Archive for May, 2010


I Do My Best Thinking When…

I have a friend who can sit down and just be creative. It seems like a rare skill. To me, it seems like telling someone to tell a joke out of the blue, you know “hey you; be funny now” – “hey you; be creative now”. Even though my job often includes improvising music, that method has never worked for me. I’ve never been one to be creative on the spot.

In reality, creativity doesn’t just happen in a void. There are two important aspects to creativity that often go overlooked. Performances and products that are viewed to be creative usually didn’t just happen in that moment, but had been rolling around, in one form or another, in the creator’s mind for some time. Also, creativity is usually the result of practice. The more you practice the act of being creative, the better you get at it.

You may have heard someone make reference (sometimes in jest) to ‘doing their best thinking’ in the bathroom (shower, toilet, etc.), or they might mention some other mundane activity. You’ll find it’s always a mundane activity that is done on a regular and frequent basis. There is a reason for this. These activities don’t require a lot of thought, practically none at all. They are blocks of time when you can usually be left to you solace. In that privacy, you allow yourself to think, imagine, even daydream. There’s no need for editing or filters. You are alone with yourself. It’s this space that often allows for the best thinking.

Now, I’m not advocating bringing your camera into the shower with you (unless you’ve got a waterproof camera, and you think you will create something interesting – just look out for lens fog :-)). But there are other situations when you can’t have the camera nearby. So, one of two things has to happen. You’ll either need to remember the ideas that come to you when you are away from the camera, or you need to be able to put yourself into that creative mode at will… or, preferably, both.

Many people I know in the arts (musicians, composers, writers, comedians) keep some form of notebook. It’s a place to jot down ideas as you have them, in whatever stage of development, so you can reference them later. Over the last decade I’ve developed the mind of a steel colander; I forget things almost as fast as I can think of them. So, recently I’ve started carrying around a voice recorder. (In the past I’ve carried around a little note pad and found that to be nearly as effective.) This way I can approach the idea later, when my circumstances are better suited to taking a good look at it. I also tend to get a lot more done in general with this tool.

Back to my friend at the top of this writing. He does, in deed, just sit down and (in his case) compose. He has developed the skill of putting himself in the right head space to be able to do that. This didn’t just happen. He has been practicing that skill for more than 10 years. So now, he can just find that creative place and start working. A good portion of being creative, is the practice of being creative. It is the practice of putting yourself in the right frame of mind that makes it easier to get there again.

There are occasions when, in the moment, one is seemingly struck with divine inspiration, when some brilliant idea comes from out of the blue, but these are rare. More often, it’s the preparation and the practice that yields the best results.



Seeing with the Heart

My job keeps me away from home for 5 to 6 months at a time. I’m not complaining. These days it’s good to be employed. And, actually, it’s a pretty cool job, all things considered, and I get to see some pretty cool places. But it does mean that I miss out on some of the creature comforts common to being in one place all the time, like regularly delivered mail and magazine subscriptions. I do, however, have a subscription to Outdoor Photographer magazine, courtesy of a friend, so I don’t always buy an issue off the shelves, sometimes opting to wait till I get home to read them. I am home now, for a little while, and I was catching up on my reading this morning over coffee. The January/February issue of OP has a few quite useful articles. The first I read was “Timeless Moments: The Mauna Loa View” by David Muench.

Muench addresses the spiritual aspects of landscape photography. He suggests that a great photograph conveys the sacred qualities of the land. To be honest, it’s a short, but powerful article, and I don’t really want to try to condense it here. It’s worth reading for yourself.

Reading Muench’s words reminded me of a time when I would venture out with my camera, day after day, and notice things. I’d stop and look at whatever had caught my eye, study it for a minute, decide “that would probably make a good picture”. Then I’d carry on, without ever removing my camera from my bag. At first I thought the problem was that I was getting lazy. I tried starting out with the camera already in hand. Same results. I didn’t bother lifting the camera to my eyes. On the occasions that I did, I walked away with a decent shot, but nothing I was too excited about. Reviewing those images later, I considered them to be humdrum at best.

Why was this happening? I had become closed off. My eyes still saw, but I could not feel. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. I had let other areas of my life come in and affect my photography, which, ironically is what I reserved as a break from the other areas of my life. But it lead me to an important lesson. There are beautiful, interesting and moving images everywhere. But to see them, to capture them, to be able to make that communication through the lens, I need to be present in the moment. I need to be open to feeling my surroundings, to look at my environment with fascination and wonder. Perhaps a great image isn’t seen with the eyes. Maybe it’s the heart that sees, and our eyes are just the tools it uses.

Muench closes his article with this advice:

“… just stop.

Put your ego and purpose aside.
Open up.
Feel the earth.
Respect everything that comes to you — an urge, an impulse, a sense of the magical. Then start photographing.”


What comes after shutter speeds, f-stops and the rule of thirds?


The act of photography is inherently creative. I suppose it’s a fact that is easily lost in this digital age – where once, unexposed film was exposed to the light, then processed and often printed. You then had something physically in your hands to show for it, a negative, and slide, and/or a print. Something was created. Now, with digital photography, the images that don’t get deleted before they leave the camera, get stored on a computer somewhere, a series of 1’s and 0’s, difficult to imagine as some thing. But what do we create when we make a photograph? Organization of visual elements, information – a communication (hopefully), an emotion.

In my own photography, while I feel I have made strides in the last few years, I don’t feel I am as creative as I could be. Each time I take on a project, I seem to produce images quite similar to ones I have already seem before. On the one hand, I am happy to be gaining the skills to be able to produce images similar to ones I admire. But, on the other hand, I’d like to stretch further, to begin to find a vocabulary of my own. I suppose I’m looking for the same sense of discovery, now, through the camera, as I’ve had about the camera over the last few years.

So, I hope to foster a discussion about creativity in photography. What comes after shutter speeds, f-stops and the rule of thirds?

May 2010


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