The Barefoot Photographer®

a photography blog

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Just Say No to Redundancy

Why do people try to copy other photos? Maybe that is not fair -- maybe they are not trying to copy per se, but it sure looks like they are.

Yesterday my copy of Outdoor Photographer arrived. I love this magazine. It has a lot of good advice, tips, etc. each month. But yesterday I began to look at it -- and all other photography magazines -- a new way. Why do they perpetuate redundancy?

The cover of the magazine was a photo that I have seen over and over and over and...well you get the idea. I will give them this -- I have not seen it as a black and white very often. But come on -- slot canyons! Slot canyons -- sheesh -- if I never see another photo of a slot canyon it will be too soon. And not only slot canyons -- there are many photos out there that I have seen numerous times. You have too, you know it and you are just as tired of the same old, same old.

A friend of mine -- photographer and another blogger wrote a blog a couple weeks ago about this too. His blog was asking "Are There Any Truly Unique Photographs?" Andy thinks there are -- and so do I. But it requires the photographer to be a little creative, think for himself, experiment with shots.

I can understand copying to a degree. You may do it as a learning exercise much like someone painting may copy the work of another artist to learn a technique. When someone copies art they seek permission if necessary first and then always credit the source. The copy is not presented as their own vision.

When I see these slot canyon photos. They are a study and a learning experience. But I also feel that those photos that look practically identical to others -- what is the point other than the learning? A couple years ago I met a photographer who had the most awesome slot canyon photos -- beautiful colors, great work -- but they looked just like those I have seen in magazines and calendars. I can just see to footprints painted on the canyon floor with instructions to "stand here to take your photo." How these are so exactly like those hokey Kodak Picture Spots you see all over the Disney parks -- "Stand here, point your camera there, snap that shot."

Now I know we all take photos that are sometimes not the most unique out there. We do it for a variety of reasons. On vacation in Paris -- you are going to get your personal shot of the Eiffel Tower, right? At the beach -- you have those horizon shots of the beach and the ocean. In New York City, almost everyone is going for a photo of the Statue of Liberty. And OK, how many blurred mountain streams with deep green moss all around have we seen? But when you visit a place that is so photographed, don't you try to capture something different, something not seen all the time?

One of the photography podcasts I like to listen to is by Brooks Jensen (Lenswork). He has talked about the work they receive at the magazine, photographers trying to get their portfolio featured. He mentions that they can look at some work received and can tell what workshop the photographer has been on recently. The photos look like the photographs from other photographers in the same group or at least, the same workshop. They lack uniqueness -- they are redundant -- therefore, not great for the magazine.

That slot canyon photo on the cover of Outdoor Photographer is so familiar -- I am thinking the same one was on the cover before -- but in color. Maybe it was not the same photographer -- but it was the same photo.



Andy Richards said...

Donna: Thanks for the link back to my blog. I want to comment on one aspect of this -- my comment was really looking at a more subtle unique view. What I was asking might have been, can you step into those footprints, and STILL create a "unique" photograph?

Lets face it. For most of us, getting an opportunity to photograph slot canyons may only come around once or twice in a lifetime. So if I am there, I am going to shoot them. Sure, I will look for a unique perspective (and from a marketing standpoint, you almost have to, since the markets are so saturated with the "record" shots). But I am unapologetically going to take the record shot too. And I think that at least on some level, my "seeing" of the scene may be unique, even in those footsteps.

I agree 100% that if you are there, you should look at the subject from your own unique perspective and not be looking for the "footsteps" or "tripod holes." Seems a bit hard to be "seeing" as a photographer if you are looking down anyway :-).

Yesterday I posted some comments one of our mutual "old friends" sent me -- but he wanted anonymity, so I posted them. He brings an example and a new spin to "unique" that didn't ever occur to me when writing the blog entry. Worth a read and thinking about.

Donna Rosser said...

Hi Andy!
Thanks for the comment. In just a second I am heading over to see the new comment on your blog that you mentioned.

I completely agree that in a slot canyon you will take the 'usual' shot -- but do we have to keep seeing the same old, same old in magazines?

My husband has hung around enough photo events with me that even he will look at some pieces and then say, "How many times have you seen that?" Speaking with my show director hat on now -- when we were putting our nature show together we did not want a room full of calendar shots -- we wanted fresh and different -- and we got it! It made for an excellent show.

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