We all have them, the Creative Blahs, or CBs. Lugging the camera bag seems like hard work. You can’t be bothered going out. Or you go to a normally fertile place photographically, and nothing happens. Maybe you take one or two bad shots just so you can say you shot something. Even worse, you have a client shoot tomorrow and you have absolutely no idea what you will do. What do you do?
All creative people go through dry spells. It is natural not to be on your game all the time. The important thing is to not allow the CBs to pull you down even deeper or set you up for a long creative outage. Most of us who are old enough to have dealt with many episodes of the CBs will have developed one or more breakout strategies. What are yours?
Keep an Idea Book. If you’re like some people, you may keep a scrapbook or clippings book where you put inspiring images as you come across them. When experiencing the CBs you flick through your clipping book, looking for something, anything, that will break you loose and make you want to create. A variation on the clipping book is the ideas book, where you write all the great photographic ideas that you don’t currently have time to shoot. Whatever you do, great ideas or inspiration need to be captured somehow. This is a digital age, so rather than clip, why not scan and organize?
Visit the Library or Magazine Store. Another variation is to visit the library (either your personal one or a local public or university library), and flip through the books and magazines. Or, check out the magazine store. This is a breakout method I use a lot. I usually head off to Borders (which has a good selection of Australian, US and UK photo and art mags), flick through, and see if anything inspires. If so, I buy the magazine, take it home, and analyze the images that caught my attention. Suddenly, instead of feeling the CBs, I’m in problem-solving mode.
As a magazine writer and publisher myself, I don’t buy lots of photo mags on a regular basis. There are just too many of them and most tend to repeat the same ideas if you read them for too long. (Of course I am not talking about my magazine.)
You know the deal: If it is fall there will be articles on shooting leaves, autumn colors, etc. But certain mags can usually inspire me. Those I check out and buy. And new magazines are always arriving on the scene. I also look through art magazines and certain interior-decorating magazines. Many of these show great art, in use, and can be very inspiring.
Go someplace new. Sometimes all you need to do is go somewhere new. Holidays always seem to stimulate the photographic urge, but even in your own city or town there will be places where you have not shot. Go seek them out.
Try shooting differently. If you can’t go somewhere new, try shooting in a new way. Try crawling around your house with your camera at ground level. Shoot everything with flash or everything with the lens focused at two feet away. Try shooting at that 3200ISO setting you never use. You get the idea. If you normally go out shooting with a bag of lenses, pick one (ideally a single focal length lens) and go out only with that.
When you are shooting somewhere new, or doing things in a different way, or shooting with some limitation, you automatically shift into problem-solving mode.
Problem solving is the key to getting unstuck and motivated again. Why? Because the process of problem solving requires concentration and focus. It forces you to stop thinking about having the CBs. If you can forget about the CBs long enough, you won’t have them anymore. This is a mental trick I’ve taught over the years to both workshop participants and university students. It usually works. Even if the cause of your CBs is something outside of yourself or photography, problem solving still works because the concentration and focus move you away from worrying about paying bills, getting fired, the state of the world, or that argument with your partner.
CBs may be a fact of life but you don’t have to be stuck with them. In fact, I’ve found that sometimes the CBs can be the trigger to a new level of work, because in seeking something new to release the CBs, I open up something new in myself.’
This image came out of an episode of the Creative Blahs (CBs). After forcing myself to visit a part of the city edge I’d never been to before, I discovered some interesting sites. When I returned the next day with a camera, I captured the 10 or so images that make up this composite image and broke free of the Creative Blahs.
As photographers, we’re in that very lucky minority of people who can make a living from our passion. I have yet to meet a pro photographer who got into this business because they thought it would make them rich. Every single one I’ve spoken to has told me that it was their love of photography that led them to this career path.
One thing that makes photography so appealing to us and our clients is the memories that photos provide. Photographs are among the most treasured possessions people have, and looking back at them over the years evokes emotions that are unmatched by most other methods of preserving memories. So, where am I going with all of this?
Recently I became involved with a group of pro photographers who provide a very special service to any family suffering the loss of a child. This group is Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS), and what they give to people is a cherished memory–often the only photo remembrance they will have of a beloved member of the family. Typically, the deceased are newborns, but the group’s charter is to provide photography for babies and children up to 18 years old.
Working with hospitals in their area, the photographers make themselves available to come to the hospital to take loving bereavement portraits of the child and family, all at no charge whatsoever to the family. The family is given a CD with images that can be printed if they like, or a slideshow that can be played on computer or TV.
What impresses me most about NILMDTS is the caring spirit of all of these photographers. This isn’t about referrals, clients, and future jobs. This is about coming together to help families in need at what is likely to be one of the most tragic moments in their lives. It’s about giving families a gift that will last forever and honor the child’s life and memory.
This program isn’t for everyone of course but if you are interested in how you can help, I encourage you to visit their website to learn more about the program. Perhaps you’ll be moved, as I was, to donate some of your talent and time to give the gift of memories.
We all fall into ruts sometimes or experience low points in our lives. Some of us self-medicate with retail therapy, enjoying the emotional lift that comes from buying something new, whether it’s something as small as a book or more expensive, such as a new car, camera, or printer.
We may be sad about the time we spend doing things we don’t like. So sometimes we seek a quick fix to our feelings by buying new toys. This is a trap, because there are some problems that spending money simply can’t solve.
To break free of this cycle, we must find ways to minimize the time spent on things we don’t want to do so we can maximize the time we can spend on the things we really love want to do.
I have found it worthwhile to sit down and list exactly what it is that I want to do. For me it is:
- Spend quality time with my wife and daughter
- Take pictures and make art
- Teach people and help them grow and develop
- Develop businesses
- Read on a wide range of topics
- Work on myself, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually
Combining some activities and accomplishing several goals simultaneously is the key. Sometimes, spending money offers a solution.
Once you understand your priorities, purchasing new technology can free you to do more of what you really want to do. For example, when I recently bought a new laptop to replace my old black Apple Powerbook, I discovered its built-in WiFi connection enabled me get a lot more writing done late at night after everyone else had gone to bed.
If one of your goals is to take more pictures, what equipment would you need to buy to enable you to take pictures on more occasions than you do now? Would it be a more versatile single lens for your dSLR so that you could take your camera more places, more conveniently? Or, maybe you’d prefer a tiny, compact camera with a decent resolution and a good lens to carry all the time.
Years ago, when I was starting to plan an exhibition, I researched the cost of having my images printed as Cibachromes. I soon realized that I could easily buy a Cibachrome roller transport processor and add a color head on my enlarger, and still have change left over. So I bought the processor and did that exhibition, as well as the next few exhibitions plus a lot of other prints.
Later, I did the same with my first large-format inkjet printer. With the cost of prints at the time, it was easy to justify buying the printer because I could continue to use the printer for follow-on commercial jobs and other exhibitions.
There will be times when it’s not smart to try to do it all yourself. But if you understand your goals, sometimes it is. A side benefit of both the darkroom purchase and my first (an subsequent) large format printers is that I spent more time working with my own images, which greatly assisted in making my photography better.When you look at the cost of something you’re considering buying, try to determine the equivalent cost to you of not buying it.
If you’re thinking of buying a printer, this might be pretty easy.
Calculate the cost of the printer, media and the value of your time to learn how to use it efficiently.
- Find out how much it would cost to have someone else output your prints at the size and quality level you desire.
- Do the math to see how much you can save by buying a printer to output your own prints.
If you’re thinking about buying a compact camera, you can try to put a value on each good image you produce and make a conservative estimate of how many good shots you’ll get from the camera in a reasonable period of time.
Giving more thought to each new device before you buy it, moves you away from retail therapy and into the realm of careful investment. Investing in yourself can be a smart thing to do.
This shot of reflected trees in a pond with coins at the bottom wouldn’t have been captured if I hadn’t invested in a compact camera to take with me when it’s inconvenient to carry a full camera kit. For this shot, I used the Pentax K10D that was in my briefcase when I was taking some of my students to a gallery.
As a kid, I was fascinated by the image. At first, I tried painting. But I was never satisfied with the results. As I attempted to teach myself painting from books at a young age, I had the mistaken notion that a painting was painted in a complete state from one corner and spread across the canvas until it was done. Of course this is not how one paints. Rather, one builds it up in layers of refinement.
During this period of frustration with painting, I became entranced with the view through telescopes. I went through several telescopes as a kid until I had a decent one. It was for this that I was given my first camera, a secondhand Petri SLR. My first shots were both through the telescope and using the camera on a tripod to take wide shots of the night sky. Over time my photography came down to earth.
Strangely enough (and in parallel with the photography), my introduction to computer graphics was also through astronomy. As part of my undergraduate work, I chose to produce an astronomy planetarium program for a computer graphics project. While computer-graphics technology in 1979 was primitive, I was completely hooked and progressed to a steady focus on computer graphics. I loved the precision, the control and the challenge of making it work. I wrote all my own code, using a variety of languages and different types of computers.
After almost 10 years of pursuing both photography and computer graphics, I had achieved a happy schizophrenia. I was pursuing both interests, but hadn’t yet brought them together. A new woman in my life, an artist, helped me to see that both these interests, plus my ongoing, but low intensity, interest in painting, were just all different facets of the same thing--my desire for self expression and fascination with the created image.
That was 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve had time to reflect more on how photography, painting, art and computer graphics are related. At the obvious level, they are all concerned with the visual image and personal expression. In their most common forms, they all result in a two-dimensional image. And they all offer a huge amount of control over the process.
Even more significant--just as I learned from my early experiments with painting--they all require “layers of refinement.” Layers of refinement are the key to greatness in photography, painting and other forms of art and computer graphics. When everything is on the surface and obvious, the work is shallow. It may be effective commercially, but it does not engage.
Great paintings, photographs and digital art all have layers upon layers within them. These can be layers of symbolic meaning, layers of detail (so that there is always more to find no matter how close you get), or layers of emotional response just waiting to be revealed.
These layers give an image lasting engagement value, making the image worth hanging on your wall for everyday viewing. Just as with a long-term personal relationship, a long-term relationship with an image only deepens over time as familiarity washes away the surface, superficial detail and allows us to relate at a much deeper level.
Hence my standard advice to photographers and artists is to get your work in progress up on the wall and live with it for awhile. Only then can you get a feeling for whether the piece has enough depth. Don’t confuse depth with busyness. A busy image may just be superficially detailed, with little depth. On the other hand, the most abstract, superficially simple image may have great depth.
So that is the basis of my love of the image: depth or richness. In astronomy, depth comes not only from the beauty of what can be seen in the night sky, but also from the physics, chemistry and math underlying what is visible. That same level of depth and richness applies to photography, digital art and painting.
I guess you could call me a deep image diver.