Your Creative Journey: The Importance of Guidelines

 

Introduction

Photography opens a world of endless possibilities. It is a wonderfully enriching and engaging activity and it makes us look at our world with different eyes.

However, therein also lies the danger, since it is easy to get distracted from following the path to a full expression of our photographic vision.

Many temptations can lead you astray, and once you get off your path, it may be very difficult to get back on. It is important to be aware of some simple, important guidelines, to follow and adhere to throughout your photographic journey, so that you don’t lose your way.

There are 5 simple guidelines that I have learnt and become aware of during my photographic journey, and these are as follows:

1) You are in full control
2) Be true to yourself
3) Believe in yourself
4) Allow room for change
5) Be self-critical

We will consider these in more detail in the sections that follow, but first we want to gain a better understanding of what is meant by the word “vision”.

Vision

You probably have heard the word vision mentioned several times, but what does it mean?

My definition would be as follows:

We all see the world differently, and the way we see it is our vision of the world. Our vision is the final image we have in mind as we choose the subject matter and compose the image

For example, consider the body of work of a group of photographers. You will notice that they tend to photograph different subject matters. And if they photograph the same subject matter, they capture it in their own specific way. They use a different composition and perspective, and they do not necessarily highlight the same aspects of the scene. If these photographers capture what draws them in and inspires them, then their body of work will be an expression of their photographic vision.

Paintings are one of the best mediums to portray vision, since painters have great freedom to express their vision, considerably more so than photographers. Here we consider two painters with different visions: Albert Bierstadt and Lawren Harris.

Albert Bierstadt’s work is detailed and realistic, with an almost angelic quality of light. His paintings are realistic in the sense that the relative scale of the features of the landscape, and the features themselves, are portrayed as what they are. The defining feature of his work, and that what sets his paintings apart, is the angelic quality of light, an expression of his vision.

Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada, 1868, oil on canvas.

Lawren Harris’s work, on the other hand, is characterised by graphical elements and muted colors. He has a markedly different vision of the world than Albert Bierstadt. Although he uses simple shapes and subdued colors, and his paintings are less detailed, they are still very evocative and compelling, and are an expression of his powerful vision.

Lawren Harris, Lake Superior, 1923, oil on canvas.

Albert Bierstadt and Lawren Harris have very different visions of the world, and they portray them effectively and powerfully.

And that is your goal as a photographer. To define and develop your vision, and to express it fully, and as effectively as possible.

Five Important Guidelines for your Creative Journey

 

1) You are in full control

You are the master of your creative universe. Take full control of the creative process, and consider everything you employ, from photographic equipment to processing software, as no more than a tool to enable you to express your vision. Don’t forget this point – it should be your guiding light throughout your journey.

When processing your image, ask yourself what it is that you want to accentuate, to bring to its full expression. Don’t allow your processing workflow to be hijacked by fancy apps and presets. Presets are tempting, since they are an easy way to add color, punch and impact to your image. However, running presets limits the extent to which you can express your vision, since you now are working on a photograph that already has been modified, in line with the vision of the designers and creators of the presets. It is very important that you are in full control from the very beginning of the process.

Don’t allow your vision to be affected by a feeling that you need to copy the images of others, most importantly, don’t make the kinds of images that you think will appeal to the most viewers, or which will win competitions. Photograph what inspires you, what draws you in. It does not matter if it differs from what is popular or wins competitions. Your vision is meaningful and powerful, and you should share it with the world.

2) Be true to yourself

For your vision to find its full expression, you need to be true to yourself, to that what inspires you.

Don’t try to copy the vision of photographers you admire or who are popular and successful. You can’t see the world the way they do, and any attempt to imitate them won’t work. Only you can best capture the world the way you see it.

Be receptive to your vision of the world. Open your mind and let your creativity take its course. A herd of Springbok antelopes, illuminated in the warm light of Namibia’s setting sun, contrast against infinite alternating bands of browns and golds.

 

3) Believe in yourself

The way you see the world is precious and meaningful. Express your vision and you will contribute something worthwhile and important.

If you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t be true to yourself. Since, what is the point of being true to yourself if you feel that what you have to offer is not meaningful?

Even if your style of photography may not be to everyone’s taste, or if it is not very popular, you need to believe in the importance of your vision.

This vertical pan of a seagull on the coast line of South Africa’s De Hoop Nature Reserve immediately appealed to me as an abstract, impressionistic painting of nature. The fact that the seagull is not sharp my not appeal to some viewers, but I feel that this is what makes this image special: A winged, ghostly creature, seemingly suspended above this surreal landscape.

 

4) Allow room for change

Your vision is constantly evolving and it is important to allow room for change.

There are aspects of how I see the world that have stayed with me since I was a child. I have always been drawn to beautiful light and felt an urge to capture it. Over the years, I have become more discerning and my appreciation of light more refined. This is partially due to my own, independent development, but also due to inspiration and lessons learned from the work of other photographers.

When I started out in photography, I almost exclusively captured wide angle perspectives of landscapes dressed in beautiful light. Although this resulted in dramatic images, my vision was limited, and it became apparent once I made a concerted effort to capture landscapes with a telephoto lens.

Besides this, there are aspects to my vision which I have newly discovered and developed relatively recently, such as an appreciation for more minimalist compositions, and the powerful perspective of the telephoto lens for capturing landscapes.

Intense, short lived alpenglow dresses the distant peaks of Cerro Paine Grande, in Chile’s Torres del Paine national park, in beautiful and dramatic light. My use of the telephoto lens has enabled a new vision of the beauty of mountains, and I have moved away from the wide angle perspectives I used to capture.

 

5) Be self-critical

Always strive to express your vision in the best possible way. Be assured that with patience, persistence and hard work, your vision will find its most powerful expression.

Although you need to be self con}dent, you also need to look at your work critically. Does it have the artistic impact you would like? What can I learn from other photographer’s work and vision? What is it that makes their work so compelling?

But never be self deprecating, don’t lose your self confidence, and always believe in yourself.
 

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed, and found useful, this short overview of the  five important guidelines you need to follow to stay on the path to a full and powerful expression of your photographic vision.

Of these five guidelines, I want to emphasize that it is critical that, as a photographer and artist, you are in full control of the creative process. You need to know what you want your final image to be, from the choice of subject matter, to the composition, to what aspects of your image, such as the interplay of light and shadow, you want to accentuate during the processing stages. Your photography equipment and your processing software are only tools you employ to express your vision, to create the image you have in mind.

Good luck and lets go out there and capture the beauty!

For a detailed treatment of aesthetics, please have a look at our in depth e-book which discusses the art of composition and the principles of aesthetics. In particular, I explain the psychology behind  image design, also known as visual thinking, which will enable and empower you to express your photographic vision powerfully and effectively.

Related articles:

The Beauty in Simplicity

Shadow Light

Processing Tips

Using the Telephoto for sense of scale

The telephoto for landscape photography 

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