Being able to create a great photograph comes down to careful planning and having an eye for what you or those viewing the photo might find interesting.
To really stand out and have the photo be memorable, you need to have a photographic vision.
This article is about the “why” you should become a visionary photographer.
Much has been written in-depth about the idea of vision in photography, so I’m not going to repeat that here.
I hope this article bridges the gap to help you understand more about why you should develop your own vision.
1. First Things First
Vision in photography may not be a 'sexy' topic but it is more important than the technicality of creating a good photo.
Developing your own vision can be the single best thing that happens to you.
I think it is important to consider it if you want to pursue photography beyond the limits of producing technically sound photos and posting them on social media for the sake of vanity.
And just to clarify...
I’m not a master in visionary photography but a student just like you. I’m not an expert but what I’m sharing here is from the perspective of a student who is constantly searching for ways to improve my work.
Lastly, if you think you are only at the beginning of your journey in photography and not quite there yet to talk about vision...perhaps this article about mastering the art of photography is easier to digest.
2. I Know What You Did Last Summer
Tell me if this is you...
You are out with your camera, you know where you want to go but don’t know what you are going to shoot.
You point your camera at something that look nice, maybe you move around to find a better angle.
Back at home on your computer, you open up the images in your editing software but you have no idea what to do with it.
In the end, you play around with adjustments, filters, etc. and end up spending hours unproductively.
The result looks good and you are suddenly flooded with a sense of self-satisfaction.
But this doesn’t always happen...
It is a hit and miss...sometimes the results are mediocre.
3. It Begins With Improvisation
What I’ve described above is what I call improvisation.
Every step in the workflow is undeliberate with some occurring by chance.
Unpredictable and challenging to replicate.
How do I know?
I have been there, it is like the life cycle of a photographer, the rite of passage.
When you accumulate experience over time, you will start to recognize what you like or don’t like.
And with a few other external stimuli...you begin to draw inspiration to develop your own way of seeing the world.
4. What Is Vision in Photography?
“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse... but surely you will see the wildness!” - Pablo Picasso
It is a beautiful thing - vision. Having the ability to see.
Photographers should constantly practise to perfect the gift of seeing. You should know what story or message you want to portray, and then capture it.
The important thing to remember is not to get frustrated…
Finding a clear, artistic vision takes time. Once you develop it, the satisfaction you get out of photography amplifies.
The key is to persevere and be persistent in what you are doing. As the Helsinki Bus Station Theory tells us - Stay on the bloody bus!
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory. Image by James Clear.
Alfred Stieglitz, a visionary photographer, explained the purpose of using vision in photography in the most reliable way. His words reveal why vision comes before the photograph and why it is where it all begins.
To further explain, it means your vision in photography originates in your vision of life. It is how you see things. It is how you let things inspire you.
Developing a vision doesn’t happen overnight.
As a photographer, you slowly build the habit of paying attention to the scene in front of you.
You start to take in the sounds, smells and emotions. You think about how to blend all of this into a still frame. How can you share this moment with others through a single photo.
5. Why Is Vision So Crucial?
A vision in photography is being able to think creatively and attentively at a subject and capture it in a way that conveys meaning.
It is abstract and expressive. It is also intentional and developing.
As a photographer, you should strive to find your own unique vision and share with the world images from your perspective.
It is crucial to continue to train yourself in identifying and harnessing your vision.
When doing so, focus more on developing your ability to convey meaning and find what moves you, rather than the act of photographing or perfecting the technical side of things.
Renee Phillips, an art coach, states that: ‘Artists are born with a compelling need to probe the depths of self-expression and proclaim self-liberation. The challenge that lies before them is no small task’.
Relying on just your technical ability will leave your photos feeling lifeless, boring or having little impact.
Anyone can learn how to use a software like Photoshop, but the real talent of photography, as an art form, comes down to timing, framing, and finding a meaning / vision for taking the shot.
As a visionary photographer, you need to continue to ask yourself why do you shoot? What about your photographs, do you find meaning in, what are you trying to capture?
Photographers have the power to create something artistic, but it takes vision.
Our purpose, as photographers, is to express the everyday norms in visually appealing ways.
“I don’t photograph the world as it is. I photograph the world as I would like it to be.” – Monte Zucker
Photography, be it landscape or portrait, is a visual art form.
It takes timing to perfect, and every frame is unique. We want to evoke a feeling when somebody encounters our photograph.
Strengthening your vision takes experience and discipline, a real dedication to your art, but the remunerations for taking the time will be meaningful in the progress of your picture-taking.
Vision is novel and it is what will give your art its identity...
Not your name underneath the image, not the fact that it was you who produced it.
The photo becomes art when it carries a vision, a vision you created.
Let your unique vision shine.
Let it reveal. Let it be free. Let it engulf you.
6. How to Find Your Vision
There is no quick way to do this...
Finding your own vision, your personal voice and your reason to create is a process, not a formula.
Everyone has a different journey to self-discovery…but there are certain things they do that are similar.
I’m going to share with you a few tips that I do personally.
You can do the same or use it as an inspiration to create your way.
6.1 Study the Work of Other Photographers
This is kind of obvious. If you want to excel in anything, you need to study the people who have excelled before you.
What kind of photographs resonate with you? Find out who the photographer is and study their vision, philosophy and methods.
Information is more readily available and affordable than ever. All you need is effort.
Wikipedia has a huge list of well-known photographers. If you don’t know anyone then this place is a good start.
I came across Jerry Uelsmann's work recently (on the right) and was inspired by this photograph.
6.2 Visit Museums and Art Galleries
These places are goldmines for inspiration.
Thinking about it…
It houses work by the grand masters, which are the source of ideas to creativity for generations of artists after them.
Broaden your inspiration to include paintings, sculptures, etc. It will influence the way you perceive the world that ultimately shapes your work.
Many national museums around the world are free, or even online. To begin with, check out the impressive Art and Culture by Google.
6.3 Emulate, Steal Like an Artist
“Good artists copy; great artists steal” - Pablo Picasso
This closely relates to the two above.
It is tempting to “copy” others because the idea/concept is so good, this is even more so when your mind is completely blank.
But most people would cringe at the idea of copying, does it equal to plagiarism?
No, unless you forge an exact copy of the original and publish, promote or sell it as your own.
If you look at history, artists in the Renaissance (and beyond) copied each other before they developed their own vision. How many paintings are there of "Madonna and the Child" or "Adoration of the Magi"?
Same theme, just different artist and style.
Steal Like an Artist is short, quirky and entertaining book I recommend on this subject.
6.4 Collect Your Ideas
You need storage to keep all your ideas in one place. This allows you to self-reflect, understand and learn more about yourself - what kind of art is important to you, what you like or dislike, etc.
A good place to do this is Pinterest!
You can pin literally anything to a board and organize them into groups. This makes it easier when you go back to review them.
You can use anything/platform to be fair. I use Pinterest because it is free.
6.5 Practice, Practice and Practice More
I can't stress thie enough...
While you are admiring the work of others, don’t forget your camera.
No matter how many paintings and photographs you studied, it is all a moo point if you don’t manifest these.
In Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice, the author Matthew Syed mentioned that to truly master a skill, you need to have clocked approximately 10000 hours of practice.
The more you shoot, the closer you will be in finding a photographic vision.
6.6 Be a Lifelong Learner
You are never too old to learn.
More importantly, don’t feel you are too good to learn.
No matter how good you think you are, there is always room to grow.
Not only a growth mindset will help you find and refine your vision in photography, it will also help you to be successful in other aspects of your life too.
Books, webinars, courses, workshops, networking, etc. There is always something catered for you regardless of your circumstances.
7. Over to You
Mastering the technical skills to create the perfect photo isn’t enough.
Without vision, a photo is just a pretty picture with no meaning or soul. It doesn’t engage with the viewer and therefore not memorable.
To find your photography vision, you need to find yourself first. Understand the reason you want to create and find a way to express that in your work.
Remember, stay on the bus!