There are two types of pictures.
Pictures about something. And pictures of something.
And while taking pictures of crying brides and smiling kids is all well and good and pays the bills, the real question isn’t what you show in your pictures. It’s what you make people feel. That’s what voice is about. And it pays the bills even better.
Because voice isn’t just a luxury for the arteeeste. It’s about you.
And if you want a devout following who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about any other photographer but you, it’s everything.
Truth is, 99 photographers out of 100 couldn’t tell you what their pictures actually say. They rely on pregnant moments and showing their skill. But it leaves you chasing the chase, stuck in a hellish loop of trying to keep up with the competition.
And you see it post after post.
More filmic film.
Reflections of reflections of reflections.
Shooting through any and everything possible.
It’s the Transformers approach to photography. Bigger, better, and louder. Much, much louder.
But there’s another way.
Because there’s turning up the volume in the picture, and there’s turning up the volume in people’s hearts. And it’s the second you want. (At the end of this post, be sure to grab the download and see how 29 photographers are crushing it with their unique voice to get some inspiration.)
It’s not really about what expression your subjects have or how you compose your picture. It’s about what these things make your audience feel.
Be a conductor that orchestrates an experience for your viewers. People look at photography for the same reason they look at most anything else: To feel something. So make them feel something.
And above and beyond all, do anything except what everyone else is doing.
Because sameness is always a ship that’s sailed, for the simple reason that anytime the world sees too much of the same thing, people get too used to it.
It’s not showing someone crying that counts, but as Frank Capra said, it’s making your audience cry. And if you take a walk in a gallery or browse through the work of the best there ever was, for all the groundbreaking novelty that’s out there, what you’ll see even more commonly is a gripping plainness.
You’ll see pictures where the light isn’t more dramatic. Where the expressions aren’t bigger and bolder.
In fact, it’s the other way around. The pictures are more subtle. More nuanced. More layered.
But the emotional punch they pack is explosive.
You see it in fashion photographers, like Richard Avedon. In still life photographers, like Edward Weston. In photojournalists, like Bruce Davidson. You see it everywhere.
At some point, layering more technique and more drama on top of what’s already there becomes like trying to flavor cotton candy with sugar.
Except in this case, you’re drowning out your own voice.
Steven Spielberg described the inner voice as a whisper.
You have to still your mind to hear it. You have to steer into the doubt.
Because any time you dare to be different, your head is going to scream at you and question you and antagonize you. It’s going to tell you it won’t work. It’s going to ask you who you think you are. It will tell you to be safe and avoid the judgement and skip the ridicule.
Just ask yourself “How do I feel?” instead of “What am I supposed to shoot?”
That’s how you hear whisper.
And once you put feeling first, and then you use all of your creative powers to build on it, you become unstoppable.
Because the world doesn’t need more of the same. But it does need you.