“Hey, I have that same photo.”

 “Uh, no you don’t”…or more generously, “It is highly unlikely.”

Panamint Mountains Reflection at Badwater Basin, Death Valley, CA

How many times have you proudly shown someone an image you made and their immediate response is, “Oh, I have that one, too.”  There is no doubt that we can have a phenomenological experience when we see a familiar subject and think, “I have seen that before” or even, “I have that same photo.”  On the other hand, I get an immediate negative emotional reaction when someone tells me, “I have that same picture.”  It, in a way, negates my particular image; my artistic interpretation; and the uniqueness of my photo, made at a particular time and place.  To be quite frank, chances are you do not have that same image – unless you were standing right next to me, that same day, at that time, in that spot, exposing exactly what I was, with the same aperture, focal length, and filters, with the same composition, you do not have the same photograph.

I made this image at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley in December 2010.  Go onto Flickr and search “Zabriskie Point” as I did a few days ago.  You will see tens of thousands of photographs, some good, a few great, but most of them are typical snap shots.  I have to get to page 4 before I see a good image; page 6 before I see a great image; and page 7 until I see one that is close in mine to composition, lighting, color, and exposure…but it is not the same image.  Making a photograph is a craft and as such, no two are really alike.  Mary and I will stand right next to each other at the same place and time and come home with different images because we “see” differently.  This is the beauty of photography and why it is both a social past time as well as something completely solipsistic.

Zabriskie Point Sunrise

I have countless examples of this disconnect between photographer and viewer.  There is an old photography joke that goes, “How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb?  One hundred….one to change the light bulb and 99 to say, “I could have done that.”

In The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Galen Rowell tells the story of how many times after a slide presentation, people would come up to him and say, “I have that same picture.”  He explains why they actually do not.  He has many famous and popular images; one is of North Lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevada (you will need to go to page 5 on this link).  I recently made a photograph of North Lake, along with about 50 other people that morning.  It is similar only in the fact that we stood approximately in the same place and in a broader sense it is the same subject – North Lake.  However, they are completely different images in what is in the foreground, how the lake looks, the color of the trees, and the height of the grass.  The biggest difference in any two images will be the quality of ,and kind of light.  Someone might say they are the same photo, because the subject is the same.  However, it is the composition and quality of light that is the absolute essence of why one photo is different than another.

North Lake Sunrise

A friend of mine recently boasted that he had 20,000 pictures on his PC.  OK, I did not know this was a game of whoever has the most pictures – wins.  How many are good or even great photographs?  There is a wide-spread belief that you can just shoot a thousand photos and like a blind squirrel, some will turn out good.  I was at a workshop with a guy who said that he had 40,000 files and never deletes a single one.  Why?  Lastly, I received the backhanded compliment recently after showing some photographs.  The guy said, “You captured the essence of the place.  I have those shots and hundreds more just like it.”  Really?…hundreds?…just like it?…you do?  Again, if you want to see the wide variation in composition and quality, go to Flickr.  There are many images similar to the one below, but no one that looks just like it in composition and light.

Red Cathedral from Zabriskie

Now contrast that with my buddy Greg Duncan.  Greg is a very very very good photographer.  He is picky and particular with his time and camera.  Unless the conditions are ideal, outstanding, or unique, Greg will not even pull out his camera.  I have been with Greg where I might have taken 50 pictures and Greg took 5.  Recently, Greg wanted to show me and Mary some images on his new iPAD.  He showed me four photos.  I know Greg has hundreds of great photos, but he only put his best four on his iPAD to show off.  When I saw those four photos, you know what I thought…”I do not have those same photos and I could not have done that.”  To see more of our photographs, go to www.pamphotography.com.

One Comment

  1. Jack Graham

    Peter… Nice blog & great article… you are now seeing what I deal with a lot. I really don’t let it bother me since sometimes I think I have similar images to other great photographers, only to fine they are lacking in some areas.
    You stuff is really look good. …. I would suggest that you and others who read your article read:(I hope the URL works!) if not just go to my blog http://www.jackgrahamsblog.com and look up the article “Photograph Less & See More”


    Best regards,

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