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!
The great thing about photography (or any visual art) is that no two photographers see the world in exactly the same way; give ten photographers the same scene to photograph and you’ll most often get ten (or more) different results. Even a single photographer will produce multiple interpretations of the same scene. Often our subconscious notices the scene; there is something there that we like. If we respond with our cameras right away then often we capture that flash of subconscious interest and come away with a photo that honours what we feel about a subject. But just as often, our conscious brain kicks in and overrides our subconscious to make judgments, and to categorize and analyze what we see. The more we think, the further we get from what attracted us in the first place. However, we can often get back to our original ‘attraction’ if we let go of our noisy thoughts and begin to explore the subject more from the heart than the mind. Let’s look at both of these scenarios in turn.
Sometimes, your heart’s eye gets it right first thing and further explorations take you further from your visual truth. For example, this past October I went on an outing to the Cochrane Ranchehouse, a lovely natural area park near our home. There, while walking around, I found a curved aspen tree in full colour. I immediately stopped where I was, dug out my camera and because the tree was far away, I put on my 300mm lens and made this photo. In hindsight this image perfectly captures what attracted me to the tree in the first place. I like the bent shape and the contrast of bright yellow against a darker subdued backdrop.
But then, of course, my brain kicked in. Stupid brain! What if I got closer and used a shorter lens? What if I tried different angles on the tree and different framing and aspect ratios? All of these ‘what ifs’ were intruding on the purity of my expression.
And so I worked the scene further to answer these conscious questions. All of these mental explorations took me further from what attracted me to the tree in the first place. Sure, the resulting photos (below) are still pleasing but none honoured my heart’s view of the tree like the initial image. I have learned that if I make a photo as soon as something stops me that often that image is the most ‘true’ to my original attraction.
In the next example, I was driving in the country near Cochrane when I noticed a big snow drift over a grass seed head. I stopped the car, got dressed up and got out the camera gear. In the time it took me to prepare for the cold photography experience, I lost the germ of what attracted me to this scene. The first picture I made was more a document of the overall scene.
I felt the image above was interesting but then I had leading lines of the snow drift and the fence that went nowhere so I zoomed out to take in more of the scene and to have the lines lead to a vanishing point.
Now the lines of the snowdrift and the fence all converge in the distance to take us visually to the part of the fence with the horizontal cross bar. I immediately realized that the fence was not the reason that I stopped the car so I should not include it in the photo.
In the next picture, below, I concentrated only on the snow and the grass. I thought of the tenuous existence of the grass seed head under the big snow drift and I made the next image to tell that dramatic story.
I like the image above a lot and it tells a story of tension but it’s not why I stopped the car. I finally realized that what grabbed me was pure graphic appeal of the lines of the grass and drift. My mind saw lines and that’s what it wanted to show in the final photograph.
This image above is closer to the reason I initially stopped but as anyone who follows oopoomoo composition teachings will know, there are two areas where the line of the snowdrift is ruined from underlying ‘mergers’. A simple shift to a higher viewpoint and slight change in aspect ratio (slightly more panoramic) eliminated the merger problems and gave me the result I had intended from the beginning.
This final image, above, honours what I initially saw in my flash of subconscious. I just needed to work the scene to get back to my original vision. I blame it all on the cold.
The value of working a scene can either confirm that you had your voice in the first place or that you needed to rediscover your voice. The creative process is exactly that, a process. Don’t be afraid to work it! Let us know what your creative process is and if you get what’s in your mind’s eye right away or if you have to work hard to get a result that is in line with your creative vision.
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?
To read Part I one of this series go here.
The Roadblock to Creativity
A major roadblock to creativity is you. Often it’s a simple case of not knowing yourself that prevents you from blossoming creatively. Finding yourself isn’t that hard if you remove the expectations of who you ‘should’ be and really look into the mirror. Our journey of the one-year ‘creative sabbatical’ ended up being less about doing creative exercises and more about finding ourselves as creative entities. Not everyone needs a year-long journey to do a hard reset; many of you already know who you are. For those who truly know themselves, the problem isn’t about lack of knowing, the problem is about lack of time to honour your creativity. How do you carve out creative time in a world that seems increasingly designed to suck up your every waking minute? Below are a few strategies that Samantha and I recommend to make sure you get to do the creative stuff you desire.
Make Your Creativity a Priority
Any time someone says, “I just don’t have time to do my creative project”, what that really means is creativity is not a priority for that person. Actions speak louder than words. Inaction on your creative work means it’s really not that important to you. Maybe you’re afraid of failing so inaction is simply self-sabotage. It’s easier to tell yourself you would be a great painter but your circumstances don’t allow you the luxury of painting than it is to put in the long hours and practice and potential rejection to become a great painter. If you want to be creative, then schedule creative time. To nourish creativity you need blocks of at least three to four hours to get into the flow. Try to have at least two of these blocks of time per week. At the beginning of each week schedule your creative time in your calendar. This is your sanctuary and you must protect this time. The universe will conspire to take this time away from you, and mostly you’ll conspire against yourself to give up this time. Don’t let that happen. Put in the time even if it feels like you are a fraud. You’re not a fraud – you’re just scared!
But Where Do You Find the Time?
We all think we are so busy and scheduled but really many of us are inefficient with our time. Two of the most relentless time takers we know of are the T.V. and the internet. Most of us watch way too much T.V. and really what do we gain from the experience? Not much. Years ago Sam and I turfed the T.V. precisely because it’s such a mind-numbing, time-eating machine.
Same thing for the internet. We are all so addicted to our smart phones and every ‘ping’ stimulates a Pavlovian reward response. Our attention is constantly diverted from the life we lead to the virtual life we long to be a part of. If you actually measured the amount of time you spent on the internet and social media, you’d be depressingly surprised. All of this time spent watching grumpy cat videos and following the escapades of rich celebrities could be spent on your own creativity. Put a limit to your online time. Sam and I have decided that we will only go on the internet twice a day – once later in the morning after our creative time is over, and then once at the end of the work day. Each session is limited to ½ hour. If we can’t get done everything we need to in that time then we need to examine what we are doing online and streamline things further.
We also purposely chose not to own a smart phone because the temptation to be online all the time is too great (we are not immune to the seductive powers of online living!). We only go online if we are in the office, and we really don’t want to be in the office all day, so we become more efficient with our internet chores. And finally, together we take one full day off a week from the internet and trust us that day is so awesome! This is our ‘family time’ and it’s sacred and is a way to reconnect with ourselves and with each other.
You Do Have the Time – Hell Yes!
We all have the time to be creative, we just need to ditch the stuff that sucks our time or distracts us from pursuing our creativity. You’d be surprised at how much time you can free up when you look at your life and decide if a particular activity is a ‘hell yes’ or a ‘hell no’ pursuit. Is it something you love, something that gives meaning to you and others you love, something you won’t regret giving time to? Then that’s a hell yes! Mostly our lives are full of hell no’s and we let them control us instead of us controlling them. Ditch a few hell no’s and you’ll have the creative time you need. There are no excuses – most of us are simply afraid to be creative and use these external demands as an excuse on why we don’t have the ‘luxury’ of exploring our creative selves. Be brave, be creative; your life will be so much richer for doing so! Share with us some of the tips you use to carve out more creative time in your life.
Much of what we say here has been distilled from the great books listed below – check them out if you need a further kick in the pants to get on to your creativity. And if you have read a book that influenced your creative journey, please mention it in the comments.
Samantha and I have written extensively on the oopoomoo blog about honouring your creative vision. To be an artist you need to follow your muse especially when outside forces always seem to want to sabotage your progress. For example, my output in photography was directed for years by the need to produce saleable images for stock photography. I shot things I normally would not be interested in and I learned how to make images which would please photo buyers. Once stock photography started to dry up (post 9-11), then money was to be made in providing tours and workshops to other photographers. The imagery I created was meant to entice participants to sign up for desirable destinations or to learn technique driven processes. My own development as an artist suffered. And so the time has come to allow my creative vision free reign of expression.
Samantha and I have taken the pressure off ourselves to produce work for others. We are not shooting for stock nor are we shooting to gather potential tour or workshop clients. Sam never really pursued these things anyway. Instead, we’re returning to photography purely as a creative outlet. Of course, giving up our successful and acclaimed workshop program means we have cut our income by about 1/3rd. But that is a small price to pay to go on a path of self-discovery. To finance our journey we have cut expenses and gotten part time jobs outside the world of photography. Our jobs are what we do to support ourselves as artists. We have decided to purposefully walk the pathway of creativity and see where it takes us. For too long we have been teaching others to do this but we haven’t done it ourselves. You’ll see oopoomoo stay true to its roots of create, inspire and educate through us sharing both our journey and, increasingly, the journeys of others – in fact, we make this adjustment in order to focus more clearly on this important aspect of photo sharing and story-telling. We have a great desire to help photographers be artists. And we welcome all creatives to share their discoveries and stories here on the oopomoo blog or in our oopoomoo Facebook group. Stay tuned!
To read part II of this post, Carving Out Time for Creativity, please go to this link.
Here at oopoomoo we have always emphasized creative vision in photography. As a photographer you should honour your interests and express those interests from your heart. In short, we try to teach photographers to be artists. Unfortunately, social media and the internet don’t reward the slow path to self discovery but instead it rewards instant gratification, easy to digest imagery and techniques of the day with photographers scurrying all over the globe to get to iconic destinations to make replica images or replicate techniques of other photographers. There is little reward for nurturing your own creative vision. We have written about his extensively before here and here.
Recently, our friend and oopoomoo photography assistant, Catherine returned from taking a workshop with esteemed photographers Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant. Catherine has long been interested in things that most other photographers pass by. She came with me once on a Canadian Rockies ‘Glory of Autumn’ photography tour and spent her time taking pictures of rocks and sticks while everyone else was making images of mountains and lakes. The other photographers just could not figure out why she was ‘wasting her time’ shooting things she could photograph at home when she was in the Canadian Rockies! The truth was simple – Catherine was following her creative muse, sticks and stone moved her more than big mountain scenes (read about Catherine’s experience at this link). She honoured herself by not caving to peer pressure and shooting for herself. Fast forward to her workshop with Freeman and Andre. Catherine was given an assignment to make reflection shots… in cars. She took to the assignment with gusto and came away with an impressive body of work, so impressive that Freeman singled her out from the class as an example of creative vision. By following her heart, and her interests Catherine emerged as an artist.
Last October Samantha and I came up with a workshop idea in the Canadian Rockies called “Beyond the Icon”. The idea was to strip away the temptation for photographers to make or expect classic Canadian Rockies iconic photos. We went after the fall colours were over but before winter ice and snow set in. It was the season of browns and for many photographers the Rockies looked blah (if that is possible). We also purposely took our participants to unknown locations and even just stopped roadside randomly and gave out photo assignments. The results from the participants were impressive and it was fulfilling to see growth in the participants’ creative vision. Sam and I also had the opportunity to do these same assignments along with the students. And we got to spend some time before and after the workshop making personal images. After the trip I noticed that my creative vision was evolving from big vertical landscapes in theatrical light to more intimate, abstract and graphic images. Recently, I finished processing the images from this outing (finally!) and thought I would share my 25 personal faves from the trip in this post.
What is your creative vision? Have you seen it evolve over time? Are you able to be true to yourself in spite of external pressures to shoot something different from what you love to shoot? We would love hear about it in the comments on this blog or share some images with us on the oopoomoo Facebook Group.
I follow Sarah Marino and Ron Coscorrosa’s blog and recently, they posted an intriguing article on women landscape photographers who inspire. Noting that more and more women are picking up their cameras and becoming accomplished landscape and nature shooters, they also remark that women seem under-represented in various senior positions such as magazine columnists or editors, conference speakers and brand ambassador line ups. Samantha and I have certainly seen more and more women attending our talks and workshops, but a quick scan of any major nature magazine or camera brand list of pros does reveal a serious lack of female voices.
The authors have compiled a list of 165 female landscape photographers of note (Sam is on that list!) which is worth checking out. But what do you think? Are women under-represented at the top levels of our field? Is this just accidental, or have we encountered a new glass ceiling? Do you know a female landscape and nature photographer who inspires you and who you think should be added to the list. Let us know and leave their name and website link in the comments below or better yet go over and tell Sarah and Ron about your favorite female photographer on their blog.
I recently had the chance to go camping with family. Now, I have chosen not to have children, but I have lots of nieces and nephews so I can easily get my ‘kid fix’ when I need it. I’m always amazed by parents. It seems to me a tough job some days.
Unlike photography, there’s really no manual to guide you. But it struck me that, in some ways, parenting and photography are alike. Using some of the things I’ve learned from my parents, and from watching other parents, I’m going to make the case that photography is like parenting…so here goes.
Eat Your Broccoli
Remember how your parents were always telling you to eat that healthy, green stuff on your plate? “It’s good for you,” they’d explain. Well, even though we knew they were right, it was still hard sometimes to choke down those veggies. Photography has veggies too – those things you should do to become a better photographer that you don’t really enjoy doing. Like, for example, photographing frequently around home rather than planning exotic photo trips. Sure, traveling some place new is exciting, but you’ll have stronger skills if you practice often in your local area.
Don’t Stay Up Too Late
We know that staying up late and watching TV is bad for us, but we do it anyway (until we get told to turn off the light and go to bed). It can also be tempting to go hard, guns blazing, with your photography. Chasing the sweet light can mean you’re up late photographing star trails after sunset and still upright when sunrise burns up the sky. You don’t want to miss anything of course, but one thing I’ve learned from long photo trips is the need to pace yourself. There’s nothing worse than hitting that creative wall and having no energy to stand up let alone make a good image. Stay in it for the long haul and respect your body and mind’s need to recharge.
Respect Your Elders
There are many, many talented photographers out there and so much to learn from studying the work of artists who have created before us. In the photo industry I’ve seen a tendency to self-aggrandizement, the belief that you and your work is unique and ‘never been done before’. True creative vision is actually pretty rare, so it’s a good idea to stay a little humble and maybe take some time to review the images and art works of photographers and artists whose work has stood the test of time.
Mind Your Manners
One of the tasks of parenting is to teach your children how to behave with other people. Sure you want that toy, but pushing that other kid out of the way and stealing it from your sister is not going to make you many friends. Parents succeed at teaching manners to varying degrees. But as adults, we really have no excuse for bad behaviour. Why is it then that some photographers feel it is just fine to trespass on private property to get a better position? Or scare wildlife away by getting too close? Or yell at tourists who get in their way? I think one of the most remarkable stories from Darwin’s 50 at 50 eBook relates to the incredibly bad behaviour of a bunch of photographers at iconic Delicate Arch. It seems some photographers need to go back to kindergarten to learn some manners.
Pick Good Friends
We’ve all seen this…a nice, sweet kid falling in with ‘the wrong crowd’ and turning into a swearing, pierced, slouched creature. How does this happen? Apparently, parents are right to feel concern over who their children hang out with. Your peers will either elevate you – or bring you down. Finding a mentor in photography can be one of the best things you can do to take your images to a higher level. Consistent, clear, caring feedback can do wonders for your artistic ability. So make sure you pick good friends who not only support your creative efforts but also give you a little challenge sometimes.
Well, I’ve come up with five points. Can you think of some ways in which photography is like parenting?
Happy Canada Day!
Samantha and I have been lucky enough to travel to many different parts of the globe and every time we come home to Canada we realize how fortunate we are to live in this amazingly diverse country. We are blessed with stunning natural beauty and vast areas of wilderness. Our friends don’t believe us when we tell them, but it’s true – no place we have visited compares to Canada!
Canadians have a unique opportunity to preserve, nurture and embrace the bounty of nature bestowed on Canada. We could be world leaders and celebrate our abundance before it is gone forever. Many other countries have learned this lesson, the hard way… they don’t appreciate what they had until it’s gone. Rather than mourn what we had, let’s work hard not to lose it in the first place. We need to think bigger picture and longer term than just the immediate future. The election of the NDP in Alberta is a signal that people want more than just “business-as-usual” short-term economic riches. Most Canadians want an ethical social fabric, a diverse economy that rewards quality of life over quantity of goods, and we want to keep the awesome nature that we all benefit from and enjoy.
One of the best ways to preserve natural habitat and the species that live there is to preserve watersheds. Thinking watershed is thinking holistically… we all need water to live and saving water requires saving large chunks of habitat (which saves many species at once)! A common statistic flaunted about Canada is that we have 20% of the world’s fresh water. But according to Environment Canada:
…less than half of this water — about 7% of the global supply — is “renewable“. Most of it is fossil water retained in lakes, underground aquifers, and glaciers.
For Canada’s 30 million people — about half a percent of the world’s population — this is still a generous endowment. But, more than half of this water drains northward into the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay. As a result, it is unavailable to the 85% of the Canadian population who live along the country’s southern border. That means the remaining supply, while still abundant, is heavily used and often overly stressed.
This blog post is part celebration and part exhortation. Let’s call upon our governments (and ourselves) to take action and protect our water and riparian habitat.
And so in celebration of Canada Day, I present images from across Canada showcasing our water (both fresh and salt water).
Samantha and I will continue to vote with our ballets, our wallets, our conservation habits and our time to do our part to keep Canada biologically and socially diverse. Canada, we toast you (with a cool glass of fresh water!) Happy Canada Day!
In one week, it will be one year since we finished packing our bags, squeezed Brando in the back seat and pulled out of Cochrane with our red-and-white Trillium trailer in tow. We were heading off on our Creative Sabbatical, venturing forth into unknown territory with a goal of evaluating our business, our lifestyle and our roles as creatives on this wobbly globe called Earth. So, a look back at our year wherein we try and tackle the big question that many of you might be wondering: But Did They Learn Anything?
Artists in Residence
For the first half of the year, we were stationed out of Aurum Lodge, an eco-lodge in the Canadian Rockies. We have partnered with and supported Aurum Lodge and its owners and proprietors, Alan and Madeleine Ernst, for years. We believe it is important to have hospitality-based businesses in the national and federal parks that emphasize low-impact enjoyment of nature, and this eco-lodge certainly conveys that message. We rounded out over ten years of tours and workshops at Aurum with a full slate of private mentorship and workshops last fall, meeting many keen photographers eager to refine their ability to make images from the world around them. Despite a tough summer of hot, dry, smoke-filled weather, our time spent in this natural region was, as ever, magical. The Kootenay Plains will always have a special place in both our hearts.
Brando Goes to His Happy Hunting Grounds
As many of you who follow oopoomoo adventures know, our beloved companion, film star and chowhound Brando passed away last August at Aurum Lodge. Many people ask us if we are planning on getting a new dog, but we feel that there is not room yet in our hearts for a new friend. Brando was not replaceable. Maybe in the future a furry friend will pick us, but for right now, we think about him often. He must have touched the hearts of others, especially in the instructional videos he starred in on our YouTube channel, because when we played the Lens Choice video during this past April’s Toronto photo workshop, Brando received a spontaneous round of applause at the end of it. He was a special dude. Read our tribute here (with Darwin’s original music – but turn up your speakers because the recording is low volume) for lessons in how to be your own dog.
Penguins and Polar Landings
Next up – the bottom of the Earth! We traveled to Antarctica on a photo symposium expedition and visited the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and spent a brief time on Antarctica. One of the perks of being photography instructors is that sometimes you get to travel to exciting destinations to teach others photography – something we wouldn’t be able to afford ourselves. The south pole does everything large – instead of a handful of penguins, let’s have thousands! Grass grows on South Georgia in giant clumps creating weird mazes that are hard to navigate. On the continent itself, craggy mountains crowd a skimpy, fur seal-coated beach making landings a challenge. Building-sized icebergs sail serenely past. Antarctica is an incredibly fragile place, protected for most of human history by its inaccessibility. That has now changed, and the region now features on many photographers’ bucket lists. Here on oopoomoo, we strive to teach ethical photography. So please, if you find yourself somewhere beautiful, either Antarctica or a small urban park, join us and set the level of care high for our vulnerable and shrinking natural areas.
Adventures in House Sitting
The final leg of our journey has found us house sitting in various homes across Alberta. A sort of ‘try it on for size’, our house sitting has allowed us to discover new communities and ponder the question of what makes a great community, and how do you build one? We did learn a couple of valuable lessons, including ‘more’ is not better, and always turn off the power when testing a shock collar (newsletter subscribers will know what we’re talking about here). During this time, we also embarked across Canada teaching multiple workshops to eager learners in, among other places, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. The support and positive feedback from participants from these events had been almost overwhelming and definitely very gratifying! We are happy that so many of believe in yourself and your creativity.
Some of you have noticed that we don’t have any workshops lined up for the fall or winter. Or spring, for that matter. Some of you have made requests for special workshops which we have turned down. This is very strange behaviour for a photo education-based business like oopoomoo. The truth is, our Creative Sabbatical was an incredible success in so many ways. We made new friends. We ended toxic relationships. We refined our business focus and our priorities. We inspired photographers to be true to their own creative vision. We sold a slate of highly successful workshops and increased our eBook sales. We traveled Canada from British Columbia to Quebec and to the bottom of the world. In short, business is booming.
The truth is, the Creative Sabbatical was a success in all ways but two: it wasn’t creative for us, which means it wasn’t a sabbatical. We worked our cans off. We aren’t complaining! But in twelve months, we delivered over 18 events – a record, even for us. We moved house and office 9 times with one more to go. There was no time for us to pursue our own creative projects and once again another year passed in which we did not do what so many of you do which is invest in your own creative development. So the truth is, we are easing up on the oopoomoo workshop gas pedal and pressing down on the oopoomoo creative publisher pedal. We hope to publish some more of our own photography projects – maybe some new eBooks! – and to continue a dialogue with all of you about what makes your creative life fulfilled. The discussion is hopping on the oopoomoo facebook group where we’d be happy for you to join in, and of course we will continue to publish thoughtful and (hopefully) artful work here on oopoomoo central.
So onwards and upwards to all good things oopoomoo!