A little while back I mentioned that I would write about developing a unique personal vision - something that many find difficult to do. IMO, I think that many have trouble with this simply because so much has been written about the subject and much of it is not on the same page, so to speak. Add to that the fact that much of what has been written has a slightly "fuzzy" - shoot, shoot, shoot, and it will come - aspect to it and you have a pretty good recipe for confusion / misdirection.
Of all of the opinions on the subject that I have read, it seems to me that one vital element has been missing - that of understanding the meaning in your pictures. Most advice really seems to aim at developing a style, something that may be part of the vision thing but something that should never be confused with vision.
Many are quite content to develop a recognizable and consistent style of their own and doing that is no small feat in and of itself. I mean, with the veritable flood of pictures that are being made these days, making pictures that visually stand apart from the crowd is a good thing and it is safe to say that many a shooter has built a reputation around just this idea alone.
But here's the rub with that - I can think of more than a few landscape photographers whose pictures I can instantly identify on a visual level but whose pictures are virtually indistinguishable from so many others on the level of meaning. This comes as no surprise to me because all of those picture makers say the same thing (or a variation thereof) when asked about why they make pictures. The nearly rote response is almost always,"Ain't the grandeur of nature just grand".
IMO, if that's as deep as your vision goes you're not exactly traveling in a rarefied circle of thought. You'll be sharing a bus with a lot of seats and that bus will be part of convoy of buses with a lot of fellow travelers. That said, it should be noted that the convoy will pass through a sea of picture-making humanity, all of whom wish they could be in one of those buses.
In any event, back to the vision thing.
IMO, most of the "standard" advise that has been proffered regarding developing a unique vision is sound advice - don't imitate, forget every picture you've ever seen when making your pictures, keep your equipment simple, know that equipment like the back of hand so you can make pictures without thinking about the gear, and make lots of pictures of something that interests you or of something that you are at least curious about.
However, one the things rarely mentioned with the preceding is the critical idea of making lots of pictures of something that interests you or of something that you are at least curious about without trying to make pictures with meaning. IMO, the #1 hurdle in the way of developing the vision thing is trying too hard to develop the vision thing.
Just make pile of prints of something that interests you or of something that you are at least curious about and start looking at them.
But, then what? Is the vision thing then just suppose to pop up fully formed in front of your face? Does a bell ring? A buzzer, buzz? Does a flashing neon arrow point to those of your pictures that have vision?
Ahh, in a word, no.
IMO, that's where the hard part begins, although, if you know what you're looking for, maybe it's not so difficult after all. Then again, it does require both intuition and thought, things that many shooters aren't too comfortable with. I mean, how many times have you heard the idea that "photography is a visual medium - no words needed", or, the ever popular, "if a pictures needs words, then it's a failure".
To which my response is always along the lines of "poppycock, balderdash, bunk, hogwash, rubbish" or words to that effect.
IMO, the premise is very simple - if you can't "explain" in words what you're doing with your camera, chances are very high that you're not doing something worth talking about.
But, I digress - back to developing the vision thing.
So, you've got a big pile of prints that you're looking at. What is it you're looking for? IMO, at this point, you have to select those pictures from the pile that seem to be "connected" in some fashion. At this point, you might not recognize exactly what the connection is (this where intuition - direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process - enters the picture) but unless you have been truly shooting at random, there are most likely pictures with a connection hiding in that pile.
Without putting too fine a point on it, what you're doing is editing. However, what you should be doing is editing by intuition and feeling. You're not looking at technique or for style or for pictures that look like pictures that you have been told are good pictures - you're looking for pictures that speak to you with a intuited common theme, language, or meaning.
Once you have that pile, it's time to start thinking about just what that meaning might be.
The most difficult aspect of this thinking process, the one that really trips up most shooters, is simply this - the more you know about the history of the medium specifically and the Art world generally, the more informed your thinking will be. The more you know about the grand / classic themes of Art and literature regarding what it means to be human, the more informed your thinking will be.
In short, the more you know, the more you can know but it seems, from my experience, that very few picture makers want to or are able to delve into this arena. They just want to make pretty pictures - something very much akin to photographic version of "girls just want to have fun".
If the vision thing truly springs from deep within the self (and I believe that it does), it is very much an act of emerging self-awareness. Consequently, it is vitally important that the conscious self be as fully aware of and dedicated to exploring the notion of what it means to be human.
IMO, the real "trick" to developing a unique vision is found in the act of connecting your intuition to your thinking so that you can, through the medium of photography, turn the unthought known into a conscious reality.
Once you consciously know what your specific version of the unthought known is the more you can understand your pictures and recognize (edit) those that fit with your unique vision thing. I still don't think that you can "force it" into your acts of picture making but at least you can know it when you see it.