Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Everyone's A Photographer ...And How To Stand Out From The Crowd

Sun Rays Over Cummings Mountain - Tehachapi, California
Everyone is a photographer. Everyone has a camera. Hunter Schwarz, an author at buzzfeed.com, stated, "Mankind has taken a lot of photos." That's a tremendous understatement, but entirely true.

From 1826 through 1900, according to Schwarz, only a few million photographs were captured across the world, but by 1930 about one billion pictures were exposed annually and by 1960 that number increased to three billion. In the 1970's an average of 10 billion photos were captured each year, and that number increased to 25 billion in the 1980's and 57 billion in the 1990's. Beginning in 2000, the number of photographs captured annually across the world spiked steeply, passing 380 billion in 2012. We're expected to surpass one trillion in 2015!

I have no idea how anyone knows for sure just how many photographs were captured each year. This seems like an impossible task, and I feel bad for whoever had to come up with the answer. Perhaps that is why a simple statement of "a lot of photos" is the best response.

There's a saying that you've probably heard before: "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile." Even a hapless snapshooter that knows nothing about photography and uses their cell phone as their camera will capture a good photo every now and then. There are literally hundreds of millions of these "blind squirrel" photographers out there across the world capturing the occasional good image. Add it all up and that's a heck of a lot of good pictures created by hapless picture-takers.

Because every year camera gear gets cheaper and cheaper--you can buy a DSLR that produces good image quality and a lens that's not terrible for under $500--it's easier now than ever to become a "professional" photographer. That's not to say that everyone who calls themselves "professional" actually delivers professional-quality images. But it's not hard to buy a cheap DSLR, print some business cards for under $20, set up a free or cheap website, and watermark your images--who's to say that you're not a professional?
Glacier Point Infrared - Yosemite National Park, California
It used to be that developing and printing photographs required skill and experience in the darkroom. Now software will do the post-processing for you--just pick the "filter" or "preset" you want--and send it off to Costco. The mystery has been removed as photo editing has been opened to the masses.

Anyone can be a photographer, and, because of that, everyone is a photographer. There is an over-saturation of photographs in the world. I'm reminded of the scene in The Incredibles where Buddy (Syndrome) says, "And when everyone's super, no one will be." Photography, in a way, has been cheapened--way more supply than demand. Everyone's a photographer, producing hundreds or even thousands of images annually.

This is not necessarily bad news. Gear is both better and cheaper than ever. There are things that you can do photographically now that would have been extraordinarily difficult or even impossible just 20 years ago. There are so many more ways to share your photographs with the world than there ever was before.

But it's also much easier to get lost in the crowd. The photographic crowd is unimaginably massive. It grows significantly larger every year. Most of the photographers who are "big" now made their name known when the crowd was 80% smaller than today. What would have gotten you noticed 15 years ago is not even close to good enough now.

To stand out from the crowd and get noticed is not easy. It's a seemingly impossible task. But it is possible, and people do it every day. I have some thoughts on how to achieve this.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
First, whatever the crowd is doing, that's what you shouldn't be doing--do the opposite. You have to go against the grain. If everyone else is using the same gear, photographing the same subject, doing the same post-processing effect, do not do those things yourself. Find the things that very few, if any, are doing. Do what no one else is doing, think what no one else is thinking.

Second, you have to be creative like mad. There are tons of creative people in the crowd. You need to find ways to up the ante on your own creativity, which is an essential element of photographic vision. You have to make sure that you are the most creative person that you can be.

Third, you have to go where others are not going and at times when they are not there. Stand out from the metaphoric crowd by not being anywhere near an actual crowd. Photography is in part about being at the right place at the right time, and that often means doing things that others are not willing to do.

Finally, to stand out from the crowd, you need to interpret the scene and not just capture it. Most picture-takers are documenting the scene in front of them, but very few are interpreting it. Charles Hawthorne said, "The world is waiting for men with vision--it is not interested in mere pictures." Most people are capturing "mere pictures" and few are capturing interpretations of the world. You must infuse your images with your own unique thoughts and feelings. It's not necessarily about seeing something that hasn't been seen, but thinking differently about what everyone sees.

Mankind has indeed taken a lot of photos, and the vast majority of them are uninteresting. Most are not good at all. Very few speak to the viewer. It is those who can create meaningful photographs that will find success.

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