The Craft Of Studying Other’s Work

Every photographer, from novice to professional, is a fan of someone else’s work. I’m a fan of Rolf Nussbaumer, Moose Peterson, David Stocklein, Tom Mangelsen, John Shaw, Huntington Witherill, and Alan Murphy just to name a few. Locally, the works of Larry Ditto and Lance Kreuger, two professional photographers whom I am fortunate to call friends, have also served as a source of inspiration. Each of these photographers have their own unique style of shooting and I enjoy studying their images. Consider the work of fine art photographer, Huntington Witherill. Regardless of the subject, his images have a common thread of form, space, and line and how they come together in a rectangular frame. I shoot very little fine art stuff, yet Huntington’s work inspires me.

When I see a picture that really moves me, I attempt to place myself in the photographer’s shoes, trying to understand what they were thinking/doing to get the image? Regarding the picture itself, I make notes of what is in the photo that I really like, i.e. what caught my attention. Was it the lighting (e.g. frontlit, backlit, natural lighting, flashed) or colors in the picture? Was it the use of a specific lens (e.g. fisheye, telephoto), use of filters (e.g. polarizer, neutral density), or depth of field in the image? Did the photographer use a fast shutter speed to freeze action or a slow one to capture an intentional blur? How about the composition? Did they follow the rule of thirds or break the rule in a unique and inspiring way? If they broke the rule, I study how and why it worked in that image. I look at other things too, such as perspective and setting. For example, where was the camera angle in relation to the subject? How did they get a subject to land on a particular perch and why did they select that perch to begin with?

Obviously, I will not ask all of these questions for every image. Rather, I’ll make a mental note of the things that inspired me on that particular image, then I’ll adapt some of those things on my next photographic adventures. Do take note that “adapting” what I liked from other’s images does not mean photographic plagiarism. I do not want my photos to be carbon copies of other’s work. For example, consider John Shaw’s linked image: “Clouds at sunrise over Frenchman’s Bay; Bar Harbor, Maine.” I really liked the drama and colors in the sky, as well as the transition of colors from gold to that bold orange strip in the image. So, I made mental notes of places where I shoot that would look awesome under similar light conditions. Then one day the elements came together and I was able to capture the windmill shown here and showcased in previous posts. Inspired by other’s compositional elements, I captured my own work of art.

South Texas Sunset.

Alan Murphy is an excellent photographer known for his beautiful setups. I’ve spent countless hours studying his work, trying to incorporate things I like into my own photographs. The Green Jay highlighted here is one of my attempts to combine elements to create this photograph. I placed that perch inside the cactus patch, then decorated the scene with the blooms of a lantana bush growing nearby. To get the green jay to land where I wanted them to, I placed a bird feeder just outside the frame. I knew the birds would use this perch as a staging area prior to jumping onto the feeder. The background was a large stand of mesquite shrubs/trees that were a great distance behind the setup so I knew that the 500mm would render a beautiful green background that was pleasingly blurred. While it’s a far cry from an Alan Murphy setup, the image came together rather nicely.

Green Jay. Canon 1DMkII | ef 500/4.5 | f11 | ISO 400. This image placed third in the 2008 Valley Land Fund Photo Competition-Small Tract.

So my advice to you is to find those photographer’s whose work you respond to, study their images, and then take that renewed sense of inspiration to go out and capture some spectacular photographs with your own signature style.

Until next time… –KEVIN

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