You think the secret to a successful photography business is having great photographs, right? It is, sort of.
You go to the Grand Canyon, see the perfect shot and click away. Now you have that great photo that everyone will love. Actually, you and the thirty people standing behind you who took the same photo have that great shot.
That really happened to me. At one of the viewing areas at the Grand Canyon I worked my way around to the side in a tiny, out of the way spot. Behind me was a rock slope. I took my time and composed the shot just like I wanted. When I was done, I looked at my wife, and she pointed behind me. On that rock slope was a line of 7 people. They were all patiently waiting for me to finish so that, one at a time, they could take the exact same photo. My joy at finding this out of the way vantage point evaporated instantly.
You can see this same thing at art shows. Have you ever gone to an art show where several photographers have tents set up? And as you walk around you see the same photographs at each tent. The same location, shot from the same place, at the same time of day. You literally can’t tell which photographer took which photograph.
Add into the mix all the photos taken with phones, and the chance of a unique nature photo vanishes. Even if you find a unique place to photograph, when people see it in a magazine or online, they all flock to that location to take their own photograph of the same place.
I read about one photographer who had images of the Subway at Zion National Park published. The first few times he went to that spot, he was alone. But over the next year, pictures of the Subway started showing up in several places. He returned to the location to find lines of people waiting to take the same photo as his original one. The only way he could be there alone, and get a unique photo, was to hike for hours in the winter, through knee deep snow.
Photographs of nature, buildings, portraits and almost everything else are easily copied by others. So what’s a photographer to do? Simple, use the one unique tool you have that no other person has, your imagination.
The only thing that separates you from all the other photographers out there is your unique style of creativity.
Your imagination can create unique images, like:
- My Limited Edition prints. http://www.jeffcolburn.com/photographs/
- Brooke Shaden and her photos of people. http://brookeshaden.com
- Magda Wasiczek and her unique photographs of plants. http://www.magdawasiczek.pl
- Or you can come up with unique ways of processing images, like Matthew Brandt constantly does. http://www.matthewbrandt.com
All of these photographers create a look or style that makes their work instantly recognizable, and incredibly interesting. And if anyone does try to copy them, people will know who created this style first. And nobody likes a copycat.
When I create a new limited edition print, I first come up with an idea. Then I think about it for weeks, or months. During that time, I come up with things to add or tweak that will make the photograph unique and complete. I don’t want to create an image, and when I’m done say, “I should have done this or added that.”
While I’m thinking about the image, I also gather any props, graphic brushes or other pieces I’ll need to turn the image that’s in my head into reality. Ninety percent of the time, the image turns out just like I wanted, and I love it. The other ten percent of the time it just doesn’t work. It may look exactly like I want it to, but I’m just not happy with it. And that is fine. You can learn a lot from failure and art is, after all, an experiment. If something doesn’t turn out like you expected, let it go and move on to your next project.
What I usually do when I come up with an idea is:
- Think of ways to make it more unique.
- Find little things I can add that will really make it complete.
- Push the image to the edge, and beyond, to make it even more special than anything I originally thought of.
You can exercise and develop your imagination in several ways. Wherever you are right now, find something that is at arm’s length. It could be a walnut, paperclip, water bottle, pencil, floor lamp or anything else, big or small. Looking at this item, think about using it as the main subject of a photograph:
- How would you light it?
- What props and background would work with this? Would you use something to complement it or be in contrast with it?
- Thinking of all the images you’ve seen of this item, how could you make it look different?
- What emotion do you want the viewer to experience? How will you force this reaction into the photo?
Don’t always go with your first idea. Think about it. How can you make it even more special?
Put your mark on your work and be different than everyone else.
Taking pictures is easy, everyone does it. Creating photographs is a whole different matter. Create photographs, and let the world see your uniqueness and creativity.