I rarely criticize the photography of others. Especially those that are among today’s top shooters. In fact I sing the praises of their imagery, as I am possibly their biggest fan. The one thing that does somewhat lessen my enthusiasm, especially for a few of today’s top landscape photographers, is when all of their images look-alike. I realize that having a “personal style” is exactly what many find great about those same photographers. I cannot imagine looking at every landscape, or flower, or insect, or wild animal, the same way every time I pick up my camera. In some cases I notice they will look at an eastern waterfall, and western high mountain pass, or a southwestern red rock canyon differently, but within each genre, almost every image is the same.
Every image of the southwest doesn’t have to be done at sunrise/sunset, with a wide-angle lens. Shoot a little later, earlier or on an overcast day. Use your 200mm and if you have it, use your 600mm and compress land forms.
I admit that eastern waterfalls are gorgeous in soft overcast/rainy light. That doesn’t mean that you cannot use longer lenses for piecework, under other light conditions. When you are known for an incredible point of view or composition, that doesn’t mean that every single image of a waterfall has to come from that same point of view. Mix it up.
Those high mountain passes look inviting in warm light, but try soft light or in the clouds.
Heck, forget all of my suggestions and do something completely different, but do something different. Use fresh eyes.
No matter how good you are or how successful you are, it is easy to get in the rut of producing the same thing over and over. After all, people tell you you’re great, they buy your prints and workshops. Why change? Keeping yourself challenged, even if it’s just for yourself, is the only way release those creative energies that live (sleep?) deep down inside each of us. Your customers may still buy the usual stuff, but sooner or later people will realize that you are brave in more ways than just climbing over the top of the mountain. They will begin to appreciate the talent it takes to see in many ways, and then to produce the work that allows you to share it.
Never before have so many photographers been vertically challenged. Vertical format pictures are becoming a dying art form.
For years I harped on making more verticals, but I was of course speaking to those who had desires in stock photography. Most magazine covers and full-page shots are verticals. While for 40 years or so, a photo editor could crop your horizontal to a vertical, a submission of all horizontals would keep you off of their list for future use. I know this because I was also vertically challenged. I had to teach myself to think up and down, not just left to right. It made a difference both in sales, and how I “saw” the world around me.
Today I think far fewer aspiring photographers care about capturing the cover of a magazine, unless its internet version has lots of viewers. Writings and photos on paper are disappearing, but do take note that the best (a few exceptions) photography related publications still put it on paper. Seeing my picture on a computer monitor, will never mean the same thing as stopping by the magazine section of my local grocer or pharmacy, and seeing my image peering out at me on the cover of a magazine.
A few days ago I looked at my home page on Facebook, and as I scrolled up and down, I discovered zero verticals. Over a two-day period, I spotted six verticals out of the hundreds of images that passed in front of me. Not surprisingly, those six emanated from Art Wolfe, Lewis Kemper and a couple of other old-time stock photographers. Not one single vertical from an advanced amateur or semi pro.
I previously mentioned that I myself can be vertically challenged. Bird portraits, single flower images and a few others, have always been natural verticals for me, but a field of flowers, a grand landscape, it just never seemed right. I taught myself to embrace the vertical landscape ( maybe 20%), and expanded some other subjects to include more up and down shots.
Today a very high percentage of the images we see have been cropped by the photographer. During the cropping process is a great time to become the master of the vertical. If you are making bird pictures that you know will need a significant crop, shoot horizontally and leave space in all directions. When you get home at least try the vertical format. Please, if you have an obsessive, compulsive disorder towards symmetry, fight your urges and don’t crop everything to a square. By all means use the square crop when it works if it soothes you, but use it as one (small) compositional tool among many.
The main reason to create more verticals has nothing to do with magazine covers. It is about the title of this article. Don’t get stuck in a rut. The same observations that I made in my first paragraph of this post, about some top name landscape photographers, pertains to you and to me. We need to look at our subjects through “fresh eyes” each time we make pictures. Just because people comment positively on your pictures, doesn’t mean they won’t eventually do the same for a different way of seeing that you have developed. They may even admire and learn from it.
Keeping anything in life fresh can be a challenge. Least ways it has always been the case for me. As a photographer I eventually learned to use the basic knowledge I had gained over the years, to free me up every time I shot pictures. I learned to look at say a gull or a tree, differently today than yesterday. When I did that honestly, if I then still created a picture of the same mode as the last time, I accepted that as the way it should be. That is until the next time when I once again employed a fresh set of eyes.
A few pix
Have the best of days and God Bless, Wayne