Stephen King, in his fantastic book On Writing, said that if writers don’t make the time to read, they shouldn’t even attempt to make the time to write. I used to say something similar about actors or anyone who wants to work in the film industry: if you can’t get out to see movies, and if you’re not going to watch TV, you’re going to have a really hard time being creative in those mediums.
Naturally this applies also to photographers. If you want to take better photographs, you have to look at photographs.
Photography is a visual communication medium. And it has styles, techniques, metaphors, symbols and other methods of transferring understanding. If you can’t speak the language, people won’t get your photographs. By immersing yourself in other peoples photographs, you’ll come to a better understanding of how to create photographs that say clearly what you want to say.
Now it’s not really hard to find images to look at. But here are some ideas about where you can find images to look at and help you become a better photographer:
- Read magazines, and not just the ones about photography. Based on your interests and what you like to photograph there’s almost always a related magazine. Sometimes it’s fun just to see what’s at the news stand. Check out the images in the articles and the advertising. If you want to be a professional photographer, that’s what editors and advertisers are buying. In any case you’re bound to see some interesting photographs.
- Visit an art gallery or craft fair. Paintings are visual and you can try and come up with techniques to produce photographs that have painterly effects. Not to mention seeing what other photographers are creating and selling in galleries and craft fairs.
- Watch a movie. Really? Well, movies are visual too. Recently I watched Lawrence of Arabia in widescreen format and was struck by the visual compositions used. Frame filling shots of the motorcycle at the beginning. And the many sweeping vistas of the desert, often with subjects of the shot tiny and insignificant in the frame.
- I’ve purchased a bunch of photography books lately, and yesterday I went to our public library and put about ten books on hold. Their website has a “new titles” section where they list all the books they get each week, and lo and behold they usually get a couple of new photography books every week. Being new, of course they are usually checked out right away, but by placing holds on them I’ll get to see them eventually. So you can probably expect a flurry of book reviews of these books and my old favourites.
- And not just books about photographic techniques. I’ve got some books of photography, like Sherman Hines’ Extraordinary Light. And I recently got a book out of the library V0N 1V0: General Delivery, Whistler, B.C. by Ian Verchere, as I’m thinking ahead and wondering what sort of photographs I could prepare for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Where else can you find photographs? Well, probably just about anywhere. Newspapers, TV, billboards, websites. Sometimes they’re hard to notice as we tend to block out the flood of advertising that hits us everyday. But you may want to go and actively look for some new images, maybe subscribe to a photo blog.
So if you want to become a better creator of images, I would recommend you become an avid consumer of images.