Learning from the ordinary

Jim Richardson is a renowned photographer of incredible talent. His credits include the Topeka (Kansas) Capital-Journal and freelancing for publications such as Time, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times. In the last last half of his career he’s been a photographer with National Geographic for which he’s produced 30 stories. He’s certainly accomplished and established in the photography firmament but there is a quote that’s attributed to him that I humbly take issue with.

He’s reported to have said: “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” This may have some truths for an advanced photographers, but, with all due respect, for those at the beginning to intermediate levels, I think it’s ill-advised advice.

It means that you as a photographer will be letting your subject determine whether a picture will be good and not your ability to photograph that subject.

I would posit that the opposite of Richardson’s quote stands even more true…”If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of boring stuff.”

A subject that’s, uninteresting, at least at first glance, will help you to explore it’s photographic potential for great pictures.

You could try using different lighting or view it at a different time of day. Using a different lenses can help you look at a subject from multiple perspectives. Perhaps placing the subject in a different setting can make more picturesque. It could be that you need to look at your subject from a different angle or vantage points. The idea is not to just rely on the “quality” or strength of your subject. While it requires time and patience, you should to work a situation to get the best shot possible.

For found situations this helps develop your “eye” so that you can spot things that are unusual or eye-catching. For created photos such as a still life it will help you to build and compose your image thoughtfully.

When you’ve mastered the ability to find the extraordinary out of every day or even boring subjects, then you can make photos of ones that are interesting all that much better.


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