August 23, 2020

Ten Things I Would Never Do…Again

When you read these “Ten Things That I Would Never Do” you may disagree with one of them, you may disagree with several of them and you might even be offended…
Please don‘t be!
These are not ten things that YOU should never do, but ten things that I will never do…again.

The focal point of this simple black and white images is Melting Giants No. 22

1. Offer advice about someone else’s image. 
Why? Because that advice would come from my perspective and Vision, not theirs.
People often ask me: what would you do with this image? And I say: if I were to tell you what I would do, and you followed my advice and you kept following my advice, soon your images would look like mine.
And please believe me, you don‘t want that. Ansel has already done Ansel and Cole has already done Cole. You want to do “you.”
(if you’ve not heard the story “Ansel has already done Ansel” you can read that in this blog post:
Monolith No. 50
Created with a Manfrotto 3021 Pro Tripod and Lowepro Bag Model 200 AW. 
2. Give technical specifications.
I hope you smiled when you read the technical specifications above image and said to yourself: the tripod and bag don’t have anything to do with this image!
I don‘t believe any specifications, including camera, lens, aperture, shutter speed and etc. have anything to do with an image either. It distracts from the image and worse, listing specifications furthers the false belief that they are the key to the image, when the real key is the creativity and Vision of the artist.
A few years back I submitted an image to a publication which responded that I “must” include the technical specifications…but they didn’t say which ones.
And so I gave them the specifications of my tripod, including how far the legs were spaced apart for the shot.
They did not respond…but published the image. 
3. Use watermarks. 
I think it sacrilegious to put a watermark on an image, it’s so distracting that it ruins my viewing experience.
I know the arguments for using them, but I love my images far too much to desecrate them in this way.
4. Copy someone else’s idea. 
“Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal.”
Pablo Picasso. 
I have no idea what Pablo was thinking, but I have to disagree…big-time.
Everyone sets their own standards, but in my quest to create “honest work,“ I refuse to borrow or steal. 
But sometimes I do create work that is similar to others…
Several years ago, I submitted my “Grain Silos” portfolio to LensWork. Brooks Jensen responded that he liked the work, but that he had just published something very similar in the current issue by a photographer named Larry Blackwood.
The irony was that Larry and I were friends, and unbeknownst to each other we were working on similar projects and had produced similar results. This resulted in Brooks writing an article about Fellow Travelers who sometimes create similar work.
Borrowing someone else’s idea…not cool.
5. Imitate someone’s work and send it to them. 
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.“
Charles Caleb Cotton
Here’s another generally accepted maxim that I disagree with. 
I would never photograph “Half Dome“ like Ansel did, email it to him and proudly say: “Look what I did!“
When someone imitates one of my Harbinger images and sends it to me, I’m not flattered (however I‘m never offended either because I know their intentions are kind).
So what is the sincerest form of flattery? For someone to say: “I love this image!“ or loving it so much that they hang it in their home.
6. Ask someone what I should do with one of my images. 
If I were to ask someone what should I do with this image, it would reveal something very important about me: that I don’t have a Vision for this image.
Instead of asking for someone else’s Vision, I should find my own.
Vision is what makes my image “mine.“
It’s what puts my mark on it.
It‘s what gives it spirit.
It’s what makes it more than “just a photograph.“
7. Shoot in color. 
My eye has always been drawn to Black and White and I’ve never had an interest in color. Outside of family photos, I have only created two color images, one of them is above.
Ironically, I shoot all of my images in color and then convert them to black-and-white. When I’m converting them and can see the color and b&w image side-by-side, the color image rarely appeals to me.
But for some reason this one caught my eye, perhaps because it is so monochromatic?

They Walk Among Us is an example of simplifying to push the eye to the focal point

8. Seek out the iconic shots and photograph them.
When I go to a location, I never research the iconic shots or seek out the “must see” sites.
Because millions of others have photographed those locations a billion times before and I don’t want to create another “me too“ image.
9. Offer limited editions.
I cannot imagine printing The Angel Gabriel image 25 times and then not being able to print it again because it was in an edition of 25. 
I could never do that…I would never do that.
In my opinion there’s only one reason to offer a limited edition: to artificially create scarcity to inflate the price. Fortunately for me, I do not pursue photography for money. 
When I was trying to decide if I should offer limited editions, I asked the editor of LensWork, Brooks Jensen, what he thought. He asked me this question:
“Would you like to say that your work sold for thousands of dollars, or that your work was in thousands of homes?”
I knew what I wanted! I now number my prints, but in an open edition. If I’m lucky I’ll print a million copies of The Angel Gabriel!
I’ve had people refuse to purchase an image when the discovered it was not in a limited edition. That told me they were more interested in an investment, than the image.
I want people to purchase my image because they love it, not because it’s a “good investment.”
10. Attend a portfolio review.
When you get a portfolio review, you are getting the opinion of that person.
Embedded in that opinion is their Vision, their likes and dislikes, their prejudices, phobias and everything else. And the thing is, there are hundreds, no thousands, no millions of opinions out there!
Which one should you listen to?
Your own.
I don’t believe in portfolio reviews because I value my opinion of my work more than a reviewers.
A story:
A young artist was exhibiting his work for the first time and a well-known critic was in attendance.
The critic says to the young man: “would you like to hear my opinion of your work?”
“Yes” says the young man.
“It’s worthless” the critic says.
“I know” the artist replies, “but let’s hear it anyway.”
Experts may be expert in many things, but there’s one thing they can never be expert in: your Vision.
I’ve received one portfolio review in my life and the only good thing that came of it was a commitment to find my own Vision.
And finding my Vision changed my photography…and my life.

13 thoughts on “Ten Things I Would Never Do…Again

  1. Good list and completely agree with all of them. However … I do shoot colour but completely understand people who don’t and don’t want to. Black and white has its own attraction.

    I don’t mind doing iconic shots myself but then again, I won’t look at those of others. They just go into my vault and I pull them out from time to time to look.

  2. Agree with most of your points. Like Rohan, I also shoot colour as well as black and white. I do watermark my images for internet display but try and keep it discrete.
    Many of the other points I think; “I have done that in the past but, now avoid”.
    The one that ranckles is point number 5. I don’t understand why anyone would wish to do that or think it might be appreciated. The internet/social media equivalent I see is when, you post a photo on social media and someone posts their version of the same subject in the comments pointing out that they “got it too”. It seems to be a childish form of one-up-man-ship.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing these ten things you would never do. . . again. As a relative newbie to photography–I find the many rules and do’s and don’ts inhibiting and repressive. Watching your video and blog post is like throwing the window open to fresh air and new vistas. I’ll continue to push forward, using my camera as a tool for creating my art and expressing my vision.

  4. Thank you for sharing this Cole. I lost my way in an Internet maze or shoulds, opinions and specifications but your list (and website) have inspired me to get back to myself. I found you on a random podcast and I’m so glad I did. You’ve put it all into perspective for me. I feel a freedom and excitement about photography which I haven’t felt for a long time. Thank you 🙏🏻😊

  5. I have looked at this list a couple of times over several months. I agree with them but have done most of them. As a learning photographer I have wanted to know about a technique and asked about camera settings. I have been inspired by other people’s work and tried my hand at using certain techniques to make images. Not sure that that can be avoided – long exposure cloud blurs are a common technique and I like them. But I hope my images are not copies – just use certain techniques that I have seen…but who knows. We are so bombarded by images; not just photography but all kinds of art work or not so ‘art’ work. It is sometimes hard to distinguish one’s own vision from work that is derivative. And yet being derivative is what I want to avoid more than anything else. Part of the problem for me is not shooting enough. I find when I grab the time to shoot, I mean really lose myself in the process, I am more likely to find images that are true to the moment of creation. My vision at that moment. But when I am rushing around, taking pictures as opposed to making them, the ‘list’ looms large. I love your work. I fear I love it too much since it makes me want to capture the same mood. Fortunately I have loved black and white since I was a kid in the dark room in the 1970s. That is mine. I promise, no lone clouds. Although I did one 7 years ago long before I saw your images. I liked it then and I still do. Perhaps it was a harbinger of my own vision. Not sure. Thank you for the advice and inspiration. In a world of “likes” and fragile egos your refreshingly independent approach is wonderful.

  6. Cole, other than #7, Shoot In Color, I’m on board with your thoughts. Publish the Tech Spec always (yes, always) seemed silly to me since every image/camera/exposure is unique and relevant ONLY to that time/space/camera/image. I hope you are well and look forward to your newsletters.

  7. Incredible site, Cole. Thank you for sharing your images and philosophy. It all makes such good sense to me. Years ago I joined a camera club in the Dallas area to help expand my skills and get some motivation. I shared an image with a member who was “skilled” in critiques and preparing others for the monthly contests. I apparently had done a couple of things wrong: black and white photo, content was journalistic (my background), not enough contrast. I quickly found that the winners had fancy new cameras, travel a LOT, and are the officers of the club. My membership didn’t last long but I have some wonderful crystal glass ball pictures that I will never look at again. Now I rarely show my work to anyone but take great joy in creating it. Appreciate you!

  8. On the Monolith No. 50 photo….I could immediately tell that you used the Lowepro Bag Model 200 AW. I would’ve used the 220 AW…but whatever, it’s cool. Seriously though, I’ve noticed recently that I get bored hearing/reading someone talking about what equipment used to make a photo. It’s just not interesting to me anymore. I’d rather hear about what you’re trying to say with the photo, or how it makes you feel when viewing it. That seems so much more important and interesting than what lens or tripod or camera bag you used.

  9. Another wonderful read for me! I feel like I have independently come to the same conclusion on some of the items you have listed of “never dos”. Love hearing your thoughts on all of these!

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