Photography tips for finding your distinct story and style: why you shouldn't copy other people's work.
I walked into a gallery recently to view a photographer’s work. Within seconds of being there, I recognized that while the photos were “originals”, they were in fact replicas or knock-offs of Peter Lik’s work. For those of you who don't know Peter Lik, look him up. His photography while beautiful, unfortunately has been knocked off more times than I could count. You can buy Peter Lik lookalike photography everywhere, there are people that specialize in it.
While, I do think that it’s good to emulate people that we look up to, it helps us to develop techniques and try on styles. The problem is that you have to break free from that particular style and develop your own style. Everyone has a unique story, perspective, location and goal for their photography. These are questions that you should ask yourself about your photography/art.
1- What is my location? Where do you live? Suburbs, country, city? These all offer distinct insights and perspectives. What do you notice when you walk where you live? What is unique about where you live? You need to train yourself to start looking at the obscure, the unnoticed, the feelings you feel in a particular place, the mood of a particular place. What changes between the morning or evening? When I lived in Edmonton, Alberta, there were a lot of industrial and agricultural structures and I began to photograph these thinking about how they could be viewed as forms rather than the useful structures that they were.
2- Composition: How are you composing your photos? Peter Lik has a photo called “The tree of life.” Go and look it up. If you were in that location, what would you do differently to compose your shot? Would you focus on the intricacies of the bark? Could you focus on the branches instead of the wiry shape of the tree? Are there lumps and bumps on the tree that could contribute to a more sculptural photo? Are you shooting from the ground, from above? (hello drone!) Are you climbing the tree? There are so many different ways to compose a shot. The important thing is that you begin to notice details that others haven't seen. You must explore your locations.
3- What is the goal of your photography? People who knock off celebrity photographers do it for the money. I get it money is necessary, I am by no means advocating that you starve, but money can’t be the primary goal, (it can be a goal) otherwise it infiltrates your photographs. My aim is to make people feel like they’ve entered a different world. My other aim is to get people to have an intimate experience with the landscape. I do this by composing my photos so that the viewer is experiencing a close-up. Sometimes, it takes people seeing something several times, before they begin to like something different.
These are a few tips to get you started, by all means, look up photographers and emulate their style, but make it your own. We need your distinct perspective on things, life, people, places.