It is pretty easy to take good images in exotic locations. A real test of our skill is to see how well we do in familiar territory close to home. What if we arbitrarily said we were going to restrict ourselves to 15 minutes from home? Actually, that kind of sounds like the situation many of us are in right now.
I use ideas from Cole Thompson too often, but he often says things I wish I had said. In a recent newsletter of 3/27/2020 he challenged the idea that you have to go to great locations to take great pictures. Referring to the fact that many of his recent images were made in far flung locations, he said “You see the same coming from other photographers: exotic images coming from exotic lands. The conclusion is obvious: To create great images you must go to great locations! But that’s a lie. The real truth is this: great images are created anywhere you can see them. Even at home, your back yard or hometown. “
He went on to show a portfolio of great images taken within 15 minutes of his home. To me, his picture of wrenches hanging in a tool shed is at least as beautiful and intriguing at the classic figures on Easter Island.
Then why travel?
I will readily confess to being a traveler. I love to travel (hate airports and airlines though). Seeing different cultures and different landscapes energizes me. I tend to see things with a fresh eye. It’s an opportunity to give yourself permission to be a tourist and to view new things differently.
Travel makes you set aside time for the new. It removes you from the clutter and noise of your everyday environment. It may replace it with different clutter and noise, but the difference makes it new. Plus, you don’t worry much about the routine things that occupy you at home. That email you need to write, the business contact you need to follow up on, that blog post you have been meaning to write – they are just a distant murmur in the back of your mind. The lure of the exotic location tends to drown out the mundane things that usually shout so loud for your immediate attention.
The immediacy of the new sights in front of us makes it pretty easy to lose ourselves in the experience.
Many of us can get in a rut and suffer from creative burnout. We start to think there is nothing new to photograph. Nothing new to inspire us or make it worth even getting the camera out of the bag. Travel to a new location seems to hold the hope of drawing us out of our slump.
I’ve been there. I still fight it frequently. Now with travel restrictions it seems worse than ever. What can we do?
I advise you not to get overly frustrated and fight head on against it. Reframe the problem. Go out walking with your camera. Tell yourself you do not expect to make any portfolio images today. You just want to look and practice, maybe work on technique. With no pressure to try to “make” a great shot you might be surprised at what you see. Give it time to work.
You will probably find yourself less dismissive of things. You might notice new things you never took the time to actually see because you were too focused on a preconceived notion of what you wanted to find.
Burnout is a real problem, physically, mentally, and creatively. Let yourself heal by taking it easy. Ease up on yourself by reducing the pressure you feel to make “great” shots every time.
And do something. Don’t let yourself wallow in feeling sorry for yourself. Get off your rear end and do something. Anything. Build something. Take walks or bike rides. Keep moving.
Ah, the problem of inspiration. I already admitted I am inspired by travel. Is that the only drug to feed my need?
Being confined at home is a great time to learn new skills. Learning should be a life long pursuit. Here is an exceptional opportunity to catch up.
We all have an opportunity now to pull back. It is a good time to read inspiring books. To view a lot of training online, such as Creative Live, The Nature Photographer’s Network, or B&H Photo. Or just play with Photoshop. Experiment. Try things you would not give yourself permission to do normally. Photoshop by itself is a life long learning experience.
But these activities do not directly apply to creating images in our particular style, do they? How do they really help?
Do you know how a laser works? (Not a laser diode; that is different mechanism) The acronym stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Without getting technical, a laser has two mirrors parallel to each other with a cavity in between. Electronics around it pump energy into it causing it to start emitting light. The light bounces back and forth between the mirrors, getting pumped to higher and higher energy states, until it finally breaks out as a focused, high energy beam. The point is that the signals that pump the laser to higher energy levels are not the same as the laser light. They feed the energy of the laser.
I believe my creativity is like that. I believe it is actually common to many people. Anything that feeds my knowledge, that makes me see new things, stimulates my creativity like a laser. So for me, some authors do that. Some classes may. Even some movies. In a strange way, even writing this blog pumps my inspiration. Get pumped and then do something with it.
Lack of faith in our creativity
A problem many of us have is little faith in ourselves. Deep down we believe we are fakes. That we really don’t have much creativity. Just because we did something good last week does not give us confidence that we will be able to do something great next week. This is called The Imposter Syndrome.
I believe this is more common than we let on. Some people have said that almost all creatives suffer from this. We do not like to admit it.
I am a fine art photographer and most of my work is outdoors. My personality and workflow is such that I do not plan my outings in any detail. I go with the flow snd take my inspiration from what I find. It can be scary when I’m not “feeling” it. I have to trust that something will capture my imagination and get me started and into the groove. If I relax and let myself be attuned to what is around me, it usually works.
But when it doesn’t, that can be a challenge to my self confidence. A usually reliable cure for me is to spend time in my image collection. I am lucky to have a large collection of images. Of that large collection, a small percentage are the ones I would not be ashamed to show to other people. Browsing through these picks can be inspiring to me. It reassures me that I can make good images over a long time. Remembering the story behind some of the images can be especially heartwarming. Like the times when I was in a hurry or not feeling inspired or creative or not happy with the work I was doing that day and suddenly I come up with a great image that I still love years later.
Close to home
Exercises and mind shifts like this give me the faith that valleys of inspiration, like virus epidemics, do not last. I believe most of my best work is yet to come.
It may seem easier to shoot good images in beautiful exotic locations, but there are very good reasons to focus most of our energy on the near, the familiar, the things we grow to love. Having a relationship with an area will usually lead to more intimate and insightful pictures. And I believe that there is great potential even in the overworked area 15 minutes from my home.
How about you? Are you shut down because you can’t travel? Let me know.
The image at the top of this article was made less than 100 ft from my studio.