Category Archives: creativity

Outshadowed

Light is a directional resource, whether from the sun or a lamp.  The shadows it creates can dramatically change a scene from the mundane to the eyecatching in the time it takes for a cloud to drift across the sky.  At times my attention has been captured by the shadow in its own right.  Other times, it is the way it enhances another object that takes my fancy.  In an environment where there seems to be little worth taking a picture of, shadows can save the day.

Watching shadows offers a powerful meditation in its own right.  Watch them change from long, soft and glancing in the early part of the day to short and crisp when the sun is overhead.  See them fluctuate as clouds drift by; a subtle cloud cover that softens definition, or the dramatic passing of bigger clouds across the sun on a windy day.  Consider how we depend on the sun for light and warmth.  Let shadows be our reminder of the life-giving energy from the star that makes our very existence possible.

To take the most dramatic images involving shadows we need to be out and about early or late in the day, when they are at their longest. A bright sunny day will give the strongest shade, but we can go shadow chasing at any time of year.  The urban landscape can offer many opportunities for fascinating shadow –hunting, often creating stark abstract images through the interplay shapes formed by buildings and shadows

On a smaller scale, strong sunlight can lead to beautiful images of birds and other animals.  Although accepted advice is that flowers should be photographed in diffuse light, I also enjoy playing with the shadow patterns they make around them.  Oops, breaking the rules again!  I have also spent many of hours squatting under bushes to record the effect of shadowplay on leaves and toadstools.  But then I think I am a little odd…

Feeling photography

The world of image creation is full of rules and magazines spill over with lists of 10 great tips for this and that.  With all this conventional wisdom forming a substantial part of our daily diet, is it surprising that our images can sometimes feel a bit same-y?  A bit old hat?  Done it, seen it, printed that one on a t-shirt.

Operating inside the confines of an accepted composition can impose boundaries that generate this sense of déjà vu, no matter how atypical the subject matter.  It can restrict the freedom of the image, limiting its ability to represent the living, breathing and open-minded photographer behind the camera who sees and feels the world in his or her own personal idiosyncratic manner.

I find it can take me a good while with my subject to get beyond that which feels ordinary and find free and fluid images.  Some days it just doesn’t happen at all.  Exploring from all angles, I wait for that inner reaction to the scene in my viewfinder that says ‘Oh yes! That’s it!’  If my response is ‘Meh!’ then I don’t press the shutter.  I am trying to hold out until I feel the emotional response that I would like my viewer to feel when they look at the picture.  Sometimes I run out of time.  That’s life I guess.

Post processing with a difference

I love taking pictures.  I generally amass them in large numbers, even on days when I am being careful to limit the number of times I press the shutter.  Just one more, maybe this angle now, and a couple more in case they are out of focus.  However, my interest in post-processing is luke-warm.  And even that may be an overstatement of the appeal that hours spent tweaking my images in computer-land holds for me.

Just recently I hit on another type of post-processing, one which I had never even considered before.  Watercolour painting.

“Excuse me?”  I hear you say, “Watercolour painting?” Yes, that’s right.

With my camera, I frequently find myself looking for abstractions.  I use photographic techniques such as intentional camera movement, long exposures or my Lensbaby to add movement and blur to my images.  Time does not stand still and I like the way these techniques reflect the inaccuracies of our seeing.  Whilst watercolours can be used to create incredibly detailed paintings, they also have the power to bring softness and a depth that draws out the essence of the subject, just as I am trying to do with my camera.  So, I thought, why not take the picture and then paint it?

I should say at this point that I have absolutely no experience at painting and drawing, beyond the specimen pictures I had to produce for ‘A’ level Biology many years ago.  My interest in arts and crafts has always leaned towards fabrics, wool, thread and beads.  So this is an entirely new adventure.  I smiled to myself as I remembered that a fair few people seem to take up painting when they retire…is this wishful thinking?

Taking a mindful photograph and then creating a mindful painting from that image.  I’ll let you know how I get on!

Experimenting with ICM

Recently I have been finding myself increasingly drawn to the technique of ICM when I am out and about with my camera.  If you haven’t come across the term, it stands for Intentional Camera Movement.  ICM defines a style of image-making where the camera is deliberately moved whilst the shutter is open.  This can result in anything from a subtle ethereal quality in the image to an abstract riot of merging colours.

On days when i hoped for extraordinary and find myself struggling to engage, a foray into ICM can be just the ticket.  The most bland and boring scenes can be transformed, providing there is at least some degree of contrast, in either tones or colours.  A view which barely begs a second glance can produce the most beautiful images with ICM.  This is a great way of jump-starting your creativity when nothing seems to inspire!

For me, the pictures I create using ICM are a way of accessing the emotion of the scene and connecting with the essence of what is before me.  Key elements of the subject come together, to create a greater whole. These may be qualities that my eye observed, or ones that become apparent in the resulting image.  Whatever the outcome, I always learn something new about my subject or myself.

Why not give ICM a try yourself? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Adjust the aperture and ISO to get the shutter speed you want.  I find that anything from 1/6 second or longer can produce interesting results.  Obviously the longer the shutter is open the more movement you can make in the time.
  • Use the lower light levels at dusk and dawn to your advantage, or make ICM a project for a cloudy day to get the shutter speeds you want.
  • Try different movements; slow/fast panning, jiggling, rotating, or just hold the camera at arm’s length and let it wobble!  With a longer exposure, try combining stillness and movement.
  • Use the preview screen to assess your images and adjust the cameras settings.  Perhaps you need a different shutter speed to capture the most effective image, or to vary the type of movement.
  • Spend time with the scene and reflect on its qualities before deciding on the type of movements to explore  with your camera.

 

As old as art

I have been reflecting this week on a news article about the amazing find of cave art in a rural part of the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi.  There are paintings of people, animals, and stencils made by blowing paint around hands held against the cave wall.  Due to the growth of stalactities over the paintings, it has been possible to date them…to 40,000 years ago.

The researchers suggest that the development of art demonstrates the beginnings of human intelligence as we understand it, that we are distinguished from other living creatures by are capacity for art and abstract thought.  Art is the basis for invention, imagination and the exploration of the possibilities of our world that have contributed to our progression from those cave dwelling hunter-gatherers to the modern techno-beings that we are today.

The timescales are hard enough to conceive, let along the huge leap from hand stencils though centuries of creative expression and technological development to the artistic medium that is digital photography.  Today I hold my camera with awe and marvel at how far we have come.  Wonder is a humbling state of mind.

Make ugly the new beautiful

My mother told me she is thinking about taking up painting again.  “I need you to find me an interesting vegetable” she said.  I interpreted this to mean something a little out of the ordinary.  Of course, it might just be an unusual type of vegetable she was after, craggy and convoluted, to test her artistic prowess.  But it could equally be that misshapen specimen left behind when the shoppers have gone home that might prompt the urge to take paintbrush in hand.

Interesting.

When it comes to buying food for our plates, perfection appears to be everything.  I read this week that almost 40% (yes, over a third!) of the produce grown in the United States is discarded.  It doesn’t meet the stringent requirements of the discerning food shopper and never even reaches the store.

One man in America has a plan to stem this tide of waste, by setting up a business dedicated to selling on this produce to those who are willing to accept that nutritious food comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Doug Rauch is hoping that his new store in Boston will channel some of this produce into local shopping baskets instead of to the trash.

Anyone who has grown food at home will know that the oddly shaped strawberry can be just as juicy as the perfect one, and yet when we are in the supermarket, suddenly only the best will do.  I am guilty of it myself.  After all, I am paying the same price whichever ones I pick.  I want the best!

Unless of course, our purpose is art.  Would Edward Weston’s peppers have been so compelling if they had been a regular shape?  I think not.  Much of the appeal of his famous photographs lies in the imperfections of this everyday vegetable, grown, I presume, at a time when irregularities didn’t consign produce to the waste bin.  The art is in the innate beauty of the sensuous curves, something a modern-day pepper is frequently too prim to display.  I tried it myself with a shop-bought pepper.  See for yourself.  I need to grow my own!

So, my mother didn’t ask for a nice apple for her painting. No, she wanted something interesting.  Perhaps we need to tune into our inner artist when we shop for food as well as when we seek inspiration.  Seek out your culinary muse along with your artistic one in the whims and fancies of nature and see what you find.  You could surprise yourself.

Time passes

I have not picked up my camera in three weeks now. My overdrive schedule continues apace and I just don’t feel I have the luxury of time to spend on picture-making.  Of course, this is exactly when making that time is most important!  However, I’m sure this is a temporary hiatus and am reassured by my recent interest in things around me, prompting my inclination to resurrect my photographic endeavours once more.

It’s quite interesting to watch the urge to photograph come and go.  Meditation encourages us to take a step back from the thinking mind and recognise the transience of this stream of thoughts flowing through the mind.  I watch myself being drawn to particular light, shadows, combinations of objects.  I notice the composition of the scene as these random insights jump out at me and a hushed voice whispers “You know, that would make a good picture.  Go on, get the camera”.

And yet I resist.  For now I am content to merely observe, to record with the sensor of my mind.  I know that once the camera is in my hands a few precious hours will fly by unnoticed.  It always takes me a while to settle, to truly connect with my subject.  I rather like being caught out by the flashes of perception.

To be stopped in my tracks by the unexpected in the ordinary, as I was by this grasshopper.  And then exploring that moment as it arises and fades.  Perhaps turning this time of photographic reluctance into an enforced abstention has something to teach me about how I see the world.  We will see, literally.

Busyness and the creative mind

In recent weeks my schedule has gone into overdrive.  As well as my usual working pattern, I am fitting in weekend trips to care for a sick relative and suddenly it seems everything is being squeezed.  Without the weekends to catch up with myself, every moment must count.  And sadly, when we feel this sort of pressure it is so often the ‘me’ time that is lost.  In my case this means that I am making no progress towards sifting through the photos already lurking on my hard drive and time with my camera to capture more is sadly lacking.

I find myself considering the meditative qualities of the time I spend taking pictures.  Photographing in this way offers a boost to my energy levels and makes personal space in my day.  It is a time when my mind is fully immersed in something beyond the humdrum need-to-do-today aspects of daily life.  It brings many of the benefits of a formal seated meditation practice with one added bonus; I feel less guilty about taking pictures than I do about just sitting on my mat.

Of course, that in itself is a subject for another meditation!

Sometimes it seems as if being busy is a virtue.  We are praised for filling our time and fitting so much in.  To admit to having time to spend on non-essential activities, or to all intents and purposes, doing nothing, is to risk deprecating looks from our questioner.  Societal pressure can make us feel guilty for not being busy, for having a lie-in, for taking time to relax.

And yet, I doubt I am alone in saying that busyness stifles my creativity.  My mind needs space in which nascent ideas can bubble and mingle, surfacing at strange times with a ‘What if…?’  It needs space in which to pay attention and to question.  In busyness I end up with many photo clichés to delete.  With space I can explore.

I believe that being creative is part of being human.  Whether that creativity is in photography, cookery or garden design, our quirky, inventive side needs space to express itself.  The results don’t matter, the process is worth every moment.