As for all the arts and works emanating from the heart and mind, we need that spark for our creations. Like wordsmiths who can have writer’s block, image-makers on occasions can also feel unimaginative and face a blank canvas. Here’s how I counter such moments of drudgery and awaken a sleeping creativity.
1. Go on location
The most enthusiastic lensman can capture exquisite images right from his home or backyard. But sometimes it takes a trip outside into the big wide world to give us photographic ideas and insights. Nature never fails to inspire the artist in us. It may not be a grand adventure or expedition but simply a walk in the beach, fishing by the lake, a picnic on a forest reserve. The breath of fresh air and views of new surroundings is sure to stimulate senses and get you grabbing that camera, seeing the world through the viewfinder.
2. View works of the masters
Bless the internet as we can see in an instant the works of the legends – Ansel Adams, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz and many more. Professionalphotographer.co.uk lists 100 Most influential photographers of all time with links to their works. I get a kick reading on their biography, how they started in photography and how they found their style. Viewing their masterpieces, for me, is an enriching experience. We may never get to reach their level, but surely we can learn a thing or two from their pioneering and innovative efforts.
3. View works of enthusiasts
The masters may teach us, yet it is the works of like-minded photography enthusiasts that influences me and keeps me grounded on reality. At this time when everyone with a smartphone can snap any picture, I actually explore Flickr and other photo sites as well as pages of photo bloggers here at WordPress, looking out for those exceptional images that stand out. I read about the photographer, their experiences, the camera settings they use to take images. It thrills me that I can be of the same level with outstanding enthusiasts, as I can never be with the masters.
4. Join a camera club
We may be members of online groupings, participating in chats and forums to learn from others. However, nothing beats joining a physical camera club where you get to brush elbows with friends and peers. Social engagement is now taken for granted what with all the social media sites around. But “facebooking” or “flickring” is never like the inspired experience of an actual photo shoot/photo walk with your club buddies.
5. Be alone
Social is good. But the clutter and chatter of our fast-paced, noisy environment distracts us from the art of “seeing” or “sensing.” I found that a place of quiet and contemplation, where the soul can be calm and the mind refreshed, can unleash imagination and vision.
Creativity is not an on or off thing like a toggle switch that can be activated at the flick of a finger. Artists are an emotional and expressive batch and they can have moods, sometimes bountiful with a wellspring of inspiration flowing continuously, at times dark and empty, an abyss of nothingness. There are moments we need to find our muse and there are things we can do to realize that. How about you, where do you draw inspiration for your images?
Have a great week ahead!
Observe the picture above. There are layers of textures there – the powdery sand that has seen its share of hundreds of footsteps (or sandal marks), the white strip of surf crashing on shore, the tips of aqua green waves readying their final trip towards land, those fluffy pieces of clouds on their heavenly sojourn, the rocky outcrop of mountains and islands on the horizon. Does this add clutter and confusion to the picture? No, because texture is not the first thing you’ll notice but the blue banca (outrigger canoe) that sits quietly in contrast to its surrounding. The textures here provide an interesting menagerie of patterns, colors, shadows and highlights. Though texture can be a central subject, they can be effective secondary pieces in support of the point of interest. Look out for texture. Designers and graphic artists use them for backgrounds and to fill spaces. But photographers can use texture as a more powerful element – much like shape, patterns, color and light – for subject or composition.
Principles of Visual Dynamics
If you like rules, remember exceptions prove the rules. Being too insistent on the application of hard and fast rules can blind you to many exceptional opportunities. If you don’t like rules, remember that while there are no absolutes there are forces at work that have consistent tendencies. Denying or ignoring universal principles will lead to unpredictable unrepeatable results; you’ll achieve success far less frequently and be far less able to repeat your successes.
Forget rules. Forget absolutes. Forget musts. Instead develop an awareness of visual principles. Look for the unique power each element has to influence a composition. Develop a sensitivity to how elements and combination of elements make the forces at work in a composition stronger or weaker. Instead of composing formulaically, you’ll then be able to improvise. Understanding the principles of visual dynamics will help make your decision making process more informed, it will not make choices for you. Awareness is the key. Better awareness brings better choices bringing better results.
~John Paul Caponigro from his article Photographic Composition: Introduction
These are actual island dwellers I’ve encountered during my travels to far-flung provinces. They are fishermen, children, kids – people who live simple lives and enjoy their natural surroundings. They don’t have elegant homes, fashionable clothes, regular work or a lifestyle to speak of. I don’t even think they have cellphones. In the first place there are no signals in these remote places. What do they have? An affinity with nature that we, dwellers of the metropolitan jungle, so obviously lack. And the barest of their needs to live a life are aptly provided for by nature’s resources, right at their doorstep. God bless these island dwellers, these people of the sea.
When you’ve got islands, unless they are rock formations protruding out from the sea, then you’ve got beaches. What do you do? Plunge right into those inviting waters? Shoot First, Swim Later was the title of my post last October 30, 2012. I’m reposting it:
My country, the Philippines, has 7,100 islands. Put all those coastlines together and it will stretch for 23,000 kilometers, the third longest in the world. As a tropical country, it’s literally beach time all year round. Hence the beach, found everywhere, pristine in its natural beauty, is a mainstay subject of mine. Water, sand, sea, tides, shells, corals, sunny skies, palm trees, all these converge to create an inviting, colorful and exotic environ deserving of the pages of a travel magazine. In fact, we have some of the best beach and diving locations in the world. So how exactly do we photograph the beach, coast and shorelines? We know these images as seascapes. Darren Rowse, founder of the online Digital Photography School, jots down 10 Beach Photography Tips which include looking for focal points, watching the horizon, using flash and filters, utilizing black and white and many others. Unless you live there right by the sea, the chance to be at a scenic coastline or beach must not be passed up. You will be guided by your accumulated knowledge of what to shoot, when to shoot and things to look out for to get that postcard-perfect shot. (Photo location: Alubihod Beach, Guimaras Island)
When I posted the above image at a popular photo sharing site, a viewer commented: “Wow! You captured the whole island!” Well, not really, just one area of the island which happens to be its most visible part. It’s because motorboats and their passengers pass along this sea route on their way to the main island some two hours away. I don’t know if other corners of the island are as gorgeous, but I should say the above area looks the part of a tropical Eden, unspoiled and untouched (unlike the famous Boracay Island which is teeming with people).
Imagine yourself in the island above, lying on the beach, feeling the warm caress of white, powdery sand on your skin as the balmy wind tempers the midday sun and sways the lush palms. Then you arise and dive into those tempting waters, practicing your strokes against the incoming tide. Later you retreat to the natural shade and get your fill of ripe, juicy mangoes, papaya, avocado and of course the coconut fruit…this is gastronomic heaven. Your eyes feel heavy and the cool hut beckons…with the sweet singing of birds above and the soothing sound of the surf below, you get to dreamland…fast. This is back-to-basics living, without your smartphone, tablet, laptop, music player or radio or whatever gadget. I can live with that, but not without my camera!
Another week and another picture series. The Philippines as an archipelago has 7,100 of them jutting out like pearls from the sea. Some are world-renowned destinations but we’ll explore those that don’t have hotels, bars and cabanas on the beach. We’ll go to the untrodden places, quiet, peaceful and free, and where time seemingly stands still. Welcome to Islands Week!
Every image needs strong underlying compositional order so that it grabs the eye from a hundred feet away…If it can’t grab the eye from a distance, it will never be an interesting photo, regardless of how many fine details it might have. Details don’t matter if there’s no story behind it.~Ken Rockwell