As of late, I’ve been struggling with my photography as an artist. The last year has been learning how to handle my camera and the basics like how to meter, orienting myself with various technical terms, and other beginner level tasks.
While I’ve still got a lot to learn, I feel at this point that I’ve learned enough to at least progress to the next level — exploring work that matters.
But how can you work towards that? I’ll list a couple of ideas down below, but before I do, I’ll give credit where credit’s due by giving props to this video by The Art of Photography. It inspired me to sit down and write this list and it’s a great channel that I’d recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about various aspects of photography.
So, let’s get started, shall we?
Research The History
You may be thinking,
I know. It seems boring, but it doesn’t have to be, especially with all the options we have. You can learn in so many ways about the history of photography such as books at the library, articles on the internet, or videos on Youtube. There’s so many sources out there full of history that it’s almost impossible to find an option that you don’t like.
You can learn something as in depth or as little as you want. Maybe you’d rather just flip through a book of compositions and read more about the pieces and artists that confuse or amuse you. Or maybe you want to read all the information you can and know the history down to every little detail.
Whatever option you choose, having the gist of your craft and its history is vital to creating work that matters. You’ll learn how artists in the past pushed their medium, and, more importantly, where we are right now in the world. This is crucial as the only way to push your medium is to understand what has and hasn’t been done.
Imitation: The Sincerest Form Of Learning
So now with your newfound knowledge of history and a handful of your favorite artists, it’s time to pay homage and copy them.
While it’s important to have done your research and look up a few of your favorite photographers, it’s equally as important to figure out how they got those shots. Find some images you really love, and see if you can get close to something they’ve done. Now, it doesn’t have to be an exact copy, but try to go for the feeling they got in that image.
For example, try to photograph dioramas like Paolo Ventura, use masks like Ralph Eugene Meatyard, dive into conceptual photography like Cindy Sherman, or even capture quiet moments of humanity amidst a chaotic world as Saul Leiter did.
By doing so, you’ll learn various skills that will help you in a variety of settings, and you’ll probably be having a bit more fun doing it than just taking photographs with no thought behind it.
You’ll also learn if you want to continue down that route. Maybe you found the dioramas to be a bit drab, but you found you really have a passion for conceptual portraiture.
From here you can further explore and begin to dive into whatever genre you pick up, honing the skills needed for it and really fine tuning what makes your particular rendition of a genre special.
Stop Taking Easy Shots
What do I mean by this?
When I’m talking about easy shots, I mean the ones we’ve all seen; things like pictures of sunsets, black and white images with one thing in color, and other cliché ideas.
Just because something is pleasing to the eye doesn’t mean it’s work that matters. These are all things that have been overdone ad naseum, and if you’re not imitating something to learn how it’s done, you’re not really pushing yourself or working towards creating something that matters.
Really work with your subject. Consider all the angles you can view it at. Think about what you’re trying to say and why you’re taking a photograph of your subject. It’ll take a bit more time, but you’ll come out with a composition that speaks much more about you and what your view on this world is. You’ll develop a style that will eventually become recognizable to other people.
Sure, you may not get as many likes and attention because you’re not feeding into society’s demands for pretty pictures, but you’ll be much more satisfied knowing that you’re working towards making something unique and worthy of your skill set that shows what you believe in.
Pick A Theme, Any Theme
Even after considering all the angles and working for your photographs, things may still begin to to feel a bit stale.
By this point, you may want to sit down and really hone down a specific subject or idea. It could be something simple, such as only photographing subjects like doors or cars. Or it could be photographing in black and white, looking for more abstract shapes and ideas in the world.
You could even start a project on something you really care about. Maybe you really want to document all forms of American society like Robert Frank had. Or maybe you want to tackle other issues, such as environmental ones like the effects of global warming or social ones like human trafficking.
Take all the time you need on whatever it is; if it’s something you’re extremely passionate about, it could even be a project that you continue for your whole life. You never know where a project will take you, so get started on one and let it take you where it may.
Volunteering your talent is an incredible way to create work that matters, and there are numerous opportunities such as elderly services, animal shelters, and any local non-profits in your area. This article has a few more helpful options as well.
Through volunteering, you’ll get in contact with people you may have never met in your life, learning their stories that may change how you see the world and your place in it as a photographer. You’ll get a lot of practice working with different subjects and in different settings as well.
It’s also a chance to make an impact on people. At the very least, you’ll make someone’s day just a little bit better, but in some cases you may even go so far as making a profound impact on someone’s life.
Now that’s work that matters.
Patience Is A Virtue
Overall, there’s no easy step to making work that matters. It’s countless days, nights, months, and even years of continuous work. No matter whether you’re at the beginning of your path — like me — or further down the road, keep this in mind as you keep working. Be patient and keep striving to find and refine your photographic voice.
Get out there and work hard, but never lose track of why you picked up a camera in the first place.
Best of luck, and happy shooting!
Do you have any other ideas on creating work that matters? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. And if you enjoyed it, feel free to check out the rest of my site, share it, and Follow my blog for even more content!