A Photographer’s Decision: Take the Freeway or the Road Less Traveled?

Recently there has been some buzz about how to get noticed as a photographer. And more and more I see photographers doing images that look for all the world like some other guy’s images that looks like a woman he really admires’ images. And her work was copied from someone she saw on Flickr who was enamored of this other guy.

I am reminded of a comment Heather Morton made in the book “No Plastic Sleeves” (reviewed here) on page 199 “I think it is important to ask what the fifth portrait of a dower 20-something in studio tells me about your abilities – it’s redundant”

Yeah, and we see so much of the same thing over and over again. Sometimes it isn’t redundant at all. And sometimes it is. Avedon’s portraits, all on white, “In the American West” were most definitely not.

The question I ask is “are you responding to your vision, or responding to your comment count?”

New sites for photographers and the ‘sharing’ of images are popping up every week it seems. And now some of them have added ‘ratings’ to their your image. People can not only see your image, they can ‘rate it’ for the whole world to see. And that is fine for some folks, I just wonder what effect it has on those who are trying to find their own voice.

It may be cool to ‘share’ your image and see how many comments you get on Flickr, but is that comment count what drives you? Since the vast majority of Flickr users are hobbyists at best, what are you really getting from that comment count? I wonder if the crowd could really discern true vision or if they want to see the safe and easy stuff that looks like their heroes?. Do we as photographers want any old criticism or do we need to have valued and studied criticism? Does the person with the most comments have the best photographs?

I don’t think so, and you don’t think so either. There are way too many examples of terrible photos with high hit counts.

EDIT: Rob D reminded me of this little Gem. One of the highest regarded images in the world gets voted “thumbs down” on Flickr. I mean… really? Thanks Rob.

I wonder how many “likes” Stephen Shore would have gotten? Or Eggleston? Would a simple, natural light portrait by Elgort have received as many comments as something shot with 20 speedlights?

Photography is quickly becoming balkanized with amateurs and ‘fun’ photographers on one side, commercial shooters on another side and fine art shooters on another side. All claiming ‘photography’ as theirs.

And it is. It absolutely is. Photography is a wonderful art, a great career, and a blast of a hobby.

However, a serious photographer can lose their way looking for the path that will take them to the top of the splinter genre they have chosen. We even have new terms to contend with. No longer is being a photographer enough, there are factions that define themselves by their gear, their lighting choice, what kind of post-processing software they use and more.

Beware that man behind the curtain, he may have no clue about what he is doing – or saying about your work.

It becomes harder to discern ones work from another’s if we allow ourselves to be driven by what we think will draw visitors instead of searching for that vision that is ours. We see some technique that is all the rage and think – “Hey, I gotta do that now”.

No. You really don’t.

You gotta get your own thing going, your own vision to drive you. A healthy dose of self confidence to allow you to move in the direction you really want to go helps too.

I was reminded of this while reading about Edward Fella, a designer who has done it his own way for an entire career. His work was way outside the mainstream for years, then his work became nearly mainstream itself. The photographer Stephen Shore (images) was maligned for many years, but he stayed true to what he saw as his vision. Today he is regarded as one of our great living art photographers. David Carson (work) went totally his own way, and ended up being one of the most influential designers of our day.

In the workshops I generally use this quote by Clark Terry, a wonderful jazz trumpet player; “Imitate. Assimilate. Innovate.” Terry is telling us to copy the greats to get the techniques down. Then we assimilate those techniques until they become second nature… we get the chops. Now it is incumbent on us to innovate. Take those chops we have mastered and create something that is our own.

And many times that is not only a road less traveled, we may be blazing our own trail. One that is as scary as it is exciting, as fraught with potholes as it is paved with gold.

Follow me on Twitter, find more information on the workshops here, LIKE my Facebook Page, learn more About.Me, and check out my new book at Amazon.

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

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