Try it Different

Ruts. It is human nature to get in them. They are safe and comfortable. These days, safe is sometimes welcome. But ruts become boring and our work starts looking all the same. We do not grow as an artist if we are stuck in a rut. A great way to shake ourselves up and break out of a rut is to try it different. Force ourselves to “break the rules” we impose on ourselves. Do something we wouldn’t normally do.

When we try it different, sometimes we learn new things about what we like and want to do. A great photographer, Karen Hutton, says “Whatever you usually do, try it different.” This is wise advice. It is self-help to maintain our edge.

Different lens choice

An easy way to start slow is to spend a few days using a different lens. Something you don’t normally use. This makes you look at your surroundings differently. It is amazing, but a simple thing like this can change your point of view enough to freshen your images.

I discovered over the years that I naturally have a “telephoto eye”. That is, I tend to zoom in on details rather than shooting wide angle views. About a year ago I got an awesome 24-70mm lens for my new camera and it has become my standard lens. I now shoot the majority of my images with it. My POV has changed to adopt its range.

Perhaps that means it is time to get a super wide angle or go back to telephoto. Just to “try it different”. 🙂

Different time of day

Ah the magic hours, the golden light within an hour after dawn and an hour before sunset. It is beautiful. It is warm, the sky has great color, and the light is horizontal so it emphasizes texture and form. I tend to go crazy if I am in a great location at those times.

But I see it presented as a “rule” that you never shoot between those times. Especially for landscapes. This is so bogus. The goal is to find the right light to create the effect you want for the subject you have chosen. I sometimes find the best light is at high noon. There is not a hard rule.

Experiment. Work backwards from the light to the mood and subject. For example, you are out at, say, 1 pm. It is a sunny day with harsh light streaming directly down. Figure out what kind of mood is emphasized by this light and what subject would work best in the light. Look around with this mental filter and you may be surprised. Deep canyons often fit this. Also, vertical walls or buildings where the harsh parallel light shows off interesting texture or shadows. There is always something.

Here is a short but good article that discusses choice of light. It emphasizes that “good light is light that matches your goal for a photo“.

Do you find that must of your work is shot at the golden light time? Habits can be re-examined. Experiment. Learn to see the possibilities of different light.

Different composition choices

Now this is getting harder. I suggest you start shaking up some of your fundamental style beliefs. Photographers tend to spend years agonizing over whether or not we have a “style”. When we convince ourselves we have one, we’re afraid to step outside of the confines of what we believe our style is for fear of being lost again. The more mature we become as an artist the more we understand that we are our style.

Compositions are made up of our choice of subject, lighting and mood, arrangement of forms, contrasts, and exposure. I recommend that you give yourself permission to play with all of these and more.

If you are a landscape shooter, spend some time doing people, street photography. It will sharpen you eye and reflexes and it can be a joy. If you pride yourself on “perfect histograms” start playing with high key (overexposed) or low key (underexposed) images. It helps to impress the point that an exposure is proper if it creates the effect you want. A perfectly shaped histogram may be completely wrong if you were going for something else. An image is for the effect it has on the viewer, not its technical perfection.

I have a love of super detailed, “crunchy” sharp images. To explore that, I have challenged myself to experiment at the other extreme. I now sometimes do projects with little of no sharp or even identifiable subjects. Sometimes they are motion blurred or out of focus. Sometimes they are post-processed beyond recognition. I have come to love many of them and it has helped me discover new spaces I want to work in. The image with this blog is an example.


Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We listen to what a teacher tells us and follow it without judgment. We get into patterns and stop questioning. Our work becomes routine, habitual. We stop learning.

But just like we may be our own worst enemy, we can also be the agent of changing ourselves. Start experimenting. Take workshops. Study online courses. Read books. Tryout what other people tell you, but only keep what works for you. Examine yourself and your work, clearly and without bias.

Does the work you are doing today look exactly like what you did 10 years ago? You may be satisfied with that, but for most of us, if we’re not growing, we’re dying. I know that my artistic vision is an evolving thing. It is always a little out of my grasp, so I have to follow it and try to keep up. I like it that way. I’m growing.

Stay fresh

Artists work on the edge. If we have just done work we like, we are compelled to better it on the next project. We are usually our own measure. That is, to see if we are getting better we compare our current work to our past work. It is part of staying fresh. We have to keep ourselves invigorated, rejuvenated, challenged. It is how we do our best work. We are driven by curiosity. The “what if” questions keep leading us in new directions. Habit kills thought.

A good shock often helps the brain that has been atrophied by habit.” Napoleon Hill

How about you? Do you have a process for challenging yourself, for questioning conventions and norms, for keeping yourself sharp? A significant part of this is forcing yourself to sometimes try it different.

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