The other day I was working on redoing my gallery here on the website. Updating some of the photos and changing up the layout and so on. When it comes to the photos I display on my site, I want to make sure that only the very best of my images are displayed, but I also want to limit the total number of images per page to a manageable amount for viewers to take in and process.
So, of course as I added new images to my site, I faced the dilemma of deciding which images would stay and which would be cut. It was hard. I loved all of the images that I was choosing between and each of them I thought worthy of display.
So where to begin?
One of the keys is of course to view the images not as myself, but to put myself in the shoes of a potential client, asking, “what do they want to see?”
As I started whittling down the stack of images, I had a realization.
Maybe I don’t want to display my best images.
At least, not necessarily. Let me explain.
I was sorting through the photos and came across a few that I would not consider to be among my very best images. They were good, but one step below the best of the best. But the thing was, they were unique. In each of these images I had used creative choices in the making of the image that allowed them to stand out from the others I was deciding between, even if they might not have the "Wow!" factor of some of the others.
One of the things that stood out to me in these images was unique framing choices I had used. Some had been tilted intentionally off-axis, some had placed subjects that seemingly demand to be framed symmetrically as non-symmetrical, and others had similar creative choices used in their capture and processing.
What at first I thought of as a technique to help me cull photos for my website I quickly latched onto as a method for viewing scenes and shooting new images. “How can I portray this scene or subject in a unique way?” has become the first question that runs through my mind when assessing a scene.
I find that a lot of times, there seem to be natural patterns and progressions that our brains follow as photographers when choosing how to shoot a scene. These patterns can be unique to the individual, but many seem to run through all of us, and are reflected in our work. This is why you see so many scenes shot from the same location, with the same composition.
Now I’m not arguing that we should avoid these shots, the reason some scenes are duplicated by photographers the world over is because they’re beautiful, visually pleasing images! Rather, get the standard shot but don’t settle for it. Explore the scene, try different lenses and compositions, move your feet and explore your surroundings! Observe the details of a location and try to find something interesting that hasn’t been shot to death a thousand times.
Of course the classic shots look great in your portfolio, but the thing is, they don’t really say anything about your worth as a photographer. All they really say is that you were able to make whatever trek was required to get to the location, wait for the light, and snap the shutter. Little thought or creativity was needed in their creation.
As the world has been explored, the opportunity to travel expanded to more and more people, and the ability to share the images of our travels instantaneously has become possible (if not the norm), there are fewer and fewer scenes that we can show up to, grab our photos, and have something novel to introduce to the world. As this becomes more and more apparent, so does our need as photographers to get creative with the scenes that aren’t new, at least if we hope to stand out from the crowd.
Make no mistake, what will really draw people to you and your work, and make you stand out as a photographer is your ability to see the world differently from everyone else. To force people to reconsider something they thought they knew, even - perhaps especially - if it’s a scene that they’ve seen a thousand times before.
It’s not easy. As I mentioned before, each of our brains wants to travel along its familiar grooves, to fall into our routines and patterns. It takes conscious thought and experimentation to do things differently, to force yourself to see things differently. But the rewards are worth the struggle, so get outside your comfort zone and experiment!
I know I will be.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on capturing images that are unique, that strike the viewer as novel. Do you have any strategies that you employ to find these angles. Do you find that you fall into a familiar pattern when shooting, or are you able to consistently bring some originality to the table? Let me know in the comments, and let’s keep the conversation going!
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