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.

The Highway – Update

General Store, Luckenbach TX

I’ve written before about shooting from the car. I enjoy driving and I do a fair amount of my image captures during car trips. My advice has been to avoid freeways or major highways when you do this. On a recent driving trip I decided to reevaluate this. To drive some freeways to see if they still have the same effect on me. Spoiler alert: the highway is a creativity killer.

Please understand that my advice here is from my personal experience modified with my personality. Even more than most of my articles. Your behavior may be completely different.

Highway anesthesia

What I had found and observed was that driving a freeway is a mind numbing and deadening experience. The miles roll by at high speed. My attention narrows to mainly the road and cars ahead of me. The goals become to get to the destination, pass that traffic in front, and don’t get a ticket.

I may pass by beautiful or interesting sights, but there is too much inertia to stop. He impetus to push on down the road was powerful. It would require something truly amazing to break into my coma and pull off, let all the traffic I passed get ahead of me, and look foolish with all the passing cars staring at me. So I seldom do it.

On the freeway, I may see something potentially interesting, but I can usually talk myself out of stopping. I can convince myself it wasn’t really great. That I will find a better view down the road. Or that it is too dangerous to stop here (maybe a valid objection).

Whatever the reason or excuse, the whine of the wheels is hard to interrupt.

A test

I just got back from a 2700 mile driving trip through parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. That is a lot of open miles. I decided to check to see if my anti-freeway prejudice still holds. To see if I can overcome the bias against stopping.

I drove over 300 miles on freeways or major divided highways. Well, I did not stop for a single picture during any of those miles. I told myself I would stop when I wanted to. I thought about it. But nothing I encountered could inject enough energy to make me do it.

In fairness, a lot of this time I was not in what would be considered pristine landscape areas. But I consider the test valid, because other times, in the same general areas, I got some interesting pictures while driving smaller roads. I believe the difference was the attitude I have when driving smaller roads.

i examined my reactions as carefully as I can and verified that driving freeways causes a different mindset. I am reluctant to stop or to go back to shoot an image. It is hard to break the rhythm, to stop. The highway is hypnotic.

A comparison

Here is a comparison of a specific subject. I drove through huge areas of wind turbines. In one case, on a back road, I stopped and took some side roads and even walked in some fields and got some interesting shots including the turbines, Another time, driving a high speed highway, I drove by a perfectly composed scene, with a single stark white turbine out in a field, with a perfect clear blue sky. The turbine was parked and it was perfectly positioned with one blade pointed straight down and the other 2 lifted in a perfect, symmetrical “Y” and directly facing me. But I drove by it. I wouldn’t bother to stop. I still kick myself about that missed opportunity.

One of the main differences was that on the back road, it was easy to interrupt the trip for promising pictures. On the freeway, even a very interesting image couldn’t convince me to stop.

Another subjective comparison: there are people I know who would pay $1000 to avoid driving across Kansas. I can understand that. But a partial solution is to get off I-70 and take back roads. When I do this I am much happier and I usually come back with some decent pictures.


I wish I could give a definitive explanation of the root cause of this. If I could, I might be honored as a respected psychologist. But I’m not and I can’t.

I have theories, though, based on my on reactions and introspection. Remember, anything I say here is unscientific and may only apply to me.

I believe the way I travel sets a context, a framework of perception and decision making. On the freeway there is the implicit goal of making progress. Getting to the destination as soon as possible. Minimize stops or interruptions. I’m in a rhythm and I don’t want to break it.

Driving down the freeway and seeing a picture causes a conflict. Now 2 sets of goals are in opposition: speed vs. interrupting the trip for something that actually slows things down. The conflicting goals have to be weighed and balanced. But even if I decide the scene was worth stopping for, the moment is gone. I’m a mile down the road and it would take miles of driving to backtrack to it. And it is much easier to justify that it probably wasn’t worth it and let the momentum carry me down the road.

On a small back road, though, the pace is slower, the traffic is light, and I have put myself in a position of committing to looking for images instead of covering as many miles as possible. Traveling this way also seems to keep me more alert. I am more actively engaged with my surroundings and paying attention, not only to the road, but to everything around. There is a constant background thread of playing with compositions in my mind as I drive by them. It is very educational.

My travel style

My preferred travel style is to only plan on making 300-400 miles a day at most. I avoid nearly all freeways and large divided highways. I then give myself permission to stop whenever something interests me and even to turn off for side trips according to my whim. Unlike the typical male, I will even turn around and go back when a light bulb goes off and I recognize I have passed an interesting scene.

As an extreme example on this trip, we got from Colorado to New Mexico via back roads – well hardly what you would call roads and you would be hard put to find them on a map. My Jeep was caked with mud and I left it on during the rest of the trip as kind of a badge of honor. But we saw very interesting things and I got some good images.

My wife knows, on a driving trip, to bring lots of books and magazines to read while we are stopped. I am very fortunate to be able to create this environment for myself. It would not work for everyone. As a matter of fact, most would probably hate it.

For fun, the image with this article is from back roads in the Texas hill country. It is the old General Store in Luckenbach (yes, that one). Not my normal style, but it was fun.

Slow down

My recommendation is to slow down and give yourself permission to stop for anything interesting. I fully realize this will not work for everyone. But have you tried it? If you are on vacation, can you take an extra day or 2 for your art? What do you have better to do?

I have practiced this on most driving trips for years and I can completely recommend it. Your mileage may vary. It is a very personal choice.

Heartland – Spring, Redux

Kansas cliffs, heartland surprise.

Three weeks ago I wrote an article about reasons I don’t like spring. I thought I should update it and discuss my progression of getting comfortable with spring artistically. It happened via a driving trip through some of the heartland of America.


You know, the flyover country. The middle section of the US that most of you have not been through, or at least, haven’t paid attention to. Most people try to avoid this area. There are long distances to drive and seemingly little to see. Unless you learn to appreciate what is there.

I just got back from driving over 2000 miles without getting on a freeway at all. That was by choice. I love back roads and little towns. I believe driving on a freeway is a type of narcotic. Your senses blur and you get tunnel vision just looking at the road ahead. You become desensitized to the view or the geography or great scenes. And if you have expended effort to pass some slow trucks or campers you certainly can’t entertain the notion of stopping to take a picture. They would get ahead of you again.

So I was making my way through eastern Colorado and Nebraska and Kansas and Ohlahoma. Like I said, most people would pay to fly to avoid these areas. Not me. I would pay more to drive it. A lot of it, not all of it, is very good country.

This is true rural America. Not in a fake dude ranch type of tourist trap, but a land of farmers and ranchers. Hardworking people who earn an honest living and feed most of the rest of us in the process. Generally they are good people.

Great year for it

A few weeks ago I wrote a post talking about it being hard for me to get into spring. Coincidentally, this has been one of the prettiest springs in years. Where I live and most of the area I drove through had near record moisture this spring. Everything is exceptionally green. The grass and hay and crops are tall and healthy. The trees are very green and full.

It became hard for me to not be seduced by the look of this year.

Going for this long trip forced me to be immersed in it. I was there, I wanted to make good pictures, so I began to loosen up and find interesting subjects and compositions. I gave myself permission to stop whenever I wanted to look at things. Pretty soon I found myself liking more and more. Subjects became more frequent.

Some of these things required miles of driving down dirt roads, even 2-track lanes. But there were usually rewards of things I have never seen of even imagined were there. Would you guess the image at the top of this blog is from Kansas? Even if you’ve been through Kansas 100 times, I bet you haven’t seen this.

So now I feel I am fully “into” spring. I see it’s beauty and don’t currently waste my time and creativity longing for fall and winter. I am completely in the moment

Wide open spaces

This trip also steeped me in one of my favorite themes, wide open spaces. I saw a lot of them. There is something both compelling and a little frightening to me about a view with only the road and the horizon in the distance. It draws me to it while repelling me a little.

There are occasional weathered abandoned houses and barns that add to the bleak beauty. I love composing these into scenes that portray the vast distances or bounty of crops.

In a lot of these areas I just park my car in the middle of the road while I’m taking pictures. And I’m talking about setting up my tripod, composing perhaps several shots, maybe shooting HDR brackets or several long exposures to capture motion of the grass. Only 2 or 3 pickup trucks seem to come by a day, so I almost never inconvenience the locals.

Jump into summer

To be honest, this trip almost jumped me over spring into summer too quickly. I talked about the extraordinary moisture that made the vegetation very lush. But in the course of the trip we were hit with an abnormal heat wave that made things seems more like summer.

In some parts of the trip the temperature was 108F. Add a 30-40 mph dry wind and conditions were not fun. That is good for showing the dynamics of the grass or wheat rippling furiously, but not pleasant to be out in.

Amazing country

I have made this journey before. I have family at the destination, so it was not just a random selection. Each time I go I try to take a different route, always avoiding freeways.

Like almost every time I make it, I come back with a renewed love for this heartland area and the people there. It is a good place. Good country. It makes me feel better about America.

At one point I stood at the exact geographic center of the contiguous 48 states. The point where a map of the 48 states would balance exactly. I couldn’t help thinking that I hope America can stay balanced. Revisiting the heartland would help.

15 Minutes From Home

100 ft from my studio

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.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Sunset, wide open spaces

You are probably familiar with this quote, even if you can’t place exactly where it is from. I’ll get to that. The point here is to talk about my need to wander. I am seldom lost, especially when I wander.

This quote is part of a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

This is only half of the poem. The rest is specific to the plot of the story. But these 4 lines are golden. I may write about each line sometime.

This time I am drilling in to the second line: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Get lost

I am admittedly weird. I intentionally try to get “lost”, in the sense that I end up in places few people visit, that aren’t apparent on maps, and I don’t know what I’ll find when I get there. One characteristic of this kind of place is that there are few if any people around.

Perhaps I am just an anti-social loner, but this kind of place invigorates me. I experience a kind of freedom I don’t feel in well populated areas.

No, I don’t think I am dangerously deranged. As a matter of fact as I’m writing this I have to leave in a few minutes to meet with a group of friends. As much as I like friends and companionship, I will leave them for times to seek out the “off the map” experiences I crave.

So far I find that these times of solitude are best experienced alone. I am shy and quiet. If people are around I find the “noise” drowns out the voice of the wilderness I am trying to listen to. With people around I feel compelled to “get on down the road” or get to dinner at a reasonable time. Not so when I am alone.

One of my joys is to get an extremely detailed map and try to explore the tiniest, most remote roads I can find. And that is paper maps – a lot of the places I like to go don’t have cell phone service, so forget Google Maps, and I often can’t trust my Nav system in the car. They are seldom detailed enough.

Don’t be foolish

I am painting a picture of just heading off into the wild randomly and getting into all kinds of predicaments. When you go out to explore barren areas, don’t be stupid. Even though I generally travel alone, I have a good 4-wheel drive vehicle (with a large gas tank), food, water, and winter or summer survival kits. And I try to give someone a general idea of where I am going and when I should be back. And I’ve done this type of travel for a long time.

Getting stuck in some of these places can be dangerous, even life threatening. Know what you are doing and be prepared. Ease into it to get a lot of experience before heading off solo.

So, what’s it going to be — safety, or freedom? You can’t have both. – Louis Sachar

I personally am willing to take a fair amount of risk to live a more free and rewarding life.


I find that getting away and taking time to “listen” to that part of the world is refreshing and renewing. It does not have to be a conventionally beautiful place. I can easily be as renewed in the barren plains of eastern Colorado or Wyoming as I am in the mountains. The image at the top of this post is in eastern Colorado.

When I come to one of these places and I feel a connection to it, I have a better chance of getting images I love. Ones where I feel I have something to say. I find I am usually missing that deep connection in a place that is just beautiful and where other photographers often record the same scene.

Even if I do not get any great images, the renewal of my mind and soul is well worth it.

Get found

We live in an increasingly noisy world. Our jobs demand almost full time engagement. The giant media companies demand we be “plugged in” 24/7 because of fear of missing out. Learning to be content in solitude is an antidote to this. It is a way to take back control of your mind. Don’t be afraid of missing something. Those things actually don’t matter much compared to the benefits of our mental health.

I don’t fully understand it, but there is something about the wild or neglected places that are uplifting to me. I don’t really know what it means to “find yourself”, but I often experience something that must be like it when I spend time in some remote places.

Right now it is not as important to me that I understand the why. It is sufficient for my psyche that I know how to get found. And when I am found I can do work that calls to me, lifts me up, and pleases me.

I hope it calls to you, too. Try it sometime. You might not know until you unplug for a while and try. Let me know what you find.