When we see an image that has been made over-and-over again, what does it tell us about the photographer who took it? If you’re struggling to find your own voice with your image-making, this is for you.
Whether we like it or not, we are all influenced by what we see and experience. We cannot fail to see a certain pose, bold landscape line, lighting effect or composition without becoming influenced by it in our work to a certain degree. At the same time, we all want our images to be unique in their own right, and portray our own take on the world.
The challenge is that these two elements often don’t work well together. When we get the balance wrong, we can become trapped in a cycle of simply repeating our influences in our work. But when the balance is right, we can accept and embrace our influences, while at the same time using them as stepping stones to find our own unique path. It’s not always easy, but remember that this is a challenge faced not just by photographers, but by all creatives to varying degrees, and the key is to use your understanding of this relationship to your advantage.
Personally, I strongly believe that every artist should strive for uniqueness in their craft no matter how challenging it may seem – as it is always far more satisfying to do this than create imitations of what’s come before. If you feel that your work is becoming stagnant or you don’t have the balance right then these pieces of advice will help lift your game and hopefully reward you with photographs that you can call your ‘own’.
Think outside the box
The first step to originality is to start thinking outside the box, or ‘beyond the box’ as some say. As creatives we should be mindful of our thoughts as these do have an effect on our work, which is why it’s important to think differently in order to stand out from the masses.
This could be achieved by getting away from life’s typical routines, fostering creativity from a fresh perspective. A lot of creative thinkers do this, and it’s one of the easiest and probably most powerful ways towards originality as an artist. It might be that you just need time away from your usual day-to-day life for something bold and original to come to mind. The key is to keep the brain active, but try not to let it become stagnant in your new environment either as this will have the opposite effect.
Travel photography can be extremely beneficial when starting to develop your own unique style, as it gives you a fresh eyes and creates a deep inquisitiveness inside which often leads to new discoveries, plus you see epic places while you’re at it.
Similar to thinking outside the box, life experience is definitely a huge part of originality and one of the reasons we create. Emotions, passion, a dream, a memory in time or passing encounter are all part of self-discovery, and should be embraced especially from a photographic point of view. People may have similar life experiences or desires, but no one has the exact same experiences, which makes for unique creativity.
Shoot the things close to you, shoot from within, and you’ll notice your images will start to look and feel more unique. Ask yourself questions about yourself. What makes you happy? What makes you angry? What are your fears and passions? No one else knows you like you know yourself, and there is no other you. All of these things make you who you are, and are totally original.
Embrace these traits and use them to your advantage to start making more emotive and expressive images.
Passion fuels the fire, so ignite those passions by following them. Start a personal project to document what makes you passionate. Perhaps you’re a passionate environmentalist, so go out and photograph the landscape in a way that best represents what it is you want to communicate to a greater audience.
It’s not only about ticking off bucket-list destinations, perfecting composition or anything of the kind. The key is to discover a new fire in an existing passion, which will in turn help achieve uniqueness in your photography. I love to travel abroad, so I make sure I have at least one big overseas trip each year. When I’m outside my comfort zone, I begin to discover new passions I never knew existed. The best way to be original is keep the passion alive.
Minimize social media use
Social media is great for finding influences, but it also has its disadvantages. All you have to do is look on Instagram, and you’ll notice trends in imagery. I suggest spending less time online viewing other people’s pictures, and more time focusing on your own work. Just like in an effective composition, good photographers know that less is always more.
I noticed when I was spending a lot of time on Instagram my images started to resemble the work of those photographers I was almost ‘religiously’ following. Once I stopped following or viewing their works as often, I noticed a shift in my vision which allowed my own style to emerge.
Stories are integral to human culture and storytelling is timeless.To put your photography into a larger context is a great way to be original, especially if it’s personal. If we consider storytelling as art, then there really are no boundaries.
Using your photography to communicate your vision in this way can be rewarding and help you produce more compelling and focussed work. There are no rules on how or what story to document, and you could even create a fictional story if you wish. The important thing is you finish what you start and tell a story that you’re passionate about. Captioning your photos is a great way to structure your storytelling, and will help the viewer understand the context.
Having the latest and greatest technology may motivate you to shoot more, but it generally won’t help with originality, which is why I suggest you spend your precious money on books. Whether it’s photographic books, biographies, or even poetry and fiction, reading expands our minds and will help you create and understand your own photography.
I like to take notes and write them down while reading. Come up with new ideas from what you read and apply it practically to your photography. This will make you more creative, giving you the knowledge to pursue your craft in a new light, giving you an advantage and a greater understanding of what you are trying to express through visuals.
Putting aside the technical aspects of photography, creativity is the force that will drive you to photograph. Don’t allow the technical aspects of photography to take control of what makes a special and memorable picture. If you focus solely on photography, your work will most definitely become stagnant or boring, so put down the camera for a bit and pick up a book. Learn something new, pick up the camera and then you’ll be able to share something new.
Shoot with feeling
The best advice I was given from another photographer was to shoot what it feels like, not what it looks like. Be more emotive in your vision, and photograph feelings and emotions instead of focusing just on the visuals of the image.
Perhaps you’re going through a rough patch in life, so go out and photograph your feelings. Are you in a dark and gloomy mood? That’s fine; show it in your pictures. Don’t just stick to one particular ‘look’ with your photography. Trends come and go, but emotion will remain strong and captivate an audience more than a simple trendsetting image.
I know when I’m feeling good, I’ll tend to shoot things that make me happy, and when I’m feeling frustrated or angry, I’ll often photograph things that irritate me. Sometimes when I’m feeling confused or uninspired to shoot, I’ll head out and photograph the simplest of subjects. For example, photographing a reflection through a window or on the river, a plain wall or simple colours, anything that portrays your mindset. Remember, less is more, so use your feelings to your advantage to create something different.