What You Believe Can Be Bad for Your Photography – Fstoppers

It’s maybe time to let go of everything you know, take on board new beliefs, and change the course of your photography.

Does what is reported by the media, whether mainstream or otherwise, reflect your worldview? Are the facts that present themselves the same as you believe? Or do you find that when you watch the TV news, or read a paper, or browse websites, that the articles don’t cohere with what you regard as the truth?

Polarization of Our Societies

Of course, the political motivations of all media outlets are biased to one point of view or another. Similarly, their target audiences are at different academic levels. Therefore, if you watch Fox News or read the Daily Mail website, you are unlikely to find The Guardian or The New York Times appealing and vice versa.

Very few people like having their opinions challenged. Consequently, we live in bubbles, surrounding ourselves with those with similar viewpoints, and exposing ourselves to information that only corresponds with our point of view. This is, of course, dangerous. Not accepting that others can have different beliefs and detesting opposing points of view are the cause of every act of hatred and conflict in history.

What has this got to do with photography? Like any art form, it has a huge element of subjectivity. Whether it is to do with composition, lighting, genre, or even what equipment we buy, you probably believe one thing, and someone will think the opposite. Consequently, if you state an opinion, someone will argue against you. They may be outraged by your assertions, and even make threats to defend their viewpoint.

That, of course, is madness. It’s only photography.

How Do You React to Things Your Disagree With

  • Do you like landscape photography? That’s the least academically challenging of all genres. It’s just about making pretty pictures that are easy to like.
     
  • Boudoir photography is seedy. It’s nothing more than soft pornography, aimed at titillating men. It has no artistic merits beyond sexual gratification. Furthermore, it’s demeaning to the models who pose for it. It also encourages the sexualization and abuse of young women.
     
  • As soon as you use the clone tool in Photoshop, you are no longer working on a photograph, it’s now digital art.
     
  • What kind of camera do you use? Well, I think that brand is appalling. They are badly made, and the company is solely interested in making money for their shareholders. They deliberately under-engineer their basic models, so people soon outgrow them. Furthermore, they ensure there is built-in obsolescence, which is so bad for the planet.
     
  • Wildlife photography is twee.

I am sure you vehemently disagree with at least one of those statements. Yet, they are beliefs that are held by reasonable people, just as those who disagree with them are most reasonable too. However, whether in favor or against, such beliefs over trivialities like those can be so strongly held that opposing them will be viewed as if they were blasphemy. If people hold such strong feelings about photography, it is little wonder that countries go to war over more serious and weighty matters, such as politics, land ownership, oil, race, and religion.

And that’s where a problem lies, both within photography and in the wider world. Acceptance of opposing views has been lost to polarization. With that polarization has come the assimilation of extremist beliefs into the mainstream. People are convinced that theirs is the only true way. They think that instead of having a reasoned debate and agreeing to disagree, discussion must deteriorate into insult and attacks on the person. Read the comments sections of some articles here, and you will see that is just as much the case in photography as it is with politics and religion.

Being Offensive Is Damaging to Both You and Your Photography

What photographers fail to comprehend is that when they make offensive remarks about others, as opposed to respecting an opinion even if disagreeing with it, then they are damaging their reputation. You can be sure that your employers will see comments you make, as well potential customers, and so too will your friends and relatives.

When I’ve browsed through people’s galleries, sometimes, a style or approach to photography catches my eye. I recently considered approaching one photographer to offer to interview them for an article to help boost their profile. But then, I’ve read the comments they’ve left on some articles and walked away.

I feel I should point out that many offensive or insulting comments that appear both here and on other photography sites are made by people hiding behind false personas. They are internet trolls. They rarely have picture galleries or biographies associated with their account. However, this attempt at anonymity is no real protection as one troll, hiding behind a false Twitter identity, found out to their enormous financial cost. Nevertheless, one should ignore such bile.

A Good Reason to Celebrate Differences

Putting the often rude and offensive comments aside, not accepting others’ points of view is the very strangest attitude for a photographer. It is counter to what we are trying to achieve in our work. How so?

If we want to make our images compelling, and there cannot be many photographers who don’t want to do that, then we want to demonstrate that we observe the world in ways that most people don’t. We see the strange, unusual, and exotic. We find people different to us, doing things that, to our eyes, seem extraordinary. Not only that, but we even take the mundane and find new and exciting ways of showing it to our viewers.

Furthermore, we sometimes highlight those differences by including in our photos a contrasting element that emphasizes the unusual. With our pictures, we celebrate the differences in the world.

Photography works best when it is showing us points of view very different from our own. So, how can we do that effectively if we cannot accept others’ views as valid?

Of course, there are exceptions. When photographing war, violence, cruelty, bigotry, disasters, and destruction, photographers are making an unequivocal statement that what we observed is unacceptable. But that outrage should be reserved for the abhorrent, while differences and diversity should be celebrated.

Negativity Rubs Away Our Creativity

It is widely recognized that our behaviors gravitate towards our dominant thoughts. If we think negatively, then this will invariably be reflected in our personalities and, ultimately, all we create. Yet, if we respect and applaud diversity, broaden our horizons to embrace the different, then not only will that be echoed in others’ attitudes towards us, but will also positively affect our state of mind and, ultimately, in our art.

So, furiously rejecting alternative views does not cohere with the ethos of photography. Furthermore, when you read negativity that is disrespectful of alternative views, you can be sure that they are made by people who will never become great photographers.

History Shows That Diversifying Works

There are plenty of examples of great artists from all fields whose work benefited from diversification: da Vinci, Picasso, Dali, Miro, Mozart, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Linda McCartney, and Don McCullin. Even Ansel Adams didn’t glue himself to solely shooting photos of Yosemite, and Dorothea Lange’s best work happened after she digressed from shooting studio portraits.

A Challenge

So, here’s a challenge. Set out to create images of things, places, and people utterly different from what you normally photograph. This could either be within the genre you usually shoot or some completely different topic altogether. Do your research first. Put in as much interest in the new subject as you do with your regular ones. But also try different approaches, such as different lighting, or using a different format of camera. It will be great to see your experimentation in the comments.

Oh, and if you disagree with what I have written here, I will gladly listen to your reasons why.

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