Your Unique Vision

Storm Cloud Over Mount Sneffels Near Telluride, Colorado, 2015

Storm Cloud Over Mount Sneffels
Near Telluride, Colorado, 2015

Sometimes I hear people say that, as a photographer, you should not photograph iconic or well-known subjects because you simply will produce images that are cliched or derivative of what others have done before you.  My gut response always is that if you have a vision and pursue it honestly, then it doesn’t matter what you photograph, because all of your images will have your own personal and unique stamp on them.

Recently, I was able to put my view to the test.  Mount Sneffels is an icon of the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado, and the view here is from a classic and well-known pullout along County Road 7 on the Dallas Divide.  It’s truly a magnificent prospect, well worth seeing regardless of whether you are into photography or not.

Of course, it is in fact very popular among photographers.  I make it to this location maybe once every two or three years, and every time I visit it seems like there is a notable uptick in the number of photographers present.  On my last visit, just a few weeks ago during the spectacular fall color season, there was a lineup of photographers all along the side of the road.  So many, in fact, that I was disheartened.  The view was the same for everyone, so how could I hope to make an image that was unique and personal to me?

Nevertheless, I dutifully picked out a spot and worked on my captures as the sun went down and evening rolled in.  When I finished up and left for the day, I thought the capture of the image here had some potential and could be worked on, but I also thought what would be the point, it would surely look like everyone else’s photographs from that evening.

A couple of days later, I happened to come across an image of Mount Sneffels on a social media website.  From the date and location information given by the poster, it was clear that he was one of the other photographers photographing Mount Sneffels at the same time I was.

But his image – which was quite beautifully done, by the way – looked absolutely nothing like mine!  Among other things, his image was vibrantly colorful, in a 3:2 aspect ratio, with no real cloud forms in the sky and an emphasis instead on the colorful trees in the foreground.  It’s hard to put into words, and I specifically don’t want to call out his image so as to avoid a needless comparison (I’ve forgotten where to link to it anyway), but his image just felt very different to look at.  It communicated an entirely different message about the scene than what I was receiving from the scene that day myself.

The two images are so different that if I didn’t know better, I would have said they were taken on different dates at different locations and under different conditions.  It really just reinforces to me the idea that your vision is unique, and if you pursue it honestly, your images cannot help but have your own stamp on them.

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