When we travel, it’s all to easy to photograph the things that people have photographed before. Sometimes it’s good to do this. I mean, you took the time to go out to this place, right? You might as well make a picture.
I was recently standing on the banks of Anapji, a man-made lake in Gyeongju, with about 5 or 6 other photographers. I had arrived to shoot the sunset, and although it’s a cliché shot, it was one I’d always wanted to take. I will generally avoid the big crowds of photographers at a given location like the plague, but there aren’t really too many viewpoints at this lake, as it is rather small and everyone crowds around a 20 metre long stretch of open bank.
I nodded my regards as I stepped into place, and gazed around at the various setups of the photographers there. There were 4 Nikon full frame bodies, all with the same 17-35mm f/2.8 lens mounted, one Canon body with the 16-35, and a few others. Only one photographer did not have a tripod, and everyone else was set up with their tripod legs fully extended and their cable releases attached. Everyone here was shooting the same thing, and had the same gear that I did.
I did exactly what everyone else had done; I mounted my camera on the tripod and attached my 17-35mm. After a couple of exposure tests, I had my basic exposure for the sky, but just like everyone else my shadows were getting lost and the reflection in the pond was a good 2-3 stops or so under the sky. It was bog standard, click and be done photography. I knew I wanted something a little more epic than what everyone else was getting. (The example below was taken after my final picture below as I didn’t keep my tests, this was taken on a fisheye lens lent to me by another photographer).
I dropped the centre-column out of the tripod and got myself as low and close to the water of the pond as I could without taking a dip, and then I started to piece together my shot. First, the rippled reflection wasn’t floating my boat, so an ND filter was added. This had the added benefit of capturing the movement of the clouds streaking across the sky, something else nobody on the pond that day was capturing. I had only one more thing that I wanted to do, and that was to even out the exposure disparity between the sky and the surface of the water. This time a grad ND.
The gear used here is not the point, the workflow is. I know I could copycat anyone’s picture that evening. I did that, and it took all of 30 seconds and no creativity at all. If I had stopped there, I would have gone home with exactly what everyone else went home with. But, I didn’t. Whether it was better or worse is a subjective question, but it was certainly different.
As amazing as someone else’s picture may be, shooting the same image makes for nothing more than multiple copies of one shot. By striving to make something different out of the same scene, you are making an effort to push your own creativity. You are also producing something that people want to see. A little extra effort put into your pictures really shows through in the final results and sets them apart from other photographers.
Do you have a special piece of gear or an exposure technique that differs from other people? Use it to make your pictures stand out.