Finding Your Photographic Vision | David Miller | Skillshare

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (28m)
    • 1. Finding Your Photographic Vision

    • 2. Photographic Heroes

    • 3. Access and Depth

    • 4. Experimentation

    • 5. Artist Statements

    • 6. Choosing Your Critics

    • 7. Dedication

    • 8. Wrap Up + Project

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About This Class

Each artist has their own path to manifesting their creative vision, but there are a few common characteristics to those paths that we explore here.  In "Finding Your Photographic Vision" we use both famous and personal examples of how a visual style gets achieved, how work begins to have depth and meaning, and how we make our work stand out from the thousands of other creative photographers.

Meet Your Teacher

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David Miller

Multimedia Artist For Primordial Creative studio


I'm David, a multimedia artist in Phoenix, and my studio is Primordial Creative.  


I have always been interested in the visual arts from an early age- drawing, painting, and clay- but around my high school years I became interested in photography for the social aspect of involving other people, the adventure inherent in seeking out pictures, and the presentation of reality that wasn't limited by my drawing skills.


One thing in my work that has stayed consistent over the decades since then is I have an equal interest in the reality of the lens next to the fictions we can create in drawing, painting, animation, graphic design, and sound design.  As cameras have incorporated video and audio features, and as Adobe's Creative Cloud all... See full profile

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1. Finding Your Photographic Vision: Hey out there. This is David Miller. I'm a Phoenix, Arizona, multimedia artist and photographer, videographer and animators, speaking to you from my studio Primordial Creative in Tempe, Arizona. And this course is a special one, something that's near and dear to my heart. I have been teaching photography for over 10 years and usually break up the classes by the technical and the conceptual parts of photography. I have noticed that the vast majority of classes on photography available both online and in person, are focused on the technical side of it. And while of course, that is important, you need to know how to use your camera and how to set exposure settings and do fun. Things would photo shop in light room. I really feel like the most important thing is the conceptual part of photography. Photography is a creative outlet that most people feel like they can do so. Painters and dancers are often perceived as having some sort of innate skill that you have to be born with. Same with illustrators and actors. I do not feel like society thinks that way about photographers because most people know what a picture is. They know how to take a picture with their phone if they don't have a DSLR muralist camera . And so, um, photography is little more open creatively to the wider population. So whether you're a beginning photographer or somebody who's been doing this for a while, I feel like you're going to get some value out of this class. It's broken up by various tips, and I give you examples both of my own portfolio and some very famous photographers who I take influence from. Your project for this class is to present a short set of images that you feel are emblematic of the kind of style envisioned that you want to go floored with. So very simple. It's just a matter of posting a few J pinks and talking about them. There's some short exercises that I've included with each section of the class. Feel free to use those if you are that kind of learner. If you're a more visual learner, of course, I encourage you to just take a camera and go out and keeping some of these tips in the back of your mind. In the meantime, let's get started 2. Photographic Heroes: the first step in developing a personal vision, I feel is having heroes and having role models that also have their own vision. Because when you can identify somebody by name and you can identify their style, you can sort of piece together how they approach to problem, how they creatively problem solved, how they functioned in their own life, what role are had in their life, how often they wrote songs or made movies and you know how they functioned within their own family structures in their own personal relationships. The first guy who got me really excited about photography. His name is Sebastian Salgado, and he's very well known. His work hangs the United Nations. I saw his work in 1997 in a museum in Omaha, Nebraska, my hometown, and it was pictures of migrants and workers. They were shot black and white, presented really starkly. I recognized some of those visuals from a Smashing Pumpkins video that had heavily borrowed from his work called Bullet with Butterfly Wings. Salgado is a humanist. He is an economist from Brazil, and he spends many years and a lot of money gathering the images he needs to tell these very serious, very epic stories of workers of migrants. And in his most recent project, Genesis, he traveled to all these primordial locations around the Earth the Galapagos Islands, the areas where the world's oldest trees are where the humans first did cave paintings. And, um, the scale that Salgado works on is probably beyond what most of us could achieve. Certainly what I can achieve at this age, I personally don't have the serious mindset that one needs to the laser focused the way that Salgado is. But there are many other traits I've borrowed from him, his particular style of black and white. It's very graphic, design oriented and very heavy blacks, the scenarios that the people are in our very real world and gritty. And I feel like I've borrowed a lot of that, even though my own personal work is a little more fashion and portrait oriented. I love watching interviews with these heroes because there are many times when I'm down on my own artwork and I'm gonna head over to YouTube and look up one of those guys, and I'm gonna watch a YouTube interview with him and walk away feeling like completely refreshed and reinvigorated and realize a lot of time. In those interviews, you find that your heroes have created problems. They've run up against obstacles. They run out of money, they've broken all their gear, they have no ideas. And a lot of times you watch these interviews and it helps you get over the hump the way that they did in their lives. 3. Access and Depth: today, we're going to talk about things that are all about you as a person. One is figuring out what it is you have to say, and number two is forgetting. What you have access to. These two factor are completely together. You can have very strong opinions and interest about things on the other side of the earth , but if you don't have regular access to them, you will not have anything really of value to say about them. At the same time, I have access to many things, like my own backyard like alleyways, like local neighborhood stuff. But if I don't have a strong opinion about it, then there's no depth to that artwork. So these things work together. So first I'm going to show you one of my own. Siri's. I worked on this from about 2007 through 2009 and occasionally I still add to this Siri's. But it is my Siri's animal sight. Ever since I was a teenager, I was a huge animal lover. I became a vegetarian. I've gone through periods of veganism in my life. I have supported animal rights causes, and I grew up in Nebraska, which is a place that does not have a strong animal rights community. One of the things that is common in Nebraska is being told that these creatures are ours to do with as we please. They're put here on Earth by God, for us to consume and to rule over. And I just do not believe that in my heart as a teenager. So when I worked on this Siri's, I decided I was going to focus on animal eyes because eyes are considered the window to the soul. And I I genuinely believe that if souls exist in human beings, they also against in other life forms. I focused on domesticated animals and zoo animals to start with, because these are the things that I had easy access to. I started going to a lot of county fairs and finding livestock, and as my Siri's grew, I challenged myself to expand into reptiles, to insects, to Avians, all kinds of other animals. And when other people saw me working on this Siri's, all of a sudden, a lot of doors opened up and I had access to exotic animals that were owned by private owners, and the more that I continue this Siri's, the more I challenged myself to showcase it in different ways. For example, there is a photographic effect that most people are familiar with called red Eye. And this happens when the on camera flash bounces off the reflective surface of our eye and back into the lens, causing a red glow in a human beings I. So I used this effect on a lot of different animals, and I found that it actually enhanced the imagery and the idea that these weren't just Solis robots walking around made of meat, but that they had some kind of wild energy inside them. And these are some of my favorite images. There are also some of the most personal to me because this is something that I spent many years working on, and I really have a strong opinion about it. Even today, there is a lot of work I've made in my life that I don't have strong opinions on, and I look at it and today it it feels like it was made by a different human being. Certainly there's topics that I have no opinions on whatsoever, like sports, and I would fit into society a lot better if I did have an opinion about sports. But unfortunately I don't. And so I don't even have the drive to pursue the topic, much less find access to, uh, the inner workings of a sports team or a sports location. So these are the things we need to ask ourselves. What do we have to say and what do we have access to? 4. Experimentation: Okay, We're continuing our series on how to find your photographic voice, and this one is all about experimentation. Now, this flies in the face of a lot of advice that young photographers air being given. And I met many of these people in real life where they think they need to select a particular style and they need to stick to it. And that is how you build a following. That is how you build a brand. I am here to tell you, as an artist for 20 years, that this may work if you are trying to build a business. But if you are just starting out number one, you don't know what your brand identity is or you don't know what you can do yet you don't know what you don't know. This is a fact. Number two, you won't get any better if you don't experiment and you don't change. What will happen in the best of scenarios is you will have an early hit, and then you will continue to make variations of those early hits. And in fact, when you are just starting out, you don't even know what a hit is because a successful image to somebody who's just starting out may seem like something that pleases them and nobody else. It may be something you put on social media and got a lot of likes, so I want to talk to you about some very famous creatives throughout the 20th century. Talk to you about Pablo Picasso, the Beatles, Elvis Presley I wanna talk to you about Steven Spielberg or pretty much anybody famous you could name in any creative field queen. You, too. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Peter Jackson, Andy Warhol. These are artists who changed a lot, and they rarely set out to repeat themselves. Now, today we will think of something like the Beatles or Steven Spielberg, and we'll say, Oh, I recognize those elements of their creativity. I recognize Steven Spielberg has particular type of cinematography that he uses in particular kind of music that uses. And while that is sometimes true, sometimes it is not. I dare you to compare Schindler's List to E. T. Two Jaws to Munich and say that those were the same movie, that they're the same exact brand when in fact they are clearly not their vastly different . And, uh, I highlight those alongside many with other films, of course, as peaks of his career. You could also say dressing part Raiders of the Lost Ark so on and so forth. Because Steven is challenging himself every single time he sets out to make a movie on, he's not satisfied. The same with the Beatles. If you go through their most creative period, So we're talking River sold forward. Essentially, every album is different. Paul McCartney has gone on record, saying around the time of Revolver. They were looking for different drum sounds for every single song because they could not reuse the same sound. It would have been a creative cop out to them on. By the time they did Sergeant Pepper's It was including a lot more wild instrumentation. The Indian musicians theme, 19 twenties type musical horns. The time they did the White Album. It was sprawling chaos, one of my favorites and you might say to yourself, Well, that works for the Beatles. But I know there are examples of artists who are known only for one thing, and that got them there career and I will say to you that they found their peak if they were true artists, they found their peak through experimentation. So at this point, we have to ask, What does being experimental with your photographic vision mean? Well, one advantage photography has over other art forms is that it's much easier to work in a Siri's. So if a painter wants to work in a Siris on, ah, the topic of old farm houses to pick one from my youth because I'm originally from the Midwest, that painter might spend years painting variations of these old farm houses and certainly a lot of creative Siri's take years and the things that we know like Vincent Van Gogh for took years to make. But with photography, it might take days. It might take hours and might take weeks, but it doesn't have to take years to complete a photo. Siri's so my challenge to you If you were to do a photographic Siris on these old barns, I am sure. Like most people, the beginning approach would be a very traditional one. You would drive out, you would photograph the old barn, maybe outside, maybe inside. Maybe it's during some cool weather, so you've got a storm brewing in the distance. But these air where we start with our old barn, Siri's. And the next time you go out to the old barn, maybe you bring along an individual with you, bring another person, and that other person is going to be included in your barn photos. So maybe they are like the Andrew Wyeth painting. Maybe they are on the other side of some broken wood, and you see Onley elements of the person's what's really mysterious. Maybe they're a blur, you know, Maybe they're just some motion that happens to be going around the barn. Maybe they are kind of F s, a 19 thirties photography style person posted up against the barn Fortress. But this is the way that you build on your original concept. Now, maybe the next time you go to photograph the bar and you looked at your earlier stuff and you think it's very traditional. It definitely follows in the vein of something else you've seen in the case of the Andrew Wyeth painting or the F s A photography. So you say this time I'm going to do the barnacle, but differently. Um, I've been shooting a digital. Maybe I'll take some infrared film out Or maybe I'll take some instant film out. Do instant film portrait around the old bar. Or maybe I'll keep shooting a digital. But instead of single images, I'm going to try and do some panoramic stuff which I can stitch together in photo shop or light room. So we're building on the technique as well as the concept. Andi, As you work through a Siri's, you might find a groove that works really well for you. But unless you get out and change it up every single time, you are not going to find that groove. You're going to pick the easiest, the laziest route, and you're going to continue down that path. And I guarantee that whatever the easiest, laziest route is in any photographic subject material, that road is well paved by thousands of other people who came before you. If you were looking to get this work published, if you were looking to get this work exhibited, if you were looking for some kind of satisfaction out of this work, just personal satisfaction, it won't happen by taking the easiest laziest route. So I encourage you had I implore you to experiment every time you do issue, whether it's building onto a Siri's or whether it is just something that you're going to do this Sunday, even if pictures of your family there are things that you can do that are going to be new and different and fresh to you as a photographer, as long as you keep an open mind and a willingness to experiment. 5. Artist Statements: Now, if you are somebody who's really into photography, it's possible that you express yourself best as a visual artist and not so much as a wordsmith written word artist. I know I'm not much of a writer myself, but in this step I'm going to ask you to write something. And this is something that we're forced to do when you go to art school, and when you present a gallery show, you are forced to create an artist statement and you sit down in front of the computer with the blank screen so often, and it is hard to verbalize what you are doing and why you were doing it, and how is this relevant to other people? But the process of creating an artist statement is of tremendous value to you because it crystallizes again why you're doing something, what exactly you're doing and how is it relevant to other people? So I'm going to use examples not in my own work, but of one of my favorite photographers who, sadly deceased. His name is Cinquanta Chine, and he was a self portrait artist who wore a Mao suit like Mao Zedong and sunglasses, and he would go around the world and photograph himself alongside some extraordinarily famous monuments. As you can see in the Siri's, he is elevating himself by appearing alongside monuments that everybody knows and by wearing a suit similar to Mao Zedong. He is playing with the idea of cult of personality, but he's also playing with the idea of being a tourist. So this is somebody who's doing parodies, if you will. He's parroting the idea of being a tourist of being famous by association, both with mousey dung and the monuments. And when you talk about the I work that way, it gives a really clear vision of why he did it. What may be his next step would be. So maybe his next step would be to just continue going to other monuments. May be the next step would be to do the complete opposite, and not where the outfits that is so iconic but where something that's more Pesenti, uh, maybe the next step would be to do a Siri's that strips itself away of all the artifice. So no sunglasses and regular clothes. But you see, when we put things into words, it makes it clear what is going on, and I feel like a lot of artists are not clear about their own work. An artist statement does not have to be very long. I would say a paragraph is good enough, and it actually is good to keep it brief, because when we were very close to the work, we start to overcomplicate it. And when you over complicate things, they do not communicate. So if you can summarize what you're doing, why we're doing it and how it's relevant to other people within a few sentences, you know you have a concept that can communicate. That does make sense. And if it takes you an entire page to explain all of those things, then you have a problem because it's not communicating a simple theme that people who are not you will understand. This is often times the job of a gallery curator museum curator to look at a vast body of work and say what is actually happening? What is going on and why is it relevant? But we can stop producing for a short period of time, take stock of what we have and say what we mean. Then we don't have to wait for other people to decide what the work is actually saying 6. Choosing Your Critics: So we're continuing our Siris on finding your photographic vision on, and this one will be about choosing your critics because the truth is we're very poor judges of our own work. Many people do not feel like they know themselves completely, and they cannot see the complete picture of what they're making because they're so deep into the process of making what they're making. So a critic does not have to be somebody who is going to put you down or make you feel bad about what you're making. A critic is somebody who knows what questions to ask that propel you further down a creative path. In choosing our critics, we should know the name of the person and we should know their background. We should know their interests and anything else that's pertinent artistic information. I'm saying this because more often than not, young artists and young photographers don't choose their critics. They put something up on social media, and then they are affected by how many people like it or don't like it, or which particular person likes it, whether or not they know anything about that person. I have been victim to this myself. I have put up a photo that I was extraordinarily proud of, and maybe it didn't communicate with other people. Possibly it was the wrong time of day or the wrong day of the week. But for whatever reason, it didn't garner the same amount of likes that something else might have that I wasn't is proud of. This is not something that should be affecting me mentally or creatively, because there are too many elements that are out of my control in social media, the least of which is that a lot of social media has an algorithm to it that looks at the composition of a photo or who's in it, whose tagged on thes things don't really reflect on the quality of the single image. Nor does it reflect on the quality of an entire Siri's that that image may be part of. There is a publisher of a well known photography magazine who has an incredibly gifted artistic insight into why people make what they make, and it isn't so much about the content of the photographs. It's just the artistic, creative process that he's so insightful to. So when I sat down with this gentleman, it was a total joy to just talk about what the work could be. This magazine publisher had inside into a variety of genres. But more importantly, he knew how to assemble images into a cohesive unit that told a story or communicated a concept larger than each of their individual pieces. And that was the feedback that I was looking for because up until that point, I have been what essentially is a greatest hits photographer meeting. I do a shoot. I look for the single best image. I work it up, and that image might not correspond to anything else I've ever shot before. So you might say to yourself, Well, that's a kind of a good way to do things isn't how painters and illustrators do things, and that is true. That's how a painter might work. They might just have a single strong visual concept that they executed painting, but I guarantee almost anybody famous you've ever heard of works in sequences or Siri's. So there are multiple images that combine to form a larger gestalt concept. So that's the kind of feedback that I was looking for for my photographs, and this magazine publisher was able to give me that feedback because he's an editor on and almost all magazine editors. Whether it's Time magazine life, National Geographic art photography they're looking for ways to fit these images to tell a greater story. Together, you are much better served if you find a well informed mentor or critic who has an interest in the kind of stuff you're doing, and we'll help you answer those questions that you are unable to answer yourself. 7. Dedication: now in this final lesson, I want to talk about dedication and human behavior, and it doesn't really matter if you're a photographer or a painter, illustrator actor. Anything that you do that's creative, you need to show up for work every day. And this includes if you have an eight hour job that has nothing to do with photography or anything else. Um, at some point you need to devote a portion of your brain to your creative passion, because if you don't you're giving yourself an excuse to put it off. And if you start giving yourself excuses, it doesn't end. Every single day. You can do one of these things. You can organize your photos. You can plan a shoot. You can plan a trip. You can learn something through tutorial such as this. You can edit old photos you can block about your work, say something about and let people know that it's more than just a visual representation. You can seek out a gallery or exhibition space or magazine that might be interested in your photography. You can look at the work of other people that you admire. You can look at things that aren't photography like movies and music and pull inspiration of them. Every day, though, you gotta feed that monkey. And believe me when I say you take a week off, it is going to set you back more than a week. It's gonna set you back a month or two months, or maybe even a year. So showing up to work every day creatively, that is super super important. So now, beyond showing up for your creativity every day, you also need to finish everything you start and again. There is a part of a human personality that says this is uncomfortable. I'm tired. I'm bored. I don't want to finish this. I don't want to work on this. But I'm here to tell you. You have to. People won't believe in you. If you don't finish what you start. You won't believe in yourself. If you don't finish what you start 8. Wrap Up + Project: guys, I want to thank you so much for sticking with this class and watching all the videos in its . I hope you got a lot of value out of it. Having a personal vision is incredibly important for your own continued happiness as a photographer. It's very important if you're running your photography as if it's a business, because you have to present a reason why you're different from everybody else. And that's going to be your personal creative vision. If you have any questions or feedback on the class, I would love to hear them. So put them in the comments below, or send me an email at D. B. Miller photo at gmail dot com. I also want to see examples of what you think your vision ISS. So So please post J pegs to the project's page and also give a little description on what you think. Your vision is. Once again, thanks for watching and good luck with your photography