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Dare to be Different With Your Photos

It’s estimated that over two billion photos are uploaded to the internet every day. We are deluged with images. So if you’re a photographer looking to stand out from the crowd, then going to the same iconic locations, framing up and shooting the same compositions, and looking to emulate the great images you might find from skilled photographers is not what you should do.

You need to dare to be different with your photography – by making the shot in a way people haven’t seen before. If the reaction you want is “Wow!” rather than “Meh,” you need to mix it up.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone
Not a bad photo of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, but how different is my shot than the tens of thousands of other shots made from the same vantage point?

Where’d you shoot that?

I belong to a camera club, and we routinely show our images for review and critique. Something I hear too often when a great photo is displayed is, “Where’d you shoot that?”

I guess it’s a fair question. But I’m always concerned that the person asking it is thinking: If I go there, get the same light, perhaps use the same camera settings, and shoot from the same spot, I could make a great photo, too!”

But why would you want to be a copycat?

Sure, we all like to go to the iconic spots, but why not try to make a shot that is different and uniquely yours, one that stands out from the crowd?

the statue of Liberty
No doubt millions of photos have been taken of this iconic location, so kudos to friend and fellow photographer Harold Hall, who found a unique perspective for this familiar New York City landmark.

To be seen, don’t be one of the “herd.”

Go where others don’t

I just got back from a trip to Yellowstone National Park. While I was there, I wanted to see the Grand Prismatic Spring, a very iconic spot and a natural wonder well worth seeing.

Upon reaching the overlook, I had to wait to even get to the edge as dozens of tourists took turns at the rail, shooting with their cellphone cameras, posing for selfies, even asking photographers like me, who were carrying obviously more sophisticated camera gear, if we’d snap their group photo with their cellphone.

Grand Prismatic Spring abstract detail
Here’s a different abstract take at the Grand Prismatic Spring, and a shot more likely to be uniquely mine. Dare to be different with your photography.

I get it: They wanted a photographic souvenir of being at the Grand Prismatic Spring, a shot they could post on social media to share with their friends.

That’s fine, but what about you? Are you a serious photographer looking to make artistic photographs? Or are you a tourist looking for a snapshot?

Sure, I wanted to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. And yes, I took my camera and made a shot.

In fact, I’ve photographed next to other photographers at similar iconic locations. How could you not photograph the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, or the Sydney Opera House in Australia (the list goes on)?

So hit the iconic spots, make the usual shot, and check it off your bucket list.

But then find ways to change things up. Go to the lesser-known spots and make some photographs others won’t have considered – images that are uniquely yours.

But how do you make shots that don’t look like the tens of thousands taken by others?

Let’s explore that.

Dare to be different Oceanside Pier
Lots of photos have been done of the Oceanside Pier in southern California, so I tried to make my shot different by shooting a long, 30-second exposure during the blue hour.
Bass Harbor Lighthouse
I was literally shoulder-to-shoulder with maybe a hundred other photographers while waiting for a sunset that never showed at the Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park in Maine. I tried to be a little different with a six-second exposure to blur the clouds and waves.
Canon 6D | Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM | 6s | f/11 | ISO 200

Seek a new perspective

Amateur photographers almost never use tripods. So they often raise their camera to their eye and shoot from a standing position.

Hence, the great majority of their shots are from a five- to six-foot, eye-level height, even when the subject suggests that something else might be better.

A shot of a small child is typically made looking down on the subject, as is a picture of a flower or some other shorter subject. If shooting with a standard digital camera, the great majority of images will be in landscape mode; if shooting with a phone, most shots will be in portrait mode. Little – if any – thought is given to rotating the camera to best suit the subject. The subject will typically be placed dead-center in the frame, so that if the photo is a portrait, then there is an excessive amount of headroom. This type of photographer has never heard of the rule of thirds.

Dare to be different. Grand Fountain Geyer. Yellowstone National Park.
Another iconic location with a couple dozen other photographers shooting at the Grand Fountain Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Always look for how you can make your image dramatic and different than what the other photographers will make.

We expect student photographers to be a little better, right? They might shoot with a tripod. Yet I have been to plenty of photo workshops where the photographers are lined up like gunners in a firing squad, cameras on tripods but at that same eye-level height, all trained on the same iconic subject. How much different will their shots be? Maybe they ought to just buy a postcard in the gift shop.

“Sometimes, to stand out, you need to sit down.”

Anthony T. Hincks

I’m not sure of the context in which Mr. Hincks was speaking when he authored this quote. But appropriating it so that it applies to photographers, you need to consider various perspectives to better suit your subject and create images that bring new interpretations and compositions. Get up, get down, shoot from a bird’s-eye perspective or a worm’s-eye perspective. Shoot through objects that create natural frames. Try some point-of-view (POV) shots.

There are lots of things to try in order to explore new looks and create interest, excitement, and mood in your photos.

As a photographer, I expect you are more of a visual learner, so here are some shots to help communicate these concepts:

Photos from a worm's-eye perspective.
Get down to the ground and get a “worms-eye view” for a perspective the average photographer shooting from eye-level won’t get. The shot on the left is with an LG V30 cellphone.
Images shot from low down
For the image of the Snow Cone in Craters of the Moon National Park on the left, a cellphone camera was placed on the lava. For the shot on the right, the camera was directly on the stage at “foot level.”
Abstract shots of the ground
Look down. Sometimes the shot is right at your feet.
Photos taken while looking up
Look up. Sometimes the shot is straight overhead.
Compare how high and low angles change the way we view these trains.
A high vantage point allowed me to capture much of the long train in the first shot. The low angle for the Union Pacific 844 steam train (in the second shot) emphasized its immense power.
Hot air balloons lift off from Ann Morrison Park in Boise, Idaho.
To get this unique angle when photographing the hot air balloons ascending from Ann Morrison Park in Boise, Idaho, you had to be in one of them. My photographer son Mark Ohnsman was, and he got this great shot.
Great aerial photos can be made out the window of commercial airliners with your cellphone.
Another way to get high-angle aerial shots is by shooting out the window of a commercial flight. I got these images with my LG V30 cellphone. The shot on the left was made somewhere over the Nevada desert; the shot on the right was made during the final approach to the Boise, Idaho airport.
Seaside cliffs near Cape Arago, Oregon.
Drone photography is yet another way to get a high vantage point. This could have been made with a drone (if I had one), but instead was done off a cliff near Cape Arago State Park in Oregon.
Get down low when photographing flowers and vegetation for a more dramatic impact.
When shooting flowers or low vegetation, sometimes you want to get down in it. Get low with your camera and make shots others won’t get from an eye-level perspective.
Near-far style photography examples.
The “near-far” look is done with a wide-angle lens and a small aperture so that objects from a few feet away to infinity are all in focus. Sometimes, focus stacking might be needed to ensure front-to-back sharpness. The technique produces images with great depth. Photo at left by Rick Ohnsman; photo at right by Dan Mottaz.
Different ways to shoot low-angle photos and still use a tripod.
For getting low while keeping your camera steady, a tripod with no center column, a tripod (left) with a replaceable short center column, or something like the Gorillapod (right) is the ticket.
Find "natural frames" to enhance your photos.
Think about “natural framing,” where you use things in the scene that frame your image as a way to make your shot different than what others might get.
Flower and plant images.
Another way to make unique images others won’t get, and also to explore the wonders of an unseen world, is to try close-up and macro photography.
Two photos of sand on a beach.
Work a scene, shooting wide, medium, and close-up shots. Digital film is cheap, so never take a “one-and-done” approach to your photography. I made the first shot here on Sand Beach in Acadia National Park. A little while later, I noticed and photographed the interesting patterns in the sand.
Dare to be different
Explore various focal lengths and crops when making portraits. From left to right: close-up, medium-wide, medium, and ultra-close-up.
abstract photography examples
A great way to ensure your photos will be uniquely yours is to embrace abstract photography. There is no end to the possible subjects.
Dare to be different. Photos that tell a story.
A picture is worth 1000 words, they say. What does your photo say? Try making photos that tell a story; this will better involve your viewer in the image.
Vertical image of a rock
Remember to turn your camera to a vertical (portrait) position if the subject dictates it. You’d be surprised at the amateurs who never consider this.
Car photos with diagonals
Diagonal lines add drama. When shooting cars, I like to employ a “Dutch tilt.” See if you can discover scenes where tilting the camera will make your images more unique and interesting.
Examples of foggy photos.
When the weather gets bad, the photos get good. There’s nothing like some fog to add mood to a shot. If you want unique and compelling photos that are different from the rest of the crowd, brave the elements and get out when the weather keeps fair-weather photographers inside.
Foggy trees in Yellowstone National Park.
Morning fog and steam from nearby thermal springs made for the perfect moody shot in Yellowstone National Park.
Lupine leaf macro
Dare to be different when editing. This is the same shot of water drops on a lupine leaf, but as a monochrome positive on the left and a negative image on the right.
Focus-stacked forest
You can shoot differently when you know your editing options. Here, multiple images taken of the trees at the Boardman, Oregon tree farm were made at various focus points and then focus-stacked with Helicon Focus. Such depth of field would not have been possible in a single shot.
Examples of standard subjects photographed in different ways
Sometimes, the way to make photos that are uniquely yours is to see common things in different ways. The key, as with all photography, is to look for the light.

Dare to be different with your photos: the next step

People might call me names, but as a photographer, there’s one name I hope never applies: Snapshooter. I consider a snapshooter to be the photographer who sees something that catches their attention, raises the camera to their eye, and takes a snapshot. That is the person who gives no thought to composition, angle, perspective, subject, storytelling, or concept. They don’t understand camera controls, exposure, depth of field, or ways to use the camera as a tool to communicate their vision. They probably don’t even grasp the concept of a vision. They don’t take the time to consider what they might do to make their photographs better or different. Can they even communicate what they are trying to say with their images?

But that’s not you, right? You have come to a place called the Digital Photography School, presumably as a person looking to learn how to make better images.

So I challenge you: Dare to be different with your photos. Make photographs that are intentionally creative, unique, tell a story, and show the viewer something in a way they may not have seen it before. 

“You walk like others? You talk like others? You think like others? Then the world doesn’t need you, because others are already abundant in the world! Be original!”

Mehmet Murat ildan

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Rick Ohnsman
Rick Ohnsman

Photography isn’t just a hobby, it’s an adventure! Photography is about sharing my personal vision. From the ’70s, with a film SLR and a garage darkroom, college work with 4×5 view cameras, Kodachrome slides and into the digital age, I’ve pursued photography for over 45 years. An enthusiastic member of the Boise Camera Club, I share this common passion and enjoy teaching new members. See my work here – on 500px and on instagram.