How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep Moving

How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep Moving

Dead Horse Point State Park, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingDead Horse Point, Utah  #57759

Sometimes giving your photographic creativity a boost can be achieved by implementing simple, but often overlooked, techniques. In this post we’ll explore one of these extremely simple tips, looking around, or scouting.

Just about every time I’m out photographing at a popular or iconic location I see something that never fails to bewilder me. That is, photographers appearing to be locked into a predetermined spot. Time and again I will watch them arrive at a scene and move directly to one spot. They will then set up their tripod in the chosen position and will not move an inch until the sun has set, or risen, depending on the occasion.

One of the many instances where I recently observed this behavior was at Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah. This small park is famous for its magnificent views overlooking the Colorado River as it winds its way though canyons and cliffs. Basically the viewpoint is a peninsula of rock with distinctly views in three different directions. This park has endless possibilities for compositions all along the rim of the plateau.

During this visit I watched other photographers stake out their chosen spot and settle in for the duration. Over the course of the next hour or two none of them raised or lowered their tripod, moved left or right, switch from horizontal to vertical, or even bothered to change lens in an attempt for an alternative composition. Most of them, for the entire time, just stood there like a statue and stared ahead. Now of course this is all just my opinion, but if you are a photographer traveling many miles, using precious vacation time and funds, I would think you that would want to maximize your chances of success by scouting out the entire area. This is especially true when you are fortunate enough to get some truly dramatic lighting.

Dead Horse Point State Park, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingDead Horse Point, Utah  #57754

My usual modus operandi is to try and arrive in advance of my intended  photography session. That way I can scout around for the best compositions. Often at places like Dead Horse Point there are several options available. I like to prioritize them, moving from one composition to another as the light changes. In addition, I also like switch between vertical and horizontal formats, shoot low to the ground, and of course alternate different focal length lenses.

Above all, I don’t leave until it is very obvious that the light is gone. Many times other photographers will pack up and go as soon as the sun is set. Bad idea, often the best light occurs an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset. It is during these periods that you can photograph beautiful glowing tones and well balanced light! Not to mention the wind is also much calmer then. But that is a topic for another post.

Of course there are caveats that you will need to take into consideration. First of all is safety. If moving around for a better composition means edging off a cliff or standing on slippery rocks or in surf, you’re better off passing it up. Secondly, you may be in a situation where the spot is so small or there are so many other photographers that you can’t move around! Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, or Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park comes to mind.

Photographers at Bass Harbor, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingPhotographers at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse on a quiet day #59012

Here’s another very important consideration to keep in mind when scouting compositions. Don’t trample delicate vegetation, soils, or rock formations just to get that trophy photo! In many locations there are signs and sometimes fences or other barriers. Usually they are set in place to protect fragile environments. Please, please, please, don’t be that jerk that everyone hates who ignores signs and causes irreparable damage! Always follow the rule of Leave No Trace. Visible in the photo below is the erosion damage which thoughtless photographers have inflicted while trying to get a better shot.

Trail repair sign at Picture Lake, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingMount Shuksan, North Cascades #54384

So here are are my tips for today:

  1. Arrive early for scouting. A day ahead of time is ideal for complex locations.
  2. Explore the entire area. There may be an entirely different view or better compositions just beyond site of the initial main attraction.
  3. Be mindful of safety hazards and fragile environments.
  4. Have your shooting plan ready and arrive with plenty of time to evaluate the light.
  5. Prioritize your compositions and be flexible, be ready to abandon a spot if another is looking more attractive.
  6. One spot may look better in certain light. A lower sun angle may reveal composition enhancing patterns. Or a ray of light may fall on a special rock or tree.
  7. Get higher up or low down, don’t be afraid to get in a prone position.
  8. Change up formats, vertical may work better the horizontal.
  9. Keep working until the light is exhausted.


If you work all of these tips into your regular location workflow, I can guarantee that you will not only come back with much better images but with a greater diversity of them to boot!

Would you like to learn more on how to make better photographs? Contact me to set up a private instruction session for you and your friends!

Dead Horse Point State Park, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingDead Horse Point, Utah  #40240






How to Boost Your Creativity Back to the Basics

How to Boost Your Creativity Back to the Basics

Purcell Mountain Storm Clouds, British Columbia  #25556r

How to Boost Your Creativity  Back to the Basics :  You hear it all the time in every field, from sports to science and everything in between. When you’re having difficulty working something out or getting more creative it always helps to start fresh and get back to the basics.

One of the first assignments I had way back in my days of art school was to go out and create images with only one lens on the camera, a 50mm focal length often called a normal lens. In addition the camera was to be set only on manual. Back then it wasn’t difficult to do since I only had one lens and my Nikkormat 35mm camera was manual only.

The point of this assignment was of course to learn the basics of exposure by adjusting shutter speeds and f-stops on your own and not relying on technology to do the thinking for you. Limiting your choice of lens to only a 50mm also forced you to visualize your subject matter and compose more carefully.

Try this, find a small object, a flower, trinket, door knob, whatever, set it up on a table and try photographing it with a normal lens, no filters or special lighting techniques allowed, just room or daylight. See if you can photograph it in a way that brings out an interesting aspect of the object. I  once worked with a woman who photographed through the bottom of drink glasses, a pretty dull subject matter that she brought to life in a very creative way. I’ll always remember those beautiful colors and patterns.

In my art school drawing class we once had a pile of randomly arranged chairs which we had to draw over and over again for what seemed like forever. The point was to see shapes and patterns of interest in a seemingly mundane object, not a lesson we enjoyed but effective nonetheless.

During my years working with large format view cameras these and other lessons paid off and further honed my skills. View cameras are basically just large boxes with a lens on one end and they have no form of auto exposure or auto focusing. In addition each sheet of film can be very costly both in itself and with processing, the result being a very much forced slowdown in methodology which sharpened my way of seeing more carefully.

Today with digital cameras sporting multiple exposure and autofocus modes, gps, and setup with a zoom lens it’s hard not to just jump in and let the camera do all the creative work for you. However if you want to be more creative turn off all those whistles and bells and put yourself in the driver’s seat for a change.

Another basic way to learn to see more creatively is to work in black and white. Monochrome photography strips the image down to the most basic of elements and forces the viewer to see the subject in a more pure state. Take a look at your photos and do a quick conversion to black and white, you may notice that some images are pretty dull and lifeless when you strip out the color. You may also see flaws in the composition that aren’t as apparent with color distracting them.

Now this isn’t to say that monochrome is superior to color photography or vise versa, it’s just another way of seeing and a powerful tool creative every photographer can benefit from.

Of course boosting your creativity by getting back to the basics can be extended to post processing the film or digital files but that’s a big topic for another post.


How to Boost Your Creativity Learn From the Past

Imnaha Canyon Oregon How to Boost Your Creativity Learn From the PastImnaha Canyon Oregon #45023

How to Boost Your Creativity Learn From the Past  Here’s another easy way to boost your creativity, study artists and photographers from previous generations. You can do this by visiting museums art galleries and book stores that specialize in art and rare editions.

A few years ago I made my first trip to the California coast and while photographing Big Sur I made a point of spending some time in Carmel, the epicenter of early twentieth century landscape photography and home to Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. I wanted to check out the galleries there to see original prints up close by many of the true masters. Both the Weston Gallery and Photography West Gallery displayed numerous prints of both classic well known images and many I’ve never seen before. I came away from there truly moved and inspired to go further in my own work.

In the over 150 years of photography there has been an enormous wealth of creativity that can offer lessons and inspire even the most jaded photographer. Of course everyone in landscape and nature photography knows Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell, but how many know of Wynn Bullock, Minor White, Morley Baer, Don Worth and a host of others?

And what about photographers outside of the landscape genre? Does anyone remember Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Frank, Walker Evens and more? Does anyone also remember Alfred Stieglitz, the one man who did more than any other to elevate photography as an artistic medium equal to painting and sculpture?

These are just a few of the many who made their mark in photography, whose images have stood the test of time and continue to inspire and move viewers generations later. If you are truly serious about your photography and you desire to move beyond clichéd images then check out some of the names I mentioned here. You’ll soon realize that they are just the very tip of the iceberg, and that there are many newcomers to the field still pushing the boundaries of creativity. Have fun and enjoy the trip!


How to Boost Your Creativity; Tip Two

Lake Crescent Olympic National ParkLake Crescent Olympic National Park #53926

How to Boost Your Creativity; Tip Two

In my last post of How to Boost Your Creativity I spoke of photo sharing websites, this post I’m going to talk a little about stepping outside of your comfort zone. Once again I’m addressing primarily landscape and nature photographers, although these tips will work for anyone in a creative rut.

Today’s tip is probably the most important in helping you boost your creativity, it’s also one of the easiest to do and nearly guaranteed to bring quick results, or at least get you thinking a little different.

Tip #2: Look Beyond Your Genre If you limit your online and print media exposure to magazines like Landscape Photography Outdoor Photography Nature’s Best and such you’re going to end up with a severely myopic view of the natural world and what it should look like, and consequently you won’t experience much creative growth.

To truly get inspired to create something new you must look beyond the cozy cocooned genre of landscapes and nature.

My first suggestion is to look to the commercial photography field for a change in scenery. For quite a long time commercial assignment photography was looked on as a dull unimaginative field where photographers only recorded on film what the art director and or ad agency dictated to them. Over the years commercial photography has grown in leaps and bounds creatively and many photographers have blurred the line between commercial and true fine art. One example is my current favorite photographer, Colin Homes. His excellent work has earned him a thriving business in both the fine art market and commercial photography.

One of my longtime favorites for creative inspiration is Communication Arts. CA has an extensive website with resources for illustrators photographers and designers and publish lavishly produced annuals for these and other fields in the commercial genre. If you enroll for a subscription make sure it includes the printed versions of the annuals. The photography side of CA often shows a surprising number of photographers that are nearly unknown in the landscape photo sharing circles that create astonishingly fresh images.

Another source I like to check out on a regular basis is A Photo Editor (APE). This site, built by Rob Haggart a former photo editor for several large magazines, showcases some of the more creative photographers working in both commercial assignment and fine art fields. Another aspect of this site I love is the regular sidebar feature of promotional mailers sent to Rob for review, lots of good stuff there.

While up to this point I focused on sources for inspiration in the commercial side of photography, it is also important to look to other segments such as editorial and traditional fine art. If you are strictly creating in color it would be a sore mistake to ignore what’s going on in the black and white world. Successful monochrome images utilize a different way of seeing that may not be apparent to those working in color, and some of those techniques are easily transferable.

A few more sources I like that may help I’ve you a creative boost are Photographer’s Forum Magazine and LENSCRATCH, the later of which will most definitely challenge your way of seeing the world. There are many more sources than those mentioned in this post in which you can check out with a little searching.

So in conclusion if you want to boost your creativity try and look to different genres for inspiration! See you next time.



How to Boost Your Creativity; Tip One

Isle of Skye ScotlandIsle of Skye Scotland #11807

How to Boost Your Creativity; Tip One

Everyone in the wide field of the Arts suffers from creative block from time to time, from writers and musicians to painters and photographers. No one is immune and these periods can be very frustrating and occasionally depressing. Sometimes though only a small change of environment or way of looking at things is needed to get those juices flowing again.

In this and subsequent articles I’m going to address some ways photographers, specifically in the landscape and nature genre, can find inspiration to be more creative so their individual vision can shine through. Although I’ve been photographing quite a long time and have a background in the arts I don’t consider myself an expert by any means. These are just some tips and pointers I’ve learned throughout the years.

Let’s start with the basics. What is creativity? Here is one definition:

creativity |ˌkrē-āˈtivitēnoun   The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Taking this definition in a strict sense is pretty tough. Yes, we all have an imagination, some bigger than others, but can we pull truly original ideas and concepts out of it on a regular basis? Hopefully some of these tips will give it a nudge in the right direction.

Tip #1: Use Online Photo Sharing Sites With Caution While sites like 500px Flickr and Google+ can at times be a wonderful source of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing, be warned they can also be  an addictive trap that can stifle your creativity. Online photo sharing sites host a wide variety of talent, from photographers just beginning and those interested only in technical aspects, to advanced professionals and artists trying to push the boundaries of the art.

I mostly like to browse through some of these sites in researching locations I may be visiting sometime in the future. It helps give me an idea of the photographic potential of an area. Unfortunately though I found that I rarely came away from these sites creatively inspired, there just isn’t much originality here.

Spend even a short amount of time browsing through posted photos on these sites and you’ll begin to see a follow the leader mentality, both in locations visited and the trend of the day style of processing used in the final image. One of the worst aspects of these sites, in my opinion, is that some have devolved into competitive venues where it is more important to accumulate Likes and Faves than it is to post creative content.

On the other hand I’ve found more inspiration and variety of talent on Facebook, not what I consider a strictly photo sharing site. There are a several of excellent photographers I follow on Facebook whose images never disappoint me and always inspire me to think different. 

So yes online photo sharing sites can be a good source of inspiration for your creative self but make sure it is only one of many tools in your kit, and don’t get sidetracked into a race to keep up with the next guy.



Bruneau Canyon Idaho

Bruneau Canyon Idaho

Bruneau River Canyon Sunset Idaho, Bruneau Canyon IdahoBruneau Canyon Sunset  #56320

Another location I visited on my recent photo trip to Idaho was Bruneau Canyon. Located on BLM land in a remote corner of the Snake River Plain in SW Idaho. This canyon is more well known to white water enthusiasts than photographers. I wasn’t even aware of its existence until thumbing through an Idaho tourism brochure I picked up in a rest area. Given the hot sunny and windy conditions coupled with a long drive on a dusty gravel road I wasn’t sure I wanted to include it in my itinerary. However I soldiered on and was glad I did.

Bruneau Canyon is roughly 40 miles long and has been cut through layers of basalt by the Bruneau River, seen from the overlook pictured here it is 800′ deep. Getting here in mid-day the canyon was a bit of a disappointment as the light was washed out, and aside from the big gash in the earth there was absolutely nothing else around but flat plains as far as the eye could see. The only other cause for excitement was a government sign announcing travelers they are entering an Air Force bombing range.

As always in photography light  means everything and as the sun dipped to the horizon things began to pick up. After sunset when alpenglow kicked in there was some nice warm even light on the canyon walls. The next morning look very promising with wispy clouds glowing in beautiful colors before the sun came up. Unfortunately the majority of them weren’t over the canyon, but it turned out well anyway.

If you decide to visit the Bureau Canyon make it part of a trip that includes other nearby spots like Shoshone Falls or the Owyhee Uplands. Make sure you’re ready to be on your own, although there are great spots along the rim to camp in solitude there is no water, cell phone reception or any other facilities. You also might want to bring a helmet for the objects falling from airplanes!

Bruneau River Canyon Overlook IdahoBruneau Canyon Idaho  #56299

Air Force warning sign SW IdahoAir Force Bombing Range Warning Sign  #56332

Snake river Plain IdahoCamping on rim of Bruneau Canyon  #56311

The images appearing in this post are available as Fine Art Prints and for commercial licensing.  Click on an image and then ADD TO CART to purchase.


Rainy Day Image Reprocessing

Arches National Park Rainy Day Image Reprocessing

Courthouse Buttes Arches National Park Utah #26228 Arches National Park Rainy Day Image Reprocessing

Stuck at home on this stormy winter weekend I was looking for a way to pass some time. What better an opportunity to browse through my catalog of images to find some forgotten gems. I instinctively went back to my first visit to Arches National Park in 2009 when I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape and its photographic possibilities. There was a whole group of images made on my first morning there that has sat idle on my computer ever since, mainly because the sky was somewhat overcast and the light soft. At the time it looked fantastic but when processing the images they had a flat uninteresting look so I did my best to make them look good. However I wasn’t terribly experienced in post-processing digital images back then, I felt they had potential but I wasn’t sure how to bring it out.

Over the past year or so I’ve been realizing that many of these types of images could be brought to life simply by taking the levels and curves a step or two further than I normally would. In essence just adjusting the contrast and density. Some of you out there know that I follow the KISS Principle in most of what I do. I’ve tried some new techniques such as luminosity masks exposure blending and such but have always found them to be overly complex and time consuming versions of what I already accomplish with a few simple steps. Of course in photography there are few if any rules and what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for others.

So I guess if you take any lessons from this post it should be that when editing your work don’t be rash to delete files that may hold future potential. If you have a hunch that  certain images may hold something interesting put them aside or in a special folder, go back every six months to a year and see if you can find it’s special quality. Somewhere down the line you may see them in a different light with the acquired knowledge on how to make them shine.

Oh, and another lesson is don’t take my image processing methods too seriously I’m usually just out there winging all this technical stuff.


Skagit Valley Tulips

Skagit Valley Tulips: This is officially the first blog post on my newly launched website! I’ve been working on it for about a month now and it’s finally ready. There were several times I had to just step back and get away from this seemingly endless task. Fortunately those work breaks coincided with the annual blooming of the tulips in the Skagit Valley here in the Pacific Northwest. So I took the opportunity to drive down and get some fresh air and much needed camera time.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington #50715Tulips in Roozengaarde Display Gardens, Skagit Valley Tulips

Skagit Valley Tulips #50715

If you’re new to the area and would like to check out the Skagit Valley tulips here area some tips you’ll need to know. Go early in the morning or in the evening on a weekday since the weekends are usually extremely crowded, on a sunny Saturday you can expect  gridlock on the roads. There are very few roadside pull offs and locals patrol for parking violators, a few fields have parking set aside so take advantage of them. If you’re planning on walking around the fields you’ll need to wear some old shoes or boots since there is lots of gooey sticky mud, rememeber this is the Pacific Northwest!

While for most photographers the fields are the main attractions don’t forget to check out the Roozengarde garden. It’s a very well laid out garden with tons of different flowers arranging beautifully in both a wooded setting and in the open, well worth the $5 admission, plus it has a very large parking lot!

Finally, while you’ll most likely want to come home with that photo of epic light rays streaming down on the fields from psychedelic colored clouds, don’t forget that a nice soft overcast is best for close-ups and isolated flower compositions. Fortunately in these parts you won’t have to wait long for those conditions!

Tulips in Roozengaarde Display Gardens, Skagit Valley Washington #50786 Skagit Valley Tulips

Roozengaarde Display Garden #50786

Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington #50731 Skagit Valley Tulips

Skagit Valley Tulips #50731

Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington #50854 Skagit Valley Tulips

Skagit Valley Tulips #50854


Photographing Artist Point in Winter

Mount Shuksan in winter from Artist Point #15628

Winter view of Mount Shuksan Kulshan Ridge 15628

All the winter storms in the Cascades have me excited about dusting off my skis and heading out into the snow. Mount Baker Ski Area now has a whopping 78″ base! There may be some breaks in the storms later in the week so I’m hoping to get up to Artist Point, where this photo was made, and get some pictures.

Artist Point is well known by photographers as one of the beauty areas of the North Cascades and Pacific Northwest. Not only does it afford tremendous views of Mount Shuksan, one of the most photographed mountains in the world, and the massive volcanic bulk of Mount Baker, but it is also one of the few places with easy access. A short drive up from the town of Bellingham takes you directly to the top of the ridge, where a short walk can take you to countless photo compositions.

In winter it’s a much different story. The views are still there for you of course, if you’re lucky enough to get a break in the storms, but the access is a little more difficult. From November until possibly August the road to the top is blocked by snow, in mid-winter the snow can be well over ten feet deep. So if you’re interested in adding some great winter photos of Shuksan or Baker to your portfolio you’ll need skis snowshoes or a split-board to get to them. Parking at the upper ski area lodge in Heather Meadows it’s less than three miles to Artist Point with around 900′ of elevation gain. There is minimal avalanche danger along the way and on most days the road/trail is already broken by other skiers and snowshoers. If the light is flat due to snow clouds or fog the upper half of the trip can be dangerous due to whiteout conditions, getting disoriented is very easy.

Winter dawn on Mount Baker, Washington #47029 Photographing Artist Point in Winter

Winter dawn on Mount Baker 47029

Once you’re up on top the best views can be had by following Kulshan Ridge to the left towards Mount Shuksan. Along the way you’ll most likely encountered snowdrifts blown into beautiful abstract forms, trees encased in snow and ice, and endless views of mountains cloaked in snow. My personal favorite is heading up to Huntoon Point, the high point at the end of the ridge. From here you have superlative views of both peaks and many great compositions. This is also the best area to spend a few nights if you’re prepared for winter camping.Another great trip from the ridge would be to follow the Chain Lakes route back to your car. However though also very scenic it involves traversing below avalanche slopes below all sides of Table Mountain and route finding over Herman Saddle. Though not difficult this is a full day trip and needs good weather.




More Winter Photography Tips

Mount Temple in winter, Banff National Park Alberta #43882 More Winter Photography Tips

Mount Temple Banff National Park Alberta 43882

After my last post on Gearing up for Winter Photography I was asked what my preferences are for gloves. I’ll answer that and add a few more tips regarding clothing and methods of getting around before I move on to camera equipment and techniques.

  • I always take two pairs of gloves with me, first a thinner Polartec/Windstopper glove for warmer conditions with enough dexterity to handle camera equipment. Secondly I wear a heavier gauntlet type ski glove with Primaloft insulation and leather palms and fingers, insulated mitts also will work well. I usually tuck these gloves inside my jacket when shooting to keep them warm. When it’s really cold and your working your metal lens and camera it’s nearly impossible to keep your fingers from getting cold. Chemical or battery hand warmer packs can help but I don’t use them simply because I don’t need any more articles stuffed in my already full pockets.
  • Wear a hat! One important tip on keeping your fingers and hands warm is to make sure the rest of your body and head is adequately warm. If your jacket is open and your not wearing a hat your body draws heat away from extremities to keep your core warm, hence there’s less blood flow to your fingers.
  • Ski goggles are a great way to head your face and head warmer, especially if it’s windy.
  • Skis or snowshoes are necessary for getting around in deep snow. My preferred method of travel is using backcountry skis with an alpine touring setup. They offer more flotation than snowshoes and it’s more fun to ski back out to your car. I won’t go into detail here about the numerous choices and pros and cons, check out last years post for more details.
  • Keep your gear to a minimum and keep it organized. One my absolute biggest frustrations of shooting in winter is that of buckles straps and Velcro of every item your wearing or carrying latching on to everything and dumping items into the snow. This is compounded of course by trying to access pockets and bags wearing gloves. Try and choose gear that have a minimum of these things and keep important items in easily accessible pockets or compartments.
Winter camping, North Cascades, Washington #47097 More Winter Photography Tips

Winter camp near Mount Shuksan 47097

  • When your shooting try and lay your pack spare jacket or other item on the snow to spread out your gear and keep it dry and in view. It is incredibly easy to drop an a filter or lens cap in the snow right in front of your feet and never find it again.
  • For those of you that use graduated neutral density filters. Always use a filter holder attached to your lens. Most of the time it’s easier just to hand hold the filter in front of the lens. However in winter that means holding it with wet or snowy bulky gloves or bare and freezing fingers. Not the best method for delicate work like this, especially with long exposures.
  • Bring along several good lens wipes and or large cotton bandannas. No matter how hard you try things will get wet or snowy and having an absorbent fabric on hand is indispensable.
  • Using your tripod in the snow. Manfrotto makes tripod snowshoes that will attach to the legs of most tripods. I have a pair of these but have never used them simply because they’re a pain to attach and don’t work well in all the various snow conditions I encounter. When setting up my tripod I cautiously spread the legs only about half way or less and sink them into the snow. Spreading the legs all the way out increases your chance of bending jamming or breaking them. Be warned that this may not be the best technique but it works for me.