Now Available: 2017 Nature of Inspiration Wall Calendar

The 9″ x 12″  2017 Nature of Inspiration Wall Calendar is available for pre-order from the store. A always, it features landscape images I made this year combined with my favorite inspirational quotes that I hope add a little inspiration to your day, month, and year.

I often talk about having photographic projects that help you stay focused and motivated to get out and shoot. This is one for me that I’ve been doing for seven years now, and it still challenges me as much as the first year did.

I fell behind in designing and printing the calendar, but I will have them in stock soon. These make great gifts, so all orders placed by Dec 16th will ship just in time for Christmas Day. There will be a limited quantity of these calendars available, so pre-order before they sell out.

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“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Helen Keller

Thanks as always for your support and please share with anyone you think may be interested!

Photographing More than Rocks

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As I looked out past the rocky coastline, I could see it wouldn’t be long before the light would become softer and warmer, the kind of light I had advised the students to look for. It was just a guideline of course, since the important idea I really want students to learn is not really an idea, but a mindset.

Awareness is what matters, not waiting or expecting.

The coastline looked beautiful with rugged pink and orange granite rocks of all sizes bathed in golden light, and an endless row of evergreen trees providing the perfect backdrop.

As the students were exploring and finding their way visually, one of them asked, “Can you please help me with composition here, I don’t want to make yet another picture of water and rocks.”

At first I was taken aback by the question, because I didn’t really have an answer. You see I immediately thought about the question in a literal sense, which is what we normally do in photography. We photograph subjects; we visit specific locations looking for certain physical elements we find appealing; we seek out things we can easily identify.

Yet there lies a trap that we often can’t avoid. We equate the photo with the subject, when in fact a captivating photo can be and should be much more.

Have you ever received these comments about your images? “Where was that photo taken?” or “I know that spot!” or worse, “I have the same picture,” (whatever that means.) If these are the only comments you receive, that’s a good sign the photograph does’t go beyond the literal, the things photographed. 

Back on the coastline, I struggled to provide an adequate answer, and thought something unhelpful like, I suppose you’d have to go somewhere else if you don’t want to photograph rocks and water,…that’s all there is here!

Then luckily, this quote came to mind:

”A photograph should be more interesting than the thing photographed.” – Gary Winogrand

The more we look at things and give them labels, the more difficulty we have seeing past those labels, and the objects they represent. What we should strive for is what else they can represent, either visually, emotionally, or both.

When we can convey something more than what the subject is, we invite the viewer into the story, we allow them to bring their own imagination to bear on the image.

Gently I said, “Perhaps you can think less about what you’re photographing, and more about what you’re reacting to…how the composition will direct the viewer though the image in a way that creates tension, or shows beauty…a sense of what you see and feel.”

“If you can show how the parts of the image are greater then the whole, then you’ve moved past the actual objects themselves, and have a chance to make an image that is more than simply about rocks or water. You’re using your vision creatively, instead of literally.”

I demonstrated some possible compositions that I thought could be used as a starting points, then stepped away to get out of the way. 

If you start with that as an approach, it becomes much easier to see past the labels and judgments we assign to things. You become more aware of light, colors, lines, and how they be used to let others see your way of seeing.

In fact, when you can do this consistently, the subject and location become much less important. The story, feel, or mood of the image becomes the central focus, and it removes the reliance on “location.”

A fundamental understanding of visual design in composition is essential here, since without it you will be hard pressed to translate what you see and feel into the visual medium. If you struggle with deciding where to start, or how to frame a scene, improving your knowledge and use of “visual grammar” is a powerful skill to have.

I’ll be discussing that and more in upcoming posts. Thanks for reading!

Choosing What Matters Over What’s Loudest

“Tranquility can’t be grasped except by those who have reached an unwavering and firm power of judgment—the rest constantly fall and rise in their decisions, wavering in a state of alternately rejecting and accepting things. What is the cause of this back and forth? It’s because nothing is clear and they rely on the most uncertain guide—common opinion.” -Seneca

Do you ever feel confused, lack direction, or aren’t sure about what to pursue next when it comes to your photography? Or perhaps you feel that no matter what you do, you are simply trying to catch up and stay abreast of the latest technologies, techniques, and styles being promoted by others.

The relentless pace of the industry is disorienting to say the least, not to mention all of the other distractions and urgent tasks vying for our attention.

I noticed much of this during the time I spent at the years biggest photo conventions, Photokina in Germany and PhotoPlus Expo in NYC. There was an overwhelming amount of information, products, services, and promotions all directed at trying to convince us that more is better.

I’m sure there were many great things that indeed can add value to your photographic pursuits, but at what cost?

Time? Money? Creative distraction?

I’m not advocating against the new and exciting, nor do I have any problem with the photo industry, assuming we understand what their primary goals are, to turn a profit. It keeps people employed and puts money into the global economy.

What I am advocating for is to take a hard look at the quality of your investments, both in time and money. Consider which are more likely to make a meaningful difference vs simply satisfy a short term need for gratification.

Here are some hard questions to reflect on:

  • What makes you feel most connected to your work?
  • Where have you found the greatest benefit in the time you’ve invested?
  • When have you felt most proud of your work?
  • When did you last experience real growth in your work? Why?
  • Finally, have you considered where you want the creative path to take you?

Start with the end in mind, or better yet, a clear and solid understanding of what you want to get out of your creative pursuits. What motivates you?

  • Money?
  • Admiration from others?
  • Something fun and exciting to do?
  • The creative challenge?
  • The experience of being in nature?

Whatever it is, the clearer you are about it, the less you’ll be swayed by opinion, marketing, and self-doubt. The easier it will be to justify your actions and measure your results. You’ll think of new purchases as investments instead of expensive indulgences.

And I can guarantee you your photography will improve in measurable ways, and in the way that matters most—it will mean more to you.

Five Things I’m Enjoying Right Now

Health

Numi Organic Tumeric Tea/ Three Roots

While I love coffee, I also enjoy drinking tea for it’s many medicinal benefits. One that I’ve discovered recently is Turmeric tea by Numi. Turmeric is a spice and medicinal herb that has been scientifically shown to provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and caner fighting health benefits.

Numi sources all of its turmeric from Fair Trade farms in Madagascar putting money into the local communities where it belongs. It also tastes great, perfect with a good book.

Book

 Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

This is a great book that advocates the simple but profound idea of “less, but more.” I discussed it in my last article, but the principles are so profound, I can honestly say it has beeen a life changer.

In this day and age of constant distraction, where being busy seems more important than being happy, focusing on what really matters is more important than ever.

Mind

Calm – Meditation App

I’ve tried many guided meditation apps over the years, but I’ve settled on Calm. It has a great interface, nice background sound effects, and great guided mediation programs.

For example, I’ve done the “21 Days of Calm” several times and find new insights on every listen. Carving a little time each day to simply relax and breath can work wonders on your overall mental outlook. In fact some experts claim meditation is better than a vacation.

Music

Epoch by Tycho

I listen to many different kinds of music, but for intense concentration sessions, I always have Tycho in my “writing” playlist. Their new album continues with instrumental tracks that feature catchy electronic sounds and driving rhythms that keep me in the zone while at my local coffee shop.

Gear

Mindshift Backlight 26L Backpack

I’ll be posting an in-depth field test of this backpack soon, but it’s been great so far for that past 12 months. Comfortable, roomy, durable, and very ergonomic, I don’t have any reasons to look for anything else.

I still use my Gura Gear bags to carry gear for specific projects, but for day to day hiking and shooting, the Mindshift has become my go to bag.

The most important thing to remember is to seek out and use what works for you. I do not receive any money from these companies or artists, and enjoy them simply because I feel they add value to my everyday life.

Remember, ‘less, but better.”

Less, But Better-Why I’ve Decided to Limit Students

Olympus E-M1, f/8 @1/500, 80mm, ISO 400, no filters

Olympus E-M1, f/8 @1/500, 80mm, ISO 400, no filters

In the absolutely fantastic book “Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown, the fundamental concept is the idea that if you focus on what matters, you’ll lead a more meaningful and happier life. He uses the phrase, “less, but better,” which I absolutely love.

In fact it’s an idea that I’ve tried to adopt in my life for quite a while, though I didn’t have such an elegant phrase to describe it. I love the simplicity of the concept, and it inspired me to examine where in my life I can do less, but better.

One of the areas that immediately came to mind is my workshops. It’s something I had been thinking about for a while, but after reading the book I decided it was time to take action.

Starting in 2017 all of my workshops will be limited to five students for the Printing Masterclass (something I already started in 2016), and six students for all field workshops.

The reason for this is simple. I want to have less to manage, so that I can provide the highest quality experience for each student.

For me that means treating each student as a unique person with a unique vision. The best way for me to contribute is to give more time and attention to helping develop that vision, whether through the art and craft of photography, or creativity in general. 

I also want to create an environment where each person feels comfortable and in the best possible mindset to explore their creativity. Where their time, their perspective, their opinions are valued.

Most of all, I care deeply about making a difference. That’s a high bar for sure, but it’s where I’m most comfortable as a teacher and mentor. The best way for me to accomplish this is by minimizing quantity and maximizing quality. Less, but more.

I’ve also had positive results applying this mindset to other areas of my life, both personal and professional. I’ll share those experiences in future articles!