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?

Spring, You’re Looking Better Every Year

Seriously, though. Spring is more and more endearing to me every year. Yes, the Minnesotan winter takes a toll even on this self-proclaimed lover of ice. Obviously, there is the warm relief spring brings. But I’ve really seen my appreciation grow with greater attention to detail, slowing down and scouting for spring scenes.

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Blossoming Depth

Photography has really endeared spring to my heart. It’s taken that focus I apply to other photographic subjects or seasons applied to spring that’s enabled me to slow and see the beauty.

It was only last year that I started to see spring’s colors as a reflection of autumn’s colors. The diversity in glowing greens and yellows and other budding colors is very similar to the chorus of autumn color. This, too, has really captivated me this year in particular, especially since this time frame is limited before the solid summer greens take over.

I think another reason I am growing more fond of springtime is its emergence reminds me of a rising sun. I shoot in the morning hours much more than evening hours because I love that day and light are beginning, rather than ending. I think spring has a similar jolt of refreshment when I capture it. I’m seeing growth, new, freshness, color, light and more rather than a period of time’s closing door as darkness settles in the evening, for example.

How are you enjoying spring this 2020?

Photographing Trees in Winter

It’s harder than I thought.

This somewhat surprises me. They are just trees, silent and aloof, moving only when wind passes through. We see them every time we go outside. When I approach they don’t flee but pose tall and proud.

The challenge, I found, is photographing them in a way that transfers the mood I felt in their presence to the viewed photograph on screen or in print. How to transfer mood? This isn’t unique to trees as this is the essence of photography, inviting the viewer into the experience. However, the trees don’t usually have the same wow factor as a sunset, mountain, or waterfall, for example. For me, there is more of a challenge to evoke emotional reaction with an object we view as more mundane.

How to transfer the mood of trees?

Let’s briefly take a look at the following photos and see if they speak for themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASnow has recently fallen in the woods with dozens upon dozens of red pines. It blankets the ground, clothes the branches of all trees. But the quiet is striking. I pause my boot crunching steps and observe. Dark trunks contrast mightily against the white glare. The woods seem to contain a slight fog, but it’s the snowfall muting the landscape.

Fallen Tree
Fallen Giant

Nearby, a massive tree has taken over the ground, its limbs sprawling among the still standing community. In a grove with so many standing trees, a fallen giant is notable.

Winter Stream (2) (1 of 1)
Peaceful Winter

A stream curves through the woods, leading to a beautifully white-coated tree with dark, thin and young trunks. The power of the stream with the quiet woods is a powerfully peaceful spot.

Winter Pillars (2)
White Pillars

Tremendous contrast on these “white pillars” in a small, composed bunch. They withstand the winter conditions beautifully.

Winter Pillars
White Pillar Grove

A wider look at the grove of white trees, with a fallen comrade beneath them and some color splashing subtly behind.

Fallen (ig)
Fallen

In pine alley, one small oak kneels.

Through the trees

A bit more abstract, the white path weaves through the young growth.

These pictures are a result of four outings specifically photographing trees. So tell me, after viewing the pictures above, how did I do? Did you feel the mood of any place, or were they easy to scroll past?

Are People More Interested in What’s New, Rather Than What’s Better?

I recently read a business article with the title, Being Different Beats Being Better. It followed up with a quote:

“Everyone is interested in what’s new. Few people are interested in what’s better. Who cares about a marginally better product or service? That’s the problem with most businesses and even people. We compete with each other for the same market.”

In the photography world specifically, is this true? Here are some of my contemplative thoughts that are general. There are exceptions all the time that I realize.

On Social Media, I’d Say Absolutely.

My primary context is Instagram & Facebook. Posts that first captured a blizzard’s wrath, the fall of an iconic rock, the Superbowl in Minnesota, the Minnesota State Fair, the Eclipse, to name a few, have caught fire on social media and traditional media outlets. I would argue that the first picture from events are more popular than the better ones (subjective but go with me here) that follow later. People both want to be on the edge of news as well as see who’s there recording and capturing the news. I’d say people are more excited about the initial shot than follow-ups unless the latter are incredible.

Art Shows

Because I have now have an art season under my belt, with over a dozen shows to my name, I’ve seen lots of the competition. Without dragging my ego or meek sides of me into this discussion, I’ve wondered how the consumer feels about seven to ten photographers with similar images. Do they see with “new glasses” or “good, better, best glasses?” Just between these two aspects, which has a greater impact on them buying:  “Oh, I’ve never seen this (scene, location, angle, view) before” or “Her work is the best out of the lot.”

Booth Shot.jpg

I’m obviously leaving out emotional attachment which is maybe the greatest reason for buying a photograph for a wall. But I think this blog’s title is an important one that shapes marketing, releasing work, and even photographing in the field. Someone’s values may have them release shots as soon as possible because they know the market has an appetite and the shot will be picked up. Someone else may defy this to get a shot they imagine and will spend days or even years getting it right before releasing it. Does either approach bring in more sales than the other? Or drive the market’s acceptance deeper?

I’m still thinking through this for my own application and conclusions. How about you?

What are your reactions to this post’s title and other questions?

Do people care about finding top-notch work more than what’s the freshest thing?

 

 

 

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.

 

Photography: “The Shot” or the Story

Do a majority of photographers place more value on finding that one shot than focusing a story?

Does “the perfect shot” tell enough of the story?

Is there room for more story telling in photography from photos that aren’t as popular?

One of the podcasts I listen to is LensWork and I find that Brooks Jensen complements a lot of thoughts I have on photography which in turn, creates posts for my blog. This is one such post.

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that I post mini-collections of locations that I photograph. I’ll post “non-sexy” photos with “sexy” photos to reveal an immersive experience to my viewers. All the shots are interesting to me so I don’t just post arbitrarily. For me, it’s about exposing beauty both apparent and subtle, loud and silent, detailed and grand. I personally have a greater connection to the environment when I slow down and take it all in. And my observations then are expressed to the public.

Here is a mini-collection of photos from bluff country in southern Minnesota.

Whether you’re a viewer or a photographer, do you tend to be attracted to or focus on finding that sexy or perfect shot? My example today could be the featured image of the silhouetted barn. Or do you take in more? The collection above really shares the beauty of the area in a way one image cannot. This collection isn’t tight enough, or focuses enough on one specific location like Whitewater State Park, to allow me to say, if I remove one photograph, the story would be incomplete. However, this is a future goal in mind when I do “series photography” again. A goal, is to intimately connect four-to-six images in a way where if I removed one, the viewer would miss out on the story.

Think of the most famous or most liked photographer you know or follow. Do you only know their popular images or can you recall any of the other images that may surround the popular images?

I’ve barely scratched the surface with this topic and will likely post again but let me leave with you with a comparison that is in my mind.

If you listened to the linked podcast called The Rest of the Story, you’ll hear Brooks mention that “we live in the age of the orgasm. That we are only interested in the dessert. Only the headline matters but not the rest of the story.”

What if photography can be like listening to a concept album? There will likely be “orgasmic” tracks or your favorite tracks that you repeat over and over. But there are also layers, interludes, outros, soft and heavy tracks, different emotional pieces as the album progresses through the playlist. If listening carefully, we began to see more than a single hit but a piece of an entire performance. What if the same can be true with photography? Yes, the brilliant sunrise may be the most powerful image. But I’d like to think that the other images make that sunrise more powerful and then put together, are greater still.

I’d appreciate your input as I process this idea and think about it more in my work.

The Secret Location(s)

Should I always share photographed locations with others?

I ask myself this question a lot. I think the answer is a ready no to always, though I often consider the reasons why.

Why share?

  1. Give others a chance to also experience beauty.
  2. To reveal excitement of a new location.
  3. Photographers should be expanding creativity, discovering new locations, and improving the art. Could become a niche.
  4. Because it’s a nice thing to do.

Why not share?

  1. More exposure, especially to a secluded spot, may lead to unacceptable disturbance of the land and nature if it grows in popularity.
  2. Simply because having a few secret places is nice to enjoy alone. I think there is a special quality about it, like a treasure I’ve personally uncovered and I don’t want intruded upon.
  3. To avoid competition in sales, fame, and fortune.

When I begin my podcast in 2019, this may be one of the initial topics I explore with fellow photographers in the area and pick their brain on what practices they hold and if they think it’s a good thing or not.

I think there is definitely a sense of pride and protectiveness that comes with secret spots and maybe some selfishness as well. But I can see others overwhelmingly willing to share to others because they want others to enjoy the same beauty they did.

What do you think?

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

 

Photography competitions

I didn’t devote 2018 to entering photography competitions by any means. However, I did enter five competitions locally in Minnesota, submitting between two and eight each photos each time. While I didn’t earn Grand Prize status, I did receive shared first place in three of the five competitions.

A win is a win!

Three Rivers Park District

I live a block away from Silverwood Park, one of many in the Three Rivers Park District, and started my 2018 photography journey here. I didn’t visit another location so frequently due to it’s proximity to me. The winning photograph actually was the first I had ever taken with my new full frame Sony A7ii. It’s a favorite bending tree during a soft sunset. It was voted as Top Landscape Photo. Check it out.

Silverwood Park
Silverwood Park in Early Autumn

Nine Mile Creek Watershed District

What’s particularly rewarding about winning each of these three contests is that every location has an emotional and memorable place in my life. This second contest is held by the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District. The district ranges from Hopkins to Bloomington and it’s in the south part of the Twin Cities where I often took my dogs on walks, explored the creek nearby 35W and the Minnesota River, sighting owls and snakes, and where I biked the mud and dirt trails.

I was really surprised that out of the eight photos I submitted, the one below was chosen as the winner. And to be honest, I was a little uncertain and borderline embarrassed because I took that photo as I was getting started and certainly had better submissions. Perhaps that was the best January photo submitted! But I’ll take it, and the $10 gift card!

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Nine Mile Winter Sunrise

 

Blue Fin Bay

Finally, the third win was the sweetest. Not only because the winning prize was large, and the photo chosen is the second most popular among my family, friends, and fans, but also due to waiting a long time to find out the results. Staying at Blue Fin Bay Resorts has been a family tradition for three years and we’re going back for a multiple night stay next month. The resort is between Tofte and Lutsen along the North Shore. It’s been a treat to stay there because it’s a tradition to look forward to once the holidays are over.


I will also add that I am selling this photo as a metal print starting with the 8×10 size. Please message me or comment for prices and inquiries. I just sold a 16×20 to a friend and it’s been super pleasing to see it hang on the wall.


This photo is also special because it was the best sunset I’d ever seen. And I earned it. It was -20 degrees or so in Grand Marais and I was doing jumping jacks and all sorts of dances trying to stay warm. The sunset reflect all over the ice and was just a glorious moment in 2018.

Enjoy!

Icy Sunset

In case you were wondering about the other two competitions in which I entered, they were TruStone Financial’s annual calendar contest and National Camera Exchange’s travel contest.