Tag Archives: creativity

Developing your own style

In the early days of owning a camera, the emphasis is on getting to understand how it works and what it can achieve for you.  The next stage for me was to try out all the techniques; I would see a picture in a magazine and think “I want to try that!” and so I would spend a few weeks practising the specific technique required.

After all this thrashing around, getting to grips with the gear and essentially learning through copying, you reach the point where you think “But what is my style?” What is it that makes it ‘my’ picture, not a replica of someone else’s?

I have found the exact same process happened with my painting.  Getting to grips with washes, brushes, paint and water.  Following step-by-step tutorials in a book.  What is harder, is to ‘see’ the painting in the scene.  To translate reality into paint.  I am not interested in photorealistic images; I have a camera for that.  I want to interpret, to loosen, to find what speaks to me.  The holy grail of a style that is mine.

However, with both media (and any other, of course) it is finding your own style that makes the end product recognisably you.  It must carry something of your personality with it, your energy and your outlook on life.  Style is separate from skill with brush or lens.  It’s not what or how, but something more elusive that makes it uniquely you.

In both cases, I like to look at published artists’ work to try and identify an approach that appeals to me.  These images are of course ‘pre-digested’.  That is, they represent the artists’ interpretation of the scene.  It is this step that makes your style; how you interpret a scene and translate what you see into your personal two-dimensional image in the finished piece.

According to Ron Ranson, the key is to look beyond the mannerisms and techniques to the principles underlying the work.  Style evolves slowly from something deeper within.  Here, of course, is the link to contemplative rather than reactionary work.  By seeking that closer connection with the subject matter, we can hope to interpret it in a meaningful way that comes from an intuitive outpouring of creativity once the thinking mind is quietened.

Creativity as cure for boredom?

A friend recently told me that their job would soon be changing from full-time to part-time.  Being a freelancer who always has an extensive ‘to do’ list, on which the fun things are endlessly being crowded up by work activities that spill over into what could have been leisure time, my immediate thought was Yes, please! That would be great! All that extra time to do the fun things I that I never get round to!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if work was confined to just 4 days a week (or less?!), with 3 days for ‘me’ time!  However, it turned out that rather than looking forward to the change, this friend was actually worried about getting bored; what would they do with the extra time?

This set me wondering about nature of boredom, and its relationship to creativity.  I can honestly say I am too busy to be bored.  As fast as I tick something off that list, more things are added to the bottom.  The more essential, mundane tasks gravitate to the top whilst less urgent ideas tend to sink to the bottom.  What is most definitely not lacking, though, is things to add to the list.

I think that once you open yourself up to the idea that you have time to do stuff, ideas of what you might do start popping up.  A friend who was due to retire expressed similar concerns; what would she do with herself all day every day without work?  Now, a couple of years later her social schedule is so busy she is rarely at home.

Sometimes we need a little mental space away from the demands of everyday life in order to come up with ideas.  When I was working in an extremely pressured environment I felt that my creativity was stifled.  I could do the essentials, but please don’t ask me to think!

As a freelancer, I recognise that I sometimes get myself into this situation and then it’s time to take a step back, to come up with a plan that will allow me to feel on top of things again so the suppressed creativity can rise to the surface again.  In the meantime, I will keep adding things to my list…

In the beginning

I think my journey towards learning to see rather than look really started to take shape during a holiday in Norfolk which turned out to be the hottest week of the year. I couldn’t face lugging my heavy rucksack stuffed with camera gear around with me all day in sweltering temperatures, but what I wasn’t going to leave behind was, of course, my phone. Seeking out shady places, I could sit to admire the view, watching holiday life ambling by. With my phone camera it was easy to take impromptu snaps and the seafront provided endless opportunities for creatively composed shots. Mind you, given that half the time all I could see was my own reflection in the screen, much of my success was entirely serendipitous!

My evenings were spent selecting filter effects, adding hashtags and uploading my shots to Instagram. My technophobia extends to post-processing the thousands of images languishing on my hard drive, so this immediacy was as liberating as leaving my camera bag behind. There are some amazing images on the Internet and it’s been really inspiring to see what other people all over the world are doing with their photography. Exploring hashtags reveals whole communities taking images of everything from pets and sunsets to weird and obscure aspects of our world; there are tags for barbed wire, rust, decay, and my favourite, #hingelove, a whole tag just for door furniture! I am not alone!

Since then, my interest has not waned. Living in a city and being interested in photographing nature has often seemed less than ideal and I have tended to plan days out with my camera rather than looking for subjects closer to home (other than the garden of course!). My new-found love of photo-sharing has opened my eyes to my everyday surroundings and I am now drawn to record details I wouldn’t have previously given a second glance to. By looking outside my self-imposed box my creativity is blossoming as I am finding ways to make the most of what is available instead of sighing over unobtainable images of fabulous mountains and seascapes in magazines. Beauty is all around us, if we take the time to see…

A collision of interests

Sometimes everything just seems to come together and add the results are far more interesting than the individual parts.

This happened to me recently, when several of my interests combined in an unusual way.

I have long been in the habit of baking my own cakes.  This week I decided to try a new recipe that asked for water and oil.  I duly added these to a mixing bowl, which happened to be made of glass.  I was immediately struck by the beautiful patterns made by the oil floating on the water’s surface.  Now, oil and water as a technique for creating beautiful semi-abstract images is not new.   Usually the artist places some colourful item under the dish.  Maybe a bowl of smarties, flowers, or even patterned wrapping paper.

But then I suddenly thought, what if I put a scrap of watercolour painting under my mixing bowl?  I have amassed plenty of pieces which include some pretty bits but the overall painting is uninspiring.  All part of the learning process!  in a flash, I was scuttling off to find a camera.  My mobile phone in fact, as I had an eye on the time and the need to bake my cake.

This week’s picture is one of the results of my sudden flash of inspiration.  Beauty finds us in the most unexpected moments and lightens up the day.  I hope you like it!

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.

A summer pinhole project

In the summer I have less teaching and I like to use some of the time it frees up on a photography project or two.  This didn’t happen last year, as the summer was spent prepping for a new course.  So this year I am doubly keen to explore an aspect of photography that is new to me, as a way of expanding my horizons and engaging my curiosity.  Time for some blue sky thinking!

With this in mind I have been reading up on pinhole photography.  This is really the simplest photography you can imagine.  A tiny hole allows light to enter a sealed box containing a light sensitive medium and creates a negative image.  You can then use this to create a positive either in the traditional dark room or by scanning it and inverting the resulting digital file.

You can make pinhole from just about anything; biscuit tins, shoe boxes and coffee containers, wheelie bins and even a spare transit van should you have one.  For the more financially secure (and less adventurous?) there is also the option to buy beautifully crafted models that have been lovingly constructed from luxury components.  Guess which option I will be taking? Yup! DIY pinhole camera here I come!

This was actually what prompted me to by the Agfa Clack I wrote about last week.  This seems to be a popular ‘first build’ pinhole camera and I am hoping to convert one of the aperture rings to a pinhole without destroying the functionality of my Clack as a regular camera.  Now, pass me that screwdriver!


At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless.
Neither from nor towards,
at the still point,
there the dance is.
Where the past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point.

from T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton


Photographic clichés and the mindful photographer

Photography offers a creative outlet in a world which can seem increasingly humdrum if we let it.  But is there a risk that rather than sparking up our latent creativity, we simply record the mundane and move on?

It’s sometimes said that everything has been done before.  And most of this has likely been copied, intentionally or otherwise.  Of course, anything new and unusual is likely to inspire others to give it a try.  Indeed, experimenting with reproducing an effect can be a good way to learn a new technique.

Sadly, given the speed of modern communications and media sharing, it doesn’t take long for the creatively different to become the latest in a line of clichés.  The once-novel effect is seen everywhere and in its overuse becomes irritating and tedious.  “Oh, not another sunset!” we groan, flipping quickly to the next page. Back in 1979, Susan Sonntag commented that “certain glories of nature…have been all but abandoned to the indefatigable attentions of amateur camera buffs. The image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; they now look, alas, too much like photographs.” How many more such pictures must have been taken in the intervening years?

Many of the photographic clichés cited are based around post-processing techniques such as colour-popping or HDR.  The use of black and white to rescue an otherwise tiresome image seems to come in for regular scathing derogation.  Images of pets and flowers seem to be equally slated (no hope for me then!) as does the production of record shots of landmarks and the use of ‘Dutch angles’ to fit everything in the frame.

But what does all this mean to the mindful photographer?  It seems to me that many images which compel us to exclaim ‘Seen it!’, post-processing clichés aside, may have been created without a great deal of attentiveness.  They fall into the category of ‘spot it and snap it’ pictures, snagged with minimum mental input in the easiest way possible.  Don’t get me wrong, these record shots are great if what you want, or need, is to represent the subject objectively and accurately.

And when we begin to work with a subject, this may be what we produce at first.  It is almost as if we need to work through these initial placing images to set the context, before we can look more closely.  But have patience and stay a while longer, after you think you are done.   This is when we may truly focus our mind on the subject at hand, begin to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.  I call it ‘being in the zone’.  It is here that we find the essence of our subject’s nature, the special energy it has for us.  We explore those aspects which are not revealed to the cursory glance and our creativity is awakened.  This is when we make our best photographs, the ones really worth keeping.