Something I realized– it ain’t enough just to shoot nice compositions of things. More importantly, we need to know how to recognize potentially interesting scenes BEFORE we shoot them. Or in more simple words,
“How do we know if a scene is interesting enough to photograph in the first place?”
The challenge of photography
I have some friends who are painters who tell me that photography is very difficult and challenging. This sounds hilarious to me, because to me, photography is so easy compared to painting stuff.
Consider the challenge of painters: They first must come up with a concept in their mind, then put it into paint. But the good thing about being a painter is this — you’re not a slave to reality and the world around you.
This is the challenge of the photographer; we are bound by reality. We can come up with concepts in our minds of stuff to photograph, but we still need physical matter, light, and people/things to photograph. Thus our challenge of photographers is this:
How do we even know what we want to photograph? Or how do we come up with concepts of stuff to photograph?
Single images vs projects
This is also another dichotomy in photography:
Do you like to just walk around and shoot photos of anything which interests you, or do you prefer to work on more focused longer-term projects?
It isn’t one or the other. My simple solution:
Strive to make photographs which make a strong emotional impact and impression on your viewers. And when you edit and put together a project, try to make every photograph powerful and stand on its own two legs.
There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” approach in photography. Just do what you like.
If you prefer to shoot photos of anything you like seeing; just do that! If you prefer to focus on a project, and then shoot photos for that project; do that!
But let me assume you just want to make interesting single-images — how do we even know what will make an interesting picture?
This is a simple suggestion:
If you want to better identify interesting scenes to photograph, put your mind in a “zen zone”.
What I mean is this: empty your mind. Turn off your phone, and get rid of anything which distracts you, or crowds your mind.
I watched a Netflix documentary called ‘Lo and Behold’ and there is a scene in which there is this town with a satellite which doesn’t allow any cellular transmissions, because it might drown out any (faint) outside signals from outer-space which might be trying to transmit signals to planet Earth.
I think this is an interesting metaphor for us —
We all have creative ideas inside our minds and souls, yet these signals are often faint. We must eliminate distractions and outside stimuli, in order to even hear this faint inner-voice.
Cleanse your eyeballs
This is the problem — our eyeballs and visual senses are over-stimulated. With Instagram, Facebook, social media, YouTube and all these colorful and blinky stuff on our phones, we have too much eyeball candy. And if you’re addicted to sugar, your sweet-sensory taste buds become dulled.
Thus this is my theory:
It is difficult to see interesting things to photograph, if our eyeballs are dulled by over visual-stimulation.
So a very simple thing we can do when we’re out shooting:
Turn off your phone (completely), walk around with no headphones or music, and just let the outside world stimulate you.
Follow your gut
Keep it super simple. Put your camera into automatic mode, or program (P) mode. Just walk around the block, and whenever anything looks even 1% interesting to you — JUST SHOOT IT! Take lots of photos too, shoot 5, 10, 20, or 50 pictures! Don’t choose your best photo while you’re shooting — wait until you get home before reviewing your pictures.
Also my suggestion is to turn off your camera’s “auto-review” function. Or to keep things super-simple, just shoot with your phone.
I know for myself in the past, my problem in photography was this:
I saw stuff I wanted to photograph, but I didn’t photograph it, because I was afraid that it would be a ‘boring’ photo or that the photograph was ‘cliche’, or that I already photographed something similar to it already.
I say disregard all that negative inner-talk. Just shoot it!
Put yourself in environments which are interesting or stimulating to you
This is another idea —
Put yourself into scenarios which you think might stimulate your creativity.
For example, I love shooting in downtown city-areas; especially more ethnically diverse places.
For example, I love ‘Santee Alley’ in Downtown LA, I love shooting in Little India or Arab Street in Singapore, and I like the Lower-East Side in NYC. I like areas which there are a lot of different peoples, cultures, and ethnicities bumping into one another — there is a lot of dynamic energy and happenings there!
Embrace your “boring” neighborhood.
This is the thing: no matter how ‘interesting’ the city or neighborhood we live in, we will get bored of it sooner or later. I think it is just human nature (hedonic adaptation). I think there is also “visual adaptation” — no matter how shiny, interesting, or colorful our environment or things, we will always end up ‘getting used to it’ or getting bored of it.
Thus my simple suggestion is this: recognize that your environment might be ‘boring’ — but embrace it, and think to yourself:
How can I make interesting photographs in my ‘boring’ or ‘un-interesting’ place?
This might mean shooting macro (up-close) photos of interesting details or textures you see. Or it might mean changing up your style or approach. Don’t be a prisoner or slave to a genre or a specific way of working in photography.
Just shoot anything and everything! Be a genre-less photographer. I think not confining yourself to a genre is the best way to always stay inspired as a photographer.
You already have an artistic vision within your mind and soul. It is simply a matter of getting regular training and exercise.
If you want to deadlift 500kg (shout-out to Eddie Hall), of course you must put in the daily effort, and you must train hard.
If you want to become a great photographer or visual artist, of course you must train your eyes on a daily basis. Train your eyes by shooting a lot, looking at lots of beautiful visual art you like, and by having fun (while increasing the challenge).