Creating Photographs For Yourself

Photography has taken many twists and turns in just a couple of decades. The accessibility of low-cost DSLR cameras has given more people the ability to discover the joys of capturing their memories and adventures in a digital file rather than a roll or slide of film. My name is David Johnston and I’m one of those photographers. Although I began with film photography and developed my own prints in a dark room, it wasn’t until I acquired a digital camera that I started to become obsessed with photography. I’m thrilled to be able to bring my ideas and vision for photography to PhotoPXL regularly!

The dawning of digital cameras gave way to cameras in our pockets that are actually really good when you look at the specs. Cameras on our smartphones gave way to social media where you could instantly create impressive digital galleries of your work and amass large followings of your biggest fans. All of those things happened in the last twenty years. 

Twenty years. That is truly insane.

While you sit back and marvel at the technology and the amazing sharing capabilities photographers have, I believe the honeymoon phase is coming to an end. 

There are several factors that have led photographers just like yourself to say to themselves, “Now what?”

Social media is a paradox. It’s fun and interactive, but it can also be draining both mentally and creatively. When platforms have been popularized over time, we begin to see repetition occur. Repetition is good in photography but bad in creative sharing. Let me show you what I mean. 

Here you see a beautiful sunrise photo that I shot in Colorado. I love this photo, but I will be the first to admit that it’s a repetitive shot. A vertical wide-angle lens photograph revealing a massive foreground subject paired with a colorful sky is the same kind of shot you will see on all of the larger accounts. Why? Because it works. The photos are stunning but overdone. On the radio, they call this playing the hits. The top accounts know this, which is why they show them over and over.

Am I telling you to stop taking these types of photos? No way! They’re beautiful and dynamic. However, I would like to ask you if they are your style and give you true joy? For me, the answer to that question was only sometimes. 

Alright, I know that you’ve heard the arguments about social media, and I don’t want to sound like a 33-year-old get off of my lawn grump. So, what do you do about it if you feel uninspired? You create photographs for yourself using a few different methods that worked for me and unleashed my creative vision for landscape photography. These techniques also made me a much happier photographer, and don’t we all just want to be happy?

The saving grace for creating meaningful photographs in your own style might be simply slowing down. There’s a reason the Slow Photography Movement is uber-popular right now among some of the top landscape photographers. This is a style of shooting that ignores planning, iconic locations, and rushing for sunrise and sunsets. It’s a movement geared more towards experiencing familiar locations in a softer light. On a personal note, it has led me to more inspired photographs, simpler compositions, and much more sleep since I haven’t shot a sunrise in months. 

Slow photography is also cheap. Because you aren’t racking up airline miles flying over photographed mountain peaks, you are able to visit local spots more often and thus creating more photos. More photos mean more practice. More practice then yields higher quality photographs that mean something to you. Isn’t that the goal anyway; to create inspired, high-quality images we appreciate?

My second tip for you is to create images using different lenses other than a wide-angle lens. The best thing I did to break out of my wide-angle lens habit was to practice something I like to call lens celibacy. I literally will leave a lens at home intentionally so that I’ll see a familiar place in a new way. When you don’t have access to the kind of lens you use the majority of the time, you start seeing in a new way. 

I will be completely transparent when I say I will take all of my gear to a new location. I only practice this when I’m going to a trail I’ve been down several times before. 

With that being said, when I do go to familiar spots, I’ll only take a telephoto lens and maybe a specialty lens like a macro lens. It’s inspiring to see the familiar in ways as you’ve never seen them before. The same grouping of trees looks completely different when you use a telephoto lens to focus stack them just to show color and texture. 

On the specialty lens side of things, something like a macro lens will help you see your subject in 360 degrees. When you use a wide-angle lens, you might only have a two-dimensional space to move on. That could be side to side or up and down. Whenever you use a macro, your space for the exploration of your subject becomes much more three-dimensional. You can try different backgrounds and perspectives when you’re able to move so readily around something so small. The most interesting part is the more you move, the more your subject changes. The compositions ultimately become endless.

Through the progression of trying new things and creating photographs for yourself, you begin to develop your own photographic style. Photographic style is probably the most difficult thing for us to define because the way we see the world is so unique that it’s difficult to explain to others. When I see a mountain cloaked in fog and clouds I’m not digging for a wide lens, I’m grabbing a telephoto and secluding a single mountain peak. 

Your style is unique to you. It’s the way you photograph nature. I can think of several photographers I follow that I could point out in a lineup which image they created based on color, light, composition, and complexity. You can do the same thing. The advantage is that like technology over the past two decades, your style evolves and changes as well. Photography isn’t about sticking to one thing forever. Photography is about the discovery of the subject and of self-expression through creative compositions. Cheers to self-discovery and creative photography! I hope to see you on the trails. Until then, find me right here!

David Johnston
March 2021
David Johnston

I started my journey in photography in 2004 when I took a film photography course in high school. It was an amazing experience to shoot with film and then bring those images to life in the darkroom. There is definitely an enormous difference between film and digital photography. Film cameras taught me how to get my light correct in-camera as best possible. However, it was in 2010 that I really became obsessed with photography after I got my first DSLR camera. I decided to put all of my energy into photography to make it my life career. I knew I couldn’t quit my full-time job right away, but I could hustle with photography on the side until I could do photography full-time. In 2014 I started my first blog and podcast called Photography Roundtable. I had a good run with the podcast and it enabled me to meet some of my best photography friends, teach, and run photography workshops in national parks in the United States. In 2017 my wife and I had a major life change. We moved to Haiti to become missionaries. My wife runs maternal health programs and I help with logistics and I frequently find myself being her ambulance driver. Even in Haiti I still wanted to do photography and teach in some way. So, I turned to YouTube to share my landscape photography ideas and techniques for people to learn for free. In 2019, we made the difficult decision to return to our home state of Tennessee which is where we live now. I’m passionate about helping people improve their nature photography with online video. Video content on YouTube, post-processing courses, and video tutorials are my favorite ways of helping people with their photography. One of my favorite ways of talking about landscape photography is through my podcast called The Landscape Photography Show.

Article Type: Columns, MISC

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