As a photographer, your viewpoint is very important. It’s not just how you see the world, but also what you show the world – as your viewpoint will influence every photograph that you take. When you first start out, you probably don’t have a well-developed viewpoint, and you may change your style often. As you develop your skills, however, you will also be training your eye. This is how you find your unique viewpoint and bring it to the forefront.
Experiment – a lot
The key to developing anything is to keep at it. It’s easier to understand if we use a more traditional art form as an example, such as painting. When you’re a child, you aren’t too great at painting, but you probably do it either because you enjoy it or because you’re told to at school. As you become a teen, you’ll continue experimenting. Sometimes you’ll create nice paintings which might look quite naïve, and sometimes your experiments won’t work out at all.
But you don’t become a master painter if you get frustrated and stop there. While you might doubt yourself, the true masters of art continued to paint and made masterpieces during their adult lives. It’s the same thing with photography – no matter what age you pick it up at, you have to put in the work and figure out your own style. If you try a few portrait shoots and then decide that you’re no good at it, or get annoyed that you can’t figure out your own viewpoint, then you will never get anywhere.
Similarly, you can’t decide your viewpoint at that moment, because you don’t have enough experience to know what works best for you. Try different styles; emulate photographers that you admire to get an idea of how they did it. You’ll probably find that you can pick up little tips and flourishes from all around you that will add up to create your own style.
Have an opinion
The important thing for creating a viewpoint is to have an opinion. When you’re shooting landscapes, this can easily become very clear. Pointing your camera at the first view you see and pressing the trigger is all well and good, but it doesn’t help you to make a point – and you won’t have a cohesive portfolio at all. Instead, you’ll have a jumble of images that are just fine, but don’t go any deeper.
The way to get a deeper portfolio, which all matches in terms of viewpoint, is to develop an opinion. Most of the time, this will be motivated either by a political view or an artistic one. For example, your opinion might be that humanity is destroying the earth, and we all need to see how beautiful it is before it disappears. Having this opinion will change the way that you frame and shoot your photographs. You might shoot areas only of the highest natural beauty, removing all man-made influences from the frame, which would lead you to journey to far-flung areas and set up the shot very carefully.
Or, even with the same opinion, you could photograph locations which are in the process of being destroyed. You would create images that show clearly the impact that humankind is having on areas of natural beauty, as they slowly disappear.
Another opinion you could adopt might be that all natural lines are true art. Can you think of how you would choose your locations, and what you would portray in your images, with this opinion? Perhaps you would focus on geometric shapes and strong lines, going for areas of deep contrast such as craggy mountainsides covered in snow.
Your opinion is key to forming your viewpoint. Discovering it should not be as simple as just choosing something that you think seems clever. It should come from inside you. Take some time to think about what you really feel when it comes to photography, to landscapes, and to the world around you. Find the one truth deep within yourself that you feel the urge to show to the world. This is the opinion you will adopt, and from that starting point, you can find your viewpoint.
Interpret your opinion
The next stage after finding what you think about the world is to decide how you will show that in your photographs. As we have explored above, there are multiple ways to explore any opinion. What is important to remember is that the viewpoint of the viewer may change the way that they interpret your image, so don’t worry completely about what you want to make the viewer feel. Try to be true to your opinion first, and your viewpoint will hopefully do the rest in making your message obvious.
While finding your opinion was all about embracing truth, choosing the way to show your opinion can be about trying to be clever if you wish. You might develop a gimmick, such as framing all of your shots in such a way that half the image shows one side of a place and half the image shows the other side. You might adopt an interesting technique, such as always photographing from above via helicopter or drone, or only using monochrome film. All of these tricks and different ways of taking pictures are about how you interpret your opinion.
To make it easier for yourself, you can actually boil everything down to a precise set of rules. You could say that you only photograph dramatic, high-contrast mountain ranges and hills in black and white – which would make you Ansel Adams! These rules don’t have to be hard and fast, but will help you to develop and explain your viewpoint. When you think about Adams’ viewpoint, it’s easy to see that this was the unique approach he took (even if you aren’t sure about what opinion was behind it).
This will come in handy later, as you may need to pitch yourself to editors or potential clients and explain why your unique viewpoint will work for their project. If you choose to go the fine art photography route, it will also help you to write up your artist’s statement and pitch yourself to galleries.
Having a unique viewpoint will make you a much stronger photographer. It will unify your portfolio, put a purpose into every image that you take, and allow you to reference a style guide so that you always stay true to your vision. Perhaps most importantly, it will also allow people to more easily identify your work – so that they always know one of your photographs when they see them. This kind of branding is extremely powerful for a working photographer!