I don’t know about you, but there are times I pack the camera gear, sunscreen and head off in the car. Some destinations I have been to many times and others are a first. However, when I arrive at the destination, I pull out the equipment and head off. Then it happens. No matter what is in front of me; I can’t seem to make a photo no matter what. My interest has faded and all of the sudden I get the feeling of why did I even leave the house. Some talk about this as “hitting the wall”. Some may never even experience this, especially if you get the chance to travel. Since I don’t get a chance to leave the area that often is probably what causes some of this. Seeing palm trees day after day can get a little boring. One day I woke up and realized that if I wanted to continue creating photos, I was going to have to start pushing myself harder.
At the minimum, to take a photo all one needs to do is to turn the camera on, take the lens cap off, look through the viewfinder and press the shutter button. However, taking a photo verses creating a photo are two different things. As photographers, we want someone to stop and enjoy our photos as long as possible. This is where some thought and preplanning come into play. I know how to create an exposure and use all of my camera gear, that’s the easy part. Some of you out there may be saying, “Easy for him to say, my camera has more buttons and features than Darth Vader’s bathroom”. Cameras in the beginning can seem very complex in their options and what they allow the photographer to do. As I mention in my classes, if you can spend just a few minutes each day with your camera, it will become easier and then you’ll know exactly what to use when you want to take a certain photograph. For the first six months when I got my new camera and I was working in the corporate world, I would sit in the living room and shoot objects in the room just to learn how a certain function would change the outcome of the final photograph. This is a learned skill and will come with time and practice.
Then comes the other half of the art, creating a photo. After all photography is supposed to be an art form. Studying the classic composition rules such as rule of thirds, leading lines and filling the frame are all great tools to expand the photographer’s vision. Here’s a little known fact, when I was in kindergarten, the teacher gave me a note to take home to Mom. I had done nothing wrong to my knowledge so I was at a loss what prompted the note. Earlier in the day, we were sitting on the floor and was given a piece of chalk and told to draw our favorite animal. I must have come up with some sort of design to appease the teacher at the time. When I went home, I gave the note as instructed to Mom. She read it and folded it back up and put it high on the shelf, never to be seen again. Later in life as we were going through some old papers I came across this old note. Basically it said that art wasn’t my strong suite so don’t expect me to be a Picasso of any kind. I went to my mother and asked her about the note. She said that she never put any stock in it; she explained how would any teacher know at that age what people can or can’t do. I have never been able to run a pencil or paintbrush. Art on canvas or paper is out of my realm. As I was growing up, my grandfather and father both were into photography and had darkrooms. I guess I was destined to create photos on light sensitive materials instead of a chalkboard. This has always been in the back of my mind when I’m out shooting. Will anyone want to look at this? Is this good enough? I find when I talk to other photographers that these same questions come up in their heads as well. In a strange way that’s comforting.
When one “hits the wall” it’s time to start making phone calls. I called a couple of folks, but one in particular, Margo Kessler Cook. She has been featured here on the blog in the past and is a very talented artist. I have known Margo for a few years now and not only can she photograph, she has solar etchings, print making and metal work under her belt. We talked things back and fourth for a while and I explained the situation. She basically said it’s time to get out of the comfort zone. After the call, I thought to myself, what is it that I really like to photograph? First, I have always been drawn to black and white over color. That was a start. Then as the days went by I was honing in on what really did it for me. I really enjoyed shooting old buildings and Americana items. She emailed me a few days later and told me about a website that eventually put a rocket under me, National Geographic. They have an amazing photography section. There are photos from all around the world. Here’s the best part, you can create an account for free and upload your photos. I took a couple of days and looked at what was being posted. This inspired me by the level of photography that this group was shooting. You have heard me talk about Flickr. Flickr is a really great site as well, however, Nat Geo seems really polished and professional. Now that I had narrowed my focus to certain types of photos that I wanted to take, I packed the camera gear and headed out. Only this time I was going to start looking harder, not just using the “spray and pray” approach.
I went to a local park and started my quest to come home with a few keepers. There’s a fountain running at the end of the park. Next to the fountain was a small pump house where all of the, ugh…pumps were stored! What grabbed me was the tiled roof. The roof itself was a turquoise color, but that’s not what got my attention, it was the shape. I had never seen this shape of tile before. It looked as if it was moving, I’m sure that the designer of the pump house thought of this for the water theme. Since I’m now thinking black and white, I’m really looking for shape and texture. To retool the camera, I set it for RAW + JPG. Then I set the picture style to monochrome. This means when I shoot, I see a black and white photo on the camera. The camera is indeed shooting a black and white photo. Some of you are probably thinking, “Well he always said not to shoot black and white in the camera, convert it on the computer.” You would be exactly right. So why did I set the camera up to do this? The black and white JPG is for reference only so I can see if I like it or not. The RAW file is the one that I’ll use, and it’s still in COLOR. The RAW file is unaffected by the monochrome picture style. How cool is that?
Some of the textures I have seen at Disney are metal plates that have been texturized with some sort of material to get a design. On the day that I was out, it was full sun therefore harsh light. Black and white does best in black and white. When I saw the above photo, I was looking at how the light was in a shear fashion and the highlights and shadows were next to each other to create a shape.
Another piece of metal that I ran into had a wave shape to it. I wanted to use this waving line to draw the eye up and down the frame vertically. I also liked how the line separated the shadow side and the textured side. Again, as I was shooting I could see all of this on the back of the camera to determine if this particular angle was going to work or not.
As I was walking along, I found some wood that was stacked in a particular fashion and cut into different shapes. This had a brown color; wood is usually brown to begin with, duh! But I was interested in all of the rings and lines in the wood itself. The pockets of black added more interest as I was going for more of a harsher contrast.
Here are a few links to my friends’ sites or National Geographic accounts. Take a look, as these will inspire you, just click on their names to view them. These folks I have known for some time and they are all top in their field.
If you find that you are getting unmotivated, it’s time to phone a friend and have a discussion. You’ll be glad you did. Do a Google search for the type of art that you are interested in and see what others are doing to get you going. This will make you a stronger artist and force you out of your comfort zone.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean