Developing Your Artistic Vision as a Photographer

As photographers, we all strive to capture images that resonate with viewers and effectively convey our unique artistic vision. However, translating our creative ideas into compelling photographs can often feel like a daunting challenge. 

Coming to you from Alex Kilbee with The Photographic Eye, this insightful video dives into the process of developing and communicating your artistic vision through photography. Kilbee explores the importance of finding inspiration in the works of other photographers and identifying common elements that contribute to their unique style. He emphasizes the significance of consistency in building a cohesive body of work that effectively communicates your vision. 

Kilbee suggests studying photographers whose work resonates with you and analyzing the elements that draw you to their images. He cites examples such as Sally Mann, Nadav Kander, and Todd Hido, highlighting the recurring theme of "stillness" achieved through the use of soft, diffused light and atmospheric conditions. By identifying these commonalities, you can begin to incorporate similar techniques and approaches into your own photography.

Furthermore, Kilbee stresses the importance of viewing your work as a series rather than individual images. This allows you to develop a more comprehensive understanding of your artistic vision and ensure consistency throughout your portfolio. He recommends printing your photos and arranging them physically to gain a broader perspective and identify recurring themes or motifs. 

Building a distinct artistic vision takes time, practice, and continuous exploration. Don't be discouraged if your vision evolves over time or if you find yourself drawn to different styles and techniques. Embrace the journey of artistic growth and allow your vision to develop organically. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Kilbee.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Developing a consistent artistic vision or body of work that defines us as a photographer, in the manner of the historical artists discussed in the video, seems to preclude making a diversity of images. If we want to be known for our soft light images, can we afford to shoot hard light images?

How would we remember Ansel Adams if he woke up one morning and decided to shoot the rich contrast of tones in black and white landscapes, or maybe a hyper saturated color image of lights at an amusement park the next day, or a photo of a box of cereal for a commercial client another day? Maybe he did; I don't know. But that's the difficulty of developing an artistic vision... real life gets in the way. If it's not the bills needing to be paid that jerk us into different creative directions, it can just as easily be an innate desire for change. I myself like the freedom of getting up in the morning and wondering where I might like to go or what to do... without the restrictions of a predefined task or consistent artistic objective in mind.

But that approach produces a mish-mash of images rather than a consistent body of work. When I cold call a prospect for my work and they ask what kind of photography I do, by the time I go through the full laundry list of landscapes, close-up nature, some flowers and still life, some architecture, maybe a classic car or two... I get the impression they'll remember nothing of my call. Shaping an artistic vision in the manner of an Ansel Adams or Sally Mann requires discipline and feels nearly impossible. The closest I can come to expressing an artistic vision through my photography is a focus on rich detail and texture. That might be the bridge between landscapes and cityscapes, at least in my mind, but probably not significant enough for the benefit of shaping public perception.

Final thought: Can we express a "stillness" in our images if life is so chaotic? To a great extent, our images are an expression of who we are.

Speaking of "stillness," I apologize for steering the subject of your video into a different direction, but the irony just hit me of how much we look for calm and tranquility (emotional stillness) in our photography, but the Fstoppers site is filled to the brim with advertising space.

Not just static ads, mind you, but motion and video and ads cycling through a space everywhere. Viewing the site on a phone is enough to drive someone nuts. Ads on top of ads. A paragraph of text, another ad. Really, couldn't they squeeze another ad in there somehow? It's a dizzying experience. Okay, I get it... to a point. An online content business needs ad revenue to survive. But ads from companies tracking my online searches is plain creepy. I love B&H as a company for buying camera gear, but their repetitive ads of anything and everything I've looked at on their site are really annoying. I guess whatever sales and marketing technology invents next, advertisers are gonna use it to cram stuff down our throats.

As I alluded to at the end of my previous post, genuine stillness in our photography can only be a reflection of stillness in our life. And that sort of emotional quiet will never be gained from a constant barrage of noise and motion... which is the definition of advertising these days. I feel like I'm teetering at the point of tuning this all out for good because, I too, would like to have more genuine peace and quiet in my images.