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Photography and Interestingness

March 19, 2014
Secrets of the Ice World

Secrets of the Ice World. Amazing, big vistas are plentiful in winter along Abraham Lake. Getting down flat on the ice, and pressing my nose & camera right on the surface, revealed a secret world of tiny details within the ice.

“Humanity takes millions of photos every day. Why are most so forgettable?” A few months ago I read an article by Ian Brown, published in The Globe and Mail. The quote I lead off with here was Brown’s title for his article. It was a bit provocative, in part because it described how a prestigious Alberta photography competition didn’t award a 1st prize winner for the first time in 18 years.

The contest controversy wasn’t really what stuck in my mind over time, though. What really got me thinking was the more general situation underlying Brown’s commentary — at a time when more photographs are being taken, shared and seen than ever before in human history, are these photographs actually interesting? If not, and if we care, what can photographers do about it?

In the age of massive image-sharing and social media sites plus network-enabled cameras that can immediately post digital photos online, I think there are some important considerations about photography and “interestingness”. So over at The Camera Store Blog, I recently posted the first article of a small series to outline some of my thoughts on the subject. A couple of ideas I explore in this first part include the difference between photographing interesting stuff vs. taking an interesting perspective on stuff; and the importance of being an interested photographer in order to make interesting photographs.

I’m not only a photographer but also a photo event leader who takes small groups to places like the Canadian Rockies, Iceland, and Cypress Hills. As such, I’m aware that photo events have been criticized in some quarters. One criticism goes like this: if you can’t make a good photograph, then go to someplace exotic on a guided event and take formulaic shots of really cool stuff as a creative crutch. Well, I suppose there’s always the risk that photographers will confuse the inherent interestingness of any beautiful or exotic subject with the necessity of actively creating photographs that are interesting in their own right.

There’s nothing unproductive in itself about going to amazing locations and working with subjects that fire the imagination. The mistake would come in believing that all that’s needed for great photographs is a great subject. Not so! Making a great photograph from any subject involves a tremendous need for active imagination & interpretation, interest in what lies beneath the surface, expression of something personal, and a lot of hard work. In fact, I believe that making interesting photographs in beautiful or exotic locations can be harder because it’s so easy to fall into the seductive trap of the obvious appeal of what’s out there. But regardless of the location, I believe more interesting photographs will come if the photographer has more interest in what’s in front of the camera.

I hope you’ll click through the link to read the article at the TCS Blog, and I invite your comments…

P.S.: If you’re interested in experiencing and photographing some very interesting stuff in Iceland, the Rockies or Cypress Hills, a few spaces remain open in my up-coming events. 😉

Gleaming Honeycomb, Reykjavik

Gleaming Honeycomb. Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik is a beautiful building. What really caught my interest was the play of sunshine over its geometry of glass and mirrors. Concentrating on this let me create a composition of patterned light.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. cminiuksperry permalink
    March 24, 2014 07:24

    Amazing photographs, Royce! Agree with your perspective here, especially, “But regardless of the location, I believe more interesting photographs will come if the photographer has more interest in what’s in front of the camera.” Spot on!

    Great work, hope you’re well!

    CMS Photography
    by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry
    Books (Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers || Photographing Acadia National Park):

    • March 24, 2014 20:44

      Thanks for the note, Colleen! Doing well here, busy as always!

      Yes — too many times the interest level in what’s “out there” stops with the obvious view, or the trophy shot. Or worse: “there’s nothing interesting there”. It’s our job to be interested enough to find what’s really interesting… 🙂

  2. March 25, 2014 12:20

    That is so cool.

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