WATERSCAPE

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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MAKING STRONGER PHOTOS - Learn How To Exclude

As children, most of us were taught that it is not nice to exclude but in the quest to make stronger images excluding is essential.

 

YOUR BRAIN EXCLUDES, YOUR CAMERA DOES NOT

Sometimes we don’t realize that visual exclusion is something our brains do for us automatically. When you look at a scene your brain knows what you want to focus on, very swiftly analyzes all of the visual details and blurs or eliminates that which it deems unimportant.  Your camera regardless of how complicated a device it may seem is not as sophisticated. It doesn't know what you want the focus of a scene to be - it simply records the entire scene.  So when we lift the camera to our eye, everything included in the frame is given equal importance.

 

STRONGER IMAGE = CLEAR FOCUS = EXCLUDE DISTRACTIONS

It’s up to the photographer to make the subject or focus of an image clear.  One simple way (and there are others) to start making better photos is to ask yourself - what is it about this scene that made me want to take a photo in the first place? Then make sure that whatever you answered, fills the frame.  Cut out all the rest either in camera or in post-production.

 

EXCLUDE BY GETTING CLOSER

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
Robert Capa

I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before.  It's another way of saying cut out the clutter and focus in on the subject.  Getting closer will help to fill the frame with the subject, making it the focus and allowing the audience to see what moved you.

This image is not bad... but it could be stronger.

I took the image above last week at the sailing club where my son trains.  I was there to photograph him, but the light was lovely and while I was waiting I noticed that there were some beautiful reflections of the red metal dock in the inky blue water.  I made this photo.  The beautiful reflections are there but so are several distractions, including the "legs" of the dock and the pattern of ripples on the water.  The beautiful painterly part of the reflection is what caught my attention but in the image, the lake and the rusty red dock take up the bulk of the frame and distract from the focus .

In this second version I have cropped out all of the distractions. Even though it becomes an abstract image, it is stronger than the first version because it does a better job of highlighting the beautiful reflections in the water that caught my eye and made me want to take a photo in the first place.

Here is another image I made at the same location on the same day.  In this case it was the beautiful red, blue and white colours and the reflective quality of the lake that caught my attention.  Having learnt from the first example I immediately cut out the surrounding environment in the field by zooming in (with my feet) on the buoy and its reflection in the glassy surface of the water.

 

EXCLUDE DISTRACTIONS = CLEAR FOCUS = STRONGER IMAGE

Next time you are out shooting, give this simple tip a try. Be ruthless and exclude. Be mindful of what caused you to want to take a photo in the first place and then make sure to make it the focus of the frame - even if that means leaving other things out. If this makes you nervous then go ahead and start out by shooting wide and including everything. Just don’t stop there. Zoom in (either with your lens or your feet) and take another shot, and then another.  Try filling your frame with what caught your attention in the first place.  If that still feels uncomfortable then play with cropping in post production. Either way, I bet you'll notice that the more you exclude, the stronger your images will become. 

 

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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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SEE THE LIGHT - THE CRUCIAL ELEMENT IN GREAT IMAGES

I have to admit something.  I’ve been stubborn.

Ever since I picked up my camera a few years ago and started to pursue the art of making compelling landscape images I have been following the experts in the field, watching tutorials and taking workshops.  One thing that always comes up is how important light is.  Yes, yes, yes - of course light is important I would say to myself and then I would return to learning another post processing technique to unlock the hidden potential of my images.

But the subject of light would resurface.

It seems I am a slow learner.  Or perhaps I had just not experienced the difference light can make enough times to become a believer.

The other day that changed.  Late in the afternoon a storm rolled over the hills and down towards the bay.  I had checked the weather forecast earlier in the day and was expecting it.  I had also checked the Photographer’s Ephemeris to see just where the sun might be positioned when this storm came through and had picked a location that I thought might have a favourable view.  The one thing I didn’t anticipate though was in the end the one thing that made the biggest difference.  

The light.  It was extraordinary.

Great light can’t be missed.  You'll know it when you see it.  When you stand on site and can’t help but pause to stare at the beauty of the scene, when you look at your shot on the back of the camera lcd and it looks fantastic, when you snap a shot with your iPhone because it needs no filter and when you upload your photos to your computer and they require little to no editing... that’s great light at work.  Great light is powerful.

And now I’m a believer. 

Great light is a crucial element of great images.  Its’ not the only element but it is absolutely key.
Now that I've been converted, will I only take photos when the light is right?  No - for me there is still value in taking photos as often as I can - any practise time is good time.  But when the light is good, you can bet I will be making good use of it.

So if you are still looking for that magic post processing secret... let me just save you a bit of time... look for great light!

 

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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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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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WAIT A MINUTE - NATURE'S SIMPLE LESSON FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

Every time I head out with my camera I learn something new.  Each and every time - without fail.  One recent wintery morning, the lesson was a simple one.

It's to wait.  Wait for a few minutes.  And then wait for a few minutes more.  When you first arrive at a location the beauty of the moment may not be immediately recognizable.  I was early for sunrise on this particular morning and it looked like it was going to be unremarkable. It was cold and I was tempted to head home but I recalled a quote and decided to wait.

Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

If I'd left I would have missed the scene above.  The storm rolled in fast and furious and thank goodness... I waited for it.

 

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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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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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LIVING LIGHT - Drawn Towards Minimalism

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

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

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QUINTESSENTIAL MOMENTS

Summer is so fleeting. These days I greedily savour every warm fresh air moment I can.  Calm mornings at the water’s edge are among my favourite quintessential Ontario summer moments.  Getting up in time to make sunrise images means a very early start and though I am often still sluggish as I set up my gear, on calm mornings there is a peaceful energy that radiates from the quiet of nature and recharges my soul.  Perhaps it’s the promise of a sunny day ahead just waiting to be filled with warm weather pastimes.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend and had a chance to get out and enjoy your own quintessential moments. 

 

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • I found myself wondering if my image above was a good example of "golden hour" but wasn't certain how that was defined.  The article by Germán Marquès at petapixel.com "Understanding Golden Hour, Blue Hour and Twilghts" was perfect for helping me out with that.

  • When it comes to quintessentially Canadian landscapes, round pink rocks and still clear waters definitely scream Ontario to me, but the Rockies must come to mind for many.  The mini film Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies from The Upthink Lab does an amazing job of showcasing them.

 

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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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PHOTO TIP - Simplicity is the golden ticket to high impact images

One Rock One Bird One Sunrise
“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” - Frederic Chopin

I'm beating the minimalism drum again.  One thing many high impact images have in common is simple composition.  In high impact visual story telling "less is more" seems to be the golden ticket.  It's not a new concept but it's not always easy to execute.   Here are a few tips I’ve picked up that might help you move your images towards greater simplicity.

DETERMINE WHAT THE VISUAL STORY IS
In it’s most basic sense this can be described as a feeling.  In the field this means being aware of what moved you to pick the camera up in the first place. What do you feel when you look at the scene and what do you hope others will feel when they look at your image of it.  In the image above I wanted the sense of serenity and peace I felt to come through.  

SELECT THE LEAD TO TELL THE STORY
What is the detail or subject here that conveys that feeling and tells the story best? Find the lead and compose the image so that it is central (not necessarily centered - but most important)  In my image above the story of a peaceful sunrise is told by the lead - the smooth water and the smooth blend of colour in the sky.  It is the prominent feature.  

HIGHLIGHT THE LEAD
There are several ways to do that both in the field and in post processing… here are a few that I use.
Crop - sometimes it's not always clear what that main focus is when you are out in the field but you instinctively know there is something and you may only have a fleeting moment to capture it.  Go ahead and take the shot and then don't be afraid to use your crop tools later in post to help highlight it.  Many times I end up cropping down to a much smaller final image in order to simplify it and to place the lead that tells the story in a spot of focus.
Give Space - let the lead of your image stand on it's own with a bit of space around it.  In the field try moving around until you can isolate the subject.
Selectively Blur/ Sharpen - Sometimes it is impossible to give the lead space, so in that case I try to give it importance and make it stand out in other ways.  This can be done by selectively blurring everything else, giving slightly increased detail to the lead (through HDR or sharpening).
Keep Away from the Edges - a small detail on the edge of an image can draw the eye away so I am often careful to either crop unwanted things out (like the rocky shoreline that was in the bottom left corner of the above image).  If it is a small distraction use the clone or healing brush in post to remove it.  You can also use vignetting (darkening the edges and/or lightning the centre or subject) to bring the eye away from the edges.

CREATE SUPPORTS FOR THE LEAD
This can be leading lines, framing elements, or objects that help to direct the attention to the lead. Again in the image above, the silhouetted shoreline and rock are the supporting anchors for the colourful sunrise giving a sense of place.  With their lack of detail they play a supporting role - more of a frame than a distraction.

Editing out, and boiling down a scene to a minimalist aesthetic takes a bit of extra time both in the field and in post processing.  But the results can be an image with a strong lead that really sings the clear visual story and has incredible impact.  That’s the prize I’m after and if you are too then hopefully you’ll find these tips useful.  

As I work on improving my own images I find inspiration and pick up photo tips from lots of different resources.  If you follow me on G+, Facebook or Twitter you may have seen my links to some of these articles already.  If you'd like to follow along with my discoveries then be sure to circle, friend or follow me at any of those places.

Here some of the articles I've read recently and photographers work that has helped inform my ideas about simplicity: 


Do you have any others to add to this list?  Please share them with us in the comments below.  Have a simply beautiful weekend my friends.  

 

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IN THE WEEDS ... IN A GOOD WAY

I had a lovely little "microadventure" last week.  And while I didn't end up sleeping on a river bank as Alastair Humphreys might recommend in his book Microadventures, I did end up at the water's edge at sunrise.  "In the weeds" in fact, though not in a bad way at all.  

Do you ever find that sometimes the best view is not a grand one, but rather something quite small and perhaps right in front of you?  On the shores of Georgian Bay I found just such a treat.  The beautiful gradation of sunrise colour reflected in the water, the quiet lapping of tiny waves illuminated by the sun and an interesting pattern of silhouetted weeds breaking the smooth surface of the water - all right at my feet.  

Have a great week my friends.  Perhaps this is the week to make space for a micro adventure!  Don't forget to look down - you just might find your own grand little view!  Be sure to let me know what you find won't you?

 

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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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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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NEW... AGAIN

Something is different ... you noticed right?

Yes, I decided to give the whole website an update.   I suppose there are some who might argue that there was nothing wrong with the way the site WAS, but trust me .... it was starting to look... well a bit rough let's say.  

But this new look - well it's new, and clean and tidy.  Not only that but there are MORE new features now.  I bet you've already found a few.  If not go ahead and poke around a bit. 

In case you don't know where to start, here are two of my favourite new things:

  1. Featured Work - this is the place I am highlighting two things... images that make the cut for my PORTFOLIO  and VISUAL STORIES - which are images that I have curated into little bundles that tell a story.  Which brings me to my next favourite new feature...
  2. Newsletter Sign Up - Did you see that shiny new button in the top right corner? That is the place to sign up so that you don't miss out on some of the great new things I have planned to share with my most loyal followers.  Like what you ask?  Well like direct links to download high resolution versions of my images as wallpaper for your desktop ... and if that doesn't get you excited then I have a few other print projects in the works that those signed up will get first crack at.

So if you've got some time this weekend, why not drop your name on the list and maybe go have a look at the new FEATURED WORK section.  And as always feel free to leave me a comment below or get in touch.  

Have a good one my friends.

 

IMAGE DETAILS:

This one was taken up on the shores of Georgian Bay a few summers ago.  If you want all the camera setting details... just click on the IMAGE DETAILS underneath the image and then when you get to the new page, on the bottom right of the window click on the "i" symbol for camera information.  Then if you hover over the bottom left of the window the title and bit more detail comes up for the shot.  If you just love the image and want to have a copy, just click on the "BUY" button and all your options show up.

 

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CREATIVE ENERGY - limited or limitless?

Is creative energy limited or limitless?  What do you find?

This week I’ve had several creative projects on the go other than photography.  Now that I am turning my focus back to photography, I am finding the muse decidedly absent.  So I am left wondering… is creative energy limited?  Perhaps I have spent all my reserves and just need to find a way to re-fuel.  Any thoughts my fellow artists?  Have any useful tips on how to get in touch with the muse again?

HOW THIS IMAGE WAS MADE:

This is an image taken last spring along the shore of Lake Ontario.  There is a rock beach that I like to walk and I often find interesting debris left behind after the spring melt.  It was taken on my Nikon D700 with my 14-24mm lens.  I shot 7 bracketed exposures but chose only one exposure and processed it twice in Lightroom.  The first had some increased clarity on it and the second, I decreased the clarity as I wanted to enhance the smoothness of the water and the glowing of the horizon.  I then brought both versions into Photoshop and blended them.  In photoshop I used a couple of my favourite plug-ins; Topaz Lens Effects to further smooth out the water and Nik Color Efex to lighten the center and darken the edges. I also played a bit with using luminosity masks!  Something I am researching and trying out every chance I get.  Maybe that’s why the muse sat quiet.  Perhaps she was overwhelmed.

Anyhow, hope you had a wonderful weekend my friends - I know I am squeaking this post in under the wire.  I’ve got my my order placed for a whole bundle of new creative energy for us this week!

 

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PHOTO TIP - SILHOUETTES - aiming for more impact, less detail

Have I ever mentioned how much I love images that have silhouettes?  I didn't realize how much until I tried to pull together a portfolio of my portrait work and discovered that most of my favourite people images are of folks you can't see.  Ha.  Wonder what that means?  Stick to landscapes maybe.

But here is the interesting thing... I tend to create landscape silhouettes too. Why? Because my goal is to make images that have impact and silhouettes are an easy way to do that.

To create a silhouette you need to expose your image for a bright background and allow your foreground or subject to be under exposed so that it becomes a solid black shape.  

Do this and your image impact goes up for three reasons:

  1. Less Detail - Have you ever noticed that sometimes you have a great image but it is so packed with detail that you can't really tell what the subject is?  By turning your subject into a silhouette, you immediately remove some of that detail.  This is really useful when you have trees or rock outcroppings or people as your subjects - sometimes the details of these things can actually distract you.
  2. High contrast -  There's no rocket science here.  A dark subject against a bright background creates high contrast and makes the subject pop.  Watch carefully though - you want to make sure your subject makes a strong distinct shape otherwise your audience won't be able to tell what the silhouette is.
  3. High Intrigue - With little to no detail the viewer is left to imagine it and create their own story for the image. Viewer engagement heightens impact.

So how about trying it out.  See if you can capture more attention by leaving out some detail.

The image above is out of the archives.  Interestingly enough, the subject here is the sky and the gorgeous colour that arrived at sunset on what had been a rainy Saturday in cottage country.  In our part of the world, summer weekends in cottage country are precious.  The good weather season is short.  A full day of rain on a Saturday can be very disappointing... but sometimes Mother Nature makes up for it by sending a spectacular sunset.  More image details and prints for sale here.

 

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