23 Jul
2014

Turning Down the Volume

Waves and Rocks

Waves and Rocks. Canon 5D2, 70-200 f/4 @ 200mm, f/29, 2.5 sec, ISO 200.

If you are in a crowded room, and yell out “Mike!” a handful of people will turn around, and most of them will be named Mike.

If you are in a crowded room and yell out “Asshole!” everyone will turn around. None of them will be named Asshole.

The point is this: It is easy to get attention, but much harder to sustain it.

Photographs are the same way. They can scream or they can speak softly. They can overtly preen and posture, trying their hardest to get your attention, or they can be discreet and subtle, and slowly win you over without you even realizing it. They can repeat a well-known highly palatable joke to predictable laughter, or they can be original, possibly confusing or offending most of their audience, but endearing themselves to the rest.

Upon closer inspection the loud photo is often revealed to be exactly and only that: loud. Once you turn down the volume, you realize the photo is saying the same thing that’s been said before, though perhaps not as eloquently. The photo tells you little about the artist who took it. Worse than that actually is that the photo doesn’t tell you anything at all. It was so focused on getting attention that it neglected to prepare for any conversation afterward. It is left stuttering and stammering, not knowing what to do next.

Raining at Sunset

Raining at Sunset. Canon 6D, 24-105 f/4 @ 105mm, f/11, 1/40 sec, ISO 400

The screamers are rewarded, at least in the short term. In the current electronic age of mass photo consumption, a loud photo can easily drown the voice of several quiet photos. For some photographers, the success metric for a given photo starts and stops with how well it is received and by how many.

A shouting match soon breaks out among the photographs. So desperate in this nuclear arms race for attention, photographers do things that, without peer pressure, they would never ever do. They push the bounds of good taste. They play it safe and take no risks. They invent, digitally misrepresenting the scene to a staggering degree to fit in with a watered-down group aesthetic. Most of all they copy. Freely, liberally, and without shame they copy.

Ocahui Agave. Canon 6D, 24-105 f/4 @ 105mm, f/11, 1/40 sec, ISO 400

Ocahui Agave. Canon 6D, 100mm macro, f/3.2, 1/50 sec, ISO 200

I am going to let you in on a secret: I, too, used to be a screamer. My voice became hoarse.

I have since stopped singing for an audience. Instead I try to produce photos that are meaningful to me, though many will be tone-deaf, out of key, and hard to hear at first.

For those who are willing to stop and listen and strike up a conversation, my photos will at least have something to say. Granted, it might be a crude joke about assholes in a crowded room, but that’s still something, isn’t it?

If you would like to learn more about how your photographs can sing rather than scream, consider buying my Beyond the Grand Landscape through the Dreamscapes store. 

Ron CoscorrosaAbout Ron Coscorrosa (3 Posts)

Ron Coscorrosa is an unprofessional nature photographer who loves referring to himself in the third person almost as much as he loves photography. Ron took a few years off from his "real" job to pursue photography, deplete his savings, and, unexpectedly, move to Denver from Seattle as well as co-author three e-books: Beyond the Grand Landscape: A Guide to Photographing Nature's Smaller Scenes, Forever Light: The Landscape Photographer's Guide to Iceland and Desert Paradise: The Landscape Photographer's Guide to Death Valley National Park. While Ron has won no photography contests nor has he been published anywhere of note, he is pretty sure his mom likes him quite a bit. You can see more of Ron's photography at coscorrosa.com.


23 Comments

  • Brilliant Ron – both the photography and commentary.

  • Brilliant dude!!! So well done! THANK YOU!

  • Great read Ron, love your approach.

  • I am in full agreement – thoughtfulness and genuine expression always trump attention-seeking in any form of art. And the ability to evolve from one behaviour to the other is the sign of a true artist, in my opinion. Thanks for this great post!

  • Too true! Both the state of pop photog. and the fact that most of us have been there. It’s not so bad as long as you catch yourself sooner rather than much later. I like the top image a lot.

  • Well said. Well thought. Inspirational. Thanks

  • Ian Plant

    GREAT post Ron! I especially like the park about the digital nuclear arms race. Really more of a race to the bottom as everyone tries to out-Photoshop everyone else in a desperate scramble for 15 minutes of Internet fame. Landscape “photography” in particular these days is beginning to look ridiculous: everything is epic, over-the-top, a full frontal assault on the viewer’s ocular cavities – and completely untethered from anything remotely resembling reality.

    • Ron Coscorrosa

      Completely agree Ian! Part of what differentiates landscape/nature photography from other forms of art is its innate connection to the natural world. These hyper-reality surreal fantasyscapes completely destroy that connection. The end result is still art, but it’s no longer a photograph, and that to me makes it a lot less appealing.

  • Amen.

  • I agree, great article. BUT, it is possible the quest for intimate, meaningful, smaller, etc. images can become the new “epic.” It seems there are a number of photographers who get known by those cool “loud” images, and then change and quiet down. With this trend the quiet crowd can get just and big and mainstream as the current loud crowd. Thoughts?

    • Ron Coscorrosa

      That is certainly possible, but, I think, unlikely. Attention spans are only getting shorter. We live in a world of sound-bites, platitudes, quotes, easily digestible lists… Work that requires more effort on the part of the viewer is doomed to be less popular.

      That being said, I think photography tastes will change over time and evolve, and the current over the top nature that dominates nature photography these days might, like cheesy 80’s movie soundtracks, age particularly poorly. At least, that’s what I hope.

      The need/desire for humans to feel accepted or to fit in won’t change, so even if overall photography trends change in a positive direction, there will still be a lot of copying.

  • I kept hitting the volume key on my keyboard and nothing was happening….. am I missing something? ……. Oh? Nevermind…. different volume…. Okay Ron, GREAT article. Agreed.

  • I agree and kind of disagree at the same time. I dislike the “shouting” (and it’s not just about photographs, the whole internet is really loud these days) but the problem is that it’s working. We are so overwhelmed and have attention span so short that if you are not loud nobody is going to notice you. You can create something really awesome and nobody is going to know about it because you are going to be over-shouted by the screamers – and that is just sad.

    You admit that you used to be a screamer. It’s great that you don’t need to do it anymore – people already know about you. But I am interested in your opinion on this – could you have made it without the screaming?

    Anyway, thank you for making me think. I am just trying to find the sweet spot between not wanting to be a screamer and not wanting to be totally ignored.

    • That is a good question! Been thinking about that quite a bit.

    • Ron Coscorrosa

      Hi Jan,

      I disagree with the assertion that “I’ve made it” or “people already know about me” – Some people do, most do not, and my following is actually quite small (Hi mom!). I can only imagine Ian was in desperate need of another smartass for the blog and noticed no one else had called dibs on me yet.

      My main point is to photograph for yourself, and to try not to get caught up in the attention-getting game. Sure it can be an ego boost. Sure, in some cases, it can even lead to financial or commercial success. But I think it’s a death-knell for creativity, originality, and artistic growth, and those to me are important. Also I do not take it for a given that playing the attention seeking game is necessary for commercial success, there are plenty of photographers out there who have not compromised their artistic standards and have still managed to find an audience and be successful.

      • Ron, I really like your answer. It’s just that you touched something that I’ve been struggling a lot lately. While admiring great photographers is just my hobby, I am in the web applications/media business and the pressure to seek attention at all cost is more intense here than ever. Ken Segall wrote a spot on article about it – “The relentless (and annoying) pursuit of eyeballs” – the title says it all.

        In this business they are discovering more and more tricks how to get louder every day. For example, in many newer Twitter marketing guides there is an advice to tweet the same thing multiple times in order to improve the chances of getting click-throughs. I think this is basically a shouting match and I hate it. I don’t do it. It means that my tweets get buried under the tweets of those who do. But I still hope that it is somehow possible to be successful by doing stuff that you believe in, without hysterically seeking attention.

        Your opinion is encouraging for me. Thank you.

  • […] Photographs are the same way. They can scream or they can speak softly. They can overtly preen and posture, trying their hardest to get your attention, or they can be discreet and subtle, and slowly win you over without you even realizing it. They can repeat a well-known highly palatable joke to predictable laughter, or they can be original, possibly confusing or offending most of their audience, but endearing themselves to the rest. MORE… […]

  • I’ve had some experiences lately that only prove how difficult and necessary it is to stand my ground as a photographer.  My most recent evolution has been the result of desperation to make an image for that public applause.  This was partially due to some things going on in my life where I just wanted a really happy experience.  As a result, though, the “immediate gratification” was, of course, short-lived, and ultimately embarrassing.  I had sacrificed my integrity as a photographer, and I hated what I had released out into the world — and even more, what it said about me.

    I whole-heartedly agree with Ron’s response to Ian.  I find that when I am seeking public approval or distracted emotionally, my images suck simply because I am not connected to the land or the moment — I’m doing it for the wrong reason.  So why on Earth would I expect anyone else to be connected to my images?  And why on Earth would I expect people to spend time with an image produced by a photographer who wasn’t even diggin’ the moment herself, let alone remember that image?

    The most powerful images that I have produced have been from times when I was utterly immersed in a moment, and believe it or not — my only agenda was to practice.  I had no expectations what-so-ever except to learn, fumble with my equipment, try not to trip over rocks, be out in nature, practice composition and avoid snakes and bears. :-)  The public appeal wasn’t even in my thoughts, because honestly there is nothing appealing about bumbling through a day.  The irony is that public appeal did come, but it was organic and actually much more meaningful because it wasn’t planned or expected.

    Moral of the story — work on getting to the point where you love your images so much that when you release them into the world, you say to yourself, “Screw what everyone else thinks.  I love it.”

    • Ron Coscorrosa

      “Screw what everyone else thinks. I love it.” – I completely agree with that sentiment!

  • Great Article Ron! Thanks for writing it.

    I have always appreciated the subtle in beauty and imagery.

  • Excellent article Ron. It is quite hard not to be tempted to get caught in this arms race with other photographers, by alwyas cranking up the saturation to 11, and shooting at the most spectacular locations. A lot can be said for more subtle, intimate photographs which need some more time to digest, but are a better reflection of the artist’s own style. Thanks for this beautiful piece.

  • Excellent photos and write up Ron! Very good points.

  • Great one Ron! I love images that don´t scream they often seem to have greater depth. But unfortunately in a world where images gets 1/10 of a second to capture the viewer scrolling through 100 of pictures in seconds the screamers will win. And when you get the adrenaline rushing by being no 1 on 500px and getting mor likes on FB than you image the race is on to do that again and again with more and more photoshoppower. ;)

    Love your work keep turning down the volume it will be a winner in the long run!

So, what do you think?