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How to Find Your Vision as a Photographer

find-your-vision-as-a-photographer

It’s frustrating to be a good photographer but not know what to do with your skills.

You can know your camera inside and out, be able to compose a good photo and capture a great moment, but without vision, you’ll always feel aimless as a photographer.

You’ll be stuck taking pictures that don’t inspire you and perhaps even running a photography business that brings you down.

I’ll show you how to find your vision as a photographer so that you can thrive and create a body of work that you are proud of.

“It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.” – Helen Keller

find your vision as a photographer

Even though I’m a family photographer, photos like this do not fit my vision as a photographer. However, I understand that families want a nice portrait like this, so it’s part of what I offer as a family photographer.

What is “vision”?

Vision has to do with seeing, and photographers constantly practice the art of seeing.

Having vision means you know why you’re taking pictures. You know what you want to accomplish. You’re not controlled by what other photographers tell you to do. You know what you’re pursuing and why.

“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” – Jonathan Swift

find your vision as a photographer

Photos like this, a candid moment, a splash of chaos to break the order, is more in line with my vision.

Who’s vision are you living?

Without a vision of your own, you may be living out another photographer’s vision.

You see everyone else’s style of photography and feel you have to conform to that even though you don’t want to.

Somebody else has told you how to see the possibilities. Your vision isn’t your own.

But how do you find your vision as a photographer?

candid moment portrait

A photo like this fits my vision perfectly. It was cold and the little one was confused and grumpy and shivering. The only thing that mattered to her was her mom. But this photo is not really about the little one, it’s about her mom. The mom who sacrifices, and comforts. The mom who abandons everything to embrace her little one.

Look back to find your vision

Part of your work as a photographer is to explore. What you explore is completely up to you.

You often don’t realize the significance of your discoveries until you can see some thread that connects them all.

In all your exploration as a creative person, you will see clues to your vision.

Look back on these five things to help find your vision as a photographer.

1. Note your other creative pursuits

You’re probably a creative person and not just a photographer.

  • Consider what books you love to read.
  • Take note of what you watch.
  • What type of music do you listen to?
  • If you sketch or paint, what is your subject matter?

Now, connect photography with your other creative pursuits.

Here’s what it looks like for me:

I tend to read novels that explore human nature, listen to music with lyrics about the ideal life, enjoy comedy that pokes fun of everyday routines, write on themes of personal growth, and studied the humanities at university.

I love to photograph candid moments (even during headshot sessions) because it lets me explore personality and how people act.

Already, I see a connection between my photography and my other creative pursuits.

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” – Ansel Adams

Image: In each of these books, I find a clue to my vision as a photographer.

In each of these books, I find a clue to my vision as a photographer.

2. Collect the photos you love the most

What sort of photos are you drawn to and what are your favorite photos that you’ve taken?

What do you see in those photos and how do they connect to your other creative pursuits?

candid sibling portrait

From my earliest days as a family photographer, this is one of my favorite photos. Childhood is a theme I love to explore.

Look beyond your own photography to that of others. What prints have you purchased or photography books do you own?

photoournalism books

I’m not a photojournalist, though it’s photojournalism that seems to really inspire me as a photographer. This 25-cent yard sale magazine was one of my best purchases this year.

My favorite photographs are gritty, grainy and misfocused, but I love them.

I appreciate photographers who live for the moments and ideas in the photograph.

Moving forward, pay attention to what compels you to grab your camera and take a photo.

3. List your quirks as a person

This is a fun one. The purpose is to discover what is unique and interesting about you as a creative person.

  • Do you have a strange hobby?
  • Do you have any funny rituals?
  • What are you most embarrassed about?

List those quirky things that make you interesting.

If a toddler cries at one of my photo sessions, you can be sure I’ll snap a picture. l also make moms and dads dance together during photo sessions. It’s always so awkward, but that’s interesting to me.

Candid couples portrait

One of my quirks is that I’m afraid to dance. I figure if I’m afraid of something, then other people are too. So I make couples dance at a portrait session. It’s lots of fun and the most awkward couples end up with the most romantic portraits.

4. What are your favorite 3-5 photography quotes?

Your favorite photography quotes will help you find your vision as a photographer.

Here are a few to get you thinking.

“I realize more and more what it takes to be a really good photographer. You go in over your head, not just up to your neck.” — Dorothea Lange

“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” — Marc Riboud

“For me, the camera is a sketchbook, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson

“I tend to think of the act of photographing, generally speaking, as an adventure. My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” — Diane Arbus

“Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.” — Diane Arbus

“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.” — Steve McCurry

“The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson

Do your favorite quotes have anything in common with your creative pursuits, your favorite photos, and your quirks as a person?

find your vision as a photographer

One day the bay we live on flooded and took over our yard. I put on my chest waders and followed my son as he paddled around. This is who I am as a photographer. Wandering into unpredictable and unexpected events to explore. I love it when our everyday life is made strange

5. Pay attention to what you say when you’re upset

Sometimes the spontaneous overflow of emotion contains the exact revelation of what your vision is.

How do you react when your photos are criticized? If you’ve never been criticized, just find a community to share your work online. Sooner or later, a person will let you know what they think of your photos. They will insult you relentlessly. Hopefully, they get under your skin, and you lash back. The words you blurt out are an expression of your vision.

I like wading into chaos and making something beautiful out of it. And if there are blemishes in the photo, so much the better. Because where there are smudges and dust and grain – that’s where things got real.

iPhone 46 photography

I keep my iPhone 4s to use as a camera. The grain and discoloration in the photos represent what I see in life. It’s one of my favorite cameras.

Ask, what problem does your vision solve?

By now, you should have a clue as to what you’re after as a photographer. Don’t worry, it takes some time to come up with a precise vision.

A final approach is to ask what problem your vision tackles.

I remember the day I realized what photography was all about for me. I was reading a book on the history of journalism and came across this comment:

“The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each man to himself.” — Edward Steichen

My everyday photography and work is permeated with trying to understand ourselves. That is right in line with the books I read, the comedy I laugh at, and the moments I capture.

As I photograph my kids, other people and social events, I come to understand humanity. And I find myself in places I would never get to be unless I was a photographer.

“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong.” — Susan Meiselas

find-your-vision-as-a-photographer

I’ve been there when brides get ready for their wedding day. That would never have happened without the camera. You get insights into a person when you spend their wedding morning with them. You get insight into humanity when you do this repeatedly over time.

Here is a question that drives me as a person and a photographer: who do you become in a crisis?

What do you become like when a session falls apart? Who do you become as a mom when your little one won’t smile pretty for the camera? Who are you when your children need you? Those questions drive me and therefore drive my vision as a photographer.

How to capture your vision in photos

A moment between a father and son. He’s done something wrong and neither knows quite how to react or what to say. It’s a defining moment in their relationship.

 

Your vision ought to make you grow

People with vision foresee exactly what they’re after and why. They work toward it, overcoming obstacles and their weaknesses. To find your vision as a photographer:

  • Explore your creativity.
  • Ask, what problem does my vision solve?
  • How does it make life deeper and better?
  • Who do I need to be(come) in order to bring this vision to life?
  • What do I have to do consistently in order to bring this vision to life?
  • Write yourself a tag line and print it, make a mug, a t-shirt, or paint it on the wall.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add to this? If so, please share with us in the comments.

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Mat Coker
Mat Coker

is a family photographer from Ontario, Canada. He teaches photography to parents and families, showing them how to document their life and adventures. You can get his free photography ebook, and learn more about taking creative photos.