Lake Ontario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I WANTED NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOS. I GOT INSPIRATION.

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

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

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

 

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HOW TO HANDLE THE CREATIVE EBB AND FLOW

I have been pondering the way of things again.

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

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

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

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

 

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

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

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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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COMPLETELY LOST

This image was made from photos I took last week.  It was bitterly cold but the sun rose and bathed the frigid scene in a warm, golden orange light.  

I stayed out longer than I should have.  At -28C my hands and feet were frozen sore after only about 30-40 minutes.  Good gear helps, but cold is cold.  

The thing that continues to astound me is that I don't even notice the pain until I stop and step away from the camera.  I am so completely absorbed with the process of image making that I am lost in it.

And for that I am grateful. Grateful that I have finally found something that I love so completely that I would loose a limb for it without even noticing.  

Ok - that's probably a bit dramatic.  Perhaps I should have pursued the stage... 

Have a wonderful weekend my friends. I hope you have a chance to get lost in something you truly love doing. 

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PHOTO TIP - Can studying old paintings improve your photography?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely weekend my friends.

 

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

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BETTER LANDSCAPE PHOTOS - two simple tips

There are a lot of things you can do to that will help you take better landscape photos, but I am going to suggest that there are two simple things you can do today that will start to have immediate impact.

1.  GET OUTSIDE FOR SUNRISE AND SUNSET
Have you taken a close look at the landscape images you like the most?  You may have noticed that many of them (if not all) are taken at either sunrise or sunset.  It's not a coincidence.  These times of day serve up some beautiful light.  So why not stack the odds in your favour and plan to take your landscape photos at these times.  They don't call it "magic hour" for nothing.  The trick though is not to just arrive at sunrise ... the hour or so right before and the hour afterwards can be really lovely.  It's all about the light.  I find it has a "softness" to it that can almost be felt... that's when I know the time is right for making good photos.  There are reasons why these hours make produce good results and if you are curious about understanding it try a google search of "magic hour photography" - loads of better folks than I can tell you all about them.

2.  DO IT OFTEN
So this is old advice - no secret here - just a reminder really.  Get out and take photos at sunrise and sunset or whenever you can, as often as you can.  Getting good at something requires practise.  I've looked back at my images from even just a year ago and it's shocking to see the effect practise has had.  I can barely stand some of my earlier images now.

Time is the key.  My two tips are all about time; showing up at the right time and repeating that many times over.  And while I claim these are simple, I mean simple in concept. In practise is a whole other thing.  Trust me, I have no illusions about how difficult it can be to find/make/claim time.

I've recently managed to free myself from parental commitments to photograph the sunrise one morning a week.  Sunrise (and sunset for that matter) occurs at a very civilized hour here in the winter but unfortunately those coincide with my mom taxi hours.  Some day my kids will have a great laugh recalling how often their drives to school were punctuated with "Look at those clouds over there!" and "Do you see those colours? "

But now I have one day a week to capture those clouds and colours.  Of course the clouds and sunrise don't seem to know that yet.  In the end the image I was hoping for this week didn't materialize.  But no matter... for now I will take what I can get.  I am out and I am practising. 

So my friends, a whole weekend stretches before you now.  May you find yourself inspired to get out there and chase down that goal - of making better landscape photos or something else - all it takes is time.

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WHY PLAY IS IMPORTANT

Play.

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

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

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

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

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

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