Category Archives: Inspiration
Marty, a frequent blog visitor sent me an email about my last post. He shared something I felt would add to the discussion. He said, “Creativity can be a filter… When someone is trying to be creative (obviously not in itself a bad thing), they are to some degree actively imposing some part of their consciousness/identity/spirit/(word choice TBD) into the process, stirring up their internal dialog.
Your comments on being quiet, mindful, aware, allow the whispers of images hiding in plain sight to be heard, “ Psst, why don’t you see me? I’m right in front of you.” These images (IMHO) don’t need creativity, they just need to be recognized simply for what they are, nothing more, nothing less. Idle does not have to be passive.”
I have been pondering Marty’s thoughts all day. I believe he is right on the money and specifically can’t get this quote out of my head. ”Being aware allows the whispers of images hiding in plain sight to be heard!” I LOVE THAT!!
I would add this, creativity does not need to be manufactured for the sake of being creative. Rather, we should strive to live a creative life which may not necessarily mean anything more than being idle and listening for those whispers. Other times it might mean, turning on the multiple exposures or moving your camera while making your exposure to create a swipe!
Fuji X-Pro1 18-55 lens f/8
I’ve been using social media much less. I still enjoy catching up with family and friends and find it to be a good “business” tool, however, the time I was investing was drawing me away from more important things. I also noticed that I was starting to feel competitive with regard to my photography where there is no place for competition. I was seeing others tremendous work and feeling pressure to produce equal or better quality. Feeling pressure to post yet another post showing I was still active, shooting, making worthwhile images. Then in some quiet time, I realized this is not who I want to be. Rather, I want to be able to trust. Trust in my ability to be a good photographer. I don’t want to feel the need for others accolades or approval. Don’t get me wrong, I’m human and kind words are alway welcome and feel good. I just don’t what to feel that I must receive them to validate what I’m doing. When I’m asked why I love photography, my answer is that it feeds my soul. I love the process of making photographs. I love how I feel when I’m out making images whether I get a “keeper” or not. I am finding I shoot much less now. I don’t shoot as many frames. I’m more in touch with what I’m being drawn to for subject matter. I’m more aware of the light. I’m more selective about what I want to photograph. I don’t sell much of my work, I don’t try very hard to do so either. Its just not that important to me. What is important? The experiences that I have been blessed with as a photographer. Photography has gifted me with many wonderful friends. Photography has blessed me with the opportunity to travel to places I never imagined I would. Photography has blessed me with being a teacher that I never knew I could be. This has allowed me to share my passion with others, nudging them to soar on their own wings, trusting themselves, believing they can create images that make their hearts sing! This gives me great joy and makes my heart sing.
As we approach the time of year when we are asked to make goals, might I suggest we forget about them? Yup, forget about them, at least with your photography life. Instead, I would encourage you to trust, to believe in yourself and in the creative process. Allow the creative process to happen on its own. And, know that trusting includes being okay with being idle. Nancy Rotenberg in her book, Photography and the Creative Life, has this to say about being idle. “Trusting the process also involves daring to be idle. We live in a culture that views idleness as something slovenly, lazy and non-production. It is only when you stop and reflect that you can be filled and recharged. What you photograph today could be the result of yesterday’s “idling”. The only way to know if awareness is entering your body is for you to slow down long enough to notice. Awareness gives you mindfulness. Mindfulness gives you insight.” Rather than feeling pressure to be creative, be okay with being idle, recognizing this idle time is good. Its okay to have times when you are not producing. I have written a number of songs. Oft times months pass before a new song would appear and even then, I would rewrite and change things over and over. Yet, my favorite songs seemed to come from out of nowhere and took just minutes to write. I believe they came out of inspiration, out of being idle and listening. They were not forced. Photography is much the same or at least it should be. This is really just an extension of what I’ve written about in previous posts with regard to chasing images. Be open to the creative process rather than chasing it. Trust your abilities and allow for creativity or images to present themselves. Don’t force it. For those who know me, being idle is not easy, however, as I try and practice it, I find I am more satisfied with the quality of my images.
I found this wonderful scene while leading a recent workshop on Cape Cod. The lead image is the one that I settled on as my favorite. I think the story of how I arrived at this image is worthy of sharing. I sent the image to my friend Dan who is my goto guy for feedback. He suggested the crop below as another possibility. Interesting, Dan tends to see in neat tidy compositions as he is prone to use his 70-200 with a 1.7x teleconverter. As such he will isolate and drill down. I like his crop!
Inspired by Dan’s thoughts, I decided to show Dan the original image I shot. Another right answer! (See below)
As you can see, my first shot and initial instinct was to include the water but then I zoomed in a bit and excluded the water. Hey, another right answer!
My hope is that this series of images drives home three important ideas. First, look for more than one right answer when you’re shooting. I could have made the first image and walked away, but I didn’t. I kept looking to see what else might be there. Second, work the composition both in the field and in post processing. There is nothing wrong with cropping your images! In fact, I think you’ll be surprised at how many other right answers you will find with the crop tool! And third, we all see differently. There is no one right answer, rather there are almost always more right answers and yours will be different than mine and that is just fine. So, stop thinking in terms of right and wrong and focus on what feels right and go with that!
Nancy Rotenberg’s book, “Photography and The Creative Life”, is one of my most cherished books, a book I refer to often. It is full of inspiration and passion, Nancy’s passion. It is not a book about technique, f/stops or shutter speeds. In fact, she does not even caption her magnificent images. She would rather you decide what they mean to you. Nancy was my mentor, friend and advisor. She alone is responsible for pushing me kicking and screaming into leading photography workshops. And while cancer took Nancy much too early, her spirit remains and is ever present in my walk with photography and the creative life.
With the holiday season upon us, might I suggest you pick up a copy of this book and read it. Don’t read it once, read it twice and then read it again. For those who have heard my Dream, Believe, Create lecture, you will quickly understand where much of my inspiration comes from.
I’m interested to hear what you have to say about the idea of ”Photography and The Creative LIfe”. What do you do to tap into your creative side? What can you share that will help others live a more creative life?
Let me start. I believe we all have F.U.D., fears, uncertainties and doubts. We carry these around with us as we try to be creative. Most times they are like big bricks in our camera bags weighing us down. For me, I did not believe I had a creative bone in my body. Heck, I couldn’t even draw a stick figure. How on earth could I be a creative photographer? As such, I had to look through everyone else’s viewfinder to know what a good image looked like. I would try to find a good subject, but I never felt like mine was as good as Dan’s or Bill’s or Ferrell’s or Tony’s….. My breakthrough came in 2004, when I went to South Africa for a workshop with Freeman Patterson. I went with my friend Ferrell McCollough and learned just before the trip that Nancy was going to be a participant as well! Can you imagine my excitement?! As Ferrell and I were exiting the plane in South Africa, he said. “John I have challenge for you.” What would that be, I asked? ”On this trip, you will not be allowed to look through anyone else’s viewfinder. I want you to come home believing you are a good photographer and can see worthy images all on your own.” I’m not going to lie, this scared me to death. A trip of a lifetime to South Africa with my hero Freeman Patterson and Nancy happens to be on this trip too and I can’t look through her viewfinder to make sure I’m going to get images like hers?!?! I took Ferrell up on his challenge. It was hard, however, I came home with images that forever changed the course of my journey with photography. Images that were mine! Images that I created. But more importantly, I realized I was creative. I could do this without looking through anyone else’s viewfinder!
The blog image was created on this trip. It is a montage or “slide sandwich” as we called them in the film days. One image is of the dancing girl on the rocks in the tiny town of Nourivier. The other is a multiple exposure of the wonderful flowers in Freeman’s beloved fields This creation captures the essence of my journey to South Africa. I went to be with Freeman to learn about the creative techniques he is so well known for. Things like slide sandwiches and multiple exposures. I ended up falling in love with and being taught a valuable lesson by the people in South Africa, especially those from Nourivier. It was in Nouriver that I learned to “dance” as Nancy would say. It seemed natural that I should combine the two images to create a third. Every time I see this image, I smile. It hangs in my office as a constant reminder of this trip and more importantly, as a reminder that I am creative.
Nancy’a book is hard to find, however, her daughter Marci has some left. You can contact Marci at email@example.com.
A girl in Nouriver South Africa
Recently, I posted an image on Facebook which caused a friend to have the following thoughts. ”Looking at your image this morning, I started thinking about where we choose to capture images and why we do so. What draws us to photograph at certain locations over and over? Do we tend to photograph certain locations because they are rich with opportunity or because we feel a certain affinity or attraction to the location? Do certain locations put us at ease and make the creation of images less stressful? Or are we hunting for something there that we may have missed or not yet seen? Perhaps a new way of seeing? Do each of us have a finite number of places to capture “The Capture That Is Worthy”? I have found myself falling into the rhythm of all the familiar places rather than seeking new opportunities. I’m sensing that I need to push my boundaries once again and break out of my rut.”
Wow Jim, that is a lot to think about, however, you ask some good questions. I have some thoughts but would also like to hear blog readers too.
1. I believe we should photograph what makes our hearts sing. If it does not resonate with me there is a good chance it will not resonate with you. Photograph what appeals to you.
2. I believe going back to the same places for repeated opportunity is important. Ansel, you know, Adams? Yup that guy. He spent many a day at places like Yosemite and the Alabama Hills. The light will be different, you will bring new knowledge each time, your maturity if you will. Your mood will be different, your attitude will be different, your skill level improved and on and on. I remember going to the Lonaconing Silk Mill the first time, I was overwhelmed. The next time I was more relaxed and got into a groove. The next time I worked on details, the next other things. Each time my images changed, my vision changed. I now look forward to going again. I see repeated opportunity as a good thing and have personally found that my work becomes better with each visit. The Palouse comes to mind. This will be my 8th year there. Do I make as many images each trip? No, however, I do think the images I do make are stronger than the previous years. More mature if you will.
3. I do think we tend to photograph locations that are comfortable and familiar and this makes sense. Again, why photograph what we are not drawn to? That said, I do think we need to stretch! A friend told me I needed to photograph the Disney Concert Hall in LA. I said no 4 years in a row until I finally caved and went. It was an very important moment in my journey as a photographer. I realized during that trip that I was unwilling to go because I was afraid I would not do well. I was afraid I would not know what to do. You see, I didn’t know anything about photographing architecture and was avoiding it due to my FUD. (Fears uncertainties and doubts) When I finally went, I had great success and realized it was….. JUST PHOTOGRAPHY!!! In the end it was just like a landscape scene, the same principals apply. So both work for me. The comfortable and the stretch. Do them both!
Okay, enough of my thoughts. Your turn, what say you?
Back when I started to share my Iceland images, I shared a story about my chasing an image which led to my missing it altogether. Remember, I had to go back the next day?
Today I want to continue that discussion. Below is Peter Cox’s image of Blahylur. When we arrived, Peter was encouraging our group to make a pretty steep and long climb up a slope to the location where he made this image. WOW, what a marvelous image it is.
You’re probably wondering what I did, right? Well, I looked at the steep slope and long climb and said, no way! Actually, what was really going on in my mind was the previous experience, chasing an image rather than allowing one to come to me. With this in mind, I stood at the edge of this crater looking for another image but was uninspired. Let me be very clear, my being uninspired does not mean there was not an image to be made. It simply means that for me, I was not feeling inspired. This feeling is about me at that moment and has nothing to do with the photographer who might be standing right next to me. They very well might be finding lots of inspiration. As I stood and pondered the situation, I remembered feeling excited about something I saw on the way up to the edge of the crater. I asked a few of the group (who chose not to make the climb) if they wanted to head back down the road with me to see what I was interested in looking at again. And this is where I shot the image below that received the most feedback of all of the images I’ve posted from Iceland. I find that interesting and further testimony about this idea of letting images come to you.
As I’ve pondered this idea of chasing versus letting images come to you, I’ve decided both ideas have merit. I think Peter was pretty much chasing an image he had heard about and he had great success. I on the other hand was doing a better job of listening to inspiration this time and came away with one of my personal favorites from the trip. So the bottom line is, whichever situation you find yourself in next time, just be mindful of where your head is and don’t let other possibilities pass you by.
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I have a new presentation called Discovery & The Creative Choice. As is typical with a new program, I find I am continually making changes. I am constantly thinking about the concepts I want to present, reading what others have to say, studying, researching and then honing the presentation. Recently, I found a quote about discovery from Albert Szent-Gyorgi who says, “Discovery consists of seeing what everyone has seen, and thinking what no one has thought” The context of the quote was with regard to a discovery being made in the medical world. In this case discovering a cure for cancer. Many have seen the cells over and over again, studied things out in their mind, but no cure. Until someone thinks what no one else has, a new discovery will not happen.
How does this apply to photography? I have my ideas, but am interested in yours. What does this quote mean to you? Does it have the same impact on photography? With all of the images that have been made or that we have seen, how do we discover new ones? Is new to you enough or does it have to be new to the world? With regard to my presentation, I’m speaking about discovery more in terms of finding worthy images in a situation that might be overwhelming or challenging. That said, should we be finding images that have never been thought?
With regard to today’s image, it was pointed out by a participant in the Charleston workshop. While I did not look at or make his exact picture, I did see what he was shooting and made my own composition. To me he did and good job of discovering a scene that is not normally photographed at Magnolia Gardens. At least, I’ve not seen this take before.
Last week, I had a question from a blog reader asking how many images I take from one spot while not moving my tripod. A good question! I will start with today’s main blog image as an example. When I saw this scene, I looked around without a camera for what I felt was the best position. I was looking for separation of elements, quality of reflections, background elements, distractions, white spots where the overcast sky was, etc. I settled on a spot and took a shot. I quickly realized there was spanish moss hanging in my frame from a close by tree. This forced me to lower my tripod enabling me to shoot underneath the moss. Next, I realized I wanted more reach than I had with my 70-200mm lens and added my 1.7x teleconverter. At this point I was ready for my next and final image.
I guess the answer to Henry’s question is, I try and look at the scene without a camera or tripod first. I move left and right and sometimes up and down until I feel I’ve found the best spot or that I’m doing the hokey pokey especially well that day….. Most times I’m looking for mergers and moving to eliminate them. Other times I’m moving to get closer or further away or to change my perspective. Once I find my spot, I set my tripod down and carefully assess the scene through the viewfinder. At this point, oft times I’ll need to move my tripod a bit to finalize the composition and make the image. As with most things in life, there are exceptions. In the dunes for instance, I did all that I just stated, however, once I found a good spot, I found looking though my lens for various compositions more productive than moving.
I still employed all of the above, all that changed was my ability to find more compositions from one spot. This is in large part due to the subject matter.
Another example would be the silk mill where I was photographing the tool caddy (see below). In this case, I would take a shot and evaluate it on the LCD. I would find that I missed a merger and moved the caddy just a bit until it was in the right position. I believe I did this three times until I liked what I saw. I also moved the caddy a couple of times to change the direction it was facing to see how I liked it that way.
Henry, I hope that helps!
I wanted to share another image from the Ravenel Bridge, however, this time I wanted to feature one from my tour partner Dan Sniffin. I credit Dan for helping me to see this type of image many years ago. Thanks for the inspiration and help Dan!
This image was created on the last morning of our workshop. We went to a different part of the dunes, a part that I am not as attracted to. While out there, I was fighting old familiar feelings of self doubt. You know, I’m not seeing anything out here, this is not as good as the other side, I’m not feeling inspired out here today, etc, etc… Then I stopped, I mean literally stopped and just stood still for about five minutes. Then I thought, why am I chasing images that are not here? Why am I chasing images that are like the other side of the dunes when that is not what is here? At that moment, I realized I was indeed trying to find more of the same in an area that did not offer the same. I remembered that I needed to stop chasing and start letting images come to me! Then as the sun crested the horizon, I began to see shapes forming around the ridges of the dunes and this image offered itself up. A much different image than the other dune images I’ve been posting, however, a worthy image non the less.
So, stop chasing and start allowing images to reveal themselves to you. Much like the last line in the movie August Rush where the young boy says, “the music is all around us, all you have to do is listen.” I say, the images are all around us, all you have to do is see.