Finding Your Voice in Photography
In my most recent newsletter, I wrote about how I’m starting to find my voice for my newsletter. The question I now pose to you is what is your voice for photography? For your writing? For everything in your life?
As creative people, finding your voice and style is critical to your happiness and success as an artist. The magnitude of those two will be different for every one of us, but to be happy for its own sake is quite the measure of success.
Why am I even writing about voice and style? Simple, too often we just mimic and do what countless other people do. We like to conform because it’s the safest and easiest thing to do.
We wear the same clothes, we listen to the same music, and we become homogenized consumers, exactly what the corporations want.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
What if I were to tell you that finding your voice and style will be one of the hardest creative journeys you’ll ever undertake? It will be one where you question every crossroad, every twist, and every turn.
Would you still want to take it? Or would you just follow the crowd? These are hard questions to follow and every creative person I know struggles with this.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
A few weeks ago I went with my daughter to National Portfolio Day in the City to get some feedback on her current art portfolio. She wants to become an animator and game designer and wants to know what work she should show for upcoming college admissions.
It was quite a dichotomy of people. Parents, like me, dressed in the most common clothes. We looked all normal, figuring out what lines to get on for what colleges. Doing the parent thing, interested, and invested in our children’s future.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
My daughter waited with me and we talked. At first, she was nervous talking to various faculty of a college but then she found her voice. She spoke with so many creative men and women and instantly knew if a particular college was right for her. I was so proud of her.
Then she turned to me and said, “There’s so many artists here, Dad. I’ve never been to a place with so many artists at one time. It’s cool!”
I looked around and saw young men and women dressed in different fashions. Some wild, some demure. Some dressed to kill and others to make a statement. Some with piercings and others just plain.
When I saw them open their portfolios I was amazed. One prospective student made elaborate masks. Another student painted these most gorgeous paintings. Another student wore clothing she made which she modeled for a fashion school.
There were so many young people with emerging voices and styles that it was inspiring!
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
By Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
What sets these students apart from you and me? The one simple thing, they’re working. They’re making art. They’re creating.
Finding your voice and style feels a lot like a Zen Kaon. The only way to find it is to work toward finding it. It requires you to look, copy, experiment, and strip away the societal and cultural expectations that have been placed on you since birth.
The students, they’re young. They haven’t had too much shit to deal with like you and me. They can strip away those layers easily and get to the core of who they are.
We can too but it requires work, and a lot of it. The days you don’t want to take out your camera and shoot are precisely the days you should. You need to keep working on good days and bad days. You need to push through.
It’s ok to stumble and fall, I do all the time, but you need to keep working to find your voice and your style.
You owe it to yourself. Why? Because that is your truth, it’s who you are, and that is a wonderful thing.
Camera Doesn’t Matter, or Does It?
My body is betraying me. I knew that it would happen one day but I never thought it would be this soon. I used to say that the camera doesn’t matter when taking a photo, but this past May I realized that *it does matter* in some situations.
Let me explain, in a long roundabout way.
I put my cameras down right before the COVID-19 pandemic. I was busy with work and so were all my friends. We tried to schedule photo walks and shoots together but the timing never worked out. Then Covid hit and no one was going anywhere.
But this time I couldn’t get my eyes to work right.
Then my friend hosted a “lighting for the human form” workshop and asked me to come down to shoot the model he hired and spend a few hours with her so she could make some extra money because Covid hurt so many working creatives.
I said sure and we made a plan to shoot at his studio in May.
The day came and I drove down to Pennsylvania with my trusty film and digital cameras.
I got there, talked with the model, and set up. I started with my film camera first and after the first few frames, I realized something was wrong.
My film camera is all manual. There is no autofocus, there is no auto metering, it’s a pure blissful black box that holds the film. You load the film, attach a lens, set up the scene, do your metering, and click the shutter.
But this time I couldn’t get my eyes to work right. I felt that I couldn’t focus sharply on the model’s eyes, a must if you do portraits.
My eyes were failing me. A mere 18 months ago I could manually focus this manual camera and get sharp photos, but now?
I decided to switch to digital a bit earlier in the shoot, thinking the autofocus would work better, and it did but not as much as I thought it would help.
It was a frustrating mess for me.
I rarely upgrade digital gear because I find it to be an insane cost and feel like you’re constantly “forced” to upgrade.
Up until August of this year, I shot with a Canon 50D. The camera was released in 2008 and I think I bought it in 2009, so it’s 12 years old. It’s a prehistoric relic in the digital photography world.
My 50d worked better but due to the low light situations, I had to crank up the ISO and it generated a lot of noise. On top of that, the autofocus worked better but it didn’t have eye and face focus so a lot of my images could’ve been sharper too.
It was a frustrating mess for me.
It made me re-evaluate my “camera doesn’t matter” saying. The camera does matter if it has a functionality that helps you in your work.
Working with my Mamiya RZ is a beautiful dream if you have the time to set things up in a studio. For a model shoot, a camera that has eye and face focus can get you sharper photos faster.
I used to say that the camera doesn’t matter…
I finally had to face the fact that *I’m getting older* and that my body will start failing me. Of course, I’ll get glasses or contacts, but I have to rely on technology to stay in the “photo game.”
So I had to do what I had to do an upgrade.
In September I bought a mirrorless full-frame digital camera with eye and face focus and in-body stabilization.
I used to say that the camera doesn’t matter, and I still believe in the spirit of that. You should always set up your scene, learn about light, pose your model, know what speed film (er, ISO) you should use, aperture, metering, and all the important things of making a photo *before you press the shutter.*
That’s the one thing that stayed with me in my film photography days, do all the work outside of the camera first before you take the photo.
But now I realize that the camera does matter if it helps you. The camera does matter with new technology and better sensors. It helps you to push the ISO higher so you can get a lower light shot without heavy grain or noise. It can make your workflow simpler and faster.
And it can help a man with failing eyes get in-focus photos.