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Does Originality Really Matter?

Sam and Darwin are Canadian photographers who work together to create some fantastic educational materials. Since they both have unique styles and different ways of looking at things, it only seems appropriate that InFocus Magazine would ask them this question: How do you create original images while shooting and working together… and does it really matter?

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    Copyright Samantha Chrysanthou

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    Copyright Samantha Chrysanthou

How do you define originality in landscape photography? New location? New light? Different composition?
Darwin and Sam: We do not define new as anything tied to location or technique. After all, what is new now will soon be old and if your look is based on technique, it’ll soon be copied. What defines new is nothing external… it all comes from within. Knowing yourself and shooting true to who you are is what creates new and unique work. No one can be you, so shoot what you like in ways you like and don’t worry about anyone else. I know… this kinda goes counter to the whole Facebook mentality!

Would you define capturing original images as a talent? If so, how do you go about refining it? If not, how does one capture original images?
Darwin and Sam: Innate talent is over-rated. Put in your 10,000 hours to master your craft. Know yourself – know who you are and what you like. Stop trying to please others and do what truly motivates you. If you try too hard to be original, you won’t be. If you follow your instinct and shoot for yourself, that’s when you’ll be original.

With so many photographer and tourist taking photos, how can a person capture original photographs?
Darwin and Sam: First of all, don’t blindly go to where others have gone before. Going to typical bucket list locations won’t net you original images. Hone your craft near home… be a better photographer by photographing your neighborhood. Stop looking at 500 PX, 1x, and Flickr for location ideas. Just get out locally and get inspired by the great stuff around you. Once you respond to things that truly move you, you’ll make original photos!

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    Copyright Samantha Chrysanthou

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    Copyright Darwin Wigget

Is it hard to capture original images when you are both shooting together?
Darwin: Samantha and I have different styles and interests in photography. We can be side by side at the same location and our pictures will be very different. As much as I might want to, I can’t make or copy a Sam photo. She just naturally does her own unique and amazing thing. And so I have learned to do my own thing as well.
Sam: There’s a common theme here that’s really quite simple in our view. Be true to your own interests and your creative vision will emerge. This is the case regardless of where or with whom you are photographing.

A lot of landscape photographers would argue that landscape photography is about experience. Just because someone else has shot a location before does not mean you should not shoot it.
Darwin and Sam: Experiences are individual. If we’ve both visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you’ll have a different experience and memory of it than I do; neither is right or wrong. Originality comes from truly having an experience of the place. In our opinion, most photographers do not truly experience the place. Instead, they shoot superficial photos based on what others have done before them. To truly be an artist, you have to immerse yourself in the experience of the place and only then will you emerge with original photos.

One can argue that NONE of the photos included in this article are truly original as we have seen plenty of them on 500px or Flickr… or perhaps every photo of Mt. Rundle (even the ones on 500px and Flickr) is original because the artist truly wanted to take that photo.
Darwin: What is originality? It is extremely rare that anyone makes something that is truly unique. What’s so fresh that the world has not seen before?
If your goal is to be unique, you will never be. Originality is a journey where you take pieces and parts of the external world and your own internal world and come up with a voice that is your own. The photos in this article are from our own voices interacting with the scenes before our eyes to produce individual work. For example, all three of Sam’s images are intimate personal expressions. For both reflection shots, we were on a workshop with other photographers. Everyone else went for the obvious big wide angle mountain reflections; but Sam pulled off intimate and personal views that no one else there could repeat even if they tried. After seeing Sam’s images, it might be possible to try to replicate them but the original seeing came first. Have we seen intimate reflection shots before? Of course we have! The content (water reflections) is not original but the seeing of that individual moment is.

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    Copyright Darwin Wigget

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    Copyright Darwin Wigget

The image of Mount Michener and Abraham Lake is very different from what you usually see from this region. You won’t find this rendition on Flickr, 500 px, or anywhere else. It’s unique in terms of captured atmospheric conditions as well as composition and viewpoint. Are there wide angle winter pictures of Mount Michener on 500 PX? You betcha. Is shooting a mountain scene with a wide angle lens unique? Hardly. But this rendition of Mount Michener is what I saw and felt and made in the moment. It is not a copy of someone else’s vision. And finally, the photo of snow bumps proves that a location that is captured fresh can quickly become stale once other people see your rendition and try to copy the image. In this case, the idea is fairly easily copied once you see it distilled into a final result. One of the reasons we love non-iconic locations is that it forces us to see beyond the cliché and we can remove any subconscious influence we may have had of that location.

Now that you have heard from Sam and Darwin about originality…

  • Do you care to be original even if your images don’t grab attention?
  • Or would you rather pursue your own vision of getting those fantastic shots or iconic locations that makes other go WOW?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.


SamAndDarwin

Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou are full-time photographers based out of Cochrane, Alberta. They are creative partners in life and work and enjoy sharing their photographic and artistic knowledge with other passionate shooters. Renowned for their accessible and fun teaching style, Darwin and Sam conduct workshops and teach seminars on all things creatively photographic. Their educational, ‘how to’ eBooks are in popular demand, and they are often requested to be guest speakers for various photography events across Canada. Darwin and Sam can be found on their popular website, oopoomoo.com, where they encourage others to live by the oopoomoo ideals of creating, inspiring, and educating in the art of photography and life.

Both Darwin and Samantha are have won numerous prestigious national and international photo contests with Darwin being named travel photographer of the year for 2008. They have been published in all major photography magazines including Outdoor Photography Canada, Outdoor Photographer, Photo Life, and Popular Photography as well as main-stream magazines such as McLeans, National Geographic Traveller, and Canadian Geographic. Together their photos have graced countless calendars and publications across the globe through the sale of their images in Getty, Corbis, First Light, and All Canada Photos stock agencies.
Picture: to be attached separately.

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6 replies
  1. Les
    Les says:

    Thank you for the article, Love it.

    “Experiences are individual. If we’ve both visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you’ll have a different experience and memory of it than I do; neither is right or wrong.” It’s strange how things work out, I have just been in another forum, saying exactly the same thing to people who want to “categorise” every thing. I used the analogy of a car smash that was seen by five different people all of whom gave a different account. None were right and none were wrong. It was just their “perspective” of what had happened.

    To me, that is how I approach my photography. It is what is right for me, or the purchaser, and what pleases us as individuals.

    Reply
  2. Troy Phillips
    Troy Phillips says:

    Reading articles like this helps people stay creative. I’m learning photography and how to use my equipment. And in doing this and all the rules that apply it seems as though I start to loose the feeling for the scene. When we are out shooting we should relax and enjoy the feeling we get from what we see. We get all hung up on making a composition that will be pleasing to others or correct. If we photograph the feelings we see, frame and project this we will create originality. Guess I’m trying to say enjoy the moments of visual beauty and capture this feeling in a picture and share it to all. Thanks for the article.

    Reply
  3. Dwayne Schnell
    Dwayne Schnell says:

    As a hobbyist who wants to get a little more exposure, it’s hard not to at least think about what others want to see – maybe a few of the cliché “iconic” images once in a while – but I tend to make images of my experience, and I do try to experience the location as much as possible (though that’s hard with time constraints and a young family who don’t particularly share my passion).

    Nearly all of my photos in my portfolio are from within city limits or very near the city where I live. It’s a passion to find the hidden gems of the views that so many people either don’t see, or take for granted.

    Reply
  4. Peter Pauer
    Peter Pauer says:

    Excellent article!
    I particularly like this statement

    “Originality comes from truly having an experience of the place. In our opinion, most photographers do not truly experience the place”

    I believe it epitomizes the modern hectic world of instant gratification where rarely does anyone want to put in the time required to get to know or experience something.

    Reply
  5. Ron Longwell
    Ron Longwell says:

    Fantastic post! Seek experiences. Seek inspiration. Look for something that moves you, interests you, excites you. And then use all the tools in your toolbox to make an image of that thing that conveys that emotion. Great stuff!!

    Reply

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