How Good Photography Ideas Can Go Bad


Every great photograph starts the same way: as a flash of inspiration in a photographer’s mind. Whether it comes during a shoot, while flicking through a photography magazine or while you’re driving through the countryside, your most important tool for capturing an image is always your imagination.

But you can’t show people what you’re thinking, so you often then have to go through the effort of creating the shot, setting up the lights, preparing your equipment and doing the post-production work. And even if all you have to do is whip out your camera to take the picture, there’s no guarantee that the image on the screen will be as good as the vision in your head.

Or that it will win the admiration, compliments and sales that you thought it would.

There are a number of reasons why good photography ideas can turn out to have lead wings. Here are some of them:

There’s no Market
If you’re thinking that your idea could lead to a steady stream of royalties then discovering that actually no one has any use for the pictures could come as a shock. You’ll be left with a photo that you think is wonderful but whose value is no higher than the pleasure it gives you.

Of course, that could still be quite high and if you’re only shooting for yourself then perhaps the absence of buyers won’t bother you. But it should. The existence of a commercial market for a picture is a good sign that your idea was sound. Buyers might not be looking to publish your photo but they might be happy enough to hang it on a wall and admire it.

There’s always something to be said for shooting for yourself — but if you’re the only one who likes the result, that’s a sure sign something’s not right.

The Expenses
You don’t need us to tell you that photography is an expensive hobby. But while it’s simple enough to calculate the price of a new lens or weigh up the cost of new imaging software, there are all sorts of expenses that are much harder to figure out in advance.

Decide to head into the back of beyond to shoot images of cacti, for example, and you’ll certainly have to consider the price of gas. But you might also have to factor in extra fuel in case you get lost, a GPS system so that you don’t stay lost, a night in a hotel if you have to travel a long way, food, special lighting, and even the cost of printing your photos in book form if your idea involves selling them.

There are few things worse than getting halfway through a project and then discovering you don’t have the budget to do it properly so it’s important to calculate the costs carefully in advance.

The Law
One of those things is being arrested halfway through the shoot. Troy Paiva, for example, who shoots American ghost towns at night, makes a point of tracking down the owners of the dilapidated properties he photographs and obtains their permission in writing before he heads out.

Without that authorization, he could find himself having to explain to the police what he’s doing creeping around strange areas in the early hours — and that might turn out to be a very bad idea indeed.

Discovering that the building you’ve photographed is copyrighted or the site you wanted to shoot on is private property isn’t that bad, but it wouldn’t be good either.

The Location
Good ideas are most likely to turn into bad ideas when there are lots of unknowns between the concept and the shoot. If your idea involves traveling a long way to a destination you’ve never visited, for example, then not knowing what to expect when you get there could give you the sort of nasty surprise that kills your vision.

Flickr can be one good place to learn as much as you can about a spot before you reach it, but you can also try asking questions on photographers’ forums, checking out tourist information centers and even shooting the site an email if possible. The more you know about the place you’re traveling to, the less likely you’ll travel all the way there only to find that your plan just isn’t going to happen.

Lack of Originality
One of the biggest problems with good ideas is that other people have them too. If you’ve thought up a neat way to take pictures of New York’s skyscrapers for example, discovering that someone else has got there before you could be a blow not just to your income but also to your confidence. You might feel that you’re not quite as creative and original as you thought.

The solution is to do the research before you do the photography but even if you do find that someone else has got there first, you don’t have to ditch the idea. After all, if someone has already implemented it successfully, that just shows that your concept was sound and your ideas are good.

Instead of following in that photographer’s footsteps though, overtake him. Look at what the photographer who got there first isn’t doing — and fill the gap.

Not every photography idea is going to be good, and there’s often little that’s lost and much that can be learned from experimentation. But knocking out some of the main idea-killers can help to make sure that you get the most from your efforts — and your thoughts.


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