Back to basics…

Thinking that I’m going to screw up sometimes comes with the territory when I go about photographing a small area no bigger than that of a football. Why do I do that? I do that as more of a training exercise to get my creative juices flowing; it helps to train me to see things that I would normally just pass up because of their small size. Shots, like the one below, help me hone my focus a bit and work on composition & colour in tight spaces.

- Raindrops & Flowers -
– Raindrops & Flowers –

The above shot had slight contrast, clarity, black clipping, vibrancy (called Vibrance in Lightroom 6), noise, & exposure adjustments to refine it, but it stayed totally true to what it had been when I first captured the shot. These flowers are tiny (about half the size of a penny) and have colour variations that are often tricky for me to capture, hence the colour & clarity refinements. For me, it’s about trying to capture the mood at the time in a small space; even though I was outdoors and free to move around, I confined myself to a space no bigger than that of a small vehicle in order to make myself get used to smaller, more refined movements & adjustments to how I was photographing. In a way, this kind of exercise forces me to get back to the basics & work with what’s directly in front of me.

This kind of thing is a way for me to continually make myself work on the basics so that I don’t forget them as easily as I usually do…This comes WAY too easy for me. Remember the old saying that sometimes we need something to jog our memory? Well, sometimes I need a good swift kick so I don’t forget. Another good thing about exercises like this is that they help to reinforce the basics through repetition that isn’t quite mindless, at least for me. So get out there & challenge yourself.

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That one photograph…

Thinking about the one photograph that has always come back to either haunt me or inspire me, I’m in wonder at how much that one shot can inspire me. It’s not much, in reality, but it gets me stopping & thinking about just how much I admire the spot where it was taken and what it really means to me. Personally, it has changed over the years and has varied in its effect on me over the days & months; lately, it’s a photograph of a mossy rock with overgrown grass surrounding it.

- Rock & Grass -
– Rock & Grass –

Why does this photograph inspire me? This shot, taken at another angle of the spot in the botanical gardens that is so overlooked, makes me want to pause for a while and wonder just about where I am, who I am, and where I’m going. Other angles on this scene show only the rock, moss & grass, and yet they still have the same effect; they make me stop, think & want to do better just because it seems so peaceful, especially because the sun rarely hits it when the surrounding plants have come out of their winter slumber. The cool-hued shade, coupled with the sunlight that does break through on the scene, has a somewhat calming effect, especially when I actually stop to see it. Letting myself soak up a scene works much better with a scene like this and I’m thinking it’s because of the simple colour scheme.

Sometimes it’s a struggle to feel inspired, to feel something more than just okay, but that’s alright because it gets us moving & thinking; an elderly neighbour once said, without a little trouble, we don’t really grow. Of course, she said it in more of a metaphorical way, but it holds so true because without some struggle, we don’t really get a feel that we’re growing at all and we tend to become complacent…myself included. Sometimes, there’s a struggle to just get past that one photograph to make others and, for me, that’s as good a reason as any to keep trying; especially when I’m trying to learn off of what I’ve already done.

That dreaded day…

Recalling my days as a student, there wasn’t much that was as terrifying as the realization that summer break was going to be over soon and school was starting up. It meant homework, tests, readings, more readings and yet more tests; it wasn’t exactly something that was too eagerly looked forward to. But the back to school sales during my university years were good enough that stuff was cheaper, and less of a worry…It meant cheaper tech and less of a hit on the bank account. Nowadays, that dreaded day can be anything from coming up empty creatively, the day when the workload is way too heavy, or even when you realize that holidays are approaching fast and you’ve got a big list with no real way to satisfy everyone.

Coming up empty, creatively, tends to suck the life out of a person quite easily and has the tendency to make people just want to sink down on the couch. It has a habit of just sneaking up on me like some kind of bad nightmare and making me think my last decent day of doing something worthwhile has passed. It’s then that, while feeling bored, that I get the idea that maybe, just maybe, I should look through my previous photographs and see if I can’t learn something from them, tweak them, or just enjoy them. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make that dreaded day just a little bit better or put a little enjoyment into it; especially when I’m feeling a bit down, looking back at photographs can both make it worse & a little better because it helps me look at these images with fresh eyes.

Looking at things with fresh eyes helps us from making rush decisions, not just in photography, but in life as well, because it gives us some space from the initial shock/reaction and often gives us at least some perspective. It helps dumb down, to a certain extent, that dreaded day into something at least a bit more manageable, but then again, sometimes we don’t grow without a little bit of rain (a.k.a. trouble).

Inspiration…

I know I’ve done this before, but I thought I’d do it again. What inspires us to do the best we can? Where do we get our ideas from? Everything from music, beliefs, work & play inspires us to do what we do. I can be doing something at work and, all of a sudden, come up with an idea for a photograph or a design; it can even be a certain play in a sports game that triggers an idea (I say this because it has totally happened to me). In a way, it’s how we deal with a situation that can inspire us with different ideas, not just for photography, but for our lives. It’s trying to get ourselves into a creative state of mind, or even just a positive state.

The crazy thing is that although the world around us seems like it’s falling apart, we just seem to think that means we can just get caught up in thinking that we can’t shine a little light to inspire even just one person. We all need to get past the point that we’re unable to do something because of genetics and learn to use what we’re given to do something that will actually mean something to someone, myself included. I have to force myself to get outside most times, especially after a long work week, and then I don’t feel inspired most of the time either; it’s a condition of who we are, lost in all the crap around us & the wrong within us that we can’t really seem to want to inspire others.

- White Bulbs - Painted -
– White Bulbs – painted version-

In this crazy world, there’s so much to distract us from doing something worth it…Just look at all the new stuff on sale at the nearby store. It comes down to the question: do I really need that expensive new DSLR or Mirrorless (the geeks will know what I mean by this) to capture something that inspires others, not just myself? If my answer is yes, then I’m completely full of something none to pleasant and should be seeking to really ask myself if I’ve lost it. Stuff, or gear, can inspire, but it’s really only on the outside, on a superficial level (like the latest shallow pop crap coming out of the music industry). So, until the next time I decide to rant, get out there and inspire!

On the purity of the image…

While the biggest part of this (the purity of the image) is all about if it’s been edited or not, I think what should be more important is about the vision & feel; have they been altered or not by the edits or by just importing them onto the computer, printed out, or even just shown? I guess it comes down to the preoccupation with the tools instead of how it looked to the photographer when he, or she, took the shot and how he, or she, presented it. It’s a bit shaming when the first thought that comes into our minds is how the photographer edited the photograph instead of how the photographer felt when making the shot.

I agree that we can’t just always ask the photographer whenever we want to, or even ask what the original intent was because, to a certain degree it should shine through in how the shot is presented. But we can’t just assume that because the shot is shown that there is all there is and just move on; there’s something to be said by looking at it & examining it for its colors, shapes, tones & lines. Why just pass it by without giving it a second look? Just passing it by without looking closely doesn’t do it, or the photographer, justice; look closely at it and think about what it could mean…Sometimes it can be a learning experience by examining it. J.M.W. Turner made amazing watercolor landscapes, using amazing qualities of light for his subject; by looking at some of his, we can see how he portrayed light and sometimes this can spark a creative impulse in how we take a photograph.

- Cherry Blossoms -
– Cherry Blossoms –

Often times were get too caught up in the supposed purity of the image that we tend to forget what the image portrays/says. We don’t look at the image to examine what it’s saying, if anything at all, but we only look to see if it’s been edited. For example, in the above shot the editing plays only a minor part because, at least for me (the photographer), it’s about the lightness of the cherry blossoms, not about how much, or how little I edited the original shot; it’s mood is one of the lightness of the cherry blossoms on the tree, contrasted with the evergreens behind them…It becomes about the beauty found in nature, captured in the cherry blossoms. In the end, it’s not so much about how much editing I did, or how pure the image is, but about the mood & message it contains. Sometimes we have to put aside  the temptation to examine photographs to see if they’re edited, or not, and focus on what it actually says in regards to composition & light.

On creativity & peanut butter…

While the two things don’t necessarily go together, the imagery works, especially because of the sticky nature of peanut butter. Getting stuck in a creative rut can really stink and it’s not particularly sweet at all, like getting peanut butter stuck in your teeth. It stinks because you wonder why you’re not getting the shot and you can’t seem to figure it out; I’ve been there before and it’s not a fun place to be. Sometimes it’s due to laziness, sometimes it’s due to frustration, and other times it’s due to lack of inspiration, but either way, it still stinks, precisely because it can drag you down.

Creative ruts can sometimes be countered with force; by that I mean forcing, or coercing, it to come out by just taking random shots. While it’s something I’ve definitely done before, creativity doesn’t always come out as a result, but it’s always worth a try, especially in a rut. On the flipside, forcing creativity can make us wonder at what we’re doing wrong and help us figure out if we’re going in the wrong direction. How do we know? The simple answer is that we don’t, but the struggle can sometimes reveal problems & sticking points in how we go about getting the shots we try to get. Example: for the longest time, I used to ignore the light meter completely while always going for something underexposed and, after trying to go the opposite way repeatedly, working with the light meter, I was able to be more creative and get closer to the shots that I was looking for in camera. Mind you, it was completely the opposite way because I still use the lessons I’ve learnt from underexposing while working with the light meter; I’ve become better at getting snow at the right exposure (+1 to +2 stops) while learning what I can from underexposing for some scenes.

Creativity is also like peanut butter in the sense that once you get to that point, it can stick like peanut butter, not always permanently, but feeling like it just might, and we forget that being creative, in photography is growing. The problem is that we tend to not like being in one place for too long, or we just get lazy; trying to learn & move on instead of just moving on is usually better. Working at it, trying different things creatively, is just as good as peanut butter & chocolate (I guess I’m craving certain chocolate right now), because they keep one foot in the past (by learning from the past) while doing things differently (trying other creative ways to get the shot). Example: going vertical instead of horizontal, using a different white balance/angle/aperture/shutter speed, or even changing the way/method we go about our post-processing. Trying something different might just work…Just try it.

Dealing with fruitcakes…

Everyone loves a good fruitcake…or hates it even if it is good. But I’m not going to dwell on that kind of fruitcake, the edible kind; I was thinking of the kind that’s a gear nut and always sticks to the rules when it comes to photography. They come in with advice that sounds a lot like a marketing ploy to buy the latest gear and live & die by the so-called ‘rules of composition’ that can restrict creativity; we’ve all been there, done that. Dealing with them is another problem because it can often lead to people completely forgetting who they are and just following the crowd, loosing uniqueness along the way.

Uniqueness is something that we take for granted sometimes because we think that because we’re a physically separate person, we’re unique. It’s more so, in the arts, about being different from the crowd, standing out and having something different, however slight or great, to say to the world around us. The typical way of things being done is like the old Relient K song, Wit’s All Been Done Before, lyric: “Yeah we do something to death/Then we dig it up just to do it some more.” We tend to just repeat something because it works and not really think it over (something I’m readily guilty of at times), but uniqueness is putting something new out there or putting it out there with a new perspective. Getting back to the idea of dealing with fruitcakes, they tend to say to stick with what’s safe on what we do, imposing their set of rules, taking uniqueness out of the image; use them as guidelines, not set-in-stone rules/laws.

So, how do we end up dealing with these critics/fruitcakes? The one thing for me that sticks out is that, like I’ve probably said before, is that if the criticism isn’t constructive and doesn’t offer anything that is at least of some help, then we know that it’s probably not really good to follow it too closely. Uniqueness should be tops, under vision, and it’s sometimes better not to get too defensive that we end up missing constructive criticism and growth usually won’t happen as easily as if we didn’t miss the helpful criticism to begin with.