Sky on Fire

Just Go Out and Play

Sky on Fire

As children we learned by playing and as photographers we still learn by playing. My youngest son’s favorite question for many years was “What if…” Every time he would ask that question I could see the wheels turning while he tried to imagine all the possibilities. As photographers we do the same thing all the time. When we ask that question with a camera in our hands the wheels are definitely turning. “What if I made the background more out of focus?” “What if I drag the shutter?” What if… what if… what if? Some of the answers to that question get pretty creative and being creative is what photography is all about.

Even when I say I’m “working” I’m still trying to imagine all the possibilities of a thousand “what if’s”. I put working in quotes because for me, most of the time, making photos doesn’t seem like work. The feeling that this might be work comes from other things but not photography itself. I might be under the pressure of a short deadline or in the midst of loosing light but when it come right down to it, you guessed it, I’m playing!

If I weren’t having fun I’d probably be sitting on the couch with the TV tuned in and my mind tuned out. Creativity comes much easier when I’m having a good time, so I play. For me, when I have my camera, playing is always a good time. I’m not afraid to be a little silly when I can be and I don’t take myself too seriously. One of those silly ideas might lead me to the best idea of the day.

Playing with a camera in my hand let’s me be curious and try things that I’m not entirely sure about. Just do it and see what happens. The results might surprise me. Happy accidents happen all the time and quite often produce some great photos. I know for a fact that happy accidents will not happen unless I’m trying something that I haven’t tried before. Happy accidents also happen when I haven’t thought the process all the way through. These are the best kind because I’m thinking one thing is going to happen and something completely different happens!

Whenever you can grab your camera and head out to play and be sure to have some fun. You just might learn a thing or two while you’re at it.

Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral

Be Inspired

Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral

Inspiration comes in many different ways and in many different forms. The real trick to getting inspired is being open to the possibilities. Yesterday I had the good fortune to be part of a group that was discussing blogging. It’s obvious that I have not been active on this blog for some time. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about, it’s just that I have not been inspired to write it. In many ways, I have missed writing. I can’t say that writing has always been something I looked forward to, but I do enjoy writing posts for this blog.

As a photographer, I’m usually looking for inspiration to make photos. What wild idea can I use and try to bring to life photographically? Where can I go that will help photos come more freely? What creative source can I tap into to help make interesting photos? There are no easy answers to these questions. On a recent trip to the UK, I didn’t go out to make photos as often as I thought I might. The holidays are for spending time with family so that is what I did and I enjoyed their company quite a bit. I did go out with the express purpose of making photos twice. Once for a walk by my self and another time to Gloucester Cathedral. You might recognize the photo from the cloisters at the cathedral. Several scenes from the Harry Potter films were shot there.

The inspiration for this post comes directly from the meeting yesterday about blogging. I started thinking of different things I want to talk about. The many posts I have started and never finished. The backstories of the photos that I want to share. Inspiration is all around us. All we need to do is be open to it. When we are open to it, inspiration will find us, we won’t have to go looking for it. I know this time of year can be uninspiring photographically. They call it “the dead of winter” for a reason. And then there are the cold temperatures to deal with, definitely not my favorite conditions to make photos in. But looking around, there is something nearby, maybe even within arm’s reach that will inspire you to do something that you haven’t done in a while. Take the opportunity to be inspired and to do whatever that might be.

I Need To Take More Showers

I need to take more showers. Well, not because I’m stinky or anything, but because I get some of my best ideas for images when I’m in the shower. After many, many years of taking showers the process has become a bit automatic. Start at my head end at my feet and hit all the bits in between. It’s a bit like breathing, I don’t have to think about it most of the time. Because I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, my mind shifts in neutral. This is where the ideas start because my mind never stays in neutral for very long.

Thoughts wonder in and out of my mind. A color, a place or an object and my mind builds an image around that starting point. I may get an image that I have been having trouble visualizing. I may get something completely new. I may get something that needs to be refined. Whatever I get I mull it over to see if there is a final image that I would like to make. Mind you, quite often my mind is off thinking about everything else that I need to do that day and no images come to mind at all. The days that ideas do come always feel a bit magical.

When I get out of the shower I write down and sketch a fairly detailed description of the image or images I came up with. I have been keeping notebooks of image ideas for many years. I have some notebooks that go back to the early 80’s. Some of the ideas I have already used for creating images and other ones I haven’t used yet. A few of the ideas I have gone back to a few times to put a new twist on them. I think every photographer should have a notebook of image idea in one form or another. All of mind are proper notebooks because I like flipping through the pages and seeing my ideas from the past. Quite often in reviewing ideas I find interesting combinations of ideas that become new images.

Take more showers, keep notebooks do whatever works for you to get and keep more image ideas. Then you can use those ideas at those times when you want to create an image but you are completely blocked.

Finding Inspiration

How do you find the inspiration that helps you create the images you really love? Finding inspiration at the best of times can be very frustrating. If you have a deadline and need to send ideas to someone for a project you can multiply that panic. When ideas are not coming and you are getting close to the deadline true panic can set in and shut you down. Deadlines can cause panic with a very paralyzing effect.


Being open to all the possibilities and all the possible creative influences is one way to unlock the inner creative ideas that you have. Do you have a song that you have been listening to over and over in your head? Play that song and start listening to it. Not just hearing it, the music and lyrics, but really listening. Get the lyrics and following along as your song plays over and over. Let yourself drift in the lyrics and melody and watch what you mind’s eye creates. You may see an image you just have to create.

Do you have a favorite film that you haven’t watched in a while. Get it out, watch it straight through and then go back to that one scene that you just can’t forget. Look at the lighting, the set, the wardrobe, the actors and listen to the dialogue and sounds that accompany that scene over and over. There is something about that scene that you like so find it and use that as inspiration for an image.

Music and films have always been a big influence in my life. You may have something else that you feel is a big influence in your life. Open yourself to the possibilities of that influence and see where your mind takes you. Inspiration is where you find it. Sometimes it’s the journey toward inspiration that leads to great images.

Need a reason to get out and make some images?

As winter is getting here, finally some might say, and it is getting cold outside you might want to stay in and put the cameras on the shelf until it gets warmer. Yeah, I’m a wimp when it comes to cold weather! I was born in Florida, in July. Anything under 60º is COLD! Dressing up like the Michelin man to go outside is not my idea of a good time. If you are like me, the thought of getting out in the wintertime to make some images is, well, not very inspiring. Besides that, there is a reason its called “The Dead of Winter,” everything looks DEAD! Talk about an inspiration buzz kill! Here in Northern Virginia the trees are bare, the grass is either brown or a lack luster green that doesn’t look good in photos. Add as much saturation as you like to the somewhat green grass and it still looks off. Any leaves that are on the ground have lost all the fall color they once had and are now just masses of brown. Not very photogenic at all when you start thinking about it.

So what does winter have to offer photographically? Well, there are quite a few things when you start to think about it. Here are three:

1) Frost, that is something you don’t see on a nice July day! But you sure get it this time of year. Early morning, when everything is still and cold can be a great time to photograph frost. Look for the sun just hitting a leaf or some grass. You won’t have long to get your shot but you can get some nice ones with the golden morning light on the frost.

2) Ice, frost on a much larger scale. When freezing rain is in the forecast be sure to look for icicles and frozen branches. The green leaves and red berries of a holly tree can look great incased in a layer of ice. Look for clear skies after the freezing rain has moved out. The golden light of the sunrise or sunset will make the ice, leaves and berries glow in the warm light.

3) Snow, again, more frozen water! What is it about winter and frozen water!?! Anyway, getting out after a nice fresh fall of snow can be great for finding interesting images in places that you have photographed time and time again. When the snow falls it blankets an entire area with tiny flakes so try and photograph some of those flakes. Look for the textures that the different sizes of the flakes create. When the wind blows, drifts and interesting patterns are created. Be on the lookout for morning or evening sunlight on these drifts and patterns and you will get some great warm tones and cold tones in the same image.

One thing I find good about this time of year is the angle of the sun. Since the sun is over the southern hemisphere the shadows are longer for more of the day. The sun never gets very high in the sky so the shadows are longer than any other time of the year. Although the days will be getting longer these shadows will still be around for another couple of months.

Bundle up, charge your batteries and get out there and create some great winter images. I’d like to see some of the images you create. Send me a link so I can check them out. If you have a Flickr account, add me as a contact: Conchphotog.

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