The Secret to Cohesion

Forgive me if you’ve heard this one before, but I thought I’d take a moment to rehash a frequently forgotten photography maxim – today we’re talking about cohesion.

A good friend of mine recently came to me with some questions about his new photography website. This friend is an accomplished travel writer as well as a photographer, but he was having some cohesion issues when it came to the way he presented his work online. When I looked at his site, I wasn’t sure if he wanted to be seen as a travel photographer, a wedding photographer, a senior portrait photographer, or something else entirely. It’s fine to be all of these things – better still to be proficient at all of them – but unless you specialize, unless you give the impression that you are the master of one trade, you are destined to be viewed as someone who is unfocused.

My friend wants to be viewed as the successful travel photographer that he is, so I suggested to him that he present his work in a manner which appears fluid – instead of random images from one place or the other, he find a common thread that links them together. I’m not suggesting that he post 500 photos of flowers, or 2,000 shots of mosques, or 100 images of Thai longboats blowing in the wind. I’m suggesting that he should select images from the same colour palate, images that show off his style specifically, images that showcase who he is. Give editors whom may stumble upon his website a reason to book him for a job. Give people a reason to flip from one photo to the next. Tell a story. Everyone loves a good story, ya know?

JOB? WHAT JOB?

All this talk about cohesion led us to photojournalism. If you’re a photographer and your goal is to be published in travel magazines, you can’t approach an editor with a random collection of images and hope to land a job. Your ability to shoot good images is almost secondary to your ability to tell a story with those very same images. Look at the pages of AFAR, Escape, Lonely Planet, Conde Nast, or any of the other big glossy travel mags, and you’ll see that the photos that accompany the stories have their own distinct narrative – or they should, if the photographer is any good. If you answer an open call from a magazine looking for photos to run alongside a story, don’t throw the kitchen sink at the editor – put together a tight, well-edited preview set of images that showcase your shooting skill as well as your narrative prowess. Don’t forget for a moment that as a photographer, you are every bit the storyteller a writer pretends to be. This doesn’t mean that I want you to shoot eleven images of a monk from every angle possible and call that a story. Remember cohesion, and you’ll be alright.

AN EXAMPLE.

A few weeks ago I was commissioned to write a story about Burmese refuges living in Thai labor camps in the north of the country. Obviously I wasn’t going to submit images of beaches, elephants, longboats, curries, or any of the other traveler staples Thailand is known for. This would be all about the people, and as such I needed the people to be the focus. My editing needed to be consistent – I wasn’t going to go wild on colors in one photo, subdued in the next, black and white in a third, and HDR in the forth. After mulling over the pros and cons for a while, I decided to submit my set in black and white – a risk, sure, but if my editor didn’t like the look, I could go back and submit color version in a heartbeat (I made sure I had them ready just in case). In the end the B&W images were run in the magazine because they fit my story, and they told a story of their own.

Here are a few examples from that set.

 

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Thailand_71815-2

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CHECK THESE GUYS OUT.

Here are a few examples of brilliant photographers who know a thing or two about cohesion. Certain elements link every image in their portfolio. Some of them are travel photographers, some of them are commercial photographers, and all of them are inspiring.

Seth Smoot     |     Sam Hurd     |     Vanessa Paxton     |     Dan Winters      |     Sarah Lee    |

Share some of your favorites; who do you look to for inspiration?

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