With more and more people getting into photography, we at oopoomoo think it’s timely to open a discussion about ethical behaviour and field etiquette. It’s also about time we post a code of ethics here on oopoomoo.com. Here’s our first kick at this; we might modify the code from time to time based on your input and changing cultural values.
Let’s start with an underlying assumption: most people get into photography because they love to take pictures of people, places or creatures – and not to destroy them. Sounds reasonable! So this means that any harm caused when people take pictures is probably incidental either through carelessness or ignorance. So that’s why it’s a good idea to revisit the concept of ethical shooting from time to time – and especially as the digital revolution has brought the joy of photography to more and more of us.
First, we need a guiding principle. This is going to be the yardstick against which we measure all our actions. “Do I or don’t I?” should be easily answerable if we get this main idea right. An obvious starting point is that old idea ‘do no harm’ which is something most of us understand even if we’re not doctors taking the Hippocratic Oath. We learn this one early on, usually because when we hurt someone else, something bad happened to us. I hit a kid in the sandbox, he punches me back, or the teacher gives me a time-out. We just don’t seem to get far ahead if we go around harming things!
But is it enough? It’s morally neutral, at least. The status of people, plants and animals is unchanged. If you think about it, causing no harm is actually really hard to do and is almost impossible to measure! Just by stepping out our door we crush insects underfoot, trample grass and compress microorganisms in the soil. And let’s not even talk about the effects on pollution we produce when we travel somewhere to take pictures!
Maybe it’s impossible to do no harm in its most literal sense. We might as well stay home in bed with hot chocolate and Pride and Prejudice for the rest of our lives (which might even harm our health and sense of reality). In any case, do as little harm as possible also seems apathetic and vague. Who decides what is ‘as little as possible’? Does this change day-to-day, place-to-place and person-to-person? And how do we meaningfully measure harm? Such a moving target is not going to be a good guiding principle.
Perhaps then we should take things up a notch. Perhaps we should take a moral stance. Perhaps we should promote the well-being of things as our guiding idea, leaving them better off than before we took our picture. This at least might help mitigate any unintentional harmful effects our mere presence might cause! Our guiding principle would then be: “If I do x, will I leave my subject matter better off?” If the answer is “no”, then we should not do x; if the answer is “yes, I think so”, well then fire away!
Now, we could get hung up on the same problems as with the ‘do no harm’ idea: how do we measure ‘better off’? There really is no way to be absolutely sure, so part of being an ethical photographer must involve some amount of educated judgment. Note the term educated. Part of a code of ethics has to involve some obligation to inform ourselves and a commitment to doing our best. These at least move us in the right direction and keep us from being crippled on the couch with carby snacks and historical romances.
So we have our guiding principle: promote the well-being of the things we photograph. This necessarily includes doing our best at not harming things, and it also puts a positive obligation on us to engage with our subject matter in a way that makes it better off after our interaction with it. This might be as simple as inspiring public appreciation of the person, place or critter photographed. Or it might be as involved as a raising critical awareness through a life-long project to protect an endangered habitat. But by following our guiding principle of promote the well-being, we’re going to be on the right track. Also, actively thinking about your positive obligation in advance will make your decision a lot easier about whether to take the photo or not.
Nobody’s perfect. We both confess to actions in the past in the name of “I gotta get that shot”, that we now would not do. Maybe it’s maturity. Maybe we grew a conscience. What we do know is that we’ve been trying to follow this guiding principle of ‘promote the well-being’ for some time, and we can tell you we are more comfortable making our images and more proud of them.
By the way, if imposing a positive obligation on ourselves feels onerous, consider this: we don’t have a right to make a photograph. It’s a privilege. So let’s ensure we get to keep this privilege for ourselves and others by avoiding careless or ignorant behaviour. Photographers have been getting a bad name lately mostly because we all think we have the right to photograph anything, anytime and anywhere. We don’t. Let’s rise to a higher standard. Let’s set the bar above the level of ‘everyone else is doing it’. Let’s put our subject matter first and ourselves second. We bet that if we do this, our images will sing with sincerity and the photo industry will be a role model in the art world instead of its poorer second class citizen.
Enough of the grand theorizing. So what kinds of specific behaviours might our guiding principle of ‘promote the well-being…’ entail?
We’ve surveyed some photo organizations for their ethical codes (see below for links to some prominent groups – there weren’t many which says something right there), and the bulk of the actions can be distilled into three main areas: environment, social and self. We’ve summarized them and tried to put them in terms of positive actions. So here’s our proposed Code of Ethics:
This category involves the world around us, especially the natural world.
- Inform yourself and follow all rules and regulations when visiting a natural area or public attraction. These might include shooting distance to subjects and refraining from using certain kinds of artificial light or even photographing an animal or plant at all.
- Receive permission before stepping on to private property even if the property appears abandoned.
- Stay on designated paths and trails. If there is no trail, follow proper field etiquette by educating yourself on the principles of Leave No Trace.
- Aim for authenticity: photograph plants and animals in their natural habitat engaging in their natural behaviours.
- Research and inform yourself about the plants and animals you intend to photograph. Be aware of their distress signals, times of physical strain or breeding seasons, and avoid photographing plants and animals during these times. If you see any signs that your presence is causing stress, move back until the stress signals end or leave the area immediately.
- Leave the environment in a better way than you found it by picking up trash you find when in the field.
- Improve your photography composition skills by using your full arsenal of tools to make a great composition rather than moving objects, pulling plants or otherwise ‘tidying’ a scene for your composition.
- Move your position or patiently wait rather than attempt to influence an animal’s posture with catcalls, hoots or whistles.
- Remove all artificial attractants you find in wild places that were placed there by people to attract animals and refrain from baiting or placing attractants to entice wildlife to move to you. This is especially important with some large animals since they tend to be relocated or killed when they become habituated to humans.
- Refrain from sound baiting if its use may cause stress to the animal.
- With animals living in an urban environment such as songbirds, consider not putting out seeds as bait. If you do, research the proper natural organic food and follow proper procedures to ensure cleanliness of the feeder to minimize risk of disease. Place the feeder such that the birds will not be exposed to hazards such as predators under cover or at danger of flying into reflective house windows.
- Keep rare species safe and intact by not broadcasting the location of a fragile area, plant or animal. Remove GPS data from your images and refrain from sharing the location to others after the shoot.
- If by stopping to photograph, you are likely to start a chain reaction of other visitors crowding the area, do not stop but find another time or place to continue photographing.
This arena is about relationships with other people. So some sample situations are going to be interactions between photographer and client, photographer and tourists and photographer and photographer.
- Ask permission before photographing an identifiable person.
- Treat all people with respect.
- Treat your professional models with professional courtesy, repaying them with prints or fees for their work. Do not reimburse people where to do so would take advantage of their social or economic position or unduly influence them to pose for your picture.
- If you see someone violating the Code of Ethics, diplomatically attempt to educate them about the effects of their behaviour. If that person continues with their improper behaviour, document the situation and report them to the appropriate authorities.
- Be patient and courteous with non-photographers visiting a scene. Be creative by adjusting your expectations of the images you hoped to make and be open to new ideas as they present themselves.
- Be aware of your position and how it may interfere with the ability of the photographers and non-photographers around you to enjoy a scene.
- If someone inadvertently wanders into your scene, be courteous and wait if possible for them to move, adjust your own position, or kindly ask them to move their own when they are ready.
This category relates to how you personally internalize and live the Code of Ethics.
- Adopt a Code of Ethics and post it somewhere conspicuous to remind yourself to follow these important principles. Strive to adhere to the Code and commit to a lifelong education of these principles.
- Be an ambassador of ethical conduct in the industry through your own behaviour and by educating other photographers and the public about ethical photography.
- Know and respect your physical limitations and keep yourself out of harm’s way by avoiding situations where your health and safety or the health and safety of others could be put at risk because of your actions.
- Educate yourself about the weather, terrain, culture and possible hazards before visiting a new area.
- If you are leading a photo group, whether commercially or not, ensure that the group members are informed about the Code of Ethics, hazards and safety concerns and that the group size is appropriate to the sensitivity of the place you are visiting.
- Always be forthcoming about your processing and refrain from representing your photographs as something they are not.
Suggest a link to a good Code of Ethics in a comment on this post!
Each month in our oopoomoo newsletter we announce an assignment theme; for January it was shadow and light (#shadowandlight). Below are our selected favorites from the images submitted to our Facebook group or by email. The February theme will be announced shortly so be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get a head start!
Here at oopoomoo our logline is create, inspire and educate. We love to feature the work of photographers and artists who meet these ideals but we are really thrilled when a photographer’s work is not only creative but is captured ethically and does good in the world. We really believe photographers should be giving rather than just ‘taking’. To this end, we are proud to present the work of Edmonton based photographer, Larry Louie, humanitarian documentary photographer.
Larry leads a dual career. By day he runs an optometry clinic enhancing the vision of his patients. On his self-funded travels he explores the life of indigenous people and social issues around the world and seeks to influence people’s view of the world. He also works closely with NGOs such as First Light Photography School in Bangladesh, Seva Canada whose mission is to end preventable and treatable blindness, and Oxfam whose mission is to create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty. Larry also opened the Louie Photography Gallery on 124 in Edmonton to highlight the work of local and emerging photographers of all genres. And best of all, even with all of his awards and accolades Larry remains grounded, humble and has a great sense of humour. We are pleased to present our in-depth interview with Larry below:
oopoomoo – Larry you have a successful optometry practice. How do you carve out time for your photographic endeavours?
Larry – Well, my photography is something I do on the side and that’s good and bad in a lot of ways. I don’t have the time and the luxury in terms of going away for a long time and so I’ve got to be very time efficient with my trips. At the same time photography is not a big money maker and I want to shoot things that really mean a lot to me and those kinds of images are not very salable or even things that people want to buy or even look at and so for me it’s more important that I do photography for me rather than for the monetary aspects of it. I use my optometry practice as the breadwinner and the way to pay for my photography and I use my photography as my artistic outlet. For me, being able to travel and experience the world fills me with cherished memories. My wife and I do not have an extravagant lifestyle and we chose to save and use that money for our travel and photography.
oopoomoo – When did you get into photography and when did you know you would pursue photography as a more serious venture?
Larry – It first started in high school. I got a camera as a gift and started photographing the area that I knew which is around Edmonton. I started photographing street scenes and landscapes and so on but what really interested me was one year I went to a boarding house in a derelict part of Edmonton and I met a lot of homeless people and people who were down and out. What I learned from that experience was that these people had a voice, they’re human beings, not inanimate objects and I felt I wanted to tell their story. I found their stories of why they were on the fringes of society really interested my curiosity. I ended up spending a lot of time with them and made a series of pictures of these people. I have always wanted to travel and see the world and experience different cultures. As a kid I was influenced by National Geographic and dreamed about visiting those remote areas. Later, as my practice became more established I had the money to go to these areas. I also had the photographic experience I gained from photographing people in Edmonton and so I could put the two together. One year, about 10 years ago, I went to Nepal and instead of just making the typical tourist pictures I was taken by a guide down to the river where I met similar people as those I photographed in Edmonton, those living on the fringes. I went and visited them several times and that was the catalyst for me to start my major project of celebrating humanity, the people on the fringes of society, people living with hardship and working in rough environments. I just wanted to tell their intriguing stories. I love meeting the people and sharing their stories through my photography.
oopoomoo – Larry, one thing we love about your work is that as a viewer we feel like we are right there and having that connection with the people. There is an intimacy in your work that is poignant.
Larry – That’s deliberate. I want to be physically close to these people and spend time with them to make them feel at ease with me. This closeness and the time I spend to know them, that could be 10 minutes or 5 hours, gives me a small connection that makes them relaxed and accepting of my presence, so the pictures don’t look composed, staged or artificial. To make connections I don’t bring the camera out right away, I meet the people first. Sometimes there are communication barriers but a smiling face, a warm handshake and a few words of their language goes a long way to put people at ease. Also being at ease yourself is the most important thing. And asking permission is key. A lot of times I am really close because I just use a 24mm lens and so I am not sneaking around taking pictures unawares. I am connected with the people first and then close with the camera which makes images that feel that you are there.
oopoomoo – How would you describe your photographic style?
Larry – My work is environmental portraiture. The main focus is the people and the connection. I shoot a lot with my wide angle lens because I want to share a contextual story of the person in their environment. As a viewer you not only see the person but also the story of their life. I chose black and white because it takes away the emotional colour and I want to use the content of the image to provide the emotion. Also lighting is the essence of photography and with black and white that essence comes across stronger. A lot of my work has dramatic lighting and black and white accentuates that more than colour photography.
oopoomoo – You seem to get to some spots off the beaten path, things most tourists never see. How do you find these places?
Larry – We work a lot with NGOs and many of the places I go to are out of bounds for tourists and photographers and also can be dangerous. To get to these places requires background work and, by working with NGOs active in the area, we can get introductions and access that would be hard to get otherwise. In giving back, we don’t give money to people to photograph them. Instead, we pull our resources together through the sale of prints or through the fees I get for my talks and give the money back to the organizations we work with to support local projects. It’s full circle. I photograph for the love of it and hopefully giving back to the people I took some time away from.
oopoomoo – How would you define the term ‘humanitarian photographer’
Larry – Humanitarian photographer is respect, respecting the people your are photographing, respecting the story to be told and not to exploit the situation but to make viewers aware of the situation so that possibly positive change can happen. And then to pool your funds to help an organization to help the group of people in the area you photographed.
oopoomoo – Do you think that humanitarian photographers are becoming a rarer breed?
Larry – I think so because now it is all about the mighty dollar. Newspapers, magazines and so on are asking for the most sensational photographs. Instead of trying to tell the story they want to sell the story which means the more unusual or shocking, the better. Those stories then tend to be heard by the public and so sometimes the stories are distorted both factually and visually. Some news agencies like Reuters are now asking for unaltered images, like the Raw files or in-camera JPEGS so that there is no manipulation of the image so that it has been altered or exaggerated to sell the photograph.
oopoomoo – Because you fund your own trips why do your prefer to go abroad when you could do humanitarian photography right here in Alberta?
Larry – You’re absolutely right, many people ask me why I don’t photograph here. The truth is I love to travel and I have an attraction to the far east, the culture, the crowds, the chaos, the energy… it just gets me going. I thrive artistically on the chaos of these busy, crazy places. And you rarely make great images on your initial visit. You need to go back again and again to develop relationships and make connections. That requires time and so I want to go back to these places like Kathmandu and Manila many times. Each time I go back I see something new and different and expand on the story I am trying to tell.
oopoomoo – Speaking of the Alberta connection, you have opened up the Louie Photography Gallery on 124 in Edmonton to highlight the work of local and emerging photographers. As we know, photo galleries are not really for-profit ventures, so we think that is a noble, local thing to do. But it’s something that also eats into your time and money. Why bother?
Larry – A lot of galleries are displaying work that will sell, like beautiful landscapes and not images that tell stories and so I had some space in my building and I wanted a place to showcase work from local photographers who do the kind of work that might not be represented in more mainstream galleries. I started this three or four years ago and have had several shows and the focus is mostly documentary work because that is not really shown anywhere in Alberta. Last year and this year in February our gallery is part of Exposure Photo Festival and we are happy to be part of that Alberta initiative.
oopoomoo – Your images have a timelessness to them, almost a throwback to film in their purity. Can you comment on that?
Larry – Well, I am old school even though I use a digital camera I see things in black and white. I love vintage black-n-white photography. I don’t want my images to look too modified. In documentary work, if there is garbage on the ground, garbage should stay there. I don’t want to beautify the place or change the look just because it might be distracting to the viewer; it has to be true to the story and I think this reality comes out in my photos. Technique wise you still need appropriate lighting, proper exposure and good composition that fits within 35mm proportions. I don’t crop anything; everything is full frame. To me, that’s important. My ability is in connecting with someone and then being able to compose something quickly that cannot be reproduced again. I find I have to be able to anticipate when something will happen and then be quick to respond. My goal is to capture in the camera and not in post production. I am very bad at Photoshop, and so this is why my photos might look like film.
oopoomoo – Many people might be surprised that you use prime lenses, a 24mm and an 85mm instead of zooms. Why give up the flexibility of zooms?
Larry – I don’t carry a lot of gear, I do a lot of walking, there is the possibility of being robbed. I want to blend in so I dress down and bring minimal gear. I often just bring one body and one lens, often the 24mm. To me it’s all about the interaction with the subject; the camera is just a recording device and I don’t want it to be too big, bulky and imposing for my subjects. When people ask me about gear, I always say it does not really matter, it is all about seeing, expecting and responding. I like prime lenses because they are smaller, more compact, sharper and faster which is especially good for interior work.
oopoomoo – How important have your numerous awards being in boosting your photography career?
Larry – These are just little pats on your shoulder. It’s great to have people acknowledge your work and that’s great for the ego but the bottom line is it’s just icing on the cake. Regardless if I have those awards or not, I am still going to do the same thing. I am not going to change the way I shoot; I shoot the way I like to shoot. Having the recognition is nice, there is no doubt about it, and it allows me to tell my story to a wider audience.
oopoomoo – Some photographers after winning awards start making images catered towards winning more awards. There is an honesty to your pictures that suggests you are true to who you are. How do you keep humble after all the recognition?
Larry – I think my wife does it to me; she puts me down all the time! She says “You’re not that good, just work harder!” (laughs). Interestingly, travel photography tends to do better in magazines and publications because it’s a way for people to sell travel. And so these magazines and contests promote travel and things that allow them to make money. Some of my past wins were more about travel but my humanitarian work is not so publication friendly. And so now my platform to show work through magazines and contests is more limited because my images don’t fit that niche anymore. And my stuff is not ‘sensational’ for newspaper work. But even if my outlets are more limited, I am not going to change my humanitarian work to travel photography because it’s not what I like. The accolades are great but the biggest gift I get is the connection with the people I photograph; those memories are priceless.
oopoomoo – How do you maintain a passionate eye in situations where your heart pours out compassion?
Larry – To me, I do have a purpose when I go to these places. I have a goal in mind and so I am focused that way. And so when I photograph these people, even in very bad situations, I do try to remain objective. I connect with the people but I am there to do a job. After I am done, that’s when the emotions come out. When I am shooting I am focused on that. Afterwards, even hours later when looking at the photos or revisiting the people then the emotions surface. I am removed emotionally while shooting, I am analytical and concentrating on the moment, the light, the composition. At the end of the day it’s hopefully your compassion and connection that allows the image to come through. For instance, when I was in Nepal I saw a scene with a young boy and his mother and a collapsed building behind them. The boy looked up to the sky and I responded immediately to that moment. Afterwards, when looking at the photo my heart was pulled hard and so there is a separation between the shooting process and the emotional processing of the moment.
oopoomoo – After years of doing your humanitarian photography work has your sense of hope for humanity increased or decreased over the years?
Larry – Decreased! Working with NGOs the last several years and helping people one at a time here and there does make a slight small difference. I have to say it’s a little bit of a helpless situation. The situation in Nepal for example. The earthquake was natural, but when all of this aid comes in and none of it goes to the people; when there is an embargo from India and no gas or fuel goes to the country… it’s political. So, no matter how good you are as an NGO worker, volunteer, or organization, until the people are willing to make a change themselves, until the government is willing to be less corrupt and support the people, it’s not going to change. Corruption and greed is the root of all these problems. Until that changes progress can’t be made. Humanitarian photographers and volunteers do help because it is the best thing we think we can do on a small scale but we can’t change the government. Our support might be concrete to provide eye care or to support an educational facility that helps a small portion of people. One step at a time. But all in all, looking at the global picture, I have to say I am a little bit pessimistic, seeing it from the inside and the outside at the same time.
oopoomoo – Has your pessimism reduced your desire to continue?
Larry – Oh no, definitely not – it increases my desire to continue! If you are a photographer or artist of any sort, you have to push the boundaries a little bit. If you are not willing to push boundaries, you are not going to get far. You can’t use the same comfort zone to get to something better or different. The boundaries are political and economic: I am pushing against these. I am not going to make drastic changes but I must do my share.
Larry produced a 2016 calendar that had 100% of proceeds go to the efforts of Seva Canada for the elimination of avoidable blindness. The sale of the calendars raised $5500! To purchase any of Larry’s amazing prints please visit his website to find the photo(s) that you want and then contact Larry at email@example.com.
Thanks Larry for all you do!
We are so sorry to hear that Edmonton’s Paul Burwell, wildlife photographer, Outdoor Photography Canada magazine columnist, founder of the Burwell School of Photography (BSOP) has passed away yesterday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on December 24.
I first met Paul when he came on one of my winter photo tours at Aurum Lodge in the early 2000’s. In the time since then he single-handedly built an amazing photo education school in Edmonton that has graduated hundreds of students. Paul asked Samantha and me to teach landscape photography at his school which we did for several years and we always had a blast. Paul was the consummate professional and so easy to deal with and had a dry, witty sense of humour. Had we lived in the Edmonton area I am sure we would have been close friends. The photo community will miss Paul but fortunately his legacy will live on in the BSOP which will be run by his wife, Kathryn, and with the help of friends and photo instructors. If you’re in the Edmonton area please support this wonderful institute of photographic learning by taking a course – you’ll be happy you did.. There is also a support group set up on Facebook for condolences and a funding site for donation.
Paul, there are free 500mm lenses in the great beyond and furry puppies everywhere. You’ll have a blast! We miss you.
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
This year, Darwin and I decided to curate each other’s images to select what we felt was that photographer’s oopoomoo best for 2015. Just as we stipulated in the oopoomoo Newsletter announcing the challenge, an oopoomoo best had to meet three 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.
You can see what Darwin picked as my oopoomoo best here. And here is the image I’ve chosen as Darwin’s best image of 2015.
In pouring over Darwin’s work for this year, I’ve noticed a shift in his usual subject matter. Instead of photographing grand landscapes, Darwin has started to concentrate more on intimate studies and abstractions. Some of the same elements of style are present in his work, making them a ‘Darwin shot’, such as a fascination with light and shape and an attraction to colours and tonal contrast. But I sense with this image a refinement perhaps of ‘seeing’, an engagement with the mind rather than just senses. There is many layers to this image and it is quietly intriguing.
This image was taken at Lake O’Hara, probably one of the most iconic of places in the Canadian Rockies. We were standing far uphill on the trail to Opabin Plateau and Mary Lake was being covered by a giant shadow cast by Oderay Mountain as the sun set behind it. Darwin had to work fast to frame and make this shot before the light was gone and the lake covered in shadow. When photographers say that they refuse to photograph iconic places, I feel sorry for them; I suspect they are insecure and may suffer from a lack of imagination. A great photographer can always make a place his own as Darwin does here.
As part of our regular monthly Newsletter, this December we asked our subscribers to share with us their best picture of 2015. But the photo could not be just any predictable best, it had to be their ‘oopoomoo best’. To be an ‘oopoomoo best’ the image had to follow these 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.
If you want to see all the amazing results so far log into your Facebook account and do a search for #myoopoomoobest2015
In the spirit of year-end sharing Sam and I will be showcasing our oopoomoo best image here on the blog but with a twist. Instead of picking our own image to share we are going to chose what we think is our partner’s best image of 2015! Scary stuff to have someone else curate your work.
And so here is my pick of Sam’s best image of 2015. Drum roll please!
I chose this image for several reasons. First, it perfectly represents Sam’s creative vision. Sam loves grass and trees and she has both in spades in this picture. Second, Sam creates compositions that are personal and intimate and that drill down to the essence of what attracted her to the scene. We were out shooting in the Rockies and I was photographing a distant lone spruce in a sea of yellow aspens with my 300mm lens (an obvious and easy subject). Sam asked if she could borrow my camera and lens for a minute. She swung the camera away from the obvious fall colours, away from the big peaks in the background and over to a grassy slope just above the road. I could not for the life of me figure out what she was making a picture of! Of course now I see… a quintessential Sam photo, but at the time I thought she had gone mad photographing away from all the big beauty surrounding us. I’m always impressed by how Sam can make ‘something from nothing’ and how she always photographs true to her vision no matter what others are doing around her. So the biggest reason I picked this image is because Sam continues to surprise and delight me with her creative vision. No one can make Sam images, they are unique to her. And so, for me, this image represents Samantha’s answer to the #myoopoomoobest2015 December Newsletter challenge.
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.
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.