Rembrandt Self-Portrait Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I see comments like these in the photo forums – mostly from the younger emerging photographers. “Oh I’ve seen that done to death.” “That’s such a cliche.” “That’s nothing new.”

These comments seem to indicate that a photograph which may contain elements they’ve seen before is valueless. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s take portraiture for instance. The younger you are, the more likely you don’t light or pose a portrait the way that the masters do/did. Why?

a. You think that making a good photograph is about doing something NEW.
b. You haven’t really studied how the masters do/did it BECAUSE it’s not NEW.
c. Because you haven’t studied, you don’t know HOW to light and pose a portrait the way the masters do/did.

Yet, if you look at the traditional “Rembrandt” lighting scenario – this is a portrait approach hat has stood the test of time – hundreds of years to be more concise.

So while it may be cool to do something new in your opinion, in MY opinion, it shows respect, discipline, concern for craft and character to at least learn how the masters do/did it before you decide to break the rules. And lastly, I think refusal to learn how the masters work is a little bit lazy.

Now here’s where the lazy comes in. I have had assistants and interns who told me learning all that “old stuff” like the difference between broad and short lighting, butterfly or split lighting, etc., was “too much work.” Sort of like the excuse I gave in grade school when I complained to my mother “Oh Mom I don’t need to learn how to play all those musical instruments. Why do I have to practice so much?” I chuckle because in college I ended up minoring in musical performance. I now play several musical instruments quite proficiently. But back then, what I was really telling my mother years ago was that I was lazy. I was too lazy to put the work in. I just wanted to be a rock star. I didn’t actually want to learn any chords! My assistants and interns have sometimes been in the same situation. They just want to pick up a camera and be great. Good luck with that. I just want to look in the mirror and be young again, but so far, not happening!

My challenge to you is simple. Don’t be lazy. If you mistakenly think that being new is being cool – go right ahead. If that’s how you feel I probably can’t change your mind. But at least learn the standard (traditional, old call them what you will) ways first. Know (like the back of your hand) what rules you’re breaking before you break them. That shows respect, discipline, concern for craft and character.

And if you’re a regular reader here you probably know what’s coming next.

Being cool isn’t about being new, it’s about being YOU. Learn how the masters approach this and then put your own spin on it – use your own imagination. Develop your own story and your own voice. But know WHY you’re doing what you do and pay homage to the masters who came before you. Now THAT will be cool.

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  1. […] I see comments like these in the photo forums – mostly from the younger emerging photographers. "Oh I've seen that done to death." "That's such a cliche." "That's nothing new." These comments seem to indicate that a photograph which may contain elements they've seen before is valueless. Nothing could be further fr … Read More […]

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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