14 January 2010

Avoiding the Cliché

There are many beautiful photographs of the world's icons, be they natural or man-made. How many gorgeous shots of the Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal or Machu Picchu have you seen? Closer to (my) home, how about sumptuous images of a Mesa Arch sunrise (upper-left) or Delicate Arch at sunset (lower-left)? As an aspiring (emerging, struggling -- yes, they all apply!) photographer, there are times when I look at some of the masters' works and despair (see Ansel Adams' Yosemite collection for just one obvious example). But, you have to fight that "why bother" mentality and continue to try and create something striking, meaningful, well-executed and yes, perhaps even unique (while avoiding the well-trod clichés).

Those adjectives do not always seem to be in congruence. Intent must be factored in. Understand why you are shooting this particular landmark. Is it for fine art purposes, stock agency, your portfolio or a personal project, editorial or marketing assignment, etc.? What are the requirements? What do you hope the outcomes will be? If you are on assignment the client may have provided a clear idea of what she wants and your creative tendencies may be necessarily constrained. Or maybe you are "just shooting" and don't know what the end use of the images will be. Regardless, try and bring those four adjectives into one image: striking (attractive, compelling, makes someone stop and say "wow" or maybe even "huh?"), meaningful (a pretty picture is just that, but a meaningful image will resonate at a deeper level, even if it only means something to you, the artist), well-executed (the technical part: composition, lighting, post-processing...does it all add up? Do the pieces work together?), and unique (Have you avoided the standard view? Are you being creative or repetitive?).

For every nugget of wheat, a field of chaff. So too with iconic images. Avoid snap-shooting, take the time to "read" the location and work at it. There will be occasions when the first three elements may come together easier while you struggle for that sense of uniqueness. In those cases, shoot the standard, "money" shot: at the least you may have something that is salable. But, you also may find that uniqueness is the child of post-processing.

Ansel Adams too spent a long time in his darkroom.

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