Is finding your voice or vision really that important? Photographers talk about it like some mystical elusive thing. Find it and the doors to success will fly wide open. And those who don’t risk being a forgotten follower.
To add to the pressure, other photographers seem to have found their message with ease: Platon – ‘people are amazing’, Bresson – ‘life is magic’, Salgado – ‘the world is a mess’ (and later, ‘the world is beautiful’). Look at a photo from any one of these masters and you’ll instantly recognize who made it.
These days finding your voice is even more complicated. There’s always another tutorial to watch, new piece of gear, preset pack, or photo hack to that promises instant success. Throw in social media, insta-bots, likes for likes, algorithms, AI editing, and well, it gets even more difficult to hear yourself amidst the noise.
7 Tips To Find Your Voice
1. Shoot often. You can’t find your voice if you don’t speak. Like most things, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Keep talking and eventually you’re own individual voice and style will come out. The single greatest thing you can do to get inspired is a personal project. It doesn’t have to be a huge project either. One of my favorite projects you can do in less than an hour is to go on a photo walkabout.
2. Shoot what you love. National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson said, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” If your subject doesn’t resonate with you, neither will your photo. Or as my friend Anuj Maddan says, “Don’t shoot for likes. Like what you shoot.”
3. Copy other photographers. Yeah, I said it. Originality is WAY overrated. Everything has already been done. Don’t let the fear or burden of being original prevent you from being yourself. So what if a million photographers took the shot. Copy them. Embrace influence. The same goes for cliches. Like sunsets? Shoot them with unabashed confidence.
Most importantly though, learn from those you copy. In his book Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon advises “Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”
“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.” – William Ralph Inge
4. Keep an Epic File. Whenever you see an epic shot by another photographer, keep a record of it. To keep things simple, I just do a screen capture of the photo and then store the image in a file/album I call Epic. Over time, you’ll start to see a trend in the types of images you like. For instance, many photos in my file tend to be futuristic surreal-looking cityscapes. And even though I appreciate a great portrait, there isn’t a single one in my file.
Another idea is to create a Vision Board. Cut out a bunch of pictures from some magazines and create a collage of images you like on your wall. Not only are Epic Files and Vision Boards inspiring, they can offer clues in which direction to take your photography.
5. Use Creative Affirmations. An affirmation is like a mantra, a phrase you repeat to support your beliefs. In her book, The Artists Way, Julia Cameron says, “Affirmations help achieve a sense of safety and hope.” Sometimes the problem is not finding your voice, it’s actually having the courage to speak out. Here are a few of the creative affirmations she suggests you write down or say a few times a day:
- I am willing to create.
- As I listen to the creator within, I am led.
- My creativity heals myself and others.
- There is a divine plan of goodness for my work.
- I am willing to experience my creative energy.
- I am a channel for God’s creativity, and my work comes to good.
- Creativity is the creator’s will for me.
Before you get upset about using the word God, realize that Cameron is not using it to mean of one particular religion. You could easily substitute it with Goddess, Higher Power, Mind, Universe, Source, or Flow. And if all this sounds too New Agey for you, that’s fine. Here’s a list of photography-related affirmations.
6. Journal. Draw. Paint. Find inspiration in other pursuits. For instance, Henri Cartier Bresson loved to draw. Oftentimes, you’ll hear your voice while participating in other pursuits outside of photography. Making images is often not the end result. Brandon Stanton, the guy behind the wildy popular Humans In New York, doesn’t even consider himself a photographer. Viral photographer Benamin Von Wong told me he rarely carries around his camera. It’s just a tool to get his message out.
7. Trust Your Instincts. Sometimes your voice can be right there in front of you. It’s just a matter of listening to it.
“Trust that still, small voice that says, ‘This might work and I’ll try it.” – Diane Mariechild
Stay On The Bus
The other day I found some pictures from a project I did back in college – over 20 years ago. The theme was reflections, something I enjoy shooting until this day. The photos themselves are nothing special.
Even though image making technology has increased drastically in the last two decades, and my skills have improved considerably, I felt like I haven’t changed much as a photographer. Sure I’ve grown and honed my craft.
But my images are still inherently me. However hard I try to find my voice, the further it escapes me. Only when I realize that my voice is naturally in every image I make, can I have confidence that I’ve found mine, and that I have something worth saying.
So whatever you do, keep creating. Put your work out there. And stay on the bus my friend, stay on the bus.