When it comes down to it, photography is about moments. Brief snippets of time that cause us to stop in our stride and take notice. Moments that appear for the most minute amounts of time and then disappear just as quickly as they ever appeared. These split seconds can capture anything: people, a sunset, a waterfall, a mountain, but what causes these moments to actually matter? What causes photographs of these moments to actually mean something?
If you go to Google and search for sunset, or waterfall, or mountain, you'll find a never-ending stream of (incredibly beautiful) photographs that more than likely, are mostly the same. These photos are just... of something. They don't tell you about the place, what it's like to be there, or what it's like to experience that particular moment. For all intents and purposes, these images are mostly forgettable. In thinking about this more, it becomes about separating a kind of "wow factor" of a moment from something deeper than what's on the surface.
In terms of subject matter, it will be a rare photograph in that pack that actually causes you to stop in your proverbial stride and take notice. It will be a rare photograph that actually matters. It will be a rare photograph that is truly great, because it made you actually feel something.
One of the most incredible things that photography allows us to do is actually capture moments. Moments that even though they're only a fraction of second long, have the power to tell a story or evoke a feeling that can last for generations. The power is entirely ours to decide exactly which moment, but with the click of a shutter, that moment is now preserved. That moment can be printed, copied, shared, for everyone to re-live and experience. This power of capturing, experiencing, and sharing moments is one which is unique to the art of photography.
Photographing the stereotypical landscape or architectural scene is something a lot of people (including myself) often do. And one reason why is because it's really fun. It's a rush to go out and create beautiful images from your home town or far-away wonderful places. It's great to come back, edit them, and post them online to collect the likes and plus-ones. It's a very self-fulfilling process, especially when the Internet chimes in and praises you for your efforts.
But the fact remains, the "impact" of these kinds of images is limited to how long it takes for the image to fall below the fold in your web browser under the flow of all the other images and content that are being published. Once it's off the screen, it's all but forgotten. All the applause from the Internet becomes instantly silent.
The question becomes then, how do we aim towards creating impactful, memorable work? And I believe the answer is moments. The answer lies in not necessarily trading awe-inspiring scenic vistas for far more personal scenes. I think there's still a lot to be gained from the "stereotypical" image... but get the shot and move on. Move on to search for the work that makes us remember, that makes us feel the reason the camera was pulled out of the bag in the first place.
For the images that stick in your memory, something needs to connect you to the subject matter in the frame. It's hard to connect in a meaningful way to a "flat" image of a sunset, for example. And I say flat because there's very little that's going to place you there in that moment. You yourself, as the viewer, need to feel like you're in the image instead of merely observing from a third-person perspective.
Truly great work comes from the artists who work with a passion for their story, and the patience to wait for just the right moment to click the shutter.