We’ve all heard the old saying: “It’s not the camera that makes the picture, it’s the photographer.” Why in music isn’t there a similar refrain? “It’s not the piano that makes the music, it’s the musician.” Or in art? “It’s not the brush or the paint, but the painter.” We rarely care about what brand of brush an artist uses; we care about the art produced. So why is it that, invariably, the first question asked of photographers is, “what kind of camera do you use?”
We think the problem with photography is that photographers use a tool that records images directly from reality. There is no implied ‘interpretation’ in using a camera. It’s seen as a device which objectively records the ‘real’ world. As such, we think that the better the recording device (the camera), the more accurate the reality, and therefore the better the photograph. And so it goes. As photographers we become obsessed with getting better and better gear. Our camera, lenses and accessories become the ends to the means and the means to an end. We become slaves and lovers of the technical aspects of the endeavour. Art is forgotten if even acknowledged at all.
In photography we are less likely to think like an artist. An artist uses his or her tools as a means of inner expression. Art is about telling the world who you are and what you think. Art is not reality; it’s an interpretation of your personal reality. Photographers mistakenly believe that the more they know about gear, tools and technique, the more accurate their representation of reality. Of course, nothing is further from the truth. Obsession with gear and goodies only gets in the way of communicating any message whether that message is journalistic or artistic. In photography we spend precious little time developing vision and voice. Mostly we just want to play with goodies.
For photographers who want to advance beyond gear obsession into the realm of artistic expression, we recommend several approaches:
- Take a bare minimum of gear with you on photo outings. We have written about this before but remind you about taking only a camera and one prime lens like a 50mm lens to help you hone your ability to see and express yourself with a single tool.
- Think of your photography not as a hunt for single trophy shots but instead in terms of a project. Pick a topic (e.g. garbage, trees, puddles) or a conceptual theme (isolation, power, contrast) and develop a body of work that speaks to the topic or theme. Project-based photography will help you concentrate more on the message than the medium. Gear quickly becomes secondary and diminished in importance compared to artistic expression.
- Take a course in photography that is about leaning to see and expression. Avoid courses that discuss technique or gear. You want to exercise your creative expression and not your wallet. Buying more gear, software or camera goodies will not help you. Invest in discovering your creative eye. One option is our Resolve: Discover Your Creative Self eCourse which is targeted so that you discover what makes your creative clock tick.
- Instead of reading on-line reviews of cameras and lenses, book off a day a month to go to art galleries and check out paintings, sculptures and visual installations. Take a notepad and jot down why the art appeals to you or not. Relax and really look at the pieces. What is the art telling you about the artist?
- Don’t try too hard; let your subjects speak to you. Don’t force a technique or a conscious attempt at style. Just respond and soon your photos will be created from within and not as a result of blindly jabbing at the shutter of your high-priced optical recording device.
- Get off the camera control crutch. Go back to fully auto or program mode in your camera and just shoot intuitively. Don’t think, just respond.
Of course there is a lot more you can do, but hopefully these little exercises will get you off the obsession with gear and on to the discovery of your self!
Here at oopoomoo HQ we are getting set for a busy season of teaching, talking and taking (photos of course).
First up, we are thrilled to be part of a photo print exhibition on September 8 at Resolve Photo in Calgary. The print show is called RAÐLJÓST and the show features the work of fifteen local photographers who’ve traveled to — and fallen in love with — Iceland. Inspired by the Icelandic word “raðljóst” (which translates to “enough light to navigate”) the photographs seek to show Iceland interpreted creatively by each artist. Sam and I got a sneak peak at some of the prints going into the show and we are thrilled to report that you’ll discover an Iceland unlike anything you’ve seen before. And seeing these finely crafted prints in person reminds us that a key aspect of photography is not only posting photos to the web but also the tangible pleasure of viewing them as works of art in the form of prints. Some may even argue that the pinnacle in photography is a finely created print! Rather than show off the works here on the website we encourage you to come in person and enjoy the surprising views and luscious nature of fine art photographic prints of Iceland. For more information please check out this link.
Second, speaking of creative vision and personal expression, we want to remind you that oopoomoo will be in Abbotsford BC on October 22 to present our new show, “The Visionary Photographer”. In this show we’ll cover topics designed to take you into the realm of photographic artistry:
- The Confident Artist and The Art of Visual Perception
- Creative Lens Choice and Camera Controls for Visionary Photographers
- Advanced Compositional Patterns for the Visionary Photographer
- Personal Style and Creative Vision: The Metamorphosis of an Artist
Early bird pricing on this show ends August 31, so be sure to register soon if you plan to go. Plus we’d love to reconnect and meet BC friends old and new.
And finally, you may have noticed the fine work coming from students completing our 7/365 – The Mentored Photo Project eCourse. We are thrilled with the inspiring work of our students and have shared their July results. Watch for more awesome projects from our August students coming soon to the blog! If you have a photo project in you bursting to be seen, we have four private mentorships available this September.
We love it when photographers get creative.
We also love making mentorships a weeny-teeny bit challenging for our students. Pam Jenks confessed at the outset of this mentorship that she loves “big, spectacular landscapes” but when in the field struggles a bit to see compelling leading lines or interesting foregrounds. Her initial idea involved layers. We liked that concept, but wanted to make things a bit more interesting…Pam’s job was not to photograph just simple layers, but to make an image where layers were paramount and the first impression…overlaid upon what on second look is straightforward, raw nature. No post-processing props, no glory light or dazzling colour (ok, a little colour)…Pam’s images required careful, objective seeing in the field and strong composition work.
Here is Pam’s project statement:
I want to create a collection of images where the viewer first notices layers (lines/rectangles) and then secondly sees what was used to create those layers. I’ll do this by creating abstract images; the realism of the landscape or natural scene will be hidden in those layers.
Ten of her images are below. We think she did very well, don’t you?
In fact, we think more photographers should delve as deeply into their subject matter as Pam did in this mentorship – Shrek and Donkey think so too – because everybody loves parfaits!
From the movie, Shrek:
Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers… You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. CAKE! Everybody loves cake! Cakes have layers!
Shrek: I don’t care what everyone likes! Ogres are not like cakes.
Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait.”? Parfaits are delicious!
Shrek: NO! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.
Donkey: Parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!
Darwin and I are constantly impressed with the work of our students. It truly is a pleasure to see photographers gain confidence under our tutelage and pursue wholeheartedly their unique ideas. We’ve wrapped up the first week of our brand new eCourse, 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project. And before we begin our second course, we just had to brag a little about our first week’s students.
Lynn loves flowers. Oh sure, we all like to sniff a rose or admire a bouquet of colourful carnations. But Lynn takes appreciation of flowers and plants to a whole new level. Lynn sees flowers. With whatever tool comes to hand, be it a smartphone or dSLR, Lynn leans in close, capturing the sprinkling of pollen on a stamen or the elegant sweep of a petal. Lynn’s images are rooted in reality – we know we are looking at flowers, after all. But the everyday magic of the details of flowers is what Lynn adeptly reveals with her camera.
As part of the 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project eCourse, students are asked to define the project they wish to work on in one or two sentences. Here is what Lynn had to say:
I want to discover ways of photographing flowers to show what I can now see and to try to portray the excitement I now have.
Why is the world of flowers revealed anew for Lynn? Because, as she references in her project statement, Lynn can “now see”. A recent operation on her eyes has given her back the gift of clear and close sight. And what better blessing for a photographer! So, lean in and look closely at the world of flowers cleverly brought to life through Lynn’s eyes. We expect to see more beautiful work from this budding photographer in future.
Have you ever noticed that creative people are constantly recording their inspirations and ideas? Painters have sketch books they take with them to tinker with visual ideas. Writers sit in coffee shops, with a notebook or moleskin handy, ready to record snippets of conversations or observations for a character. Musicians used to carry small recorders to sample musical ideas. These days the smart phone is the handy recorder of choice for musicians. And with cameras built into smart phones, this back-pocket visual recorder has become the new sketch pad for photographers. And we have seen an explosion of creativity emerge simply because photographers now always have a camera with them in the form of their smart phone. The problem with smart phones is that they can be as much of a distraction as a creative tool. Instead of concentrating on making visual sketches, the photographer is also checking email, watching his Instagram feed and following the latest episode of his favourite Youtube channel. Meanwhile visual gifts flow by unnoticed.
When I am out and about doing errands and daily tasks I constantly see cool little visual vignettes that I wished I had recorded. We don’t own a smart phone and if we are not ‘on a photo shoot’ we leave the cameras at home so these little scenes are just ephemerally enjoyed in the moment – which is fine but sometimes I wish I could revisit those moments.
For my summer project I resolve to take a camera with me everywhere I go so I can capture the visual treats that present themselves constantly. These little ‘photo doodles’ I plan to put in a scrapbook along with my thoughts and impressions of each moment. Often I find that this type of visual journal is a springboard to launch larger projects. I’ll share the results of this Photo Doodle project on the blog and on the project page. Below are some recent doodles from the last few days. By the way, if you’re interested in trying out your own photo project but need help along the way our new eCourse 7/365 – The Mentored Photo Project might just be the ticket to kick start your creativity (we even have special pricing for those who commit before June 30th). Happy doodles!
What is the value of one week of your life?
What is the value of that week if you were doing something creative that you loved?
We believe firmly in the value of self-directed projects for artistic growth. Certainly we have been busy pursuing our own this year! But as we spent more time nurturing our photographic inclinations, we kept thinking how helpful a small mentored project might be for other photographers who wanted to get a creative idea out there in the world or even looking toward exhibiting their work. As much as we love doing our photographic thing, we kept wanting to share our happiness with you!
So our question is, do you have a photo project in you that’s itching to get out?
It may not be a big project (in fact, it probably shouldn’t be). It might even be a little strange or funny or weird. But you know that feeling you get when you’re out and about, and you see something and you think, “I wonder…” What if you had the time to pursue that little idea or spark of interest? Better still, what if you had two professionals invested in seeing your idea come to light, providing goal-setting materials, helping with planning and coaching you along the way?
We get those weird inspirations too. Now, we know better than to judge them. We call them our little orphan babies – orphan because there really is no home for them in what we do as professional photographers. They aren’t going to sell a workshop or print or calendar. No photo magazine wants them. They might even be such ugly little things that people turn away from their Facebook page! But they won’t let us go, these half-formed, raw and squirming intuitions. We have to bring them to the light and find a home for them.
Where should these little orphan ideas go? Well, what better place to try original ideas than our website, oopoomoo? Over the last year, we’ve moved our business toward a direction we find exciting; oopoomoo is more than ever a platform for sharing inspiring, talented and fresh photography, and we hope to have more stories behind living a creative life on the blog in future. We want to help you bring your orphan ideas to the world through a one-week, mentored photo project. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even find a home on the oopoomoo website through a published portfolio review!
If you have a photo project in you, then consider our new eCourse, 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project. It will take only one week of your time, but we bet you reap the rewards of seeing your project through the rest of your life. The satisfaction of bringing your unique way of seeing to the world is what every artist strives to achieve.
Resolve students! This new eCourse is a logical extension of 2016’s Resolve: Discovering Your Creative Self. You have the foundation for this next level of artistic development. To acknowledge your accomplishment, we have a special Early Bird discount for the month of July and August for all Resolve 2016 students – but space is limited! Use the appropriate monthly discount code provided to you in the June 17, 2016 Resolve Newsletter at checkout.
It seems we have touched a nerve with our latest eCourse offering “Resolve:Discover Your Creative Self”. Our first run of the eCourse sold out in three days and our second offering sold out in a single day! We have decided to add a third and final session of the eCourse to run January 31 to February 6, 2016. To learn more about this unique photography offering please go to this link. May you have a creative 2016! (sorry now sold out!)
It seems we have touched a nerve with our latest eCourse offering “Resolve:Discover Your Creative Self“. Our first run of the eCourse sold out in three days but we are offering a requested second session January 17 – 23, 2016 with the same introductory 40% discount until December 15 2015. After the 15th we’ll be charging $79.95 for the eCourse. To learn more about this unique photography offering please go to this link. May you have a creative 2016!
We’re excited to announce a new course on oopoomoo! Resolve: Discover Your Creative Self is a self-directed eCourse all about YOU!
There are plenty of ‘how to’ courses in photography – heck, we’ve taught our fair share of ’em! – but what seems to be missing is a backgrounder course that explores your inspirations and motivations behind pressing the shutter. What are your photographic strengths and weaknesses? What are you most terrified of photographing? What new heights could you reach artistically if you were able to peek under the hood and understand the why of photography for you?
By parts fun-silly and brutally direct, the Resolve Photography eCourse is a little like a self-help course complete with its own straitjacket. There’s no empty fluff here! Expect to dig deeper with daily challenging assignments designed to peel back the comfortable complacency we often settle into as artists. It’s like that paternalistic Polonius guy said to Laertes, “to thine own self be true” because then you can’t be false to any man – or your photographs! Something like that.
So is 2016 the year you invest in your photography? Then it’s essential you start off on the right foot by understanding who YOU are as a photographer and the talent that underlies your images.
Intrigued? Are you ready to soar creatively? Then check out our Resolve: Discover Your Creative Self eCourse. Our first session sold out in three days. We are offering a second session this January but again with limit spaces.