This old building is on the main road between Tavistock and Princetown
There comes a time in every artists career when they start to question themselves. Why am I doing this? What is the point? Am I any good? Will I get to where I want to go? It can happen more than once and I’ve had it happen to me. I looked to others for advice and inspiration and tried new things, even copying others. All this trial and error is part of learning and helps us in someway on the way to defining our style. I’m not completely sure what my ‘style’ is though. I’ve heard people say I have a distinctive style and can recognise my work straight away, but I can’t see it.
So why are we drawn to try other styles? Is it for popularity? Is it because we like others work and want to emulate them? Is it as a means of experimentation on our way to finding our own way? I tried it to try and keep up with those doing better than me, except it didn’t work. It felt uncomfortable and just not me. It was fun but I felt (and others who follow me) there was something missing. The images lacked something that was in my earlier work: Individuality and passion. I was producing ‘copies’ of others styles and was blurring in with the crowd.
It’s easy to do in this digital world. We’re bombarded with images constantly and are offered with so many images of the same places that everyone visits in the hope of getting something different. Unfortunately they seem to find everyone else’s tripod holes and get the same shots just in different light. There’s no individuality. I’ve seen pictures of photographers lined up at iconic locations, tripod legs crossing each other in the hope they’ll get something different. I’ve witnessed first hand what has become known as ‘Tripod sex’; when friends who shoot together all the time have their tripods with the legs entwined. When this happens it’s hard to tell who took the shot first and which is which, the only difference being the watermark or logo on the published images. How can this be conducive to finding your own style or individuality? Surely they’re just doing what everyone else is doing; the lines of individual style blurring into another’s style until it becomes unrecognisable as their own, which, when they have a talent, is such a shame.
Looking east from Staple tor as the sun rises above the horizon
Obviously, contra to the preceding paragraph, I’ve been to iconic places and taken the ‘standard shot’; it’s par for the course and we all have things on the bucket list. Some places only have one composition so there’s not much we can do about it. I will do my best though to find a different angle so that I have my style in the final image. It may be the light or the tones but it’ll be mine.
After talking with other photographers about my own work I was convinced to shoot what I like rather than what was expected as what I was doing wasn’t me. Also, since I’ve started spending a lot of time with another photographer who happens to be a fan of my work, I’ve come to realise that what I do isn’t the same as anyone else. Sure, I still shoot landscapes but with my own twist. On reflection, when I go out with others I tend to wander off on my own to find my own composition, or point my camera in the other direction so my shot isn’t the same as my buddy’s. I may miss the sun flare down the lens that everyone loves but I’d rather do my own thing and get something that has my name on it. In fact, it’s probably why I prefer going out on my own to places I know well so what I do get is completely original.
Birch tor on the eastern side of Dartmoor
Of course, part of the individuality of any landscape image comes from the heart and a love of your surroundings, which gives no surprise that the best images of any place are taken by those that live there. If you want great images of Glencoe, search out a Glencoe photographer like Scott Robertson. If you want great images of the Lakes, find a photographer that lives there like Mark Littlejohn. The same applies to any part of the country. My patch of Dartmoor is where I do my best work because I know where to go to get what I want for the conditions. I can get there quickly and know where to set up. The same can be said for those Dartmoor photographers in other areas of the moor. We all have our patches that we know well so can make the best of them and put our own style on the images. It’s good to visit other places but the best of our images come from our patch.
I’ve since reverted back to what I did before when I’m in proper landscape mode. I find a composition that grabs me and set up ready for when the light comes, if it comes. If not I’ll go back again until I get the conditions I prefer. It’s what I do.
So from my thinking, style comes from individuality, doing our own thing and not what others are, shooting what we enjoy and not caring about what others think, and knowing and loving our own patch so the passion shows though in the final images. It could be that these qualities would come through if we visit the iconic places and apply the same principles.