CREATIVITY

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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WHERE TO FIND YOUR ARTISTIC VOICE - HINT: IT'S IN THE WORK YOU CREATE DAILY

I wonder if all artists (i.e. anyone who creates - we'll leave the discussion of my definition of an artist for another day) reach the point in their work where they question what the heck they are doing... and why they are doing it.

My hunch is the answer to why in the end must boil down to some variation of personal satisfaction. Ultimately the answer must be "it brings me joy" or perhaps "I can't NOT do it." Otherwise certainly the critics and the fact that for most humans art remains in the "want" not "need" category would drive anyone to eventually hang up the smock or put down the camera.  To paraphrase Ted Forbes - nobody is interested in seeing your photographs. 

But the what... well the answer to that one is perhaps a bit more elusive.  No matter where you are on your artistic journey I imagine this question is familiar.  What do I want to create? What do I want to say, express or inspire with my creations? What can I make/do that is meaningful?

SEEKING
Grasse, France.

I'm not sure I have a clear answer for my own work yet and I must admit that bothers me.  But I am starting to believe that the answer will come not from thinking but rather from doing.  Just doing the work.  Creating.  Often.  Repeatedly.  Stacking up the experiments and mistakes and pushing through towards making work that matters.

DISTILLED ESSENCE
Grasse, France

I recently discovered this speech by Arno Rafael Minkkinen referred to it as the Helsinki Bus Station Theory... and found it to be an inspiring support for my own thoughts.  If you haven't read it before, here's the link for you.  

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory

My take from Minkkinen's message is keep on doing the work.  Keep on creating.  Keep being an artist.  Do it for yourself first, because it brings you joy and out of this joy, out of your passion the what will emerge.  The work that matters will emerge.  Your voice will become clear, your artistic expression will take shape and in time you might discover that what you create not only fulfills you but inspires others and makes a difference.

Rest if you need to.  Take a sabbatical to recharge your energy when you must, but whatever you do... don't stop doing the work

 

UNSOLICITED RECOMMENDATION:
My own search for the answer to what propelled me to make the journey to France last spring and join Karen Hutton's THE ARTIST'S VOICE photography retreat. She is offering this retreat again in the Fall of 2016.  If you are curious you can find out more here.

 

OTHERS WHO MAY HAVE SAID THIS BETTER:
In the past few weeks since I've been preparing this post, I've been fed or rather "discovered" (if you prefer to think the universe works in synchronistic ways) similar posts/articles/commentaries by at least three other people who have far larger followings than I do.  So it wouldn't surprise me in the least if you have already had exposure to their take on the same issue.  However, just in case you missed them here are a few links you might enjoy:

CHANGE THE WORLD: 12 Ways To Make Work Meaningful - No Matter What You Do - Marie Forleo

Does art really make a difference in the world? I hear from tons of artists who feel insecure that what they do just amounts to "making something pretty." Art is SO MUCH MORE than that. In this video you'll learn 6 reasons why art really matters.


NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY - Ted Forbes, The Art of Photography

Nobody cares about your photography. The world doesn't need any more photographers. It doesn't need anymore musicians, writers, filmmakers, artists or actors either. We have enough. Its over-saturated. BUT The world's survival is completely dependent on work that matters. Subscribe for more videos!


VISION IS BETTER, Ep 54 - What if Nobody Cares About Our Photography - David DuChemin

On the heels of hearing Ted Forbes (The Art of Photography podcast) say that nobody cares about our photography, I have some ideas about why beginning with that assumption is a good thing, and sets us up to make photographs people have a better chance at caring about.

 

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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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LEARNING TO PHOTOGRAPH THE SEA OF STARS - ASTRO PHOTOGRAPHY WITH A TWIST

For most of our short summer we spend our free weekend time as a family sailing on Georgian Bay to quiet overnight anchorages. Away from the city lights, we are able to see the stars very clearly.  I have been trying to capture our experience of the beautiful night sky for a few years now.  It is a tricky thing. When you are on a boat - there is so much movement.  Wind and waves make it difficult to get a solid platform on which to shoot.  The conditions are usually anything but ideal.

Occasionally we get a windless, waveless & moonless, clear night - as we did this past weekend.  You could say the “stars aligned.”  I waited until everyone had gone to bed (people moving rocks the boat too) and then set up to experiment. 

The last time I tried this I missed the focus completely in the dark and the images came out soft. But I noticed in those first images that if I shot directly up the mast, the stars appeared to rotate around it.  I guessed that it had something to do with our rotation on the anchor line… but that didn’t quiet make sense… so I thought I would try it out again to see if the same thing would happen.  It did.  And I still don’t know why.  If you have any ideas or explanations (physics was never my thing) please let me know. 

I usually only share images I consider to be portfolio pieces.  This one is not one.  But I'm hoping that by sharing it you might be able to help me.  

My main complaint is the noise.  I don't like the noise which came as a result of using a high ISO and long shutter speed.  As you can see from the processing notes below I used both Lightroom and Noiseware Pro filter in Photoshop to try and reduce it.  I am not a fan of the way noise reduction makes the mast look “plastic.”  I'd rather not have to do any noise reduction work.  Not sure how to solve that problem - better camera? different settings?  Maybe I could take a series of images and stack them instead of doing a long exposure to get the star trails.  If anyone has suggestions I am all ears - leave me a comment below  

So while it's not technically well done, I think the subject matter resonates.  One step closer on the journey to getting an image that captures the real beauty we feel so lucky to witness on our family sailing trips.

TECH DETAILS:
Nikon D700
14-24mm Nikon Lens
ISO 1600
14mm
f/2.8
25.0 sec

PROCESSING:
Lightroom:
- exposure adjusted
- white balance set to Fluorescent
- Dehaze tool used to get rid of some of the haze (it was a humid and hazy night)
- Luminance smoothing, detail and contrast adjusted
- Highlights, shadows, white and black clipping & clarity adjusted
- Colour noise reduction and smoothing
- Vignetting added
Photoshop:
- Color Efex Pro - pro contrast (dynamic) added & lighten/darken center added
- Noiseware Pro - nightscene noise reduction filter added

 

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MULTITASKING AND COMPROMISING - two odd strategies to help you protect your passion

I’ve been pressed for time lately.  Too many things on the plate and not enough time to give every one of those tasks it’s due.  What?  Did you say you can’t relate? No - I didn’t think so.  I am not complaining.  In fact I am grateful because it’s teaching me something.  It is forcing me to find new ways to make sure I still get out to do what I love most which is take photos.

What’s my solution? Multitasking and compromising. It’s a one-two punch that I never would have endorsed before.  Let me give you a bit more detail - you might find my strategy could work for you.

MULTITASK
The first is multitasking.  I can hear your protests.  Trust me, I recognize that when I multitask I rarely do as good a job of anything compared to when I am focused.  But you know what… sometimes sacrificing perfection is not only justified but the best solution to protecting the time you need to pursue your passion.  So here’s what it looks like for me  - instead of making time to go for a walk every day to uphold my commitment to better health AND finding a separate time to go out and shoot daily to keep my commitment to improving my photography I multitask.  I carry my camera with me on my morning walks.  This has never worked for me before… until now.  So what has changed?  

This is where part two kicks in - I’ve made some compromises I can live with.  

COMPROMISE
Finding Challenge in Monotony
My walk takes me along the same route. It’s one I like and I’m not willing to change it.  So that means I am presented with the same views and subjects (mostly) everyday.  I used to think this would produce boring results, but I now look at it as a challenge.  I have to really be present in order not to miss the new little scenes of beauty that are there every time.  And for the things that don’t change, I rationalize that getting very familiar with this landscape allows me to capture it at it’s best.  And though the landscape in my neighbourhood seems mundane to me, there’s a good chance it seems exotic to someone who doesn’t see it every day.

Carrying Less Gear - Testing Creativity Not Mobility
When I used to go out shooting, I would take my entire kit; all the lenses and both camera bodies.  Setting aside time to do photography is a commitment and to honour that I was not going to miss any shots because I didn’t have the right lens.  But my full kit of gear is cumbersome and I knew that carrying it all on my walk would make me start to hate my walk.  Which would be counter productive.  So the compromise is I take one camera and one lens.  Sometimes it’s just my iPhone, other times it’s my mirrorless and an 85mm or 55mm prime lens.  Both are light but limiting. Which forces me to get creative.  I have to use only what I have to make the photo.  I’ve rationalized that this compromise and challenge may just help make me a better photographer in the end.

Embrace the Pace - Thinking Long Term
There is no way to reconcile the pace required for these two activities.  They sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. Moving fast enough to raise my heart rate is incompatible with slowing down enough to explore the landscape to get a good shot.  My solution has been to accept that I don’t have to have it all in the same day.  Some days I will get a better work out and other days I will get better photos, the key is to remember that over time they will balance out.

I’ll admit there is nothing ideal about multitasking and compromising. But if you are like me and photography is a part of who you are and not just something that you want to do “sometimes," then finding ways to include in your life daily is essential.  Why not give it a try - you may find you are pleasantly surprised by the results.  

 

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I WANTED NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOS. I GOT INSPIRATION.

Landscape photography (like life) is unpredictable.  Sometimes you are presented with weather and conditions that are neither what you expected or hoped for.  I ran into this last weekend.  My hopes were high for capturing the Northern Lights.  The forecast was promising but sadly nothing materialized in my area.  Fortunately I didn't come away completely empty handed. 

With no new images to work on today I found myself digging back through my archives.  As I worked on this image of Toronto my hopes of catching the aurora in action must have seeped into my subconscious (cue the Rolling Stones).  

While the universe didn't present me with the aurora images I wanted, it did provide me with heaps of inspiration.  

 

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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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SLOW MOTION PERSPECTIVE

I've been thinking about time this week.  Partly because I was working on a photo challenge with that theme, but also because I found the slow motion video feature on my phone and have been trying it out.    

It's amazing how your perspective changes when you slow things down. You suddenly see stuff you never noticed before. Like snow. Falling up. 

The music that plays here is a track called Rolling Stone by Passenger (Available on iTunes and Soundcloud).  It's on one of my favourite playlists right now and when I watched the way the snow was falling in slow motion, the music and words of the first few lines just seemed to fit perfectly.

Sometimes I feel I’m going nowhere
Sometimes I’m sure I never will
She said it’s ‘cos I’m always moving
I never notice ‘cos I never stand still

Sometimes I feel like I’m falling
Falling fast and falling free
She said my darling you’re not falling
Always looked like you were flying to me

I look forward to exploring more of nature's beauty from this new perspective.  How about you?  What could you see differently if you slowed down?

I wish you a beautiful weekend with extra time my friends.

 

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A ROOM WITH A VIEW - how to get a great night shot of a city from your hotel room

I’m not much of a city girl (I’ve said it before) but I do love the way a city looks at night.  When I travel to a city I do my best to try and get at least one night time image that captures it’s sparkling features.  Sometimes (often) it is from the hotel room window.  I’ve not always been successful but I have learned a few techniques that have helped me improve my hit rate.  Here are few tips you might find helpful when making your own sparkling city images.

 

PICK A ROOM WITH A VIEW

You can use google maps to locate a hotel that might have a good view.  Perhaps one that overlooks the skyline or a well lit landmark of interest. Once you have chosen your hotel you can check trip advisor to get suggestions from previous guests as to what rooms have good views.  To narrow down your choice further, try www.room77.com to actually see and compare one room’s view to another.  

 

GET A CRISP SHOT

Shooting through glass at night can present some difficulties.  Here are a few things you can do to ensure you get the best shot possible;

  • Turn off all of the lights in the room and try closing the curtains behind you to block out the light and get rid of your reflection in the glass.  Take a few shots and look at them closely before proceeding to see if you have any unwanted reflections.
  • Stabilize your camera.  Either bring a tripod or be sure to place your camera on something stable - sometimes the window ledge is deep enough other times you may need to get creative with furniture or use your luggage to prop the camera up on. Be careful.  Damage is not the goal.
  • Get as close to the glass as you can with the end of the lens. (But please don’t lean against it - I’ve heard terrible tales of glass breaking).  If you are using auto focus, mind that the focus is on the city and not on the glass - you may have to flip it to manual focus to stop the camera from “hunting" for focus.  Once you get the focus right, if you haven’t already, lock it in by carefully (without bumping the focus ring) switching the camera to manual focus so that it doesn’t shift back when you depress the shutter button. 
  • No flash please.  You may need to open up the aperture (low f-stop number) and or increase the ISO to get the exposure right.  To start, I place the camera in manual mode, with my aperture at f9,  ISO at 100 and shutter speed in bulb mode.  I then press and hold the shutter button and start counting. At 8 seconds I let it go and check the shot to see if I am getting what I want. I adjust the length of time I hold the shutter open either up or down to get the right exposure.

 

HAVE FUN 

It’s actually not that hard to get some interesting shots… and you have the added benefit of being warm and dry so take your time and experiment.  For example:

  • try zooming the lens out on a long exposure shot for an interesting effect
  • try long exposures to get light trails on a busy street (as I did in the image at top)
  • take some at sunset and catch the reflections off the buildings
  • try creating some abstract images by zooming in on a building with interesting patterns
  • busy intersection below you? take a few images and process them using a tilt shift filter (or do it in camera if you have one of those lenses) 
  • try bracketing -  take multiple shots at different exposures and then blend these later using photo editing software
 TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE  Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.   (click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE 
Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.  
(click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

So the next time you find yourself in a city don’t forget to have a look out the hotel window and consider trying to make a few sparkling city night shots. Have fun my friends.

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Simplicity

This is my 5th and final image for the Black and White Challenge. 

It’s entitled WINTER'S ICY GRIP. Last December for two days mist and rain fell as temperatures hovered in the perfect zone for precipitation to freeze on contact, coating everything with a 3cm layer of ice.  Many trees were unable to withstand the ice load but those that did were beautifully encased resembling a scene out of “Frozen.”  For this image I isolated the branch by moving until the background was a simple dark colour and set the aperture to a low f-number (2.8) so that branch was in focus and the background was blurred.  Check out my tip here for more on shallow depth of field.  

The image worked in colour, but when I converted it to black and white the details in the ice suddenly popped.  The story in this image IS the ice and the black and white version tells it best. 

High impact monochrome images have a simplicity about them.  The subject is clear and distracting elements are removed.  Many photographers will tell you that when they shoot for black and white they purposefully look for simple subjects and isolate them in the composition.  But sometimes, converting a colour image to black and white can also have the effect of simplifying.  As is the case with my image.

Participating in this challenge has taught much more than just the technical process of making a monochrome image.  I’ve enjoyed how the challenge has impacted my thoughts on creativity, making art and photography. I now know that:

  • making art and posting every day takes discipline and commitment
  • doing something completely different from what you normally do can boost your creativity across the board
  • good black and white images are not made from poor colour images
  • the elements of contrast, texture, pattern and simplicity play a key role in producing high impact mono images
  • the elements of good art are the same as for good photography (not sure why this is such a surprise)

Have a wonderful week my friends - may you find your own challenges are ones that inspire.

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

 

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HOW TO HANDLE THE CREATIVE EBB AND FLOW

I have been pondering the way of things again.

I've noticed there is a constant ebb and flow to my photography passion.  During the "ebbing" (is that a word?) I am swept up in doubt which leaves me feeling lost and discouraged.  It's an uncomfortable place to be.  Not one I like to linger in. 

But serendipitous discoveries await in those moments.  In the pause lies the opportunity to take stock.  

Stop, look back, mark progress, recognize the accomplishment, then look forward, fix sights on the new horizon... and with patience and persistence the flow returns.

I hope this week finds you enjoying a positive flow of creativity my friends...  but if not perhaps a look back will help you to move forward.

 

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • Mykal Hall
    Mykal's post Looking Back to Move Forward on the Visual Wilderness site really helped me to clarify my strategy for moving forward after a period of quiet.
  • The Slow Regard of Silent Things
    There is nothing like a work of fiction that simultaneously transports you to another world and shifts your view of the real world.  Patrick Rothfuss' The Slow Regard of Silent Things introduces us to an endearing character that knows there is a natural way of things and that aligning oneself with the ebb and flow of life is to be at peace.  This book is a companion to his Kingkiller Chronicles (The Name of The Wind, The Wiseman's Fear) which I advise you read first  in order to tap into the richness of his latest work.
  • Black and White Photo 5 Day Challenge
    The ever inspiring Gage Salyards has nominated me to take part in a 5-day black and white photo challenge and I am going to give it a go. Since black and white is not something I've done for a while I've been searching online for some inspiration.  I came across a stunning image made by  Peter Zéglis and followed it to a collection of his Iceland images featured at twistedsifter.com.  Inspiration a plenty!
  • Silver Efex Pro
    There are many ways to make a digital black and white image.  For this one above I used Silver Efex Pro from NIK.  Of course this was only one step of many taken to get to the final image.  If you would like to know them all leave me a comment below and I'd be happy to share it with you.  Be warned though - I am the sort of editor (and cook incidentally) who likes to add a dash of this and a sprinkle of that - exact measurements are rarely recorded.
 

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ROSE COLORED VIEW - using filters real or digital to enhance the beauty

I have a pair of sunglasses with lenses tinted the perfect shade of rose.  When I wear them my view of the world is fantastic.  Everything looks picture-worthy.   These glasses are ridiculously big on me and my kids have informed me they lend me a certain air of wackiness but vanity and sanity be dashed - I’m hooked on the way they make my world look beautiful.

This enhanced outlook got me thinking about lens filters and my image making.  I don’t typically use filters on my camera. I tend to like to keep things rather simple when I’m out there - in fact sometimes I don’t even like to use my tripod or change the lens as much as I should.  But I figure if my world can look this good through a pair of sunglass lenses then perhaps I should try applying this rose-brown colour to some of my images.

So I spent a bit of time playing around with a few images I took recently, adding colour filter effects in post processing to see what I might be able to get. I found I liked the simplicity of using some presets I have from Trey Ratcliff’s collection right in Lightroom.  I always start with my images in Lightroom so testing out different ideas there was really simple and fun.  For the image below I started with Trey’s “Fading into the Red” and tweaked the sliders until it started to look like what I was after.   I then moved the image over to Photoshop to clean things up and make some final refinements (spot removal, Noiseware, Color Efex Pro and sharpening).  

I love the way that creative inspiration can come from the most unusual places sometimes.  Anyhow, hope you have something fun planned for the upcoming weekend. And if you find yourself in need of a bit of inspiration or a rosier view, perhaps consider trying out some filters (digital or real).  Or maybe just treat yourself to a pair of cheap wacky sunglasses.

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION FOR THIS WEEK:

  • This image from Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn.  I got to watch as Kerry-Ann tried out her new ND filter at sunset over on our Toronto G+ Photowalk a few weekends back.  In addition to the ND filter, she was also experimenting with what is called a black-card technique.  Here is a link to understand how this works.  
  • The rosy hues of this image posted by National Geographic Travel caught my eye and the article got me dreaming of travelling to a place where midnight safaris are possible.  
 

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CREATIVE RUT BUSTERS - schedules and adventures

Do you ever find yourself in a bit of a rut? Perhaps just uninspired or seemingly too busy to be creative?  I've been feeling that way this past week.  Don't get me wrong.  Crossing stuff off the never ending to-do list does feel good... but being creative feels better... right?

It's easy to get trapped on the treadmill of to-do's and before you know it you're not creating at all.  Luckily sometimes the universe (or perhaps the subconscious) recognizes the signs of this impending doom and slump busting suggestions appear as if summoned.

Here are two I found helpful:

  1. Minimize Distractions
    Get control of the distractions and make time for being creative.  Schedule it if you have to!  This suggestion came from a great article on Chase Jarvis' blog. I love the idea of blocking the day into 90 minute segments and planning what you'll work on in each segment.
  2. Get UP And Go
    The second is get out there... get off your butt and say yes to experiencing life... it's the raw data that fuels the creative output. Again a suggestion from Chase Jarvis. 

Of course a grand adventure or trip would be great but if time or budget doesn't allow for that you're not hooped.  There is life and inspiration all around.  Why not have a Micro Adventure?  This completely do-able idea comes from Alastair Humphrey's article I found at maptia.com where he promotes the local adventure.  Go down to the beach at night.  Take a train to a new location and wander around.  Head to a local park and spend the day watching and documenting a day in the life the public park.  Get on your bike and go looking for beauty.

So that's my plan this week... minimize distractions, schedule creativity, get off my butt and have a micro adventure.  What are your plans this week?  Is being more creative on the list?  If you have some good techniques for inspiring your creativity don't forget to share them here.

Have a good (creative) week my friends!

 

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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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EVERY IMAGE TELLS A STORY - daring greatly

Often when I make an image the story it tells is inspired by something I've read, heard or a song I've listened to.  I see the scene and it triggers the words.  Do you ever find that?

I came across this willow tree last week which seemed to be "daring greatly."  I imagined it's story to be one of risk and resilience.  Perhaps it got an unlucky start too close to the water's edge or was the unfortunate casualty of a summer storm.  Whatever the reason, this lone willow is now stretched precariously out beyond the safety of solid ground.  With its roots lashed to the ever shifting and rocky shoreline it seems to be... "daring greatly."  

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

THEODORE ROOSEVELT
Excerpt from the speech "Citizenship In A Republic" delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910 

I was recently (yes I realize I am late to the party) introduced to these words while watching Chase Jarvis interview Brene Brown on his show.  It's a long format interview but I found it terrifically inspiring.  When it comes to making my art, I am inspired to be the "one in the arena"  the "doer of deeds" the one "striving valiantly."  Creating is risky - you have to be vulnerable.  But nothing risked, nothing gained.  In fact in the case of un-used creativity - perhaps much lost!

If you are curious or in the mood for a bit of inspiration I would encourage you to watch the interview or look up Brene Brown.  She has written several books, done Ted Talks and runs Creativity Workshops through Oprah's website.  

I hope you've had a wonderful weekend my friends... and if you are not daring greatly in your own life already, perhaps something you found here will inspire you.

 

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FINDING THE MAGIC - trusting the creative process

The creative process is wonderfully mysterious don’t you think?

Take this image for example.  When I began, to edit the raw data I had the intention of completing this as a very sharp and realistic image.  One that would demonstrate the wonderful natural phenomena I recently witnessed - heaps of ice stacked up along the shore of a very frozen Georgian Bay.  Millions of beautifully shaped, glacial-hued ice shards back lit by the pink setting sun.  Divine!  But somehow when I finished the processing yesterday, the resulting image just didn’t seem to convey the “magic” of the original scene.

I had a hunch this was due to poor composition choices in the field but of course I couldn't change that now.  I decided to leave it for a bit, hoping that perhaps all was not lost.  It percolated in my mind overnight and when I sat down again this morning I allowed myself to explore other options and play around with applying a few filters.  I used Topaz Lens Effects motion blur filter selectively on the edges of the image to remove some of the distracting details and discovered the sense of movement also eluded to the power of nature to create and shape the liquid of the bay into something so solid and immense.  Bam - suddenly I felt the magic come back to the image.  The magic is the feeling and without it the image is flat.

I love that so often that creating the magic in an image is the result of play and unplanned discovery.  

Ahh - the mysteries of the creative process.

 

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PHOTO TIP - Can studying old paintings improve your photography?

I love when the same idea or piece of information comes at me from multiple places.  I don’t know what this phenomenon is called - ("multiple discovery" was all I could find on wikipedia) but I have noticed it many times. Studying the works of master painters for clues on how to improve your photography is certainly not an new idea.  But the concept has recently hit my radar enough times from various sources that I'm compelled to investigate it further.

I’ve started with the work of Canadian landscape painter and member of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris.  Why Harris?  Two simple reasons; he painted Canadian landscapes and I like his paintings.  

I love to travel and shoot exotic locations but I live in Canada so 90% of the time that’s the landscape I photograph.  It made sense to me to start close to home.  Joe McNally confirmed this wisdom in a recent interview on The Grid saying “You don’t have to go to Afghanistan or Tibet or Siberia to get good pictures.  Identify things that are accessible to you, that are near to you, that you love or that are you are interested or curious about and then start to make that happen.  Even on a simple level.”  (@ 30:10)  Lawren Harris and in deed all the members of the Group of Seven were dedicated to showcasing Canada and their art conveys so appealingly the beauty of the wilderness that is in my backyard.

But more importantly, I like his work.  It wows me. Stops me in my tracks.  And this is the quality I want my images to have.  

So the investigation begins... what is it about his paintings.   My favourites depict winter scenes.  They are minimalistic in detail and have a restricted colour palate.  They have dramatic skies and light.  There are strong contrasts -  the land is silhouetted while the light is almost white.  The shapes are graphic but the lines of the natural elements are smooth and rounded.

When I headed down to the frozen shores of Lake Ontario the other day it was these components that I love about  Lawren Harris’ landscapes that I held in my mind’s eye.  
And while I don’t believe for a moment that the images I came away with hold a torch to Harris’ masterpieces… mine are at least informed by his work. Certainly they share some similarities - the natural colour palate of winter in canada - blue, white and black/grey. Dramatic light and high contrast. Obviously the subject of the lake, ice, snow and rock.   Finally, the composition - a bit of shore line in the foreground to ground it.  Our mediums may be different but our goal is the same -  to stun our audience with the beauty that can still be found even in the cold Canadian winter climate.  

Do you have a favourite artist or piece of artwork?  Have you ever explored what it is you like about that piece?  Perhaps there is a clue in it that which could help your own photography.  

Have a lovely weekend my friends.

 

Morning, Lake Superior, by Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970) around 1921.
Lawren Stewart Harris
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Purchase, William Gilman Cheney Bequest
c. 1921
oil on canvas
86.3 x 101.6 cm
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

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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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