Who Are you Creatively?
Why do you make photographs? Some people will answer that they make photographs because they want to document their travels or important events in their lives. Others are inspired by nature and want to capture this inspiration. And many use photography as a positive escape from the hectic rat race of life (a kind of meditation or mental yoga). But if we dig even deeper I think there is a universal desire, if not a need, for creativity. As kids we are all naturally curious and creative. Unfortunately, these traits get sapped out of us early on as we are taught the ‘values’ of practical education, work, consumption, and conformity. Many of us picked photography as a creative antidote for the homogenous pressures put on us by society.
But as we learn and practice photography, the ‘ought tos’ start to rear their ugly heads. We are taught about subjects we ought to photograph, locations we ought to visit, compositional rules we ought to follow. In short, over time, the very hobby we took up to express our creativity is stuffed into a box and turned into formula. We suppress our creativity and shoot just what others deem acceptable.
Every so often we need a reset, a reminder to get in touch with who we are and what our inner voice wants to say but that gets drowned out by the yelling of the outside world. Lately, I was feeling out of touch with my creative voice and felt that I was just repeating photographic formulas. My partner, Samantha suggested a little exercise for me to do that would help me determine who I am creatively. She showed me a variety of visual arts from painting to collage. She asked me to pick out pieces that I really liked and then had me write out answers to these questions about each piece:
- What do you think this picture is about?
- What do you respond to or find interesting in the picture? Why?
- Looking at the shape, line, form, texture and colour etc. used by the artist, how do these compositional and material choices help convey the essence of the picture?
Together we looked at my art choices and my detailed answers to her questions. We began to notice some themes, ideas, visual elements and even colours common to each piece. Sam suggested that these commonalities were the seeds of my creative voice. Frankly, I was surprised by the results because the imagery I liked was very different than the images I have become known for. But when I looked at my most recent work, there were little hints of this new voice trying to emerge; I was already beginning to use the themes, ideas and visual design elements that I had chosen in Sam’s exercise. It became obvious that I no longer knew myself creatively. Indeed, I had changed significantly but was still trying to force myself to shoot in my old ‘style’. No wonder photography was feeling strained lately. Now that I have discovered with Sam’s help who I am as a creative, the world has opened up for me again. Photography is a playground and I have given myself permission to play once again.
So if you are feeling a bit lost with your photography, try Sam’s exercise and share and discuss the results with a good friend or fellow photographer. Better yet use the exercise on each other. Often someone else can see easier patterns in your choices that you may subconsciously deny or that you may not want to see. What often emerges from this exercise is the discovery of who you are as a visual creative. That is a powerful revelation. Now go discover your creative voice.
Samantha and I have curated what we think are the top 15 images submitted by our awesome Newsletter subscribers. To be considered, subscribers tagged their image with #myoopoomoobest2015 as a request to be considered in this blog post. Some sent their image by email and some posted to the oopoomoo Creatives Facebook group. We encouraged people to submit one image that represented their best work based on the following criteria:
- represent who they are photographically as an artist or demonstrate something they learned this year
- be as well-composed as they can do at their learning level, and
- be taken ethically.
We kept these guidelines in mind when choosing the photos for display here on the blog. It was a tough choice with over 100 images to choose from but the ones below best represented fresh seeing, original creative vision and good story-telling. So many images ‘almost’ made the cut and Sam and I wrestled and argued and debated the final 15. So, bruised and beaten, we present our choices. Enjoy and happy 2016!
Chris F Payant
Nathalie Kulin Greenwood
Usually, but not always, I’ll have a plan for post-processing an image while I’m setting up to take that shot in the field. The image below is a good example.
Out in the mountains this past fall, Darwin and I were meandering along my favourite highway, the Bow Valley Parkway. The bright overcast light was turning the forest into a magical realm, highlighting the skeletal branches and brightening up the underbrush. The bright yellow caught my eye, but even as I worked this stand of pine, I wondered if this might be a candidate for conversion to black and white later on the computer. The reason I thought this might work better than the lovely colour which first attracted me is that I didn’t like the green colour of the trees in the background. Converting to black and white would preserve the bright tones in the yellow leaves but strip away the interest in the dark green background. So did it?
Creativity and vision are tough concepts to define sometimes. They’re even a little overused. When Darwin and I think of creativity, we think of original expression, as in, something you made yourself from your interests and passions. In a world saturated with images, it can be tough at times to even know what our interests are! That’s why getting out by yourself to photograph what catches your eye is such an important part of being a photographer. And when you are more comfortable with knowing what motivates you to press that shutter, that vision is going to carry you through the process in three parts: ‘seeing’ the image, making the image and processing the image.
What do you think? Is your creative vision a three-act play?
Samantha and I have had a busy spring doing photography workshops across the country. Our workshops take a lot of advanced preparation to give our participants the best experience possible. Between our heavy prep time and the fact that we don’t shoot during our workshops, we’ve had very little time to shoot for ourselves. Now that our workshop schedule is done and we have the summer for our own photography we thought it might be nice to show some of our recent work (newly shot and/or processed images). I’ll start off first with some fresh work. Watch for Sam’s new stuff in a follow up post!
For May our shooting theme over on the oopoomoo workshops Facebook group was ‘shadows’. And, wow, did we get a great bunch of images. Thanks to everyone who participated! Below are our favorite creative interpretations of ‘shadows’ by oopoomoo photographers. If you want to be kept abreast of our latest assignments just subscribe to our newsletter (upper right of this webpage) and you’ll also get our free Born Creative eBook! And if you want to participate in sharing and providing constructive feedback on images be sure to check out our active and fun Facebook group.
Darwin and I have been visiting our favourite mountain retreat, Aurum Lodge for the past couple of weeks. The weather has been crazy warm and not even that windy for almost the entire time. We did have one snow squall which meant waking up to a surreal, quiet, white world the next day. Both of us headed out with our cameras, going in different directions, and I was incredibly fortunate to spend a half an hour watching and photographing a raven that was observing the still morning.
Although I could have grabbed a shot and quickly left in search of something new, as soon as that thought entered my mind, I had to laugh at myself. What could possibly be more magical than the light, the sun and this dark creature right in front of me? I’m not a wildlife photographer, but I appreciate the patience it takes to learn the habits of animals in order to better photograph them.
And this raven rewarded my decision to stay and observe by preening, calling to a friend, and taking the scene all in before finally flying away. It was a magical experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to be part of that snowy spring world.
Happy New Year, everyone! Darwin and I are opening the New Year with some intensive creative work. Carrying on our Creative Sabbatical (although now as house sitters we are Artists in Your Residence!), we have prioritized our time around some personal growth and personal art projects. We’ll share some results on the blog from time to time. Next week Darwin will tell you about a project he’s excited about, but as for me…along with finishing my Pressed Landscapes project, I am also working on a series of tree portraits.
Those who follow my work know I have a soft spot for photographing trees and grasses. In fact, on our recent trip to Antarctica, surrounded by penguins and seals, not even a scraggly twig in sight, I found myself missing my usual subject matter. While I enjoyed the wildlife and glaciated mountains, I wasn’t moved to photograph much. To each her own, I guess!
My goal for this tree project is hopefully to convey something about the nature of these plants that manage to survive and even at times thrive in often challenging environments. I hope to avoid anthropomorphizing (if that can be applied to plants) too much but capture the forces of the world in the bodies of the trees.
Oh, and my New Year’s Resolution is to get in shape, of course. 🙂
Sometimes during a photography workshop, when we find the photography students are happily snapping away, we may grab a few shots of them at work or the environment we’re in. On last year’s Badlands, Buicks and Old Buildings workshop, I was armed only with our point-n-shoot camera, a Panasonic Lumix LX-5, and snagged a few shots during our visit to an autowrecker’s yard. Our group gets private access to this gem of rusty relics, and we spend a good few hours in there discovering pixel treasures. For fun, I decided to work the square aspect ratio on the LX-5. Here’s the results!
We still have space in the Badlands, Buicks and Old Buildings workshop but the date is coming up fast! You can read some of the nice things past participants have said about this event here. Along with old cars, we visit Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park and tour the prairie roads winding through crops and massive wind turbines. And of course we visit old buildings and other hidden relics on the prairie.
Next up: this coming weekend’s photo workshop in Prince George, B.C.! We follow our ‘Photocram’ format and stuff in loads of learning in a short blast of photographic goodness. These workshops offer big bang for your buck ($250 for a weekend course…seriously????), so if you aren’t able to join us at one of our destination workshops, consider a Photocram event next time we’re in your area. Or maybe even see you at Prince George…? Talk to Debbie to see if there’s still space. If you can’t make it to Prince George, then maybe head up to Edmonton in September for our Creative Landscape Photography course at the Paul Burwell School of Photography.
Samantha and I have spoken many times about being ruthless in editing your work. Keep only the good stuff, toss the rest. Easier said than done though!
Of course, the longer you wait to edit your images, the more likely you’ll be objective and really clean the clutter. I finally got around to editing and processing my images from The Glory of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies Workshop held in, wait for it… 2011! So after two and a half years of sitting on the hard drive it was easy to look at the images objectively. Of the 500 photos I took, most of them seemed pretty pedestrian. I narrowed the selects down to about 50 images with ‘potential’ and in the end kept only 25 photos. I wonder if I waited another 2 years if I would keep any at all! Hmmmm… I just found several folders of images from the fall of 2005, the more time passes, the more ruthless I get.
Below are the 16 images I liked the best from the 2011 workshop. It remains to be seen if any of these images make it to my top 100 list over time. It will be interesting to see if I have anything at all to share from the 2005 trip!
Anyone who was born and raised on the prairie knows that prairie summers are filled with hot sun, big sky and grass-rustling wind. I wanted to capture that feeling in a photo but also show nature reclaiming itself from the assault of modern society. This photo taken on our annual Buicks, Badlands and Old Buildings: The Prairie Workshop hit the mark for me and says everything I felt at the time of making the photo. I used camera technique (long exposure with a polarizer and ND filter) and post processing techniques to add to the message I was trying to make with this image.
We think that good photographs illustrate more about how the photographer feels about the subject and less about documenting the actual subject. After all, we all ‘see’ the subject in different ways and there probably is no way to make a purely objective representation of a subject. Somebody else taking photos of this exact scene might concentrate on other aspects that interest them more. For example, one of the participants in the workshop made a photo that showed just the top of the car in the air with nothing grounding it. It was awesome and made the car look like a diving bird. One of the powerful things about a workshop is the inspiration and surprise we get when we see how others interpret the same scene we have photographed. Are you thinking about how you feel and why you are attracted to a subject before you press the shutter button? If you are, then you are well on your way to making interpretive images!