10 simple ways to get your creative “spark” back with your photography!

Losing all of your creative desires is something that every artist goes through at one time or another. It is only inevitable that after relentlessly pursuing your creative ideas and vision that you run out of gas, Enter the photography doldrums and can’t quite figure out how to get out! It is never a permanent situation but a frustrating one to be sure. When it comes to my own photography work my mind moves at a frenetic pace with all of the projects that I am working on or have yet to do.

It always hits me like a tone of bricks but after months of getting great images, decent blog posts and working on all of the daily tasks I have with my work, Bam!….The tank is empty and I am not as enthusiastic about my work and creating new images. It isn’t one thing or another that causes this but sometimes we have to step back, put away the camera and refresh our minds a bit. Life is never about straight lines and there has to be a way to get our passion back. How you do this is not an easy answer but here are ten simple steps that I use to get the creative juices flowing again!

1. Learn about a technique you have never done and…Try it!

I know that one direction I would like to go in is with portrait and modeling work but I am definitely a newbie when it comes to flash lighting and portrait work. I really want to explore this area and be proficient so recently I have been educating myself on doing flash work and through some trial and error I found that yes,  I can do this! Typically I shoot landscapes and nature but I don’t want to miss out on all of the other disciplines of photography that are out there.

2. Use a different lens.

I have said this before and this is one that should always be in your head. Change your lens and you change your perspective on the world. I mostly shoot with a wide-angle lens and after a while its how your start viewing the world. What I dont like is that I am missing all of the detail of a composition by going wide. I like to change things up by using my 50mm lens or my 60mm macro lens once in a while. The fixed 50mm insures that I will have to move around more to get a good composition and that I am going to get more of the details of an area rather than the entire scene in the frame.

3. Look at other people’s work for inspiration.

It can be difficult in the time compressed world of a photographer but seeing what other people are shooting and how is a great way to get the creative juices flowing again too. I can be in the worst most depressed state of mind about my own work but all it takes is one image of a remote forest that I know someone spent hours to hike to and make an image to get me out of the funk and out exploring and shooting again. Inspiration can come from many sources, Just be open to it!

4. When you don’t want to shoot you must push yourself to shoot.

Of course there are times when you know what? You just don’t want to get out there and work. I have been through this many times and the simplest way to combat it is to really push yourself to get out and work. Your really must turn those negative thoughts into positive ones. I always try to think about everything that I am missing by not getting out to work. Push yourself and you may be surprised by what you come up with.

5. Go somewhere you have never been to and explore.

While I do love going back to the same locations from time to time often what will jump-start my creativity is getting to places I have never been too and scouting and exploring for images to make. Part of the fun for me is to find a new location and try to make the most out of every opportunity that presents itself. Looking at the same scene all of the time is a lot like eating the same food everyday..It’s boring. Be a modern-day explorer and see what you have been missing.

6. try a new discipline of photography.

I can be honest and say that sometimes I get bored shooting landscapes all of the time. Change what you are shooting and you change how you think about your work as a whole. It’s exciting to shoot a portrait or to get out and do some urban exploration. Remember that variety is the spice of life and changing what you shoot can go a long way to getting the creativity flowing again. You don’t want to limit yourself or your options.

7. Explore different angles and perspectives.

This may sound a little weird but recently I have been re watching the old 1959 Twilight zone series by the master Rod Serling. I have seen them all before but this time I have been paying attention to how masterfully that these episodes were shot.

No straight lines, worms eye and birds eye views, and my particular favorite…the camera positions they used where people are really close up and large within the frame. It has really given me a new perspective on how to frame subjects and how to do it creatively for effect. I highly recommend watching an episode or two and you will see what I am taking about. As a landscape shooter I am always thinking about straight lines but I want to get out of that box.

8. Go back to your beginnings.

By this I mean ask yourself why you do what you do with photography, Why did you start shooting in the first place? Sometimes we can get lost in our day-to-day shooting activities and we can forget why we wanted to be artists in the first place. Remember where you started from and keep the goal of where you want to be firmly in your mind.

9. Pick a color/letter/word etc….and do a photography project on it.

This is one I am going to try myself soon. I have always loved red as a color and that is all I am using as my guide…The color red. I am not going to impose any rules on myself…I just want to see what images I can come up with. I think this can be a great way to unleash all of the bottled up creativity and just maybe by doing this can get you out of your current rut.

10. Ditch the social media/ internet for a while.

I know gasp! I dared to say it! I have a really hard time with this one but sometimes they can be quite a distraction. I mean what we really want to be doing is making images so shut off the computer and get out there! You are not a drone and I can wait for your next comment or Twitter update. Clear your head and the images will follow.

Marching forward

Canon 7d/ Canon 17-40mm F4 L series lens. UV filter. Lee Big Stopper 10 stop neutral density filter. ISO 100, 40mm, F 11 @ 70 seconds. Burlington, Vermont waterfront with flooding from Lake Champlain.

As promised I have a few images of all the flooding that persists here along the shores of Lake Champlain. The lake does rise quite signficantly in the spring time due to melting snow but I can’t remember a time when it had gotten this bad and all the rain we are getting certainly does not help. If you look to the left side of this image where that old barge is, I should be able to walk out over there but here I am several hundred feet back.

I made this image on yes… A cloudy early morning that was threatening rain. This particular spot is five minutes from my home but I was really liking reflections from the trees in the water. Here you are looking at the back parking lot of the Echo Lake and science aquarium. It’s devoted to the science and ecology of Lake Champlain with lots of neat exhibits about the area.

Using the 10 stop neutral density filter really stopped any movement in the water and gave it that “glassy” look. The sky here is pretty horrible but I think it emphasises the flooding aspect. fortunately I have not had to put on the hip waders to make  an image!

Struggle for life

Canon 7d/Canon 17-40mm F4 L series lens, UV filter, Lee Big Stopper 10 stop neutral density filter. Processed in Lightroom 3. ISO 100 17mm F 16 @ 90 seconds.

I have been looking at this tree for a while now contemplating an interesting composition for it. The tree sits on a tiny spit of land on Lake Champlain in Oakledge Park and I have always admired its tenacity at surviving such a harsh environment.

I wanted to show lots of movement here and there is a little in the tree. With the whipping wind it would have been near impossible to capture the long exposure without showing the movement of the tree and branches. While an image of the tree not moving with the clouds speeding by would have been nice that was not my intent here. Have a good weekend…Let me know what you think of this one!

10 features I would like to see in future camera generations.

I have always had an interest in time and what the future may hold. I suppose it is my inner geek when it comes to sci-fi movies but it has been interesting to see how technology has changed and evolved over the years. I remember when we got this huge, bulky contraption called a “Betamax”, You could put a huge cassette tape looking thing into it and watch movies at home!

Seriously this thing was a massive machine that even a nuclear weapon couldnt destroy. At the time this was a huge technological leap but sadly along came laser disc’s, Dragons lair and VHS tapes which doomed the poor Betamax to exile in Bizarro world.

Cameras can be the same way from year to year. The technology evolves so rapidly and the processors get much more advanced in each camera generation that last years “new” model just can’t compete. The new cameras come along and Photographers love their gear, We just have to have all of those new features. I was sitting here the other day and thinking about a camera of the future and what it may look like.

What sort of features would I be looking for in a camera five or even ten years down the road? It’s interesting to daydream a little to see what you can come  up with for a feature set in a camera. The following is my list of features that I would like to see, Some conceptual and some more practical. What features would you like to see in a future camera?

1. In-Camera HDR processing:

Currently we have to take our bracketed shots in-camera and then import them into our computers. Then we have to import the images into a HDR program for processing and then export back to Photoshop or Lightroom for final tweaking. Geez! Lets simplify the process by processing the bracketed images in camera to give you one, final HDR camera raw image to import to your editing program.

I spend more time flip-flopping between programs and it eats up a lot of time. It would also eliminate the need to keep all of the bracketed images in your computer, One image eats up less space than 3 or 9 or 12 images. There are a few cameras that do this but correct me if I am wrong but I think you only get a jpeg file.

2. Carbon fiber camera body:

Why not? I do realize that something like this would be quite expensive but I love thinking about its potential. Twice as strong as current bodies with half the weight = Awesomeness for my back when I am out hiking with all of my gear. If musical instruments can be made with carbon fiber than why not high-end dslr? The manufacture of such a body im sure would be challenging but think about an indestructible camera body that is dust and weather proof. The only weakness in such a system would be where the lens connects to the body but it would go along way in protecting the camera for everyday drops and bumps.

3. In-camera panorama stitching as a camera raw file:

Wouldn’t it be nice to have something similar to Sony’s Isweep panorama mode in a dslr? I would rather import an already stitched together raw file of the pano then 12 images that I yet again have to import into yet another program to stitch together. This type of feature would be a great time and storage saver. I am sure this is may add some expense to the camera body but I want to know at the time of capture if the pano stitch is good and that I have a huge raw file to work with rather than a jpeg.

4. Less buttons, knobs and controls:

I think it would be much nicer to have a smooth and streamlined camera body with less buttons and controls to have to deal with. Think of it this way…Remove all of the controls, Take a large screen like that of an iPhone and have that as the back lcd and then have one jog wheel similar to an ipod next to it. Add touch screen support, Get rid of the top lcd panel which I rarely use and maybe have one or two other buttons and there you have it…Easy, Right?

5. In-camera gps:

I am sure that some cameras already have this feature or you have to buy a really expensive add-on to get the gps capability. It would be nice to have a mechanism in-camera to either track and record your Photography adventures or at the very least  mark way points or get one set of gps coordinates for your current location.

6. Larger lcd back panel:

The older I get the more cramped I feel when I am looking at the tiny screen of my Canon 7d. I don’t need anything huge but just a little more room would be nice.

7. Better camera A.I.:

When you point the camera at a subject and prepare to take a shot the camera does not know if you’re trying to shoot something static or something that is moving. It would be nice to see detection for moving objects/people or if you are trying some other creative process like a long exposure and have the camera set the appropriate settings. As a rule I don’t want to let the camera choose any settings but sometimes you are shooting in situations where you dont have a lot of time to really mess around with camera controls.

8. Neutral density:

I would like to see in-camera neutral and graduated neutral density filters with the ability to adjust the strength from one to ten stops. It would also be nice to be able to have the option to move the filters into any position within the image field to your liking. I know this one is a long shot but I use these filters constantly and if I didn’t have to buy, maintain and carry all of these with me into the field my back would be thankful for that. Being able to select the strength would be icing on the cake.

9. Infrared shooting:

Going out on a limb here as I know this one may prove to be a challenge technically but it would be great to be able to switch between infrared and regular image capture. I have never shot infrared before and have always wanted to, This one may be wishful thinking here.

10. Noise reduction:

The next area for improvements should be in this area. The cameras are great at noise reduction at higher ISO’s however on my Canon 7d the noise really starts to become an issue after ISO 1000. I have shot at all of the ISO’s available on my camera and Lightroom is good at removing the noise but there is a point were it just doesn’t look good anymore.

Ten things to prepare yourself for when you decide to become a pro photographer!

Let me make one thing clear…I am not nor do I claim to be a professional photographer. It is a goal of mine to be sure and I Am working hard towards that bit at the moment I don’t consider myself a pro. On my way to this goal I have figured out a few things and learned from my mistakes which I am sharing with you…My faithful reader.

Making the decision to pursue photography full-time was an easy decision for me because of my passion for the art but it was also difficult at the same time. I have always felt that my time on this earth is very short and making a leap into the world of professional photography is a bet I am willing to take on myself. I have no guide or mentor to steer me down the correct path and I have made a great seal of frustrating stumbles along the way. There was no guidebook for me to pursue photography as a career, all I have is my determination not to fail and a positive attitude about my work and where I am headed with it. I don’t claim to be a pro…I am just a guy who loves what he does. If you want to jump into the world of pro photography get a thick skin and these ten things to think about should guide you on your path.

1. Prepare yourself for rejection…lots of it. This one is the biggie and don’t fool yourself into thinking that you wont get your ass kicked every other day with no’s and rejections. We are all in a very crowded and competitive field with a ton of images out there. This isn’t a profession where you become instantly famous overnight but through years of hard work and dedication. You have to have an exoskeleton like iron man to let the rejections bounce off of you because if you don’t they will crush your spirit and desire…remembef you want to be in this for the long haul!

2. Digital camera equipment is expensive. You are going to need a budget and you are going to need to save for the gear you want…period. Do your research and know what kind of shooting you will be doing and the gear you are going to need to get the shots you want to make. Knowledge is key here and you don’t need to buy every piece of equipment that is advertised to you. Your gear is huge investment of money so buy wisely. Along with camera equipment comes all of your compute hardware, software and digital storage you will need for your image files! The list keeps growing…Trust me on this one!

3. Photography will be a second full-time job. The photography work doesn’t end when you click the shutter. Oh no my friends, There is much more work involved!  The editing process itself from say a wedding for example with several hundred images to sort through is a Herculean task in itself. If you are a nature and landscape shooter like myself  there is lots of prep time involved looking at sunrise and sunset times, weather and scouting locations. Just trying to get eyeballs on your work and get noticed in this crowded field isn’t for the faint of heart and can make even a grown man cry. Stick to your guns and stay with it…The weak will drop out of the race while the dedicated will remain and be prosperous.

4. Pay careful attention to how you present yourself online. This is another big one as these days you need to have a fairly large presence online to help spread the word about your work. Be cautious how you present yourself in your social media efforts. I am trying to be actively engaged in the photography community online…Sharing what I know and commenting and looking at others work. I am busy like everyone else and I cant do it all but I am as engaged as I can be. My Twitter and Facebook photo pages are strictly for photography related things and networking with other photographers..No personal stuff. How your are virtually is how people are going to view you in the real world..especially potential clients.

5. Shoot as much as you can and show your work as much as you can. This one can be a tough one when you are just starting out but an image taken that is never seen is an image you probably wasted your time taking. If you are dedicated and want to grow in the business then you do what you have to do. I am moving towards being really poor and only working part-time to continue on this photography path. For me I am at the point where this step will allow me to grow my portfolio and get a lot closer to my goal. Show where ever and whenever you can! You need to get people looking at and commenting on your work.

6. Be passionate about your work and photography. All of the awesome photographers I have had the pleasure of meeting are passionate, dedicated and write/ blog and show their work often. With this passion comes self-confidence in your work…You need this along with that thick skin to get by in this business! Your passion and dedication will really show to people and this in turn will help you to grow and prosper. Love what you do everyday!

7. You are never going to get sleep again. Nature and landscape shooters look for the best light which happens to be at the fringes of the day. We are out and working while everyone else is snuggled warmly in their beds. You have to learn to work at times when no one else is and work your ass off! Do more than the next guy and you will be rewarded eventually.

8. Always stay positive. Yes doing photography can lead to painful bouts with fear and worry but don’t let this effect you! Always, always stay positive and keep your mind actively engaged on your next photography project. We are not perfect and not every image is a keeper. Don’t dwell on an image…If it’s bad delete it and move on to the next one. Keeping your spirits high in this competitive field is a difficult task but one you must master. Keep your mind engaged and always thinking about photography and being positive. Dont let any negative nancy’s get to you!

9. No job is too small. Don’t ever think that any job is too small or beneath you. I do some volunteer photography a few times a year and I have a blast doing it! It’s also a good way to meet people and make contacts. Even on a volunteer job I still work as I always do…Diligently and I deliver my images as quickly and efficiently as possible. Do what you say you will, Take the small jobs or the free ones. Remember word of mouth can kill you so act like a professional at all times.

10. Take that camera off of full auto! This is one piece of advice that I have said before and I will say it again. You are an artist…Know how to use your gear. Start with the basics and work your way up to more advanced work. Painters don’t start out painting masterpieces! My work sucked when I first started shooting but with patience and a desire to learn how cameras worked, I learned and it showed in my improving work. There are times when it is appropriate to use the auto modes and I do very rarely but learn that camera! Don’t cheat yourself and your work.