Ninety percent of the battle in photography is finding inspiration. The other ten percent is spent capturing your subject matter in such a way that it helps your audience see your subject as you want them to. That ninety percent can be even trickier than mastering aperture and shutter speed, or framing a shot. Those things can be learned with time and practice, and by reading Henry’s Blog ;). As for inspiration and style, those are things you’ll spend the rest of your life learning, re-learning and evolving. Luckily, it’s also the most fun part!
I grew up in a small town in Newfoundland. The entire population of my home province is roughly the same as Hamilton, Ontario. As you can imagine, there are not a lot of skyscrapers to photograph there. So, although by international standards Toronto is a relatively small and young city, the sense of wonder I felt when I moved here has never truly left me. That wonder has helped me to find my voice.
I’ve had my own Instagram account for a while now. Like many of you, my account started out as a mixture of random pictures of food, selfies, cute animals, friends, the obligatory sunset shot…and, you get the picture. I’m in my thirties, and many of my friends only occasionally use Instagram. Facebook is their main social media platform. Many haven’t even heard of Snapchat. So I didn’t have a built-in fan base of hundreds of people like many Insta-users in their teens and twenties. A year or so ago, my ‘successful’ Instagram posts only received 10-14 likes. And rightfully so. despite being a photographer and designer for many years, my Instagram account was uninspired, mundane, and, well, superficial. I had no audience because I was talking to myself, and the few friends I had that used Instagram. So I decided to up the stakes.
I have been working professionally as a graphic designer, and more recently, art director for over ten years. Just over a year ago, I was inspired by a random Instagram account I started following and I realized that having a boring Instagram account might reflect poorly on me as a professional in the graphic design industry. That’s the day I decided to completely wipe my account of random pictures and start anew.
I have amassed quite a few “real” photographs over the years. Landscapes, portraits, macro shots, lifestyle images, you name it. So I started posting only my more creative photographs to Instagram. At the same time, I also started using more hashtags (If you don’t know what they are, Google it). I had seen hashtags used before, but always thought they were annoying and didn’t really understand them. Because of that, I still didn’t see great results with my new account.
I used my usual approach to understanding things and started to deconstruct what other successful Instagram accounts were using for hashtags. I also began to recognize that the accounts I admired most on Instagram posted frequently, and they posted photos of the same type of subject matter with the same aesthetic. For example, a street photographer’s account from New York was posting fantastic, surreal candids of people reacting to everyday situations in New York City. They were always high-contrast and always shot in the magical light that occurs at dawn and dusk. This guy had thousands of likes on his photos and over 10k followers. He had found his voice.
Once again I reevaluated the photos on my Instagram. It was much easier the second time around because there were only my “art” photographs. It’s important to note that at this time I had portrait photos, landscapes, cityscapes, street shots, black and white, colour, you name it. I still hadn’t curated my own gallery.
I noticed that most of my more successful posts were using the same techniques. Interestingly, they were my street photos of random architecture shot around Toronto, usually from wild angles and slightly abstracted. Upon further reflection, I realized why they were more successful – It wasn’t just how I processed them (really rich blacks, super high contrast) and the gnarly angles I had been shooting, it was also that I was using elements of humour and the principles of graphic design in the photos. Negative space, the lack of colour and the weirdo angles allowed me to name my photos things that they were not. Like calling a shot of the steeple of a church “Star Destroyer” because it looked like something from Star Wars. The humour and use of graphic design were aspects of my personality that I was applying to my photography. I was finding my voice.
I began to see drastic changes. My hashtags were more relevant, strangers from all over the world began to like and comment on my photos, and over the past year I’ve grown my Instagram account from 25 friends to roughly 350 mostly legit followers. I average 120-150 likes on almost all of my photographs.
Sure, there are many, many fantastic photographers who shoot ‘look-up’ shots of architecture. But there are fewer ones who shoot strictly black and white, and even fewer still who take the time to try and think of tongue-in-cheek names for each and every photo.
I’m far from being a Kardashian, and I have no disillusions about my modest Instagram account, but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to achieve over the past year by finding my voice. So if you haven’t already found yours, take a moment to see what works for you. If you’re a gardener, it doesn’t mean you have to restrict yourself to photos of flowers, but use that patience and ability to see the potential of something and apply that to all of your photos. It may take a few tries, but finding your own unique voice in photography is just around the corner.