Is There Value in Taking a Photo That Has Already Been Shot Many Times?

One of the curses of modern photography is that nearly every breathtaking place on Earth has been photographed. And while many, many places continue to offer new angles, conditions, and compositions, some of the most famous have been so well documented that it can be tough (if not impossible) to create something truly original. This video explores the idea of photographing in such locations.

Coming to you from Thomas Heaton, this great video explores a topic that admittedly makes me a bit uncomfortable. In it, he talks about shooting Deadvlei, which you've likely seen images of before, and how he struggled to feel satisfied as he didn't feel anything he created was unique or original, due to the abundance of photographs he's seen from the site. I have to admit it makes me uncomfortable to think about, as I want to visit these locations and make my own versions of those photos, and in some sense, the personal experience could be enough value to justify the time and effort, but the point he makes about artistic originality is certainly still valid. I don't necessarily have an immediate answer, but at the same time, perhaps these special places should serve as photographic indulgences more than locations of artistic growth, so long as we continue to push ourselves elsewhere. What do you think?

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23 Comments

Simon Patterson's picture

I think this is a contrived problem, born from a practice of comparing oneself to other people and their work. When it comes to creativity, comparing oneself to others is never going to end well.

The solution is not to try to "make something unique". It is to stop comparing oneself to others, but instead to create as best we can regardless of what we think others have done or will do.

I think the solution is not to try to "make something unique". It is to stop comparing oneself to others, but instead to... :-D Just to be clear, I'm not laughing at what you wrote; I was laughing about plagiarizing your statement about not worrying about copying others. :-)

William Howell's picture

Good one!

Simon Patterson's picture

Boom boom! 😀

jean lebreton's picture

lebreton - a day ago
@Alex Cooke did you receive my private message ?

William Howell's picture

Yes he has and it was a crazy plan!

jean lebreton's picture

Yes I'm sure

Donna Macauley's picture

I agree with Simon. Stop comparing oneself to other people and their work. Concentrating on ones own work and vision and ignoring the rest results in creating work true to ones own vision.

Kyle Medina's picture

Than you're just going to sit at home and not see this incredible places. I can pull out some of my grandparents old books for the US and you'll see the same photos, same locations. Which inspired my grandparents to visit these places. What life do you want to live?

Simon Patterson's picture

I was at Deadvlei a few months ago and it is an incredible place. It immediately lends itself to obvious photographic cliches - lone dead trees in a barren landscape, towering orange dunes contrasting a blue sky, single green shrubs on a cracked white claypan.

However it felt to me like these obvious images didn't quite capture the essence of the place, and there was much more to be had with some creativity. I had a very short time there, and didn't manage to achieve this. I'm really keen to go back and spend several days there, to really get my creative juices flowing.

So I had a similar feeling of "I could do much better" as Thomas Heaton did, but perhaps for a different reason.

I live in Wyoming and have visited Grand Teton National Park many times. A few years ago I went there to take a photography class wit Dan Ballard, (an amazing class and experience), and we shot iconic places auch as the Moulton Barn.

https://matthewpotter.smugmug.com/MNP2-Photography/Tetons/i-kRmpjfk.

The shot has been taken maybe tens of thousands of times, but it's the spectacular color and the bison that make this different.

I was back there a month ago and shot the same scene again, but the clouds blanketing the mountains, and the general gloominess of the day give an entirely different feel.

https://matthewpotter.smugmug.com/Kathi/n-5JQHwq/i-s9czPwN

One must do what one feels inspired to do. Both those images are what I saw in my minds eye that day, they inspired me, and I continue to be inspired by them, in spite of the fact that i am far from the only one who has shot this magnificent place.

William Howell's picture

I love them, very chill.

William Howell's picture

Been a subscriber to Heaton for a while now. And because of his channel I was one of the first to subscribe to Simon Baxter. Very relaxing channels.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Isn’t photographing around the world all about comp stomping?

Aiden Clarke's picture

I am fortunate enough to live in an area with some outstanding opportunities for landscape / seascape photography. Local photography forums are continually bombarded with the same old scenes time after time and all of a similar quality. A very small percentage of photographers though continue to get fantastic and original results by going the extra mile when they plan and execute a shoot. Their work can be easily distinguished by those who turn up (often with an expensive camera) in the hope that they will 'get a good shot'.

Motti Bembaron's picture

If every time you push the shutter button you think of value, find another hobby (or job). Seriously.

"I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own." ~ Michel de Montaigne

Donna Macauley's picture

Great quote!

I have zero problem with the notion of visiting remarkable locales and taking photos that inspire you regardless of the number taken in the past.
What I notice that pokes my cynic's bone is that places become fashionable.
Antarctica, Namibia, Iceland, Lofoten Islands, Easter Island, and so on. These are locations that by their very existence offer dramatic images for a monkey with a camera. Thus a monkey with a fat checkbook can fly to these exotic locations and with a modicum of effort come away with wonderful images.

People who remark on a photo I have taken calling it beautiful are often mistaking a beautiful scene for a beautiful photo.

Donna Macauley's picture

Agreed. As the saying goes, "If you can't create an engaging image in your own neighborhood, you can't create an engaging image at some scenic travel location."

Timothy Turner's picture

To not photograph something that has been done before is to rob yourself of a new experience, I visit the same places frequently and always find something new.

Donna Macauley's picture

There's a reason there is a proliferation of cliched images. It's easy to get the scenic postcard image. To really capture the essence of a place, you have to spend time there patiently waiting for it to reveal its secrets.

Most of the greatest photographers visited places often, patiently waiting for the perfect moment when everything would fit their vision or for when the place revealed its essence. Visiting the place once for a couple hours most likely will not yield an original image.

This might not what your client sent you there for, but there are many ways to use the location to produce images you haven't seen yet. Composite different moments of the day/night? Use light painting? Introduce models and create some kind of story around the location, with characters, etc?