Carefully composed plains shot

No, I am not suggesting you should uproot and relocate. Or join the great resignation and quit your job. These can be beneficial at times, but it’s not what I am talking about. I’m simply saying that art is a physical process. We need to move freely when we are are exploring for images.

Taking root

Certain of the images I shoot require a tripod for rock solid sharpness. I actually like this, because it brings a discipline to the process. There is a trap many of us fall into, though.

When we set the tripod down it’s like it takes root. We’ve gone to the trouble of setting it up, leveling it, composing a shot, and we tend to not move it. It creates inertia. But perhaps that first place we put it was not the optimum location. We need to tell ourselves there is a better placement and we need to find it.

Use your feet

When finding the right angle for a shot…’Move your ass’.” – Jay Maisel

Photography is a physical activity. At least for the type of outdoor photography I do. I walk. I stop and frame up a scene and take a picture. At this point, though, do I go on or explore options? Either answer is right depending on the situation. But are you confident enough in your compositional prowess that you know you got the best shot of the scene?

I have learned the hard way that many scenes can be improved by “working” them some. Take some more time. Move. Try another angle. Get higher or lower. Take a few steps to the side to eliminate a distracting background. Wait a minute for the light to improve.

In other words, once I have the shot, I need to look for ways to improve it. Most often, this involves moving, walking, squatting, thinking. One of the great technical advancements of digital photography is that we can see our image immediately. We can examine it and critique it to see how it could be improved. Do it if you have the time and opportunity.

I tend to quote the great Jay Maisel a lot. He is very quotable. Here is one that elaborates some on this idea:

“You find that you have to do many things, more than just lift up the camera and shoot, and so you get involved in it in a very physical way. You may find that the picture you want to do can only be made from a certain place, and you’re not there, so you have to physically go there. And that participation may spur you on to work harder on the thing, . . . because in the physical change of position you start seeing a whole different relationship.” – Jay Maisel

Try variations

A great scene often has the opportunity to explore variations. Change the crop. Go in for closer detail. Vary the exposure. Look for an angle that shows better shape or lighting or gets rid of distractions. Moving even a step or 2 can make a large change. Out constant attitude should be, “yes, that’s good; how can I make it better?”.

Again, an advantage we have with digital imaging is that shooting these variations costs us almost nothing. Yes, we have to edit them, but the reality is, that is an embarrassment of riches. We might end up with 10 great images of the scene to choose from. It can be hard to pick the best.

Moving is an attitude

This sounds weird. Moving is an attitude? What I mean is that we should always be ready to explore chances of improvement of a shot. Don’t let our tripod get rooted. Have the flexibility to let ourselves try a different angle. That often involves physical movement.

I believe I have missed many great opportunities by shooting the first composition I saw. I now try to make myself explore variations and be willing to move. One of the great influences in framing a scene is the position you shoot from. And as Jay said, moving and trying new ideas gives us a new perspective on the scene.

Seeing What You Believe

Light through the darkness, understanding

Most of us assume we believe what we see. That views ourselves as completely rational and objective. I have started to doubt this. My opinion is that we tend to see what we believe.

World view

Don’t believe it? How about your political views? Are you confident you are completely correct and anyone who disagrees with “your side” is an idiot? That usually comes from only listening to one side of the arguments – the ones you agree with.

Take the Covid “crisis”. Lockdowns are required, or foolish. Vaccination should be required, or should be optional. Isolation is necessary to save lives, or it is causing more problems than it cures. Have you really taken a cool, rational look at all of the facts and arguments on both sides and come to an unemotional decision? No, your decision is based on emotion and on who you listen to.

What you see tends to be based on the “tribe” you identify with and associate with.


In our current society, rationality is basically a myth. I’m not saying that is good or bad. The problem is not recognizing it. All advertising and news and political discourse and “scientific” pronouncements are targeted to our emotions. Some are designed to breed fear so we are more vulnerable and can be controlled more easily. Some are designed to make us lust for products they want to sell us. In all cases, we are treated as cattle, existing to benefit the power structure you give allegiance to.

Not recognizing what is happening makes us content to stay in the herd,. If we learn to recognize it, we can gain back some control of our lives. Artists should lead self-examined lives.

In art

Enough depressing hand-wringing. This column is about art and us as artists.

Have you thought about how you decide what to shoot? If I suggest you pick up your camera now and go out for a quick shoot, what are you going to do?

I suggest that, as artists, we also tend to see what we believe. In this narrow domain, that is not a bad thing. Our world view, our values and beliefs color and shape what we see and are drawn to.

I am of the group who enjoys going out exploring with little agenda or plan. I wander and shoot what I am drawn to where I am. This is invigorating to me. But if someone else was doing the same thing in the same area, they would get a different set of shots. Why?

I believe it is because our different values and interests make different subjects stand out. This is part of what makes us all individually creative and interpretive. Out internal view determines how we see the world and what we want to being into our art.


I have maintained before that I go out empty and discover what is there to see. Yes and no. I do, but I am not open to shooting everything. I see what I believe.

As new artists we do tend to shoot everything around us. We don’t really know yet what our true interests are. When we mature more and start building a body of work we start discovering that we are drawn to certain subjects or designs or looks. We can see they are recurring in the work we like. This may be an unconscious process at first.

Part of this process is us establishing boundaries for our art. Consciously excluding things that take us away from our main focus. Allowing ourselves to walk away from subjects that may have potential, but we know are not our style.

Let me give a simple example from myself. I am not a portrait artist. I don’t want to do it and, the rare times I have been talked into it, I have been uncomfortable. It wasn’t fun. Portrait photography is a huge and important area, but it is not for me. Candid shots of people are interesting to do, but not formal portraits. So when I am out exploring, I seldom even consider people shots. It is almost completely blocked off from my view.

Another example: flowers. Take me to a great garden and tell me I have unlimited time there to shoot and I might as well just sit and read a book. Flowers do not interest me much unless I think I can bring something unique to the scene or treatment. This is rare.

I am beginning to see a pattern that the more we mature in our art, the less widely we shoot.

Discover your themes

Let me propose a new year exercise for us all. Go back and pull together a portfolio of the 100 images from last year you appreciate the most. Not necessarily the most meaningful in any social or environmental sense. Not the ones that have the most “likes”. These are the images that you like the best.

Study this set. Are there themes you can identify? Are there repeating subjects? These probably represent the themes you are most interested in, at least for now. Think about these. Meditate on them. Determine to pursue these themes to a greater depth this year. Explore how to bring out the best treatment of these. Expect to see these subjects or themes when you are shooting, realizing that they interest you. Sensitize yourself to them.

This is a positive application of seeing what you believe.

Creativity is a Process

More than a rock - seeing it different.

Is creativity something that just happens when the “muse” takes you over and directs you? I want to challenge that. I believe creativity is a process that we can follow almost anytime, not just when we are “inspired”. I hope this will seem inspiring, because it means we can create great work any time we decide to.

The myth of the muse

Ah, if only the inspiration would come! I guess I will sit and drink wine and read poetry while I wait for the muse to visit. That sounds like a pleasant way to spend a rainy day, but not a way to create art.

The concept of muses comes from Greek and Roman mythology. They were 9 goddesses who controlled the arts and sciences and inspired artists. It is amazing how the concept has stuck. The idea of muses makes a good metaphor. We all know that our creativity seems to increase or decrease at unpredictable times. None of us understand the reasons why. But I will not believe my life and psyche is at the whim of Greek goddesses.

I don’t feel like it

If you believe some external influence controls you then it is easy to say “I’m not feeling it today, so I’m not going to do any art.” Maybe you can do that. I can only behave that way for very short periods of time.

My art is something I have to do. Not doing it is worse than feeling like I am not inspired. I would make “bad” art rather than no art at all. I don’t have to show it to anybody.

I find that when I assign myself a project to focus my creativity or just pick up my camera and get outside looking around I start to feel and see possibilities. Something magical happens to me when I hear the shutter click that first time. Now I am drawn into creative mode. My camera, like many new ones, has a fully silent mode. I don’t use it. I want to hear that shutter slap. It activates decades of muscle memory and discipline. I have made an image. Now I can go on.

Hard work

The bad news (for some of us) is that art is hard work. We cannot always sit around waiting for “inspiration”. We have to make our own inspiration.

Inspiration is for amateurs. Us professionals just go to work in the morning.” – Chuck Close

Hard work will outperform talent any day of the week.” – Joel Grimes

Motivation exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.” – Alistair Cooke

Sorry for the blizzard of quotes, but I find encouragement in the experience of others who have been there before. I could have found a lot more quotes on the subject.

So, if you just dabble in art and it is not a driving passion, it is OK to wait for inspiration. But if you are serious about your art you have to just do it. Create your own inspiration. Work. Push on. Get moving to get the juices flowing.

The process

I said creativity is a process. What is the process? As Fast Company magazine said: “stop your whining and sit your ass in the chair.” Sorry to be crude, but it is true. They were referring to book authors, but the same principle applies to other creative efforts.

It doesn’t do much good to complain about lack of inspiration. Do something. Taking positive action will lead to the work flowing. Eventually. It is hard at first, but it is a learned process. “Professional” creatives, like screen writers, copywriters, commercial artists, illustrators, wedding photographers – people who must deliver work to clients on a schedule – just have to get it done. Whether or not they feel like it. The rest of us can, too.

Assign yourself a deadline. Define a project and a timetable. Go out and say you won’t come in until you have shot a certain number of images. Re-evaluate and re-organize your portfolio. Take some action to get some momentum going. It will overcome the barriers in your mind and get ideas flowing. The work you do right then may not be great, but it will get you going.

Projects focus us

I have said that projects are a good way to get ourselves going when we don’t feel like it. Actually, I am coming to believe it is one of the best tools we have. What is a project and why does it work?

A project as I describe it is shooting and editing a collection of images that center on a theme or subject. I believe it helps focus us to write an artist statement before starting the project. This collects our thoughts on the purpose of the project, its scope, its meaning, and what your interest or motivation is.

Write something? You’ve got to be kidding! No, I’ve come to believe writing is just another part of the creative process. It is organizing a linear series of words to communicate rather than communicating solely visually. Both are forms of expressing our thoughts. Both, I believe, are complimentary creative processes.

The artist statement does not have to be long, maybe 200-300 words. It will serve as the guide to focus us and give unity to the project. So be clear to yourself.

Maybe I’m just weird, but putting the blinders on and restricting my thoughts to a project gives me a huge boost of creativity. Rather than my thoughts being diffuse and wandering all over the place, they are focused on one thing. My creativity and energy have something to work on. Throwing myself into coming up with diverse ways to express a single subject is a challenge and, actually, fun.

Get going

Whether you challenge yourself with projects, go to museums, read books, write, finger paint, whatever, do something. Do not fall into the trap of feeling depressed and uninspired and, therefore, not doing art. Get moving to get your mind working. Doing creative things breeds creativity.

Let me know what you do to get your creativity going,


Surprise seaside cliffs in Devon England

Boredom. We’ve all been there. We get in a funk. What we usually see and shoot is distasteful to us. We are discontented. Everything has been done, there is no creativity left. Do you ever feel like this?

The time of year

This article will be published in the depths of winter. Many of us don’t think there is anything interesting to see or shoot. After all, there are no flowers or green trees or lush fields.

I would say, look again. Get out in it. Yes, out in the cold and snow if you have that. Or the rain and clouds. Whatever winter is in your area.

Forget what you want to be shooting. Look with fresh eyes at what is there. You may discover a whole new world. In the words of an old song, “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” While I do not recommend this as a way of managing your relationships, it can be very useful artistically.

I actually love shooting in winter. Today I was out shooting in 70+mph winds and temperatures not much above freezing. Do I love being out in that kind of wind? Not at all. When you have to bundle up in layers of wind-tight clothes and hold your tripod to keep it from blowing over, it looses some of its charm. However, there were great opportunities out there. I have, by chance, been working on a project about wind. Today was a great opportunity to fill in some gaps in the image set.

It happens to all creatives

We all feel blocked, bored, empty at times. The “muse” is not around. We fear our best work is behind us and there is nothing to look forward to. Might as well give up.

You are not alone. We all feel this sometimes. Like temperature and climate and relationships, our mental energy is cyclic. Sometimes the spark seems to be gone. It is a low time for us.

Recognize that this is a natural part of life. Don’t be (too) discouraged. It will change. The creative energy will flood us again. Just give it time.

Use it!

But we don’t have to sit passively waiting for the creativity to return! Use this boredom to propel us to a new level.

If we are bored perhaps we have plateaued on our current path. Maybe we aren’t reaching far enough. It is a great time to reexamine where we are and how we feel about our art. And actually do something about it.

Boredom is frustrating to most of us. Use that! That is an energy and motivation. What are we lacking? Should we strike out in a new direction? What would we love to do if we had the opportunity?

Like with our body, if something hurts, that is a sign that we need to take care of it. Taking care of it doesn’t necessarily mean we should rest it and take a “oh, you poor thing” attitude. Maybe we need to work it, eat right, exercise, build it up.

The point is, the frustration of boredom can be a motivation to change our self or redirect ours thoughts or energy.


I have made some of the best discoveries of my life because I was bored. Really.

Let me give an example. Way back, we owned a timeshare. For those who don’t know them, it is a vacation ownership scheme that was popular at one time. Don’t buy one. It’s not a good investment. The way it worked was, you “bought” a fraction of a property, say one week during the year. Typically your ownership time would be traded for a week at another property. Because of this, we got to visit beautiful places around the world. But a side effect was that we were “planted” at a single location for the week.

This led to interesting trips. On one occasion I can think of, we were in a nice place way out in the country in Devon, England. Ten miles or more from the nearest town. It quickly got boring. As a result, we started exploring. Even though this wasn’t an area you would find featured on many tourist itineraries, the things we found were intensely interesting. We still cherish the memories.

Because of the boredom, we were led to explore with our eyes and minds open. We had to forget the expectations that were not being met and become receptive to the wonderful things that were there. Repeating this experience many times completely changed my travel style. Therefore, now I want to settle in somewhere, get to know it, and have to find out what is there.

Use boredom to your advantage

So I encourage you to let boredom be motivating. With the right attitude it can free and empower us. It can lead us to opening our eyes to our surroundings, to learning new subjects or techniques, to re-evaluating our work and making improvements, to getting out and doing something about it. Or, you can sit on the couch and feel sorry for yourself. Your choice.

The image with this article is one of many surprises we discovered on that “boring” trip to Devon I talked about above. It is a beautiful place with hidden gems all around.