Degree of focus

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by pdoyle, Mar 11, 2004.

  1. I saw this article by Mark Hobson ( member!) on Nature Photographers Online Magazine and found it quite thought- provoking. Just wanted to point others to it as well.
    Perhaps you've thought about this subject of committed focus (or lack thereof) in your own work ... I know I have, and I feel like I'm still in the early stages of my development as a photographer and am not willing to narrow my experimentation at this point, although if I find something I truly love in the future, I might be willing to focus that intensively. And of course, many of us are happy not to specialize because our intention is not to "go pro" in any case.
    I do see certain photographers on this site who have adopted this approach of having a highly focused, "signature" style and subject, and the quality and substance of their work indicates to me that it is a successful strategy. What do you think after reading the article?
  2. Interesting article. Thanks for the post Philip. This a subject I've been pondering lately as I start to toy with ways to make a living with my camera. I think Mark's comments about the degree of generallity in most portofolios applies here at I think that's probably a benefit for the amatuer; being diverse lets you acquire new skills/gear and keeps things from getting boring. Thinking about drilling in one particular subject/style/gear is a bit scary. There's a lot more ways to fail at something specific.
  3. When I first read the title of this thread, I thought it was going to be a technical question about depth of field!


    Interesting article. I agree that some of the strongest photographers on exhibit this kind of focus in their work. You would be able to identify their images from a random selection by their signature style, exactly as the article describes.

    The UK magazine, Practical Photography, runs an annual Photographer of the Year competition which is based on exactly the opposite criteria for success. Each month has a different theme relating to a genre of photography, such as landscape or macro. The winning photographer will have to place highly in more than one category. It's hard to imagine how a style will appear across such a diverse range of subjects.

    As an amateur, I think the answer is to have a preferred subject matter on which you mainly focus, while still experimenting from time to time with other subjects. That experimentation will probably feed back to some degree into your specialisation, keeping your eye open to new ideas. I'm sure many pros do the same - try something new for a change of pace - but rarely make the results public.
  4. I only partially agree with this idea.

    First of all, having a narrowly defined style is not a benefit for all photographers. It sets the commercial or fine art photographer apart, but if you're putting together a portfolio as a general-assignment photographer, then always using a 28 mm lens and never using a flash probably isn't a good idea. Sam Abell can act that way, but not the guy who's sending his portfolio to NG for the first time. And the guy applying for a job at some paper, long before he gets to NG, had better not even think of it.

    Also, although the work of excellent photographers almost always shows both a distinctive style and a specialization in certain subject matter, it's poison to run out and say, "this is going to be my style."

    Your style should evolve from you, rather than being something you impose on yourself. Your preference for certain subject matter, certain focal lengths, lighting, perspective etc. will all come in time as an expression of the kind of subjects and pictures that interest you. If you attempt to define your style and then shoot within it, it becomes a constraint. Style should be an expression of your vision, not the definition of your vision.

    For my part, I've dealt with narrowly focused subject matter for years. And I tend to concentrate on the same aspects of the subjects again and again. Whether I have a recognizable style, I don't know -- I doubt it. But I've been encouraged by several art directors to diversify, so perhaps the advice in this article isn't always valid!
  5. The article claims that, "The portfolios of Fine Art photographers, on the other hand, are
    generally pathetic, tattered brown envelopes in battered cardboard cases containing a wide
    array of poor quality copy slides and dog-eared prints."

    Is that true? Not from the portfolios I've seen in New York City, from poor students as well
    as poor artists. I see attractive, well-maintained portfolios. Where has he seen fine art
    portfolios? Hobson is located in a small town in upstate NY -- is this his experience up
    there? I don't know.

    As for having a signature style, if you have one it tends to be a result of your experience,
    abilities and aesthetic. Style is different from choice of subject matter, though -- some
    pros specialize because (a) it's what they're good at, or (b) what they're known for. Both
    those reasons lead to higher profits. Other pros are lucky enough to shoot what they love
    shooting, and they get paid for it to boot.
  6. Having a signature style is a benefit if you are trying to stand out from the
    crowd, but it is not a very conscious thing. Over a period of time you get
    comfortable with your methodology, you start shooting at a certain time of day,
    you go to locations that have similar qualities or characteristics, you use
    certain techniques because you have gotten good results with them in the
    past. All of these things as well as picking the things you find visually
    exciting, eventually add up to a "style". It's basically evolution, consciously or
    not, you repeat the methods that worked for you in the past. It may take a
    month or ten years to "find" your style. For some it never happens.

    I started shooting landscape only a few years ago, and only now do i see that
    I have a style. Strangely enough others pointed out my style to me before I
    even knew I had one. The time when my style becomes apparent to me is
    when i have a show and am able to stand in the middle of 25 of my images, at
    that point the similarites become obvious to me. I remember when i had my
    first show and someone commented that most of my compostions had a
    strong central element. My first reaction was disbelief, as i was always the guy
    who put things in the far lower corner, i always made it a point to de center all
    compositions, yet as i looked at my own work, I couldn't help but notice that
    she was right. Somewhere along the way I started re-centering my
    compositions. Should i attempt to change this? Should i be conscious of
    making my work off centered? Or should i just do what comes naturally to

    As an exercise I suggest that a photographer hang their portfolio around
    them, as in a show, and try to look at their work objectively. Try to see
    patterns, repetitions.,style It can be very revealing.

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