EXPERIMENTAL WORK

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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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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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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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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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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PHOTOGRAPH AND ABSTRACT ART - walking the fuzzy line between

Do not adjust your screen.  This image is out of focus on purpose.  I've been experimenting again.  Having some fun walking a fuzzy line between photography and art.  Abstract art in this case.  

When you were a kid, did you ever stand still and squish your eyes half closed to look at a scene?  It makes everything blurry and simple.  That kind of visual play seemed pretty normal to me as a kid - I did it all the time. I look back on it now and wonder if I did it instinctually as a way of eliminating excess detail in a scene that seemed too cluttered.  A simple way of making visual art perhaps.

I still think it's a valuable technique for finding the beauty in a scene. It has the effect of distilling things down to the basic elements - composition, colour, line and shapes etc. 

The image above was taken on a road I drive along often that runs alongside a field.  There has always been something about it that I find beautiful. Strangely the photos I've taken of it for the most part I find unappealing.  The other day I realized that perhaps it's because what I see as I zoom along it in the car is not the same thing as what my camera captures when I stand still at the edge of it.  Flying past/through a scene in a car has a similar effect to squishing your eyes shut.  So for fun, I stopped and decided to try taking a photo out of focus.  

It worked! Suddenly I can see the beauty again.  The image becomes all about the colour palate (cool winter blues, white and tans), the lines (of the road, telephone poles and the bushes at the edge of the field) and the shapes (lovely round and layered bokeh from the sparkling ice on the tall grasses and bushes).

I know this image doesn't fit with the others I usually post and I would be the first to admit it is unpolished - falling rather haphazardly someplace between art and photography.  But there is something about this that appeals to me.  

If photography is an art form, why should photos only be in focus?  

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