I have realized over the years of teaching workshops and critiquing portfolios that the one question I am always asked is “What should I do now?” This question is usually asked by people who have been to all the standard places and that have taken all the standard shots of all the standard things. The portfolios I see are beautiful, don’t misunderstand me, but I see the same shots over and over again and there is always something missing.
So what am I complaining about? Let me explain. You can look at a portfolio of all the top spots to photograph in several ways. You can say that it is a wonderful accomplishment that shows years of dedication of photographing America. You can say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. You can say that it is a very efficient way to see and photograph all the best places in the United States. You would be right each time.
But the problem is that all your best images are individual images with no or maybe little relationship to all your other images. You are spending your time trying to get single pretty shots. Then what? You spend more time trying to get even prettier shots. And even prettier shots, and even prettier shots. STOP! There’s a better way.
Rather than spending your time traveling all over the place skimming the cream I suggest that you give yourself a photo project or two to work on. By concentrating on a project or theme you become more motivated and go deeper into your creativity. Suddenly, your photography becomes more satisfying as you explore something you are passionate about and your images become more personal and original. Plus, working on a project is a great way to really improve your photography.
A project can be anything. It can be different ways to photograph flowers or photographing the natural areas near you. Some people pick a concept such as ‘windows’ and photograph that. Others spend a month shooting with only one lens. Another terrific way is to take a workshop and allow yourself to concentrate on your photography and just your photography with help and inspiration just a holler away.
When I moved east to Vermont I decided to reacquaint myself with the state by systematically exploring as much of it as I could. For five years I wandered every road, path or river in Vermont I could. I studied Vermont picture books, calendars and post cards whenever I could and I bought every guidebook I could that specialized in anything outdoors. At the time, it was the most satisfying time of my professional life.
My attempt to get to know the wild side of Vermont grew into two projects. One was to photograph the everyday nature of Vermont and the other was to keep notes of the places that I found to photograph. Those two projects grew into two books. One, The Nature of Vermont, highlights the wildness found roadside, streamside and even barnside in Vermont and the other, The Photographer’s Guide to Vermont, is a site guide for all photographers who visit Vermont.
My efforts didn’t have to lead to two book projects. I was using the images for magazine articles, calendar submissions and slide shows. I could’ve also parlayed the effort into public presentations or gallery shows. I could’ve done posters and note cards or sold the images on my website. Doing a project didn’t limit me in any way. In fact it forced me to expand my photography.
When you pick an area of concentration you will begin to see your photography differently. At first your compositions are pretty much everyday stuff – not bad but just like everyone else’s. But then as you take more pictures your compositions and subjects became more interesting, more sophisticated, more original. Suddenly you start to notice things that before you would’ve overlooked and you start seeing the everyday anew. For me, making the ordinary extraordinary is the most satisfying thing I can do photographically. The only way to do this is to slow down and give yourself time to explore both your outer and inner landscapes.
The best part of this process is that because I have allowed myself to concentrate on a theme or two I am getting shots nobody else has because nobody else has taken the time I have. This will work for you as well, I promise.
And wouldn’t you know I offer a workshop exactly on this topic! The workshop will give you all the tools and ideas for you to start your own project. I will even help you crystalize your project ideas into strong, viable photographic themes. It’s a great workshop and your photography and enthusiasm will only get better. Promise