Dull Photography or Compelling Photography?

Stephen G. Agnew Adventure, Photography Leave a Comment

Every photographer has their own photography philosophy, and just as long as your photography philosophy lines up with your photography style then I think you’re good. This post kinda touches on my photography philosophy, which is best summarized as: Don’t fear taking risks.

When I’m out shooting candid photographs of folks in their daily lives and I hear someone attempt to pressure me with “You should ask for permission before photographing people”, I see that suggestion the same way that I see “Half-Caff” coffee: Dull and uninspiring.

And that’s a personal choice—to photograph safely or to photograph with risk, you have to decide for yourself if you want to shoot engaging photos or if you want to shoot dull photos.

Or as a new photography friend asked me:

“I would love to be a traveling photographer, I bet you have lots of fun. Would appreciate any pointers on how I can do the same.”

In my experience, this was my heart-felt, tough love travel photography advice to her:

“I think the biggest pointer that I can give is to not be afraid to take risks and offend people. Too many people when they travel and shoot photos stay a safe distance away, afraid to get close to people and sites. The result though is that their photos often end up being uninspiring and dull.

The Dead Sea, Israel | A Spanish man coats himself in mineral-rich Dead Sea mud

And that’s a personal choice—to photograph safely or to photograph with risk, you have to decide for yourself if you want to shoot engaging photos or if you want to shoot dull photos. That doesn’t mean that you be an insensitive jerk. What it does mean is that you trust your judgement in any given situation as to how far the envelope can be pushed, while not allowing fear to control you. Sometimes I misjudge, and I learn from that mistake. You just can’t be afraid to fail.

Western Wall, Jerusalem | A man prays to Yahweh, rebuild the temple

Especially folks from our part of the world—the south, in Texas—who’re too cautious as to not offend. I’ve been yelled at by old orthodox men for photographing at the Western Wall on the Sabbath and looked at like I was crazy by a man sewing in Tanzania. But I took those risks and was able to capture some visually engaging shots as a result. I like to say that great photography favors the bold, so fear is probably your greatest obstacle when you do travel photography.”

Bethlehem, Israel | A man and his son travel home after a day of hard work
Jerusalem, Israel | Two teenagers on a bus posing for me after asking if I was an American

This thought pretty much goes to the core of my photography philosophy: Don’t let fear drive you, purpose to be bold and take risks. Most of us live life in fear in all of its manifestations, then with gray hairs we look back and regret not living deeply, a regret that’s avoidable.

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I agree with you!! I find that it helps to take the shot (in the moment). It is a more natural than a posed shot; usually what happens after you ask permission is that they freeze a little or give a more stifled look..or even stop what they are doing. It make for an awful shot. After you take the shot, show the person the photo you just took. They tend to then soften, smile and have a laugh once they have seen themself. Especially with small children and their parents. Bridges a lot of cultural and language differences. Everyone… Read more »