Monday, September 9, 2013

Creative Photos and Avoiding Cliché on Vacation: Is there Anything New Under the Sun?

Diamond Head State Park, Honolulu, HI
Those of you who are reasonably fit and have visited Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawaii, will probably recognize the above picture as being one of the staircases leading up to the viewpoint in Diamond Head State Monument. The photographer in me couldn't help taking this snap, what the single-point perspective draped by the swirling of the staircase rail and an added bit of motion blur in the people circling the staircase from behind. There's added interest with the dappled light trickling through the shadows. Technically, this an interesting shot; the problem is that if you recognize it... then it's not truly creative is it? Thousands of people must have taken this shot over the years.

*** Warning: Totally boring and cliché vacation shots below.***

When I'm on vacation, I don't go out of my way to snap the picture of a life time, but I do try my best with what I have.  All of the shots that you see here were taken with a Panasonic DMC-LX5. Let's just say my ego was deflated when I posted the above pic a couple of years ago on my Facebook feed... and almost instantly got a "Hey, I took the same shot as well!"

You might have encountered the same thing upon coming back from Europe or Mexico. Even if you travel to more "exotic" destinations such as Thailand and Nepal, the world is now so small that the likelihood of photographing something truly unique is minuscule, unless you put the effort into doing something that nobody else has done.

Rather than bemoan that there isn't anything new under the sun, I think that a more positive take-home message would be that when something is innately beautiful, then many people will independently see the beauty themselves. We shouldn't be troubled by the fact that we all can't be explorers and trailblazers; it's pretty amazing that so many of us have the opportunities that we do. Maybe it takes that one person in many to see it in a way that the rest of us don't; that's creativity. But there's no shame in seeing the same interesting thing that others see; in a way, it validates the human condition. Artistry thrives on creativity, but a world where everybody is constantly trying to outdo each other sounds like a pretty unpleasant place.

"Accumulate experiences, not things." You might have heard that creed; a call to abandon materialism. Actually, there's a dark side to that philosophy, as it is based on the premise that fruitless trying to one-up each other in material possessions. In other words, the joy of acquiring new possessions quickly fades, so it's better to have a unique experience that you alone can claim, and nobody else. Sometimes, my Facebook feed is the living embodiment of this... curiously glamorous looking friends and acquaintances doing really awesome things... almost like "Keeping up with the Kardashians" but on a smaller scale.

Scoffers often try to debunk the phrase "There is nothing new under the sun" by pointing out all of the technological and social achievements that humanty has achieved over the ages, but that is taking the phrase out of context. "Nothing new under the sun" refers to the human condition, meaning that no matter how much we try to change, we are still subject to the same old drives, ambitions and failings. The toy might be different, and the the destination might be new, but a surprisingly large part of our happiness is derived from bettering our neighbours.Would you rather be with a group of friends and have the cheapest DSLR of the bunch, or would you rather be in a crowd of snap shooters and have the best compact? Even if you are the person with a D3200 in a crowd of D800 shooters, you would still take better pictures than the best compact out there, but our human nature makes us feel happier if we are the person with the Sony RX100 in a crowd of old Canon matchbox compacts. The same goes for sharing photos. Ever feel intimidated by all of the gorgeous photography that gets posted on the popular internet forums? If that was your only point of reference, you would assume that none of your peers ever took a bad or boring shot.

All of this is rather esoteric, but being a photographer, by definition almost requires that you  find some way of being better than the next guy who took a picture of the same thing. However, photography is also a self-reflective act in which you try to find beauty and interest on your own terms. So go ahead, enjoy your vacation snaps. As a photography, you have to find ways of pushing past what is cliché, but you also have to take the simple pleasure of enjoying what you see.

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