I don’t Suffer from Creative Block. But Practical Block, Yes.

Someone asked me if I suffer from creative block, like writer’s block, and how I overcome it. In photography, that might mean mental fatigue from seeing all these creative pictures from peers and competitors and being drained and feeling hopeless to produce something fresh. It might mean, there is no spark. No composition is singing to be captured during another great adventure. There are many ways to define creative block.

I don’t suffer from creative block. As someone who researches new places, imagines new compositions, always has plans and enjoys starting multiple projects every year, I just don’t lack in creativity and never have a slump by what most may assume to be a creative slump. At least not yet!

No, for me, I suffer from something else. I just call it practical block.

Sometimes, I refer to it as lazy block. I can know exactly where I want to go. The idea, composition and lighting are in mind, but wow, getting out bed is rough and maybe it will be cloudy, so I’ll stay home. For me practical block comes in when I think of the inconveniences of going out and doing photography:

  • My car doesn’t have enough gas to make the trip without stopping.
  • It’s raining, cloudy or too icy slick for my sedan to make it to the park.
  • I really don’t want to get up at 5:00am.
  • I work at 9:30am plus all the above factors so….nah. Let’s sleep more.
  • I forgot to prepare my clothing, camera gear and snacks the night before.
  • I didn’t get the coffee ready for quick start in the morning.
  • My wife doesn’t want me alarm to wake her earlier than she needs.

Does that make sense? So all these little factors come together and dissuade me from heading out. I’ve also noticed that if I prepare haphazardly, my chances for going out in the morning lower significantly and vice versa.

I will share my advice for getting out of creative block, however, as I can see myself being in that state one day and this advice should be remembered by us both, dear fellow creative.

When you feel creative block, the best thing to do is get back out in the field and practice creativity. For me as a photographer, that means getting out into the landscapes feeling the sun on my cheeks, noticing the perfectly shaped dew drops on colorful leaves, listening to the waves crash on the beach in different strengths, and more. The immersion of what once was passionate produces reminders and excitement back into the blood. Plus for me, being alone in nature has always been refreshing. That and the adventures I am on are all ways to get me excited again. Because I think it’s important when in a slump to get past the feelings in the moment and remember the highs of when we’re on location.

At least, that’s my opinion and method for me.

What’s been your experience for creative block and how you deal with it and try to overcome it?

September’s Arrival Means Autumn Planning

Today, I’m excited even as I’m still dealing with the “year-in-limbo” as it’s been harder to make concrete plans in 2020. I’m currently mapping out that sweet one month window where autumn colors blossom in the Midwest. It’s a very ambitious plan. I think this year I’m feeling bit more pressure to get out because in December, my wife and I will welcome our first child and life will change in many ways. Below are the ideas and trips I am hoping to make happen. I’ll write future blog posts on the big ones and as many as I can to share this lovely season, even though I admit I am holding onto summer by swimming at the cabin every weekend.

Badlands National Park & Spearfish Canyon

I’ve been coordinating going next weekend with a buddy for three nights which means little sleep, that probably is happening midday. We are night sky focused hoping for some Milky Way. Sleep is overrated when you’re headed out for photography in a place you haven’t visited since childhood and had no camera in your hands. Tentatively, the plan is the Badlands one day and two nights and Spearfish Canyon one night and two days. This trip may be the most exciting due to its fresh landscapes since I usually shoot in Minnesota. Don’t even get me started on the waterfalls in the area. Wow. Let’s go!

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Instead of heading to the North Shore with three friends on our third annual autumn trip, we are heading to a new location. The south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan. My wife and I did a babymoon trip there in July and while I didn’t really photograph on that occasion, I did scout for this autumn trip. We will be hightailing it east to Tahquamenon Falls and slowly make our way back west exploring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Keenaw Peninsula and maybe the Porcupines before heading home. Our itinerary is 75% set with a boat tour and ten-mile hike included. It’s a fantastic tradition I hope continues for many more years to come.

Ely/Itasca

There is the North Shore frenzy in fall but what about other northern parts of Minnesota? I’ve photographed in both places before but it was secondary to a group event. This time, I want to do something different and have scouted some places to visit. Being 3-4 hours away, this could be as quick as an up and back or one night stay. I really want to go just to be a bit different than my photography circles.

Southeastern Minnesota

Along the Mississippi River on both Wisconsin and Minnesota are wonderful bluff views. There is a fantastic loop from Red Wing to Wabasha to Stockholm to Hager City and everything in between. It’d be great to have two nights to do this but I expect possibly two day trips, one on each side. It’d be wonderful to capture that transitional summer to fall fog that often appears.

Grand Portage & the Gunflint Trail

It’s possible I am heading north to commission a piece for a client. Since I’m up there, I will focus more on Grand Portage and going east on the Gunflint. I haven’t focused on the latter much at all and am intrigued by blue lakes surrounded by lots of color. I am not sure when this trip is happening but it might be a last minute “Oh, the leaves just changed! Let’s go!” thing.

Other Day Trips & Hopes

Jay Cooke State Park, Kinnickinnic State Park, Alexander Ramsay, Pipestone, and a seasonal series from William O’Brien State Park round out the dreams right now. Typing all of this out is very idealistic but also very promising and exciting! Stay tuned.

When Iconic & Photogenic Locations Change

I knew the “Sea Stack”, formerly an arch in Tettegouche State Park, was popular among photographers and park visitors. But upon its collapse into Lake Superior during a storm over the weekend, I saw the impact its disappearance across the state.

All the Facebook photography groups I’m in were talking about it. My Instagram story feed was dominated by photographers sharing their shots of the stack in memory. Pioneer Press and KSTP media outlets picked up the story. Everyone fondly said:

Rest in Piece

Tettegouche

Credit to Mary Amerman

It made me remember the 24th Ave Bridge in Minneapolis and how it was destroyed before massive construction on highway 35W began. It supplied the premier, iconic view of the Minneapolis skyline.

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View from 24th Ave Bridge

I still wonder if a location has sprung up as the newest city vantage, the newest iconic view in the Twin Cities. I can’t put a finger on it and it may take time.

In the meantime, if you asked me what iconic locations remained, the very next one would easily be the Split Rock Lighthouse.

Split Rock Lighthouse Lighting Ceremony

Credit to J. Briol Images.

It’s difficult for me to find motivation to photograph these locations due to the high volume of shots I see here and I’d rather explore other areas of the parks or city. But there is no doubt that Minnesotans have their favorites. Time erodes all things and we’ll sure see more iconic changes as well as new ones spring up.

 

Astrophotography Addiction

On September 1, I was a young child, filled with wonder and awe. I chased the night sky charms with a fellow photographer and friend on a thrilling adventure. From blue hour on what I call Minnesota’s small Cliffs of Mohr to the Milky Way’s core on a hidden bridge to finally northern lights dancing over a waterfall, it was truly a magical night.

First Aurora
First Aurora

 

This was a night of many firsts.

First time really photographing the Milky Way.

First time witnessing the northern lights with my eyes.

First time capturing a waterfall with both phenomenons overhead.

It was instantly a top three photography trip. I don’t recall giggling with joy so many times while capturing photos. The night skies are truly magical and outshine other so many so-called magical moments in nature.

I think I am now addicted to astrophotography.

 

From Hobby to Business: Photography Style

“If I were in your shoes, I’d go for it.”

These were the encouraging words from my photography mentor in late November of 2018. He had just wrapped up an hour’s worth of reviewing my top fifty or so images in his home. The question lingering in the air was “Are my photos professional and quality enough to start selling and entering art shows?” He isn’t the sort to pander or tickle my ears. I’ve received plenty of blunt assessments in the past to know he wouldn’t get my hopes up if he didn’t think I was ready.

After asking him multiple times if he was sure, diving into projections he best could offer through five years of experience, I left his home feeling both ecstatic and nervous.


I devoted 2018 to learning photography and shooting as much as I could. I haven’t yet totaled the state parks I visited but it’s around twenty. I definitely got around and photographed one to three times a week. In the back of my mind, I held onto the possibility of marketing and selling my work in early 2019, but I resisted doing anything besides having fun for a while. I didn’t want work and money to steal my joy for photography. But my mentor’s combined encouragement pushed me over the edge into the business side. It’s very early but I’ve found this new side of photography to be a challenge that is both exciting and one I can embrace. That’s also due to learning. I love gaining new skills and education.


My photography has a long way to go. But look how far it has come. This image below is what I was pleased with in December of 2017.

Compare that with this beauty:

And if you’ve been following my work on Facebook or Instagram then you’ve seen improvement.


Now it’s exciting news time:

  • Josh Driver Photography, LLC is my official new and first business name.
  • My best images can be found on my website: joshdriverphotography.com and are for sale there and directly through me.
  • I primarily focus on selling metal prints using ChromaLux and it’s the best aluminum anywhere.
  • I will be applying for a dozen summer and autumn shows in the Midwest in February.
  • My metal prints will be on display at Dunn Bros from February 4th to March 4th.
  • I’m starting a photography podcast.

Contact me if interested in any of my metal prints as it is currently cheaper to avoid the middle man online and order through me. All funds go back into the business and paying off student loans!

I appreciate you taking the time the read my updates. I never thought becoming a professional photographer would be a serious venture for me. Stay tuned!

 

Planning or Reacting to the Scene?

I listen to a podcast fairly regularly called Lenswork by Brooks Jensen and earlier this week, an episode really made me think more deeply about reacting to a scene versus over planning or overthinking the scene.

As a landscape photographer and bit of a perfectionist, I have more than several times, gotten to a scene and scurried around trying to find the “perfect” composition. Or the composition that would make the trip worth it. My problem isn’t over planning as much as rushing, urged on by high idealism.

A benefit to this has been grabbing several interesting compositions and exploring many areas of the landscape. However, I believe this approaches reduces and minimizes the experience and can even be stressful.

In 2019, I want to practice more reacting to landscapes that I visit. This means slowing down and not worrying about taking the camera out. It means walking the edge of a coastline for an hour. It means sitting on a rock or bench listening to sounds and watching wildlife. It means slowing my pace and my breathing and letting creative wonder come to me, instead of forcing my own twist into the composition.

There is nothing wrong with scouting, planning, and thinking through a scene to produce a quality and professional photo. I will continue to do this. But personally, I want to slow down more and allow creativity to come to me through a slower and deliberate approach.

I really appreciate what they’re doing over at Slow Photography Movement and recommend their site. It’s much of the same vein as this post.

I’ll leave an example to close today’s thought. Last autumn along the North Shore, I was scurrying around trying to capture this island off the coat. I wasn’t very satisfied with my initial images so I stopped and just looked. I didn’t try to see a composition. I scanned the entire coast, taking in my location. It was at that point where I discovered an obvious beauty: lush red fall leaves in bunches just as the rocks met the trees. And when I went over to them, I discovered my composition.

the rock

 

Five Reasons Winter Photography is Attractive

I paid hundreds of dollars to attend my first photography workshop last February along the North Shorein Minnesota. I spent five days walking and sitting on ice, capturing ice, while my entire face but notably my eyebrows and beard, were completely transformed into icicles.

Ice here, ice there, ice everywhere, baby.

It might be safe to say that winter in Minnesota is my favorite season to photograph landscapes and nature, rivaling the popular autumn. Read my five top reasons for enjoying winter photography below!

1) Stillness

I don’t need to travel to a lost wilderness to understand the stillness winter brings. One of my favorite moments all year is after a heavy snowfall when a light snow lingers. The smooth, undisturbed blankets of snow contour intriguingly over the land, sparkling in pleasing ways to the eye. And it’s quiet. Many sounds are muffled. It’s like the earth has gone to sleep.  Even in the city, the effect is easily observed.

Winter Scale

2) Introvert, I am.

As an introvert who likes to recharge in nature’s solitude, winter is the perfect time to getaway from social occasions in life. I’ve been able to shoot during the morning when most people work. Even if they don’t work, frigid temperatures and icy roads dissuade much of the summer travelers. Therefore, I can take my time, exploring angles and details at my pace without worry of another disturbing a moment or being in my photograph. It’s a nice time to pray and reflect on life. The beauty of creation is intense and blanketing.

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Ice Painting

3) Dynamic ice

Moisture, temperature, and sunlight constantly change ice formations. It’s one of the most dynamic subjects to photograph. I believe that taking photographs where ice is a dominant character, I’m likely taking photographs never again repeated. It is a truly a frozen moment in time that will never be seen again. Ice can melt, shape, form, cut, or stack in so many ways. I just love the different times ice appears also: the initial thin layers across shallow lakes, the coating on frozen trees and plants, the deep, thick boulders along Lake Superior and ice caves.

 

4) That Blue Hue

Winter brings forth blues that I don’t see at other times of the year. Blue hour at both ends of the day is a favorite time to photograph. Being my favorite color, winter blues are just really attractive to me. Combine that with ice and it’s winter delight!

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Willow River Winter

5) No Mosquitoes

The unofficial state birds are not swarming me when I am trying to set up my tripod, work the dials and exposures, causing those still moments eyeing the viewfinder to be risky ones. Nope, they’re just dead. And that’s great cause for winter cheer.

Of course, winter is just darn, stinkin’ cold in Minnesota.

  • I did jumping jacks in Grand Marais as the wind battered me with -25 F temps…
    • But I captured the best sunset of my life.
  • My hands froze at Willow River State Park, slowing down picture taking…
    • But I spent four hours in a magical place with mist, icicles, and waterfalls.
  • I must have walked in hundreds of circles in Grand Portage, daring not stop…
    • But I photographed floating pancakes with my crazy friend along orange skies.

Yes, I do ask myself if it’s worth it in the moment and sometimes want to flee to my car. Most of the time, however, I find a way to cope and it’s always been worth it for me.

How do you interact with winter?

Autumn Bursts in St. Croix State Park

While I made plans to capture autumn colors this year, I made note of fire towers in state parks and St Croix State Park made the list. It’s about two hours from the Twin Cities, including a slow drive on a dirt road. At the time, the roads were bursting with every fall color.

Autumn Roads in St. Croix

I arrived at the fire tower at 6:45 a.m. after leaving the house two hours earlier.

I climbed slowly.

After climbing a more rickety tower in Grand Portage, Minnesota, this one’s stability helped with my fear of heights. I ended up staying on the top platform for an hour watching and waiting for color. I’ll tell you three tips that really helped me become absolutely (well, mostly) comfortable with fire towers:

  1. Go slowly, and make several stops. Take in the all scenes, bend your knees, and pause, allowing your mind to grow comfortable with the heights.
  2. Stay awhile. This, too, seems counter intuitive, but the more time passes, the more I relaxed. I found my mind went overboard with every creak in the boards, every wind gust, and several movie scenes. I quickly realized how much of my physical responses were from my irrational mind. The more I relaxed and took in deep breaths, the more I felt fine. After an hour at top, I nearly felt as  secure as being on the solid ground.
  3. Climb several towers within a short time of each other. Climbing one in Grand Portage two weeks prior really helped me with the one in St. Croix.

While the clouds didn’t allow much of a sunrise, the trees beneath me were nicely represented in the low, even light.

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Fire tower view

After climbing down, I started driving back and in the immediate 200 feet or so, stopped my car, got out, and took pictures five times of the wrapping color around the road. Just stunning. I recommend St. Croix State Park for the scenic drives on these dirt roads if nothing else. I even got to see my first wild porcupine cross the road.

Porcupine Crossing

When I entered the park at 6:00am, I couldn’t see any colors but upon exiting, it was red everywhere and colors layered and filled in everywhere. Below is an example of the color burst.

Color burst

I was so enamored with color, I returned with my wife less than twenty-fours later. Shockingly, in that brief time, much color was lost and now lay on the roads and paths. I couldn’t believe how it changed so dramatically after one night. There remained enough color to enjoy the park, but it was a different experience for me and a bit of a letdown since I brought Sarah to enjoy it.

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But we did enjoy all of it.