ART

INSPIRATION NOT IMITATION - HOW TO CREATE ORIGINAL IMAGES

Creating original images can seem like an elusive goal in a world saturated with visual content. To that end, I’ve read several articles recently discussing whether or not photographers should look at the work of other photographers. More specifically whether photographers heading to a shoot location should look at images made by others of that place before they travel there themselves.  

The concern is that doing so may influence you to make the same images, even though your intention might be to do the exact opposite.  The worry is that the images of others will remain in your subconscious, hindering you from seeing the place with fresh eyes and preventing you from making images from your own point of view.

Try to go out empty and let your images fill you up.
Jay Maisel

AWAKENING ©Elle Bruce
My own experiments with creating abstract landscape images have certainly been inspired by my love of the sparkling waterscape paintings by Canadian artist Lisa Free.  

While I applaud the goal of originality, I prefer to take a different approach to reach it. 

BE INSPIRED
My opinion is life is too short to cut yourself off from the beauty that others have created.  As long as you are out there with the intention of making YOUR art… I’m not too fussed about what inspires you.  In fact my thought would be to let MORE things inspire you.  The paintings of great masters, the graffiti on the side of the freight train, your neighbour’s garden, jazz music, the colours in a maki roll, the photos of others in your field that you admire… take it all in, absorb it and let it fuel you to create something wonderful of your own.  Open yourself up to ALL the beauty and art in the world as opposed to closing yourself off from it.  Inspiration not imitation.

inspire |inˈspī(ə)r|
verb [with object]
fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative: [with object and infinitive] : his passion for romantic literature inspired him to begin writing.
Apple Dictionary Version 2.2.1 (194)

WARM MORNING GLOW ©Elle Bruce
Abstract images made using the Intentional Camera Movement technique are hardly my invention.  If I had not seen and been inspired by the works of photographic artists such as Josh Adamanski  I may never have explored creating images such as the one above.

CREATE DON'T IMITATE
The goal of the artist is to create not copy. Creating is a process that starts with observation and inspiration but ends with the forging of something new and original.  The intention is to be creative.  

creative |krēˈādiv|
adjective
relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work: change unleashes people's creative energy | creative writing.
Apple Dictionary Version 2.2.1 (194)
 NORTHERN DAWN ©Elle Bruce  The soft and gentle nature of this image I created of the North Channel in Ontario reminds me of images I have seen made by  Christopher Armstrong  (known as christofink on Instagram).

NORTHERN DAWN ©Elle Bruce
The soft and gentle nature of this image I created of the North Channel in Ontario reminds me of images I have seen made by Christopher Armstrong (known as christofink on Instagram).

So I implore you, don’t rob yourself.  Enjoy and appreciate the beautiful work of others.  Let their work inspire you to create not imitate.  To do anything less is to rob the world of your own original creations. 

UNDULATE ©Elle Bruce
Though Ursula Abresch uses a different technique to create her images of colourful undulating waves, no doubt her work could be compared this detail pulled from one of my much larger images created using ICM (Intentional Camera Movement)


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GO WITH THE FLOW - DISCOVERING A PASSION FOR ABSTRACT LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

 CLICK TO OWN

CLICK TO OWN

Have you ever noticed that sometimes things work out better when you stop struggling and instead go with the flow?  That's a sweeping statement - let me explain.

I was an early joiner on the mirrorless camera bandwagon. If truth be told though, I have struggled ever since to get the darn thing to reliably produce the sort of images that come easily to me with my more robust (and weighty) Nikon gear.  

Now, before I go any further let me state that I have no doubt that the issue is not the camera… but rather the user.  Plenty of other photographers are producing wonderful images using the very same mirrorless system that seems to trouble me.

My biggest issue has been focus.  I can’t get an in focus image with the mirrorless to save my life.  Well - that’s not entirely true - I have had a few - but most often they are happy accidents rather than planned.  The majority of images I’ve taken with this new lightweight media darling are complete blurry messes.  Bah! 

One day as I was reviewing another collection of fuzzy missed shots I discovered one that I rather liked in spite of its lack of focus.  And BOOM, it hit me.  Since I seemed to be able to capture blurry shots with this camera so easily - why not explore that? If you can't beat them...

For some of you this will make no sense. I can hear you asking "why would you want to purposefully make out of focus images?"  Well here's the thing - I’ve always been fascinated by abstract images and the camera as a tool to create them. 

Many photographers might take to the soapbox and proclaim that abstract photos are just a way of “saving” a bad photo - which may be true in some cases - but when the intention is to make abstract images, blurry photos are not mistakes saved but rather art created. In fact the technique has a name ICM - intentional camera movement and there are plenty of photographers creating these sorts of images in a genre of art often referred to decades ago as pictorial and more recently as abstract or impressionist photography. 

 CLICK TO OWN

CLICK TO OWN

Given that I have the tool in hand which I seem predisposed to create these sorts of images with… I thought I would give the genre a go. I have learned that creating abstract images intentionally is every bit as challenging as creating any other sort of image.  But I am hooked and it's kindled a love for a camera that used to cause me grief!

Have you ever found that your photography took a turn for the better when you stopped struggling? Or have you ever turned a negative into a positive in your art? Maybe it's time to consider trying to go with the flow. 

If you wish to see my (ever growing) collection of abstract landscape images sign up for my newsletter to be notified when new ones are added.  

 
 

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PLANNING VS. IMMERSION

 PRINT AVAILABLE

PRINT AVAILABLE

I always work from inspiration.
Roy Henry Vickers


As a photographer, every trip is an opportunity.  Before I travel, like many, I research my destination ahead of time.  I consider the season, I look at the weather, I even do a pinterest and google image search to get a sense of what I might find upon arrival.  In other words, like a good girl scout - I plan.  But lately, I have discovered that no amount of planning can replace the simple act of immersing yourself in a place.

My recent trip to Tofino BC was planned specifically.  November is the start of storm season in that part of the world.  As I boarded the plane heading west, my mind was filled with all of the beautiful and dramatic images of stormy beach fronts and misty forests that I would make.  We arrived to glorious sunshine and for the first few days I found myself strangely reluctant to pick up my camera.  The moody images I had envisioned were nowhere to be found… so I suppose in a way, I was waiting.  Until finally one beautiful afternoon we went for a walk on the beach and I decided to take my camera just in case the weather should turn (it sounds absurd to me now but that’s truly where my mind was).  Luckily as we walked I began to immerse myself in what was happening on the beach and started to see the beauty all around me.  I stopped looking for the images I had created in my mind and I started to SEE what was there.

Silvered Signs

Thank goodness.  For I honestly believe these images not only tell the story of what it is like to experience a beautiful November day on Chesterman Beach in Tofino, but these are some of the most impactful images I have ever made.

They come from a place of inspiration.  As Roy Henry Vickers (a wonderful local west coast artist with a stunning gallery in Tofino) points out, inspiration is derived from the latin word inspiratos - which means breath.  When you breathe and immerse yourself, the spirit of a place comes into you and through you.

I still believe that planning is important and can yield some wonderful results.  But immersion - the act of allowing yourself to remain open to what a place has to offer - for me never fails to result in inspired images.

David DuChemin (another west coast of Canada local) is known for his quip “gear is good, but vision is better.”  If could borrow his format I would say “planning is good, but immersion is better.”  For while planning might help you find beauty, immersion will inspire you see it surrounds you.

 PRINT AVAILABLE

PRINT AVAILABLE

The next time you head out on a trip - be it to your backyard or further afield - give immersion a try. I'll wager you make some beautiful images as a result.

 

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HOW TO FIND YOUR CREATIVE EYE - SLOW DOWN

There is something different about a great photograph isn’t there?  You’ve probably got one (or more if you’re a seasoned pro) in your collection.  But I’m betting you’d like to have more right?
There is a certain “je ne sais quoi” about “great” images.  Most of us understand that it has nothing to do with technical mastery of the camera (although that is important) we instinctively seem to know that what elevates a good photograph to greatness lies in the realm of creativity.

I know that many photographers complain they just don’t have the “creative eye.” But here is a little secret.  Seeing creatively is not a gift that some have while others never will.  I believe it is a skill we all have - just some of us have fallen out of touch with it.  So how do you get it back?  The first step is deceptively simple.  

SLOW DOWN.

Yup.  That’s it.  Slow down so you can see.  

Seeing takes time.  Think of it this way…  how well do you see a scene when you travel past it in a car?  Compare that to how well you see a scene when you walk past it.
Most of us don’t give ourselves the time we need to see creatively.  We arrive on scene, pull out our camera, fire off a bunch of shots and move on.  We might as well be in a car!!  How can you expect to get great images when you didn’t give yourself enough time to really observe the scene in any detail?

So here’s something I’d encourage you to try the next time you take your camera out.  Give yourself permission to slow down and give your creative eye a chance to process the scene before you.  Pause and let the details of your surroundings really fill up your senses.  Then tune into what moves you… and let your creative eye guide where you focus your camera. 

I guarantee you have a creative eye… you likely just haven’t given it the time it needs.

 

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INFINITE POSSIBILITIES - the true beauty of photography

One of the things I find most appealing about photography is that an infinite number of choices are required to create the final product. Of course this is no different from any other creative endeavor. 

Yet some still don’t think of photography as a true art medium.  This is evident from the compliment many photographers have received that runs along the lines of  “wow that’s a great photo - you must have a good camera.”   

Yes, it's true, the camera and lens a photographer chooses has an impact on the final image in much the same way the brush a painter chooses has an impact on the final painting.  I wonder, would one ever suggest that the quality of a painting was due solely to the brush?

You see, the camera choice is only the start.  It was just one of the many decisions made along the way. The subject or location you chose, time of day, the place you chose to stand, the mode you put the camera in, the shutter speed, aperature, and ISO settings you picked, the number of shots you took - did you decide to bracket them?, the height of the camera, angle of the camera, did you use a tripod?… these are just a few of the choices you made in the field… then when you got home you began a whole new chain of choices as you decided what shot, which software (or perhaps none) to use to and how to process it.

The number of choices are so numerous it would be near impossible to make a complete list - but as stated at the outset, that’s exactly the beauty of photography and why it is indeed truly an art form.  I LOVE having so many choices.  It means I have the opportunity to create something unique.  My DNA is in each and every image I create because the combination of all those unique and random choices produces an outcome nearly unrepeatable.

Here is a example of how I made a few different post processing choices to create three final images from the same initial photo.

So the next time you wonder if it's really possible to make a great unique image - remember - what camera you use is only one of an infinite number of choices.  No one else can create exactly what you do!  

 

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LIVING LIGHT - Drawn Towards Minimalism

After spending 5 days on a sailboat you start to appreciate living light.  In limited space, anything needless becomes a burden.  To my delight, I discovered I actually enjoy life more when there is less clutter.

Now I find I crave simplicity in my life.  It is a theme that is informing my every move these days.  I want less to maintain, I want less to carry, I want less to worry over, I want less complications… I even want less detail in my photos.

Could this be a natural outcome of my boating experience? Or perhaps of aging? Have I finally lived long enough to realize that there is a freedom that comes not from having more in my life but rather from having less?

Have you ever experienced this?  Have you ever felt lighter after a period of time away from “all the stuff of life?”

Thoughts to ponder as we stretch into the last hours of our final long summer weekend here in Ontario.  

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • driving home the other day we listened to Stuart McLean on The Vinyl Cafe Podcast as we often do.  On the episode entitled “Defibrillator” he spoke of simplicity in his opening monologue.  If you haven’t listened to McLean before, you are in for treat - his stories and musical guests, available only in audio version are a change from the visually stimulating world.  Also perfect company on a long drive back home.
  • I have posted about how to increase the impact of an image by simplifying it (here) and so have others, including Varina Patel who recently reposted a link to this blog post at the Visual Wilderness website.
  • and finally I LOVE the simplicity of the artwork by creativeflip.  I think the Yoda is my favourite. You can see it here at www.crated.com - a fantastic place to find lots of artists, art and inspiration!  Even better - if you like what you see there, you can purchase it in poster, canvas or framed print form.  
 

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SORRY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ... it's art.

I've slipped into my artist's smock again today to make this image.  I've been running across a lot of work that features waves lately and it inspired me go digging in my catalogue to see what I might have on the subject.  Turns out not much - which is surprising given my affinity for water images.  (Click here to see a collection of my peaceful water images recently featured on Photographyblogger.net)  But serene was not the sort of water images I was looking for.  I had it in mind to create an image with tempestuous waves and dramatic clouds.  It's the paintings of talented artist Samantha Keely Smith that planted this seed.  I have loved her work for some time now and was wondering if I might be able to create photographic art inspired by the sort of images she creates.  After several hours of experimentation I think I might be starting to get to something.  It's not all the way there yet but I thought I would share it with you anyhow.  

HOW I MADE THIS IMAGE
So I'll start by saying outright this image is a composite of two images.  I'm not very practised at composite work so this was a stretch for me.  Both the image of the sky and the image of the water were taken at the same beach on the same night, no more than a few minutes apart.  The sky is from a single exposure adjusted in Lightroom.  The water image had a bit more processing on it.  First off, it is a close up of the wave break at the shoreline and though the waves look very big in this image they were no more than 6-12 inches high.  To get the shot I was crouched down very low with my rear end nearly in the wet sand.  It too was a single exposure tweaked in Lightroom and then brought into Photoshop where I experimented with the tilt-shift blur filter and adjusted the colour and noise using Color Effex Pro and Noiseware Pro.  Finally I did a bit of blending on the composite to help the two mesh together a bit better.  I'm still not 100% happy with that part but I am letting it go.  It's early work.... and I'm ok with it not being perfect just yet.  Sometimes like the song says you just have to "let it go..."  (so sorry I've put that song in your head for the day now haven't I?)

So even though I'm not totally happy with this image and National Geographic would never accept it for one of their covers... I don't think all the time invested was a total waste.  There is much to be gained from experimenting and trying out new things.  And it was fun too!  Hopefully one day all the practise will help me produce something great.

Have a good weekend my friends - maybe take a bit of time to try out something new.  If you don't like the results don't worry - you can always call it experimental art.

OTHER SOURCES OF INSPIRATION THIS WEEK
As I mentioned I've been running into many "watery" themed works by other incredible artists lately.  Here are just a few that have inspired me:

  • of course the paintings of Samantha Keely Smith - I can't decide if "Yield" or "Harbinger" is my favourite.  How about you?
  • Ben Young's sculptures of waves made from cut sheets of glass are fantastic - be sure to scroll to the end of the article for a short video about how he creates these one-of-a-kind artworks
  • the beautiful and daring photos of CJ Kale and Nick Selway of Lava Light
  • and last week's viral video of passionate surf photographer Clark Little who heads out into the beach break to get some of the most stunning shots
 

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THE PROCESS OF MAKING ART - are you planned or spontaneous?

I have heard some photographers say that they knew what their final image would look like before they even pushed the shutter button.  They could see in their mind the image they ultimately wanted to create and so they set up everything - the who, the where, the when, the how - in order to gather the raw data they needed to create the image envisioned.  

I wonder… is that how it works for you?  

I don’t find that happens for me very much.  And often I find that if I do have a preconceived notion of what I want to create and I pursue that, I don’t end up liking it as much as when I allow for more spontaneity to come into the process. 

Other artists profess the way to find creative brilliance is to focus on the process of making art rather than the end result.  I do find that approach rather freeing but I’m not sure that exactly describes how things work for me either.

When I set up and took the image above - I most certainly had no idea it would end up looking like the finished product you see above.  The process in fact was one of chance for me. On the morning pictured I was awakened by stray sunbeams flooding through the hotel window thanks to me forgetting to pull the heavy curtains the night before.  When I looked out the window I noticed the light was bouncing off the glass and mirror of the buildings in interesting ways so I decided I would see if I could collect some raw data of that.  Now, months later I selected this raw file and started to work on it in the digital darkroom (Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop) with the hopes of creating a companion piece for my other new NYC image.  There was no plan in the initial capture of the raw data but there was some plan in the processing though admittedly it is not as I had expected.

Maybe how we each make art is a custom blend of planning and spontaneity.  And where the individual lies along the line between the two poles has something to do with the limitations or skills you have in the different areas.  

I know my own process both in the field capturing the raw data and later in the dark room creating art is a a constant shifting along a middle ground between planning and spontaneity.  
When I decide to go out to shoot, I try to set myself up to find beauty or a beautiful story.  I will check the time of sunrise or sunset (using the photographers ephemeris app) and the weather and if I heading to a new place, I will research what other photographers have done at that place to see if it can give me a clue as to where others have found beauty.  But then I just go because I have found that beauty is usually there - regardless of the time, weather and what others have found before.  I show up and stay in tune with what catches my eye.  
Later, when I open up the raw file to create an image, again this waffling between planned and spontaneous creating happens.  I will sometimes start out with how I want an image to look - but often the end image is a result of allowing myself to experiment and enjoy the process of making art.

So here is my big take away.  However you make your art - where ever you fall between planning and spontaneity - is the best way for you to make YOUR art.  The point is you are MAKING art.  I think it is definitely useful to understand how others do things… there is always something to be learned from others (particularly those who’s art you admire) but the best way for you is just that… the best way for you.  

Have fun creating this week my friends!

Sources of Inspiration:  
Many things help to inspire my posts - books, movies, conversations... this post I think was largely inspired by a few things I've been reading.

  • I have just started reading The Artist's Way - A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.  I have owned this book for over 10 years.  For some reason I have finally opened it.
  • I recently watched a video by Miss Aniela in the Arcanum Grand Library in which she provided a link to this article she wrote.  I love her art but also how eloquently she expresses this idea of creating spontaneously.
 

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IS PHOTOGRAPHY ART?

Photography is such a hot bed of debate.  Yup - it is.  Have a look at almost any image posted on social media and you will find sparring in the comments below it.  

Often the debate centres around what is “good" and what is “real.”  

We all know that "good" is subjective - right? Strangely when it comes to photographic images there are some who feel "good" equals "real" which makes "good" no longer subjective.   Many stand firm that no matter how beautiful the composition, how pleasing the colours or beautiful the lines, a photograph which has been been manipulated in any way no longer qualifies as “good."

I suspect this is due to the historical emergence of photographic images as not an art form but as a method of recording.  The idea that the "camera doesn't lie” became firmly ingrained, though it has never been true.  The camera has always been merely a tool to produce images.  All images are manipulated by the photographer if in no other way than at the simplest level of what is included or omitted from the frame.  Photographic images have always had the ability to span the spectrum from lightly altered (what some might call “documentary or journalistic”) all the way to highly stylized photographic art.  

In my experience, the closer a photographic image moves towards the centre of the spectrum where the line is blurred between documentary and art the more uncomfortable people become. I like to make images (notice I make the distinction between making images and taking photographs) that fit squarely in that space.  I find them beautiful.  And bringing the world to life beautifully is really my goal with my art. 

 

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WHY PLAY IS IMPORTANT

Play.

I wonder what image comes to mind when you read that word. For me it's a small child with a red bucket and shovel crouched in the sand at the beach.  A child.  I picture a child. Do you? 

Play is something that I find I have to remind myself to do now that I am an adult. Especially when I'm creating images.  Setting aside time to experiment and create art without worrying about the outcome. That seems to be when I have the biggest break-throughs and produce the most satisfying work.  I wonder... is it because I lower my expectations? Or perhaps I raise my creative power? Many would say it's because that's when the muse visits (hey Karen Hutton)!   

Whatever the reason, I find the most interesting things are found when I'm not looking and are created when I'm not trying too hard. 

Recently I've been having a lot of fun playing around with my iPhone photos lately. Turning them into watercolour art!  So fun!  Some are recent photos - like the one below that I snapped just this week on the sunrise photo shoot down at the lake.  And then there are others that have been sitting quietly waiting for their big debut.  I've a new column right over there on the right that displays some of them but if you hang out on instagram and want to see the latest you can find me there.  Elle_Bruce... if you search or use the easy link button at the bottom of this page.

Have a great weekend everyone.  Get out there and play a bit!

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HOW TO CREATE A MAGICAL IMAGE OF NEW YORK CITY

The thing I love best about a city is the lights!  A city at night is a magical thing... the grit and grime gets washed away by the shadow of night and bathed anew in the multi-coloured glow of lights.  Alright, I admit -  that's a bit pollyanna but you know what I mean right?  I was in New York City a while back and couldn't help but snap a bunch of photos of all the lights.

I've been working on this image (which is looking towards the epicenter of lights at Times Square) for a while.  It's the result of my attempts to blend photos that are related to create a new image with greater impact. In this case I took several photos of the same thing - 5 focused exposures tone mapped in Photomatix, and 2 out of focus images of the same thing with nice round bokeh of the lights. I played with the with bokeh to get the right intensity on the colours, then created a tilt filter effect on the in-focus HDR layer using Topaz Lens Efex and and finally stacked them up and used the lighten blend mode in photoshop to give the feel of a double exposed image.

If I've lost you now, my apologies - go ahead and skip down to bottom of this post (below the video).  BUT if the last paragraph got the wheels spinning in your brain... read on to find out what inspired all this plus a cool how to video.

My new experiment on this New York image was inspired by several things - a love of bokeh lights, tilt shift and double exposed images.

I've been playing around with creating bokeh images for a while now.  Between holiday time and the ice storm I've been served lots of opportunities lately to experiment.  You might remember images from some of my recent posts - like this one? And this one?

Add to that my recent discovery of takashi kitajima, who's tilt shift, bokeh, city lights photos I find nothing short of captivating. Go ahead - google him, circle him, plus one him or follow him - I'll wait.  Just make sure to come back here afterwards. :-) 

Then layer on the idea of making "double exposure" images.  Yes - I came across some beautiful examples of this recently made by Dylan and Sara Photography and then found their video below of how to do this in camera!

So I got wondering what would happen if I combined all these things I loved.  Bokeh, tilt shift and double exposure ideas.  My image posted here is a first crack at it.  It's not 100% there yet but it's moving in the right direction... it has the right feeling... a little bit magical.

Which is exactly what I wanted - 'cause that's what I love best about cities.  

What about you?  Do city lights captivate you?
Have you ever tried to blend a few different techniques on a single image?  Did it turn out the way you had planned/ hoped?

Go ahead and let me know in the comments below, and have a magical weekend everyone!

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