It’s the Same, Only Different

Recently, I’ve started a book project and I have to admit it’s made me change the way I shoot a little bit. Perhaps, more important than changing the way I shoot, it’s changing the way I think about shooting. Allow me to explain. Several months ago, I read a quote in a since forgotten magazine that was talking about people’s longevity on the job. The quote, article really, speculated that, for example, most folks don’t work five years at one job, rather than work one year five times. What the author was trying to get at here is that most folks define themselves in their first year on the job, and then they just repeat what they did the first time around again, making only slight tweaks as they go. The same can be said for our images. Often, we don’t take different shots, rather we tend to take the same shot over and over again, just maybe in a different place or time.
I have a shooting buddy who is like this. Every time we go out, it seems he’s trying to re-take what he’s already shot. I guess he figures that, if it was good enough the first time, why, it’s good to take again, right? The trouble is, you keep ending up with the same images over and over again, like a broken record (talking about vinyl here.) How do you really grow as an artist, doing this? (What’s that they say about the definition of insanity? Yes, this.) 
It really comes into play as you start working on a book project. Let’s say you shoot, for example, mostly flowers. You might have wonderful images of roses from your garden, bunches of them in fact. That’s great, all well and good, everybody should have wonderful images and who doesn’t like wonderful images of roses from a garden, right? The trouble is, these might not make for an interesting book. Imagine, if you will, sitting down with a hundred page photo book in your lap of roses from your garden, curling up in your favorite corner with it, all snuggled in, ready to turn some pages. How is page 23 going to be different from, say, page 87? There’s no difference really, right? I mean, they are all roses from the garden. As the expression goes, “if you’ve seen one…” (Yes, that.) 
The trick, I think (or perhaps one of them) for a book project is to make a book that has some diversity. Something that makes you keep turning those pages. Something that gives you a page 23 very different from page 87 and, why, don’t even get me started on 63. They don’t all have to be good pages really, just different from the last, right? I mean, the idea here is, if you keep ’em guessing, if they don’t know what’s coming next, if they are off balance and caught up in the excitement of it all, that makes them want to turn those pages. It’s more exciting that way. Hello, drama, hello, interest!
I think this is part of the reason why I jumped on the idea of doing a book of my Japan work so quickly. It’s different. I mean, not just different from what I usually shoot (it’s not that different from what I usually shoot really, well, maybe a little but not entirely) but it’s different from *itself.* Every image Kyoto gave up was really something new and fresh. There was something completely different around every corner. Everything from the food to the night life to the temples to the people to the parking spots (like what you see here) was a unique view. Not just unique and different from Texas, for example, but different from other parts of Kyoto. Every day the paper boy brought more but the paper changed, morphed really, into something fresh, something new for our eyes to see.
Some places, some shoots, some locations are like that. They have many different sides, many faces, many facets, all different from the last. It keeps you guessing. Sure, it keeps you on your toes as a photographer but, the guessing part? Man, that’s some good stuff right there. I like places that keep me guessing. The puzzle, the riddle, the mystery that is Kyoto is a wonder to unravel and that little mystery is why I jumped at the chance to bring it to book form. I think this is what’s making me want to do a book so badly. The images are all so different. I can’t really pick favorites and I’m having a hard time thinking of what to do for the cover but I so want to work on a book project from this work. Just because it was so different unto itself.
It’s something to think about for your own shooting. Do you take the same shot over and over again? Really? Be honest here. Or, do you try and mix it up some, maybe change it up a bit? Do you ever feel you got that, did that, time to move along? I think we need to think about the arc of a shoot in this way a bit more maybe. To convince ourselves, yeah, OK, we got this, let’s get on with the next thing is perhaps easier said than done but a worthy exercise nonetheless. Changing it up a bit can’t really hurt, right? Just something to think about maybe for your own shooting as well. 
Until next time…


  1. marydaylo
    January 26, 2020 / 2:25 pm

    There’s such good food for thought here. I think about these things, especially when I revisit a beloved place-like Hamilton Pool this week. When I catch myself walking past a stunning view, thinking, “I’ve already shot this,” I try to stop and have a close look. I’m not the photographer I was two years ago, and the light is different, and the season! My goal is to get a better shot than I got last time, then move on to an imperfect new shot—that I will hopefully improve on next time.

  2. Carol
    February 2, 2020 / 4:34 am

    Yes, that is so true. We all have places we love as photographers and, while it might be easy to fall into the "let me shoot it again" trap, if it's someplace we truly love, we can get different shots. You're right, we do grow and change as artists so we can see different things upon a revisit as well, but I do think I have to be careful to not just shoot the same shots over but to try to bring something new with ever revisit. Maybe it's a new way of looking at something, or fresh eyes, different light as you say, but change it up a little bit somehow to keep it fresh. I think that's the key, we have to keep it fresh, even if the same location. Thanks for the insightful comment and I hope you enjoy Hamilton Pool!

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