Are you a Collector or an Artist?

I use the term “Collector” to refer to a photographer who collects images, rather than creating original art. I came up with the “Collector” title while reflecting upon the way some people go about collecting their images. A collector to me is someone who sees an image created by another person and then tries to replicate that image exactly as the other photographer composed it. This practice is quite widespread. I am not attaching this term to workshop participants because they are signing up to learn, and seeing the slight differences in composition can be a useful learning tool.

I realize that many people fall into the collector category without even realizing it. It may not be a deliberate action at all. Replicating an individual image may be because some particular image spoke to them in a way that compelled them to recreate it. Repetitive collection may be an unconscious bad habit. It may arise from a lack of confidence in their own eye.

While I know that at some iconic locations, the compositions don’t vary much as they are pretty obvious. I am mostly speaking to the spots that require some thought and have not been plastered all over the net.

Another question that comes to mind is-have all the great iconic locations been shot to death and there are no unique shots left? My instant answer to the last question is no, if I truly believed that, I would not be a photographer and I would let go of all of my creative thoughts and visions and just take snap shots.

I urge you to go to your next photo shoot without looking at any other images from that location before you get there. I am not saying that you can never have seen any photos from that location or that you need to go there completely blind—I just want you to go there without ANY thoughts of duplicating photographs you have already seen. Find your own way; make your vision come to life. Think of it as an artist with a blank canvas.

*Top featured image Kyoto, Japan ~ Zoom and turn with a slow shutter speed, in-camera Canon 5D Mark IV and the 24-105mm II lens.

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13 Responses

  1. Jim Fennessy says:

    Denise, great blog post and reminder that it’s about the art and photographer’s vision, rather than about collecting any particular shot. Your really cool blur image exemplifies your art – it’s beautiful, original and mind expanding. Your image reminds of of the psychedelic eye of some exotic bird. I can’t wait to see more of your images from Japan.

    Thanks for editing the text Jim!
    Hugs, denise

  2. donna joy a. yang says:

    Thank you Denise..i agree with you,photography is an art. which is painting with light ) has to find freedom when taking shots of a subject..rather than condoned by what was seen.

    Hi Donna, yes, sometimes just not getting caught up in the mindset that you need to capture what you are shown can yield fantastic creativity.

  3. Harold Klein says:

    Denise, very provocative observations…(in a good way) certainly makes me think about how and what I shoot and why…I’m sure I will ponder your comments for some time!! Thanks for pushing me…again!!;))

    Hi Harold, thanks, I am just trying to express my thoughts that we should all just try to step away from the normal shot and explore our own photography.

  4. Fiona says:

    So true, Denise! It really require slowing down and going within. And NOT reviewing the photos that have previously been taken of a particular location of subject require one to dig into their own depths. Not always easy but with conscious effort, attainable! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    Hi Fiona, it is nice to hear from you, hope you have been well. You are correct it is not the easy path but easy is never the point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. James Saxon says:

    My thought process when photographing in a workshop or by myself is to make the “iconic” image first and then play around with things such as in camera overlays, multiple exposures, blurs, etc. For me, this approach works because I can try to create behind the camera instead of in post processing. The second part of what you are saying is that the image capture is the raw material for you to create your “artistic” vision in post. Have a safe trip.

    Hi James, yes, that is a good way to do it and I often take that approach.

  6. Ron May says:

    Denise, these are interesting observations. I will keep these distinctions in mind, the next time I am at “iconic” spots. 🙂

    Hi Ron, great, I have to remind myself too!

  7. Sara Turbeville says:

    I appreciate this insightful post. It is absolutely true and I’m certainly guilty of ‘collecting’ . Yet as I slowly and methodically grow in skill, confidence, and artistry I’m starting to break free, though it’s sometimes a two steps forward, one step back proposition!

    Hi Sara, this is exactly what I am thinking in regards to all of our photography-grow your skill and then make it your own.

  8. I so get this comment – I often feel that the pics I take on a workshop are not really ‘mine’ in a lot of ways – they are practice shots of techniques or compositions that I might have been shown and to my thinking, not my intellectual property. Of course, when I am on own time on a workshop and creating my own shots, that is different. I really do try and keep my vision separate from the instructor and not take credit for something I was shown. I think photos taken at a workshop need to be identified as being from a workshop. Often we would never get the opportunity for the shots we can take unless an instructor did the leg work and research to get us there.

    Hi Laurie, I have worked with you and you are not a collector–you are an artist that is growing her craft. All workshop leaders want clients like you that are willing to try new things then go off on their own and apply the technique to their images.

  9. Neil Hickman says:

    Is that why bird and wildlife photography can be so great? That falcon that repeatedly dived at my head or the huge Water Dragon lizard laying eggs and the male standing his ground to defend her. Photo-opportunites that will probably never be repeated. When you “nail” one of those the glow NEVER abates. Such opportunities can also be very fleeting which adds to the excitement if you are able to capture a good image.

    Hi Neil, I agree, there is something very special about getting that one moment in time captured!

  10. Awesome image BTW! I don’t think I am a collector, but I do view the work of folks such as yourself for ideas; I never intentionally imitate, I just try to learn something new to try.

    Having said that, I still struggle with the “artistic” aspects of my photography: what is my “vision”; what is my “style”? I still haven’t’ a clue yet, but, I am still trying to find out! :0)

    As U2 sang: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (the only song of theirs I like)! :0))

    Hi Martin, thank you, I appreciate it. I look to others for inspiration too and I like to inspire others as well. As far as your style-well that sometimes takes time…

  11. Nancy Bell says:

    Your flower makes me think of a fantastical Japanese umbrella! For me you are the creative guru and offer so much inspiration! You live creativity and adventure and thus show what can be possible. I am living my adventure and exploring my creativity, and thank you ever so much for your gentle pushes and reminders!

    It is an umbrella Nancy, thanks and I am glad you are also on a creative adventure!

  12. Nancy Bell says:

    Ha ha on me for thinking that was a flower! That’s what I get for looking on my tiny phone screen!


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