Several years ago, I stood at the brim of the Grand Canyon exalted that the weather, sky, and general lighting created a wonderful backdrop to the immense canyon. Without these conditions, the Canyon can look flat and unimpressive in a photograph, lacking layers of contrasted colors and depth needed to make the Canyon a great landscape choice. It was a wonderfully unique day, which resulted in what I considered to be several impressive photographs and a very happy photographer.
I later entered one of those photographs in a photo contest. I overheard a Judge say that the picture was “really very good, but do you know how many of these I see?” I did not win or even place. I took from the experience that I needed to find more unique locations to photography if I wanted to win photo contests.
Several months later, I saw, in a well know photography magazine, a picture of the Canyon win their photo contest. The image was taken on the exact same day from the same vantage point. Initially I was confused, but then I began to really study the differences between my Canyon photos and the winning image. I realized that it was not about the location, but about the unique photographic perspective of the landscape.
Since that time I have worked to understand the components that help to give a photograph a unique voice, or something that captures the photographer’s fingerprints on the photo. I read articles about defining your style, or the 5 or something things you can do to
find your style, tips for developing your own style, etc. The articles were filled with discussions of composition, lighting, camera techniques, and also many more esoteric suggestions. I still did not get it. But I kept taking pictures…lots of them and somewhere along the way I began to forget the musts and just began to do what stirred me.
The truth is, your unique style of photographing is something you develop, not learn, over time. From how you hold the camera, settings you choose, how you place the camera, your composition, etc., your choices (made over and over) will create your unique vision. When I put aside all the photo tips, must dos, seeking the unique places, listening to other well-meaning photographers, and just started shooting what caught my eye, what stirred my emotions, what I enjoyed looking at, my unique fingerprints appeared. And when they appeared, I saw them, and now it no longer matters if my work wins a photo contest or receives accolades from others. What matters - every time I look at my work I remember where I was standing and what I was feeling when the picture materialized. I enjoy sharing those images, my emotions, with others.
Recently, I stood at Clingman’s Dome in the Smokey Mountains. About 50 other photographers stood with me. Different cameras, different lenses, different tripod positions, but all pointed at the same sunset over the same mountain ridges. I knew my photos would be different, with my unique fingerprints, and I loved the experience standing there with all those other unique fingerprints!