Today's guest post is by Jerod Foster, an editorial and natural history photographer based in Lubbock, Texas. His book, Storytellers: A Photographer's Guide To Developing Themes and Creating Stories With Pictures, was published in 2011. Follow @jerodfoster on Twitter.
Many thanks to Seshu for providing me the opportunity to guest appear on such a resourceful blog. Once again, the ability to create positive relationships over an ever-growing online community of photographers astounds me.
Speaking of community, if you’re reading this post, there’s no doubt that a good many of you came here via a link posted on Twitter or Facebook, perhaps Google+, your own RSS feed, or a variety of other means of connecting you to, well, here. Word spreads fast in the photography world, especially when that world spans across a very diverse and prolific online community. Needless to say, the photography community, online or not, is large. Very large.
It’s so large and diverse that it’s often difficult to distinguish who we are at times. Just think about it for a moment. We’re so vast and varietal, and in some cases so niche, that we’ve become enclaves of particular areas of the entire art and craft of photography. At the same time, however, we know we all relate to each other on one level or another, but what?
A quandary? Perhaps. Maybe we can be a bit deductive in finding out just who we are as a community. Consider this an exercise in getting to the essence of photographers in general.
Let’s break some of the diversity down by types of photographers, starting with some of the more obvious. A lot of us are wedding, engagement, bridal, and family photographers, established in a particularly special and popular area of photography that have, if you think about it, one of the most important jobs in the world. Others of us are photojournalists, visualizing the life around us for a variety of outlets, including the tried and true newspaper industry, magazine publications, and a boatload of online resources for both traditional and new media content. Still, there are those of us that concentrate solely on the natural world, training our vision and gear on awe-inspiring landscapes and the wildlife that populate such environments. We can’t leave sports shooters of the list, either, since they carry quite a bit of the load for both personal and media audiences (globally, I might add).
Story is not something new, but it is indeed a constant. It’s what each and every one of us as a community (online or not) has in common.
Hold up, though. I’m creating a rather clear separation of the types of photographers out there (I also realize the listing is quite truncated). It’s also apparent among the community that not all of us are 100% one type or the other. Many of us that sling a camera over our shoulder do so with just as much commitment to shooting a family as we do the magazine story assignment we picked up last week. I know sports photographers that can shoot a heckuva wedding, and vice versa. Lest we forget, there are specializations upon specializations in the photography field as well, ranging from different styles of portraiture and cultural photography, to underwater shooting, science and medical image making, to fine art forms of the craft. Some of us are primarily focused on publishing in coffee table books and magazines, while most of us will never see the inside of what those that do call the land of the yellow border (although that shouldn’t stop one from trying).
Finally, but certainly not the least, there are those of us that do not necessarily aspire to be labeled a “type” of photographer, but instead are content and productively happy being generalists and avid shooters. This position is true for many, if not the most, of us, and it includes all levels of photographic achievement/aptitude, from the most basic hobbyist to the amateur wondering if she can earn some side money photographing her neighbors’ children, to the emerging professional right out of university.
So, if the photography community is so diverse, what keeps us together, stumbling upon (if you will) other parts of the industry, different shooters, and strange and interesting sources of visual inspiration? No matter what type of photography you lean toward, the thing that connects each and every one of us is the fact that we’re all telling stories with the images we produce. Story, for that matter, has been a part of what connects us all since the dawn of time! Story and storytelling is what and how we use the information we are continuously consuming to learn and interpret our world. Photography, in this sense, is one of the most important modes of telling story and has been since its commercial inception in the early 19th century.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that storytelling is vital to being a photographer. In some ways, it’s our responsibility to tell stories with images. Not in a cliché way either—I believe that we photographers (no matter what level of professional or hobbyist achievement) are a very important part of what keeps this world in tune with itself. Whether you’re shooting a global humanitarian campaign, a national advertisement, or your child’s first birthday, you have something to pass along with your images, and it keeps informing those around you.
That being said, I also believe that in order to grow as a photographer, we have to tie quite a few things together—things that are discussed quite a bit by the online community I mentioned earlier. Gear, technique, technical aptitude, vision, visual language, style—all are used in order to increase how we see and create compelling images. In addition, and more importantly, each helps us tell stories (they can get in the way as well; a post for another time). Our job is to make sure we’re doing just that. We may improve as photographers, but in essence, we grow as storytellers.
At its core, photography is meant to tell story. At our core, we are storytellers. Whether you’re just starting out, or you have shot professionally for the past 30 years, whether you’re in the studio or on some exotic location, whether you’re shooting solo or as part of a budgeted production crew, story is the central element of the visuals you produce. Story is not something new, but it is indeed a constant. It’s what each and every one of us as a community (online or not) has in common.
We are, in essence, a community of visual storytellers.