My Most Valuable Lesson

I think that it's widely acknowledged that you never stop learning in photography. Every time I pick up a new photography book or read a new article I find myself learning about a new idea, technique or way of thinking which I can perhaps make use of in my own work.

However, there is one thing that I've read which I always come back to and which I think is the most valuable lesson that I have learnt as a photographer.

In David duChemin's book, "The Visual Toolbox: 60 Lessons for Stronger Photographs" he recommends putting other photographers out of your mind because they have already shown us the world the way that they see it. What people want to see is the world the way that you see it.

When I read this for the first time something clicked in my mind. Prior to this I had spent a lot of time looking at the work of photographers I admired and wondering how I could create images as good as they were creating. This invariably led to me spending time trying to imitate a certain style or the type of work of another photographer. The work that came from this was generally unsatisfying to me.

I don't want this to turn into a blog about imitation, as there have been plenty of recent articles and opinions on this recently. I will say that I believe photographers are free to create whatever they wish from whatever inspiration, person or otherwise, they want, providing they enjoy creating those images.

I have tried to create work in a similar style to other photographers. For example, I love Bruce Percy's Iceland images, in particular his "Fjallabak Minimalism" work - I highly recommend taking a look at his 2017 images here and his recent 2018 work here. These images capture Iceland in a way I have not seen before - I look at them and can immediately be transported to those locations and conditions. 

On one trip that I took to Snaefellsnes I was driving in flat light conditions in the snow and I noticed that the only discernible shapes were where the mountains had been blown free of snow leaving areas of bare black rock on a white background. I immediately thought of Bruce's images and wondered if I could create something similar. Stopping the car I got my gear out and captured the following image.


Whilst there is nothing especially wrong with the image, I have never been fully satisfied with it. In thinking about why this may be I looked back at some of the other images I took around the same time, when I was not thinking about anyone else's work but rather focusing on trying to capture what I was seeing and feeling. I've shared a few of these images below. These were taken during the hour or so following the image above.

I get more satisfaction from these images as I can remember what I was trying to capture and convey and what I was feeling and seeing at that moment in time. This is how I saw the area I was in on this day. The conditions were changeable and the landscape felt very bleak and empty. I was no longer thinking "how would so-and-so take an image of this place". 

Therefore, whilst I do think that learning from the work of others can be an important lesson for photographers, for me, it's only been when I have put other's work out of my mind and started to focus on what I would like to show, that I have produced work that I'm most happy with.