In the days before I started to develop photography as a creative pursuit, I was very focused on capturing well known landmarks or iconic images wherever I travelled.
Invariably I got a few (pre-Instagram) likes when I showed them to friends and family, but they soon lost their relevance to anyone, myself included.
As I become more interested in learning photography as an art form, my approach to subject matter has changed.
While I would undoubtedly love to travel to a country such as Iceland, which has an abundance of photography opportunities, I no longer pursue iconic images on a regular basis.
Instead, I try to focus on images which mean something to me, which are more unique to me and to my photography vision. After all, photography is a personal journey and the more we can please ourselves by the images we make, the more our images will improve.
What is ‘unique’ in photography?
We often talk of creating unique images.
Most photographers would like to think that their images are unique, and in many ways they are, as no one else will make the same image from the same location at the same time as you do.
But does being unique necessarily mean good?
In fact, can’t anyone, without any photography training, make a unique image?
What we need to do is make images that are uniquely ours, and in that sense, we will want to make the best possible images; images to be proud of that have our individual mark on them.
What matters most is the process of making the images, the learning involved and being able to see our own progress and achievement.
How do we make images that are uniquely ours?
There are a few ways that we can begin to make images to be proud of, without relying on being too influenced by other photographers or by needing to go to iconic locations.
Here are 4 tips that work for me.
1. Change your mindset. This might be the most vital step of all, because if we think we should be making certain kinds of images that we are not making we won’t be happy with those we do make.
It is important not to make images for others. If we only capture certain subjects or shoot in certain locations because that is what other photographers do, we won’t be authentic about our photography, and we probably won’t please anyone.
Learn to love your own images. Study them, see what you like about them, edit them in different ways, think about what inspired you to make those images.
What is it that puts the passion into your photography?
I love to find a composition within a cluttered space and use it to make order out of chaos. My preference is for simple images; snapshots of nature, a captured moment in time.
2. Shoot local. The best way to capture your own unique images is to shoot in areas that you know well. This gives you the opportunity to scout a variety of locations, to experiment with a range of compositions, to avail of different weather conditions and to easily return to your subject at various intervals or in another season to improve and perfect your composition.
In terms of improving our photography, this is preferable to capturing a rushed image at an iconic location because we invest time, patience, perseverance and commitment to the image-making process, and the rewards are great.
There is an added advantage to shooting in our local area which is that it becomes very familiar to us. We come to know the area intimately and we gradually find more and more subjects for our photography.
In my case, it is my local area that constantly inspires me, not a grand vista that I might come across occasionally.
It is exploring my local area, discovering new photo opportunities and being present as the landscape reveals its hidden gems, that contributes to the passion I feel for my photography.
My local woodland area provides an abundance of photographic opportunities.
3. Find new perspectives. From time to time we will find ourselves in new locations, possibly in places where there are well known landmarks or iconic vistas where many photographers gather with their cameras.
We might even plan our own photo shoot in these locations.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will make a better image in these locations than those already made, but often unexpected opportunities to make our own unique images in the same locations will present themselves.
There may be unknown places in the vicinity which provide us with photo opportunities, images that will never be exactly replicated by other photographers.
Or maybe we can photograph an iconic landmark at a different angle from the one we usually see.
Be open to what the world presents and those photos you take, while not being iconic, will be uniquely yours; they will be a unique record of what you saw at that time, in that location.
During the summer I went to a well-known and much visited location to capture the sunset over the sea. I wanted an image that would be uniquely mine so I went to a less popular part of the location and took this image.
4. Discover the power of editing. Editing, or post-processing,is necessary to some extent with most images, as they are not ready for viewing straight out of camera. At the very least they will need to be given a little ‘punch’ in a program such as Lightroom.
In my view, image editing also has a part to play in developing the uniqueness of our photographs.
As has often been demonstrated, when the same image is given to several different photographers, no two of them will interpret the edit in the same way.
Some prefer a dark, moody image, while others like to add some light to the scene.
One photographer might go for a subtle edit, keeping close to the original and what was seen while shooting, while another may prefer a highly saturated, almost overly processed, effect.
None of these approaches is wrong, they are all down to individual preferences.
I spent some time getting this image to look how I wanted it to look. This is part of the joy of editing and it gives me a greater interest in some of my images that I might initially reject.
The art of cropping can be a creative choice. We are seeing a scene within a scene and, coupled with the way in which we choose to edit the image, this helps to make the image a more unique creation.
In the images below I kept the shadows dark as I love the silhouette created as the daylight fades. Others might disagree with this approach, but it appeals to me.
How you edit an image says something about your approach to photography, what you want to emphasise in your images, your vision for the final look that you want to achieve.
In my experience it can often take several edits to achieve this result, but that is part of the enjoyment of the process and the final outcome means something to me in that it is my unique creation.
As beginners in photography, we need to learn from experienced photographers.
We need to listen to their advice and guidance and be inspired by their images.
Many of these images will be taken in epic locations that we may never get a chance to visit.
It is good to be inspired by these photographers, to learn from them and allow their guidance to inform our own photography.
But there is a thin line between taking advice and feeling that we must do everything in the way a certain photographer does it.
There comes a time when we need to branch out and make our own way in photography.
We all need to begin to make photos for ourselves.
We need to become aware of what and where we like to photograph and start to make those images.
By taking this risk for our photography we will grow in confidence and begin to make better, more meaningful images, which are unique to us.