Buying a camera is the simplest part of your photographic journey – switching it on is the second. But to develop your photographic voice takes time, experimentation and a deep analysis of your self.
New photographers often want to imitate those that inspired them to first delve into the world of photography. They look at images from the past masters and confirm to themselves “I want to take photographs just like that”. They buy their first camera and tell the whole world that they are going to be a photographer. First, forcing family members to sit and pose, and second, taking photos of every sunset that they witness. But like any relationship, the honeymoon period only lasts for so long. Over time you need to become more confident in who you are and what you can do. You need to find your place in the photographic world, and it needs to hear your voice. Doing so isn’t easy – how does one go from replicating the work of others to truly finding out who they are as a photographer?
Photograph Anything And Everything
Getting started is the most liberating part of being a photographer. At this stage, nobody has any expectations on the kind of work you should be producing – both in quality and style. Take advantage of this phase and push yourself to try out all types of photography. Experimenting with different genres will help you to find out what really makes you tick. It also helps you to develop skills that you can cross over to your preferred shooting style. From portraits to landscapes, and from street to documentary, getting comfortable with all photography types will prepare you for the next level of your progression.
Not only should you shoot as much as you can, but you should also read. Read up on the masters, read tutorials and invest in photo books. As simple as it may sound if you have a solid collection of photobooks, there will be one that really resonates with you. It will be the book that you pick up the most and find yourself saying “I want to make a book like this one day”. For me, it was Street Photography Now. I was mesmerized by the range of stories and aesthetically pleasing images that had been taken candidly. At the time I was doing a lot of portraits, however, this book was the first turning point in me going in a direction that I was truly passionate about.
Start a Project to Develop Your Photographic Voice
Every photographer should do a project at some point in their career. So many skills can come from it. You will learn about managing a budget, planning your navigation, perfecting time management and finding a way to communicate with the world. Your project is an opportunity for you to say this is me and this is what I stand for.
Don’t just do what you think you should be doing. The last thing the world needs right now is another photographic memoir on Trumps’ America. Dig deep into your personal life experience. Go to places within your mind that cause conflict and struggle. Don’t be afraid to really take a good look at yourself and ask “Who am I?”. What are you passionate about? What do want to keep the same and what do you want to change? Make a list of the kind of projects you would like to do. Review it and make a decision as to which project is the best reflection of your current psychology and outlook on life.
The end product should be a visual representation of yourself. Something to be proud of and a way to distance yourself from the photographer who just used Instagram feeds as a source for creative ideas.
Start to be Consistent
Remember how I said you should shoot anything and everything? Well, it’s time to forget that. You are far removed from the “person who has a camera” and now well on your way to stamping your case as to why you’re a photographer who should be taken seriously.
Once you have found a way of working that best suits you, you must stick with it. Whether it’s unorthodox compositions or portraiture that challenges current social values, you need to keep consistent with your practice. Finding your voice is the first step, making it stronger it is the next.
Over time you will build an audience. People will visit your social media with an expectation of what they want to see. You have a duty now to deliver. Doing this will hopefully get you to the pinnacle of all photography compliments –“I know it’s their photograph just by looking at it”. If you chop and change your work, people will lose confidence in you, they will become confused with that message you’re wanting to put across – this will have a negative impact on your progress.
To develop your voice you want to become a master of your genre. You want to own it and dominate it to the point the point it becomes effortless.
Flip Everything on Its Head
You have spent a few years now creating images in a specific way. Your audience adores you and accolades are rolling in. Now it’s time to go and take a set of photographs that are completely different from anything you have ever done before. Throw in a huge photographic curve ball exactly when people least expect it. Here’s why…
Doing this will prevent people from getting tired of the message you are sending them. A new perspective to your photography will keep things fresh and stop people from becoming disinterested in your work. It will also allow you to challenge yourself as a person and an artist – helping you to find a new voice or at least a voice that has evolved over time.
For example, if you’re a documentary photographer that is known for their deep, dark emotionally fueled stories, go out and make something that is lighthearted, humorous and entertaining. You’re an artist with a diverse mind, don’t forever pigeonhole yourself.
Keep Breaking The Rules
You will have noticed that each step taken to developing your photographic voice is made redundant as you move on to the next. This is because there isn’t an end product when it comes to your development. Throughout life, your ideology is constantly changing. The way you think and feel about the world adapts, as does your approach to living life in the best way possible. Your photography should always reflect this and run alongside how you see yourself as an individual.
Knowing techniques will enable you to be another photographer. A true understanding of your psychology who allow you to be the photographer.
Don’t remain quiet – we want to hear your voice.
Dan Ginn is a UK based street photographer and writer. Learn more about him via his website and Instagram.