “putting yourself” into your images? It’s easy, really. The most important thing is to simply be where you’re at. I know it sounds rather Zen-like but it’s true. You won’t make your best images if you’re rushing to move on or if you have other things on your mind, other worries. You won’t be giving your full attention.
Just be where you are and let go of everything else. Let yourself discover what it is that made you stop to photograph in the first place. Be specific. Show exactly what is important to you. Not what you think your mom or the photo club will like, but what you like. Take your viewer by the hand and lead them right up to what you’ve found. Simplify. Eliminate from the frame everything that doesn’t help showcase your discovery. Those photographers who exhibit a style all there own know this without even thinking about it.
This is the exciting part of photography, this rush of discovery. It’s finding that one thing in the viewfinder that’s all yours. And it’s this rush that leads to finding your personal vision. You know it when you feel it. If you follow that feeling, I guarantee your pictures will become more personal and more reflective of who you are.
After that, it’s all nuts and bolts. Put on the lens you need, set up the tripod, choose an aperture and shutter speed. Use the compositional guidelines and rules you’ve read about to best show off what you’ve found.
But here’s the real secret: trust your gut feeling. Arrange things in your viewfinder so that it feels good to you, no matter what the “rules” say. That’s your vision and no one else’s.
Be sure to have some fun with this too. Don’t let anyone judge your images based on some dry and dusty compositional formula. Don’t be afraid to show us who you really are.