How To Take Ridiculously Unique Photos

How To Take Ridiculously Unique Photos

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Take ridiculously unique photos 1

by Steven McConnell

How do you make your photography more meaningful, moving and unique?

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the idea that our motivations significantly influence the quality of photography we create.

This sentiment is expressed particularly well in The Foutainhead by Ayn Rand. The character is an architect, rather than a photographer, though his lessons apply to any artist who wants to create great work:

“Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it’s made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man. Its integrity is to follow its own truth, its one single theme, and to serve its own single purpose.”

Pleasing Everyone Doesn’t Work

In the novel, the hero makes a strong point that, when artists attempt to fulfil on competing needs they tend to create uninspiring, soul-less compromises.

In the context of architecture it might look like this:

  • A building gets an impressive facade, because the owners want to impress the neighbours.
  • It adheres to rules of traditional architecture, because that’s what the architect’s boss wants.
  • It features a striking look, because the architect knows its a good way to attract some publicity to himself.
  • Its materials are dictated by the budget, rather than their suitability for the task.

And so on.

The hero’s point is that the most beautiful building is one which follows a single, unyielding purpose: to create most liveable space for the people who will inhabit it.

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Why Do We Take Photos?

I think as photographers, we often fell into the same trap. We are either unconscious to our motives, or we consciously lose focus because we try to satisfy too many ends.

In doing so, we cease creating art and start creating generic commodities.

What Drives Us?

I’ve been paying a lot of attention lately to what drives me and how it affects the photography I create.

For me personally, I notice that photography serves as a means to these ends:

  • A way to escape from something.
  • A way to get approval.
  • A way to challenge myself.
  • A way to make a difference.

Neither one of them are right or wrong, better or worse. But some are more conducive to a more powerful focus. Which, in turn, brings about stronger results.

Photography Assignment

Let’s say I have a day off and I decide to spend it taking photos. Where do I go? What do I photograph? Who do I show the photos to?

If I approach the day from a space of needing approval, for example, then my focus will be extremely broad. Anyone or anything which gives me recognition will satisfy that need.

I am free go take snaps of everything from the Opera House to my neighbour’s cat, and show off what I did to my friends, family, other photographers on online forums and so on.

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Narrowing Focus

However, if I consciously decide to make this day about making a difference to someone, then my focus narrows significantly.

I can still go take a photo of the Opera House, for example. But a pretty picture, which has also been taken by millions of people, won’t do now.

If I’m going to hold myself to account and really make this day about making a difference to someone through my photography, I’ll need to dig much deeper.

Creating Art

I’ll probably look at the issues surrounding it today (art vs politics, need for funding and redevelopment, modern society vs art, budget cuts, people who make it all work) and attempt to take photos which tell those stories in a powerful way.

My audience would also be much more narrow – I’ll have to connect with people who have a need for such photos and offer it to them as a gift.

In the end, 99.999% people in the world would never see, or appreciate those photos. But those who do, because they really have an interest in the story I’ve told, will be touched forever.

Default Isn’t Good Enough

If left to our own devices, our brain will pick a purpose for us, depending on the wiring from our past.

Because we’re human, most of the time we default to the “escape” and “get approval” kind of space. Unfortunately, that headspace gives rise to generic kind of results.

Escape is a powerful motivator, but it’s vague. You can escape anywhere, doing just about anything you’re trying to escape from.

Desire for approval is even more powerful, but it comes hand in hand with a fear of disapproval, which makes it difficult to say something original.

I find that I produce best photography when I consciously come from “challenge myself” or “make a difference” type of mindsets.

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Purpose Is Changeable

We are in control of our motives – not the other way around. Which means we’re entirely in control of the level of photography we produce.

The first step is awareness. Moment by moment, we can ask ourselves – what’s driving me now? What end am I serving?

The second step is change. If we discover that we’re serving too many masters, we can change our purpose to one which gives us a more powerful focus.

So, what’s your photography assignment for today? And, more importantly, why?

Steven McConnell is a family photographer at Family Photography Sydney. You can connect with him on Google+. and Twitter.

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Some Older Comments

  • natashabacca September 21, 2013 05:06 am

    I love creating photos and images.... I have a strong passion for photography...:)

  • PeterM September 15, 2013 03:25 pm

    Robertec
    I agree the 1st 3 photos the highlights are blown out, but this seems to be accepted these days. Maybe because so many people use digital with a smaller dynamic range than film, also Instagram & phone camera photos are the in thing regardless of quality. It's like singing, a good singer always sung from the diaphragm & through the mouth & never through the nose as is normal today (not a good sound to me). Now it's artistic to have blown out highlights, these are the photos I have always dis-guarded if I couldn't recover the highlights and/or the shadows, or PShopped in a better sky etc. But then again photography is always subjective & trends change. I also agree with Iora d, Yoan & Jason Racey comments

  • RobertEC September 13, 2013 08:12 pm

    The title 'How To Take Ridiculously Unique Photos' caught my eye but then I thought, something is either unique or it isn't. How can it be ridiculously unique?
    Reading the article didn't answer the question for me. I found it to be perhaps more appropriate for a Philosophy 101 class than a photography school forum.
    Also, is it just me or does anyone else think the accompanying photos look more like overexposed snaps?

  • Mridula September 13, 2013 03:50 pm

    I have never even thought about my motivation! Food for thought here for me.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Valari Canonico September 13, 2013 07:28 am

    Loved it! Well said!

  • Dave R. Williams September 13, 2013 01:21 am

    I have a strong passion for photography, next to loving my wife, I love creating photo images! Understanding is not important!
    What gets you there is important!

  • Lora D. September 13, 2013 01:01 am

    I can appreciate the thought behind this article, but calling it "How To Take Ridiculously Unique Photos" is just flat out misleading. IMO, uniqueness, like perfection, is rather illusive. What I may consider very unique, someone else may not even look twice at. Seems like the title should have been something like "How to find Purpose in Your Photography"... thank you, though, for provoking thought! Cheers!

  • Gnslngr45 September 13, 2013 12:07 am

    I definitely fall for the too many masters issue.
    When I shoot whatever I want and process however I want - I get great photos that intrigue people.
    When I shoot for a client, I'm doing the above with restrictions/adjustments to get to what they want.
    The photos are often less striking. Or instead of choosing a handful from a shoot, I'm trying to meet a quota and select a few extra that I would have discarded on my own. It's then watered down.
    I need to do what I do and take it or leave it.
    (when I say clients, I mean friends - I'm not a professional, only a hobbyist)

    To get to the next level, I need to create with the client in mind. How can I achieve something specifically for them.

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • Jason Racey September 12, 2013 02:49 am

    If you want to take unique landscape photographs ... you can't. Because being "unique" quickly becomes another cliche. The best I've been able to do is put myself in unique places and attempt to capture the feeling. That's what makes me feel successful.

  • Yoan September 12, 2013 12:55 am

    Haven't read the article but those photos are quite far from "ridiculously unique".

  • Achyut Hatimuria September 11, 2013 02:32 am

    Good one!

  • Juan Castillo September 10, 2013 12:01 pm

    Again, well said.

  • VeronikaC September 9, 2013 11:24 am

    Thought provoking. (you achieved what you set out to do!) I guess this is why some of us are happy to remain hobbyists and simply do what satisfies ourselves.

  • Tod September 9, 2013 07:08 am

    Interesting article. I'm a fairly new photographer (really just over 12 months) and i guess i'm still trying to find a groove to fit into. I originally took it up as i basically needed a hobby to play with in my spare time. Over the past year my motives have always changed including to escape the challenges faces after being involved in a serious car accident earlier in the year.
    For me another reason has been to socialise with like minded friends.