My previous article discussed being an explorer based on curiosity. I absolutely, intensely believe that. But I don’t want to leave the impression that most of the exploration can be done in books and videos and trips to museums and even on the computer. For what I do, I have to be out there. Out there in the outdoors. Thinking about images is great, but you haven’t created art until you actually make an image.
Exploration can happen anywhere
Exploration is partly a mental activity. Feeding your mind with new ideas and new images causes growth, new connections. This is a vital activity for artists – and for everyone if you care about growing. There is a limit to it, though.
Creativity is a balance between thinking and doing. Thinking allows us to consider new possibilities and imagine what we would do. Actually getting out shooting lets us test the ideas, see unexpected things, apply the ideas and discover new ones.
The craft of making something balances and perfects the ideas of what we might do. It is a feedback loop. They reinforce each other. Thinking new ideas helps us see more possibilities when we are out shooting. Capturing images helps refine what works and doesn’t. Then when we see what works we discover new possibilities to try another time. Putting theory to practice is necessary to perfect both.
I shoot outdoor images
At some point we have to stop just thinking about what we want to do and actually go do it. Get off the couch and out the door.
Occasionally I set aside time to travel someplace specifically to shoot pictures. That is a joy. But i don’t get to do it as much as I would like. Some reasons are:
- It is expensive
- I have to be at my studio to process images and take care of all the things that need to be done.
- New places are enjoyable but I’m a visitor there. I feel the need to find fresh images where I live.
So I force myself to get out frequently and explore in my own backyard, so to speak. I consider it great discipline to find new, interesting images in familiar areas. And I do find many that I consider good.
I will confess that I am naturally something of a couch potato. Getting out in all kinds of weather is a significant act of will. Especially when you consider that where I live the temperatures can range from -10F to 110F. It can be easy to convince myself that is is just not fun. But it is a habit I force myself to do. When I am home, then 4 to 5 days a week I go our walking with my camera.
Yesterday, for instance, it was 2F and snowing and we had about 4 inches of fresh snow on the ground. I walked over 4 miles. I’m not bragging. Probably many of you do much more. My point is that it is a conscious decision that I will go out with my camera and explore every chance I get. I am somewhat amazed at what I find.
When I am looking at an image I like, I always remember what the conditions were when I shot it, but that is not a factor in my evaluation of the worth of the image itself. The image must stand on its own. But I sometimes find the best pictures in the worst weather.
Practice makes perfect
Exploration is largely a mental activity. Feed your mind. Take in new ideas and possibilities all the time and assimilate the learnings into your vision. But you have to do it, too. Make images. Express the creative ideas you formed. Realize the idea in a finished product for your viewers. It can be hard.
In his e-book “10 Tips for Aspiring Photographers”, William Patino said
One thing that I feel greatly helped my learning was the amount of time I was willing to invest in being outdoors, playing with my camera and observing light and the land.
Invest the time. Be out looking and feeling. Getting good at anything takes time. Practice. Play.
I find that creative ideas tend to be rather vague. They tend to come as an idea of something that would be interesting. But actually making it happen can sometimes be difficult. It may require planning or more research or travel or, typically, many attempts to capture the idea in a real image.
When I was working on my Speeding Trains project I threw away hundreds of attempts before I learned how to capture the impression of motion and speed and power and presence that I envisioned. Even after I sort of figured it out, my “hit rate” was probably about 1 in 10. Practice makes perfect. Or at least better. 🙂
Believe you are very lucky
Being an artist is hard work. If anyone tells you different, they haven’t tried it. You have to create a huge body of work and continually refresh it. You have to deal with rejection. Gatekeepers are everywhere proclaiming themselves to be the arbiter of taste and style and you are not fit to be allowed in to their select club. You will want to give up. As an artist you have to believe in yourself and your work. Regardless of what others say or do. Push on.
It seems a contradiction, but on the other hand, many people admire and look up to you. They dream of being able to step out of their drab world and create. To have the freedom to make art and tell the world they don’t care if no one else likes it, because it pleases them. We seem an independent rebel, living the creative artistic life. They are right.
In a private correspondence my friend Les Picker said:
It’s like a colleague of mine once said: There is no such thing as a bad day for a nature photographer. We’re out there. We’re walking the path. How fortunate we are!
So when it’s 0F and I am feeling frostbite or it’s 100F and I’m about to pass out from heat exhaustion, I remind myself that I am out creating and following my vision. How can this be bad?
My vision leads me to shoot outdoors. So this is where I have to go. I can’t cherry pick and just say “Oh, today is not totally perfect , so I will just stay in”. That would never get anything done. Get out in it. Get dirty or wet or hot. Look past the conditions and discover what is there to see.
Being an artist is about seeing. I have to be out in the place I plan to shoot before I can see. I want to make art, not just think about art.
Your mileage may vary
It sounds like I am saying that you have to shoot landscape scenes to be an artist. Not at all. I think the principles apply to anything you do. If you do portraits, do them, a lot. Don’t just think about doing them. If your thing is commercial or food or street photography or abstract still life studio shots, it doesn’t matter. Do it. Practice. Get in the reps.
My thing involves outdoor photography. I have to kick myself out the door to shoot. If you do your work in the studio then make yourself get up and go do the work there.
You’re not an artist unless you are creating art.
Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.Andy Warhol
The image this week
I mentioned suffering in the cold. That is the time of year I’m in as I write this. What would be worth going out in that kind of weather? Well, things like this. I love patterns and reflections in ice. It is a very interesting subject to me. This kind of shot makes me forget the discomfort and think of the beauty in unlikely places. I hope you get out and find things like this, too.