We have all experienced it; you are walking around at sunrise looking for a great image. It could be any subject, but you just can’t see anything. Even more frustrating, other photographers in the group just seem to be finding all sorts of things to photograph. Your mind wanders, you’re just not into it, and you start thinking about coffee and pancakes at the local diner. This is ‘code’ for ‘I’m embarrassed I don’t see any great shots’…anybody hungry?
Truth be told, I feel this way a lot. I always imagined these right brain creative types just walking into any situation and finding award-winning images. But after teaching and talking with other photographers for years, some who are incredibly creative, I realized they had to ‘look’ and find their image just like me. It wasn’t served up on a platter right out of the car. I needed to find a process that forced me to see in a different way, and ‘take the blinders off.’ I came up with simple questions I ask myself when I hit a creative wall, and more often than not the answers put me in a new creative dimension. The pancakes could wait, I was seeing all sorts of new images.
1. Look at the scene/subject graphically, not literally. Photography is founded on visual literacy, which relies on graphic design to communicate many topics. When I was in Sedona last week I found myself walking through the desert not seeing anything. And as Monet said, ‘by labeling we recognize everything, but no longer see anything.’ How true. Don’t look as the scene at mountains, trees and clouds. Instead, see triangle shapes, green lines and white circles. By removing labels it better helps us to communicate at a graphic level.
2. Sit down. Think of it this way…here is your excuse to take a break. Perspective is so important in photography, and any fresh perspective will engage the viewer. More importantly, if you are on the ground you will see things a lot different, and find compositions you would never get standing up. If you want to earn those pancakes, you gotta get dirty.
3. Take the picture. The worst thing a photographer can do is not take the shot. Even if you aren’t completely happy with the image, take the shot. We’re way past film days and worrying about developing costs. You can always delete the shot later. But what I find is if I walk around and say ‘that isn’t a great shot, I’m not going to take it’…that is exactly what I do…wander around for an hour with no images to show for it. I find just hitting the shutter and starting the photographic process is very important to getting to my creative space. Something about just taking a picture kick starts the right side of my brain and I start seeing things different. Never be constrained by compositional rules! The process is just as important as the end result in developing your creativity over time.
4. Change lenses. This is a simple one. You walk around and say ‘yeah that would be great but I need a different lens.’ Okay, then time to change lenses. Different focal lengths and aperture settings will have you looking at a familiar scene differently. I think one of the most important lenses Nikon has introduced in recent years is the 500mm PF 5.6. Why? Because this lens is so small that I carry it everywhere. Who would carry a 500mm lens while walking down alleys in Europe? I would. And that is the beauty of it…I am taking long lens compression images on the fly of heavily photographed scenes and producing images I’ve never scene before.
5. Weather doesn’t matter. What a second, isn’t that early morning light going to help me create great images? Maybe. But if you have taken a workshop with me, I live by one rule; No matter what the weather and light is doing, something will photograph well in it. Unfavorable weather is the biggest excuse I see photographers heading to the diner for pancakes. But ‘bad’ weather mixes things up, and forces you into a new creative space. Put on the rain cover, and go for it! Then get the full stack with bacon and coffee…