TRAVEL

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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FINDING THE UNEXPECTED - unique photos sometimes lay off the beaten path

I am not a comfortable risk taker... in fact the complete opposite.  But I am getting used to the  idea that sometimes the most wonderful things can be discovered when you allow yourself to explore.  Often venturing even just a little off the beaten path is enough to allow the unexpected to find you.

Like this beautiful doorway we found in an smaller alleyway in the medieval town of Grasse, France.  I call this image "Number 10 Street Unknown."  It's a play on the familiar number 10 address of so well known Downing St, but I also love that the number is 10 - as in "a perfect 10" which speaks to the beauty of this little unexpected find.

Want to make better images - consider taking a calculated risk.  Find a friend to take with you and permit yourself to do a bit of exploring.  Follow your gut.  You never know what unexpected discoveries will you make!

 

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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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FLEETING HAPPINESS

https://elle-bruce.squarespace.com/config#/pages/blog-posts|/blog-posts/2014/10/31/fleeting-happiness

Happiness.  It's a powerful thing isn't it?  We crave it, pursue it, endeavour to make it last once we find it and bemoan its disappearance when it slips away.

I recently came across this quote and it struck me.  

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” 
― John Lennon

Happiness is the goal.  The motivator and inspiration for all my choices and actions.  At times it seems fleeting or even unattainable but it's often only a choice away. 

Today I have chosen to do what makes me happy - creating this image and sharing it and my thoughts with you.

What choice could you make today to bring more happiness into your life?  Why not make it?

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • Marc and Angel Hack Life
    I would imagine like me you have already seen some of the inspirational blog posts from this husband/wife team float through your social media stream.  Their recent post  A Simple Thing You Can Do Today that Will Make You Happier dovetailed nicely with where I was heading with this post.  Isn't synchronicity wonderful?
  • 100happydays.com
    I love this challenge.  Love it.  But will I DO it?  Now that is the question.  How about you?  Let me know if you decide to in the comments below.  

     
  • Black and White
    Many photographers have been taking part of the "5 day black and white photo challenge" online.  My google+ stream has been full of stunning black and white work.  I love colour but have been inspired to try my hand at the black and white thing for these last two posts.  Here are a few resources if you are looking to try your own hand at it:
Darren Rowse - Key Ingredients For Black and White Images at Digital Photography School gives some basics on what to think about.
Varina Patel - Getting It Right: Black and White at Visual Wilderness gives some advanced techniques to enhance your work in the digital darkroom.

Elle Bruce - B&W Photo Inspiration Board at Pinterest.  Yes I have been making a collection of black and white images I have found particularly inspiring. 
 

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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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ONE STRANGE TIP FOR IMPROVING YOUR LANDSCAPE IMAGES

Are you a landscape photographer who embraces post processing as a part of creating beautiful artistic images?  If yes then here’s a tip I picked up from Trey Ratcliff while attending his New Zealand Photo Adventure last year.  It might seem like a strange one at first but it’s one I used on this image and honestly I love the results.

Don’t process all of your photos from a trip or shoot right away.   

Yup.  That’s it.  Simple right?  But why on earth would you do that?  Why wouldn’t you edit all of your photos right away so you can share them?  Well, here’s the rationale.  What you know today is only a fraction of what you will know in a few more weeks, months or years.  So this means that when you re-visit your images after some time has passed, you will have more skills to bring to the editing table.

The problems I encountered while making this image - like very heavy chromatic aberrations for example - I wouldn’t have even noticed a year ago let alone known how to fix them.  It’s a proven truth that practise improves our results and practise needs time.  So why not time capsule one or two of your favourite raw captures from your next outing.  Hold them for your skilled hands of the future.

Of course regardless of the outcome, you still get the joyous side benefit of re-visiting memory lane.

Have a wonderful weekend friends. 

 

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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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DECEMBER - A MONTH OF SHADOWS AND MAGIC


There is something magical about December.  Perhaps it's because here in the northern hemisphere the days are getting shorter.  Or rather more to the point, night comes earlier and lasts longer.  

Candles, twinkle lights, fire light  - they all owe their enchantment to the dark.  Without shadow the light would would be undefined.  It's the contrast that makes things interesting.

The Christmas Market in Toronto's Distillery District is charming.  We arrived around 4pm and wandered around enjoying all the displays and poking in the stores.  But as night fell and the shadows grew, the lane ways lined with glowing gas lamps and twinkling lights morphed into a more captivating world.  Even the horses on the brightly lit carousel seemed to come to life.

As  photographer, I find I'm always paying attention to the light... but my newest discovery is that there is magic in the shadows.

Of course I'm not the first to consider this.  I recall Trey Ratcliff talking about this with regards to processing HDR photos.  A side effect of producing photos with a high dynamic range of light is that often the shadows can be completely eliminated.  This is what allows one to see greater detail in an image.  Trey cleverly recommends making adjustments to bring some of that shadow back into your image.  And I agree it makes a big difference... you need a bit of shadow to define the light and to bring the magic.  (By the way if you haven't already - check out Trey's latest magical endeavour www.thearcanum.com)

So embrace the shadows of December my friends and have a magical weekend.  


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5 REASONS TO GO (BACK) TO NEW ZEALAND

If you read my post yesterday about the pivotal moment I experienced on a mountain in New Zealand, then you might not find it surprising that I want to go back.

Here are 5 reasons why I think you should go (and I want to go back) to New Zealand:

1.  It is achingly beautiful.  A landscape photographer's dream.  Everywhere you turn there is another amazing photo opportunity.

2. The climate and weather is interesting.  I am a bit spoilt living in Canada - we have 4 distinct seasons - and that means lots of landscape variety.  New Zealand is similarly blessed - though they have another edge.  Amazing clouds!  I guess they don't call it Aotearoa (the Māori name for NZ which roughly translates to "land of the long white cloud") for nothing.

3. The people are lovely.  Friendly, relaxed, happy... I imagine there are some kiwi's who don't fit this description, but I didn't find any.

4. The coffee is good.  No, I mean really good - and I am pretty picky about this.  I think you would have to try really hard to find a bad cup.

5. There are crazy talented and inspiring photographers living there.  Trey Ratcliff, Todd and Sarah Sisson just to name a few.  Imagine having the chance to bump into these guys!  

 

PS - if any of the above mentioned inspiring photographers should find they need a keen New Zealand photography workshop assistant... let's talk.  I might be agreeable to working for little more than photo ops and coffee.

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MOUNTAIN TOP REFLECTIONS - finding more than just a place to take a photo

We had to climb a good distance to get to the top of Deer Park Heights from where we were dropped off.  It was quite steep.  So steep that I almost stepped into this pond as I came over the rise.  Very convenient as I needed to catch my breath anyhow.  Catch my breath and take a moment to reflect.

Some experiences change you.  Call them pivot points, critical milestones or defining moments - you know the ones.  They are the enlightening experiences big or small that reshape not only where you are headed but who you are at a core level.  Times that move us to more closely align our authentic selves and core values with our true calling.

My most recent defining moment happened right there, in Deer Park Heights, while attending Trey Ratcliff's New Zealand Photo Adventure.  It was a big moment.  The whole adventure in fact was big!  You can see how profoundly I was impacted in the clip they recorded of me for this video (it's late in the reel but watch the whole thing - you'll get to see all the great folks I met.)  I am nearly speechless, barely coherent.  

A Stuck In Customs Video. More info at http://store.stuckincustoms.com/workshops

Can you name 5 pivotal moments in your life so far?  Perhaps a critical milestone is on your horizon.  Maybe it will happen today!  Have a good one my friends.

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here's to colour

 I’ve been posting mostly landscape shots from our trip to Scotland and waxing on about all the colour we found there.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the colour found in the cloth naturally associated with the country - the tartan.  Originally I thought that the development of this sometimes flamboyant weave was a response to the lack of colour in the landscape but in fact this is not the case at all.  My understanding is that the ancient tartans were NOT bright but instead more muted - perhaps due to the natural dye colours but also because the muted colours allowed them to blend more readily with the landscape they hunted in. Wearing of the tartan was banned eventually, and it’s re-introduction happened in more recent history and was more of a marketing concept championed by the royal court and with this re-invention came the brighter colours.

Regardless of it’s history - I was mesmerized by the multi-hued fabric in the kilts of the scottish highland dance competitors at the Kenmore Highland Games.  As they waited their turn to compete they arranged and rearranged themselves in an endlessly changing rainbow of colour.  So many richly saturated hues all lined up in one place.  I think I snapped over 30 shots.    

 

GENTLEMEN - THE TARTAN
Here's to it!
The fighting sheen of it,
The yellow, the green of it,
The white, the blue of it,
The swing, the hue of it,
The dark, the red of it,
Every thread of it.

The fair have sighed for it,
The brave have died for it,
Foemen sought for it,
Heroes fought for it.
Honour the name of it,
Drink to the fame of it -
THE TARTAN.

(Murdoch Maclean)

 

Having colourful thoughts?  Drop me a line.

 

IMAGE DETAILS:
Highland Dancer
Kenmore Highland Games, Scotland, UK
56°35'8" N 3°59'47" W
June 2013

 

GEEK DETAILS:
Nikon D700, 28-300 mm, f/3.5-5.6Single shot, initial processing in Lightroomminimal processing in Photoshop (sharpening and Color Efex Pro)

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