Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Photograph What No One Else Is Thinking About

Web of Neglect - Mojave, California
I came across a quote from legendary photographer Rene Burri. I was really struck by it. I think there's a lot of truth to it. He said:
"Everybody now has a cell phone and can take snaps, which is great--even children. But my advice for young photographers--what I think young photographers should do--is to go and cover things that nobody else is thinking about. Put your nose into things. Use the third eye of the camera and don't be completely dependent on Photoshop or the way other people want you to cast the world."
There are a lot of good nuggets in there. I lot of photograph truth is found in those words. And, even though it is addressed to "young photographers" the messages can apply to anyone of any age.

First, it's very true that everyone has a camera and everyone is taking pictures. My seven-year-old daughter likes to take pictures and her photograph's are sometimes pretty good. Just because you snap pictures--and even if some of them are decent--does not make you a photographer. There is more to it than that. Photography begins in the heart and mind of the photographer. Snapshots are thoughtless.

Second, if you want to stand out from the billions of people capturing images, you need to photograph things that others are not. Not including amateurs, most photography genres are oversaturated. You have to be absolute top-notch (and good at marketing) to stand out. But if you are the only one (or one of a few) that are capturing something, you have a much better chance at getting noticed.

Another way to think about this is found in a quote by Arthur Schopenhauer: "Thus, the task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees."

Next, if you want to really photograph something, you've got to put your nose into it. If you are a street photographer, you've got to go down that avenue that you're less than comfortable with. If you are a landscape photographer, you've got to get up before the sun and head down that trail to catch the sunrise in a lonely place. Whatever your genre is, you've got to do the things that others are not. Richard Steinheimer used to tell people that photography is often about being in places that other people are not willing to go.

When Rene Burri talks about "the third eye of the camera" he's speaking of photographic vision. You've got to develop this in order to craft great photographs. Some people depend on post-processing tricks to try to make their boring photographs interesting. This will only take you so far. Eventually people will realize that your photographs don't really say anything.

Finally, you've got to be true to yourself. You can't photograph what you think others want to see. You can't make your style what you think others will want. That doesn't work. You need your unique voice and perspective. That's what people want to see--the photographs that only you could create.

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