Your Photos Are What You Leave Behind
I love the notion that, when visiting a wilderness, we should leave nothing behind other than our footprints. However, there are exceptions to the rule, as is evidenced in this image from the historic research station at Port Lockroy in Antarctica.
Personally I'm in favor of supporting the survival of such places as they speak to us of the Human Condition. This notion is also evident in the other photos in this post. There's the machinery in front of the remains of a settlement on Deception Island and the ruined stone building by the fjord in the Faroe Islands.
The Human Condition is one of the concepts that heavily underpins my work. It motivates me to make photos and it's part of the story of many of the photos I make.
What Motivates You To Make Photos?
It seems to me that so many photographers get lost in the notion of searching for a style and end up loosing themselves in presets, whether in camera or on the desktop. But style is not just about the way an image looks on the surface (e.g., grain, de-saturated) or the way it's presented (e.g., torn edges, square, panoramic).
Please Don't Confuse Presets With Style
Style is your unique and personal signature. Your photos need to speak to the world about who and what you're photographing, but they also need to speak about the maker of those images: you. You can tell a lot about the artist, as a human being, by looking at the photographs they produce during their career. Ansel Adams, Steve McCurry and my friend Trey Ratcliff come to mind.
Now don't get me wrong. Presets are a great way to help introduce folks to post processing their images on the desktop. Presets help establish a workflow and can encourage the photographer in question to experiment and, thereby, move their photos from a mere two dimensional documentation of what they saw towards images that explore how they felt about what they saw. This process is central to an artistic practice.
But remember, just like your camera, presets are simply tools to help you create images. There's no problem with working intuitively, particularly in the early days, and letting a preset guide you towards a particular look. However, I think it's important that eventually you'll need to modify and save your favorite and most commonly used presets so that they better match your own vision of the world. This makes those modified presets your own and no longer someone else's.
You now have more control over the final look of your images and have successfully used your preset to stamp your own unique vision (i.e., style) onto the photos you make.
Find Yourself Through The Photos You Make
Photography is a search for identity: your own.
Making lots of photos is important. But being able to look at those photos from both a subjective and objective point of view is essential in the process of becoming better at your craft.
It's easy to teach folks the language of photography and for them to mimic what they're learned through the way they provide feedback to the images made by their peers. I have a formal education in photography, so that's very much part of the route I followed. Let's call that photography 102 or, if you prefer, talking the talk.
But, as a long time teacher of photography, I know that being able to talk the talk simply isn't enough. To truly help someone you also need to engage on a personal leave and help them understand and then articulate the following:
- Why it is they photograph certain types of subject matter
- Why they approach that subject matter in the way that they do
- What it is they are trying to say (about themselves as much as about the subject matter in question) through the photos they make
The Arcanum | A Unique Online Learning Experience
I'm heavily involved in The Arcanum, an online photography education site. The Arcanum provides a wonderful, community based learning experience and I love working with folks from around the world and helping them to advance their photography by guiding them along their very own, individual creative path. After all the artists journey is not, primarily, about an accumulation of knowledge, it's about a journey of self discovery.
As always, why is the most important question. Everything that matters follows after that. Do you ask it often enough of yourself? I believe it's at the very heart of the artists journey.