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Gap Trees

“To work in the lab is to embrace the idea that what you’re working on might not work. Not to merely tolerate this feeling, but to seek it out.
The factory, on the other hand, prizes reliability and productivity. The factory wants no surprises, it wants what it did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.” – Seth Godin

Which idea do you associate with more in your photography, the lab or the factory? For me it feels like I’m almost always working in the lab. As a landscape photographer, I don’t have an actual work location per se, and I’ve always considered nature to be the office. As part of my business however, I do have a physical office or* studio*, and I can also think of that as my lab as well. But for me the idea of a lab is more of a mindset; the way in which I approach and execute creative impulses and ideas, and how I think about the work I do and the risks I take.

Yet it’s so easy to fall into a factory mentality. I know I have, and the scary thing about it is that it’s so easy these days. I’ve struggled with motivation, originality, keeping things fresh, and trying to figure out day after day whether I’m actually on the right path or not. And I think this is because safe is easier, feels better, and requires less of us. And for many of us, myself included, we often can’t see the results from where we stand. Too often I see students and other photographers adopting new tools that promise a “factory” like process, producing results faster and cheaper. Presets everywhere, one-click processing, and video tutorials that show you how to get your images to look world class with minimal steps and effort.

And I’m not even talking about the business side of photography, how you treat customers, how you market yourself, and how you react when things aren’t going as planned. This is the world I live in constantly, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the minute you start to follow formula’s and take shortcuts, that’s the road that leads to a place you never want to visit.

Right now I’m learning how to draw. Why? Because I’ve always wanted to draw what I see. Because I’ve always been fascinated with the interplay of light and shadow, perspective, and the way artists convey dimension on paper. And ultimately because I think this will help me find new ways of expressing myself photographically. And even if it doesn’t so what? I will have acquired a new skill, stimulated a different part of my brain, and given my imagination a boost, which to me is always a good thing.

Plus I’m learning together with my 10 yr old son, and that to me is the best reason of all.

How are you approaching your photography? Are you making predictable, formulaic, images? Or are you trying new things, breaking rules, and having to start over one more time?

If you’re not going “back to the drawing board” on a regular basis, that’s a warning sign you need to pay attention to.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Great idea Robert. I used to draw as a kid but stopped. I picked up some supplies over a year ago and tried to pick it up again. Maybe its time to revisit for a 3rd time. 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for the feedback – it’s never too late to start, and with so many different tools these days, from traditional paper and pencil, to digital drawing apps, there’s many ways tp get inspired and motivated. I use a combination of sketchbook and pencil, and when on my iPad, Paper by 53 – a great app. I’m hoping to write about how you can use drawing to generate ideas for photo projects. etc.


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