Visiting beautiful places like National Parks or the Eiffel Tower makes one feel obligated to take photos like you would see in magazines or on the internet. This is all well and good and I encourage you to allow the shots you really like to influence your own photography but I discourage you from trying to copy others work. What’s the point? Buy a postcard of the scene you like taken in ideal conditions and spend your time trying to come up with something original.
Being original does not mean you can’t photograph the scene in front of you like the millions before you but it does mean you need to make some adjustments (perspective, framing, foreground elements, etc.). One of my favorite shots taken at the Grand Canyon was taken right next to hugely popular paved trail but used a unique perspective and incorporated a foreground element to create an original photograph.
Familiarizing yourself with different compositional rules will improve your ability to create original photographs, you can read about various composition ideas here. Some of my favorite photographs were taken near serene landscapes but focused on smaller subjects leaving the beautiful scene that others would focus on as beautiful bokeh.
Opening your aperture and focusing on subjects in and around popular landscapes can create original images as opposed to more of the same.
If you’re worried you’ll regret not photographing the common scenes then worry not, digital cameras allow you to take hundreds of photographs without the cost of processing and printing that film cameras had, so go wild.
As you progress in photography you will go through the same phases that every budding photographer goes through. First, you’ll be content with learning how to properly expose an image. Second, you’ll acquire more gear that you probably don’t need but it releases endorphins or some other physiological phenomena so you do it anyways. Third, you’ll try all sorts of photography (B+W, portraiture, landscape, street, etc.) until you settle on the type you like and focus on developing that. After you’ve developed your style (or while your working on developing your style) you’ll begin to wonder how you can make your photography stand out. How do you get others to notice your photography? Be original.
Being original does not mean you need to reinvent the wheel, it is regular practice for photographers to try to replicate images they find intriguing in an attempt to develop their own style, not in an attempt to pass it off as their own.
Tips For Creating Original Photography
Photography has been around for quite some time and more people than ever before have access to a camera that can take a decent photograph. Heck, your iPhone takes better photographs than the vast majority of cameras that were available even 10 years ago. So how in the world do you create original photographs? Are there any photographs that have not been taken? Read on…
First, the thought that every photograph has been taken is sheer nonsense. Have you experienced everything you’ll ever experience? Seen everything you’ll ever see? Has every possible variable of the future played out? Impossible. Time stand still for no one, the world is changing all around you and fleeting moments are like oxygen… Everywhere.
Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you’ve caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you’ve forgotten everything.
– Aaron Siskind
Images like this, a fedora floating down the river, are one of a kind… The chances of that same fedora being in that same spot in that same way again are slim to none.
In order to find engaging photographs that don’t look like all the rest there are a few “rules” I follow:
- 360 Degrees – Walk around your subject or scene – completely around if possible, over and under when you can (large landscapes may not allow for a complete 360 but you can move up and down a river or hillside to find a new perspective). Try not taking your camera out of your bag until you’ve surveyed the area for some interesting perspective, visualize in your mind what the photographs will look like before ever taking them.
- Pyramid of Composition – Include multiple compositional elements as opposed to looking for just one. If you focus on just one element, like leading lines, you may miss reflections, balance, and framing had you moved or looked just a few feet in another direction. I created the concept Pyramid of Composition a while back to help photographers create more dynamic photography.
- Technique – Using good technique has to be mentioned, you could take the most amazing photograph in the world but if it is under or over exposed or out of focus it will be overlooked. Use a tripod when needed, lock up the mirror when needed, use a cable release or wireless remote to avoid any shake whatsoever. Strive for the sharpest image your camera and lens can afford.
- Filters and Lenses – Be aware that the glass you put in front of your cameras sensor will directly impact your image quality. Also, take your UV filter off of your lens… You don’t need one and there is a 99.9999% chance it’s degrading your image quality. Use the highest quality filters and lenses you can afford (obviously in relation to your budget for photography), not that Walmart or Best Buy garbage. Check out my Camera Lens Filter Guide if you want more information on how to use lens filters and which ones to buy. Pay specific attention to circular polarizers and neutral density filters.
- Explore – Getting off the beaten path has been a mantra of mine ever since I became passionate about photography. You’ll rarely ever see me near another photographer let alone in a group of them. Photographing from hard to reach places or seldom visited places in an attempt to capture something original is recommended.
Using crampons to climb an ice-covered trail at Zion National Park in January to get the photographs I wanted.
- Dark Room – Digital or otherwise, post processing is key to creating original photography. You need to develop a post processing style just like you would develop your photography style. There is no shortage of post processing workflow tutorials on the internet, I’d suggest you check some out and try them. Take your favorite parts of other techniques you learn and combine them to create your own style with it. Avoid the sepia snare as you can easily turn a great photograph into a urine colored mess.
- Gear – Use any camera you have available, including the one most likely with you 24/7 (your cell phone camera). There may not be millions of original subjects left to photograph but I assure you there are an infinite amount of original fleeting moments to be photographed (think rainbow or foreboding storm clouds). Folks that refuse to photograph with anything other than their DSLR seem rather pretentious if you ask me. If you only have your camera phone with you and a fleeting moment presents itself you’d be wise to use it… taking a photograph with the most basic camera will be better the one you didn’t take at all.
An impressive tourist who photographed the entire city with his cell phone camera… his photos will be better than the any of the photographers who didn’t have a camera with them (or were above using a cell phone camera).
- Experiment – Try things like light painting or landscape astrophotography. Get out of your comfort zone and learn a new type of photography and I promise it will improve your overall photography skill. Look up ICM, Intentional Camera Movement, and give it a try. There are a number of techniques you’ve probably never heard of out there waiting to teach you a thing or two.