White Sands National Monument New Mexico

Creative Roots

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This new year is marked by an attempt to return to my creative roots. Last year there were many events and signs urging me to review the direction of my photography. I began to realize that over the years I gradually lost touch with my creative side. I was making better images as time went on, but I wasn’t growing creatively. Without actually realizing it, I was following a safe mainstream path and not pushing myself.

Over the past year, I began to go through my files looking for images that could be used to illustrate an idea I was forming.  The images appearing in this post represent the beginning of a project called Poles of Light. In this project, I am trying to create images that reflect a character of light present in the subject. Since I don’t express myself very well verbally, it’s difficult for me to describe in words exactly what I’m trying to convey. Hopefully, I will be able to elaborate on this theme as the project matures. However, for now, I will let the images do the talking for me.


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Dead Horse Point State Park

How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep Moving

How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep Moving

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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, appear 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 through canyons and cliffs. Basically, the viewpoint is a peninsula of rock with distinct views in three different directions. This park has endless possibilities for compositions all along the rim of the plateau.

Scout It Out!

During this visit I watched other photographers stake out their chosen spots and settle in for the duration. Over 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 the 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.

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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 switching between vertical and horizontal formats, shooting low to the ground, and of course, alternating different focal length lenses.

Hang In There!

Above all, I won’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, safety. If moving around for a better composition means edging off a cliff or standing on slippery rocks or in the 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 Head Lighthouse MainePhotographers at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse on a quiet day #59012

Leave No Trace Ethics

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 that thoughtless photographers have inflicted while trying to get a better shot.

Trail repair sign at Picture Lake Mount ShuksanMount Shuksan, North Cascades #54384

So here 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 the 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 about how to make better photographs? Contact me to set up a private instruction session for you and your friends!

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Purcell Mountains British Columbia

How to Boost Your Creativity Back to the Basics

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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 being 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. 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 to learn the basics of exposure. By adjusting shutter speeds and f-stops, 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, but 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 lessons paid off and further honed my skills. View cameras are basically just large boxes with a lens on one end. 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 forced slowdown in methodology which sharpened my way of seeing more carefully.

Today with digital cameras 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. It 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.

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How to Boost Your Creativity Learn From the Past

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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. While photographing Big Sur I made a point of spending some time in Carmel. Carmel is the epicenter of early twentieth century landscape photography. It’s also the one time home to Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. I wanted to check out the galleries there to see original prints up close by many of those 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.

Remember the Masters

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. However, 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 Evans and more? Does anyone also remember Alfred Stieglitz? He is the one man who did single handedly elevated photography as an artistic medium, equal to painting and sculpture.

These are just a few of the many who made their mark in photography. Their 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. Check out some of the names I mentioned here. You’ll soon realize that they are just the very tip of the iceberg. There are many newcomers to the field still pushing the boundaries of creativity. Have fun and enjoy the trip!

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How to Boost Your Creativity Second Tip

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How to Boost Your Creativity Second Tip

In my last post on How to Boost Your Creativity, I spoke of photo-sharing websites. In 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 differently.

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, you’re going to end up with a severely myopic view of the natural world and what it should look like. Consequently, you won’t experience much creative growth.

To truly get inspired get out of your comfort zone! To create something new you must look beyond your genre of landscapes and nature.

My first suggestion is to look to the commercial photography field for a change in scenery. Commercial assignment photography is often looked at as a dull unimaginative field. A field where photographers record what the art director and or ad agency dictated to them. However, over the years commercial photography has grown in leaps and bounds creatively. Now 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.

Publications and Websites

One of my longtime favorites for creative inspiration is Communication Arts. CA has an extensive website, with resources for illustrators photographers, and designers. They 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 creative photographers. Many are nearly unknown in the landscape photo-sharing circles. These photographers are creating 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 boosts are Photographer’s Forum Magazine and LENSCRATCH, the latter 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 Second Tip

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How to Boost Your Creativity Tip One

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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. Ways 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.

Define Creativity

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

creativity |ˌkrē-āˈtivitē| noun   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. Sites like 500px Instagram can at times be a wonderful source of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing. Be warned though, 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, to advanced professionals.

I mostly like to browse through some of these sites to research 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.

Word of Caution

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. One of the worst aspects of these sites, in my opinion, is that some have devolved into competitive venues. A forum where it is more important to accumulate Likes and Faves than it is to post creative content.

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