This is the conclusion I’ve come to after years of hearing my students who have hit a wall and feel that it is insurmountable and who say to me,
“I go out to take photos because it is what I really, really love to do, but I keep shooting the same things over and over. I am bored with my photography. Why do I keep shooting the same things? What else is there to this craft? How can I get better at taking photos?!”
When a photographer plateaus with their camera I found that what it usually comes down to is a lack of ideas and imagination.
I wanted to share a story with you about my day yesterday and include photos of the live shooting/thinking/ process I went through and I am hoping you will see how even a simple (even bad!) idea can get you moving in a fresh direction with how you are seeing the world and make you think a lot about what you do find truly interesting.
A couple of years ago I ended up walking along the highway. It wasn’t nice. It was hot and the sun was glaring and I didn’t have my camera or phone (long story!). I wasn’t thinking of photography at the time, just when I would get my next drink of water!
But as I was walking along the shoulder I saw something that we all know is there. Pollution. Untouched, never to be taken away, just sitting there baking in the Andalucian sun year after year: bottles, cans, cigarette packs, tossed bottles of urine and worse, and plastic, plastic. Yuck.
It was gross and made me fear for our world. But at the same time it germinated an idea in me “As a photographer I would like people to see this, they know it’s there, most likely, but I want to confront them with the reality that it is there, and they will never notice it unless there is an emergency and they have to stop the car!”
That was my idea and I sat on it for at least a year. Not a very friendly or one that came from a place of love, but pollution has been something I have been repulsed by my entire life. If not me, then who?
I found myself back on the highway yesterday (voluntarily this time) and found what looked exactly like my expectations. (Normally I am not a fan of having expectations because then one becomes predictable and as a result so does the art. Expectations can close you off to new things: If your mind is full of it then there is little room for the unknown and the Unexpected! It is here that inspiration and motivation can be nourished. And it is also here where new ideas can form.)
So I am on the shoulder looking at this awful pollution and I have another idea (the 2nd one!) about the interaction and impact of pollution on nature and how nature deals with our detritus. Not original at all I know! Doesn’t matter at all. I just wanted to be creative.
I felt my idea was coming along nicely and then I had another idea (idea#3) of trying to create odd compositions that related to my dismay for the situation – odd angles, lines that make no sense, no classic subject placement for me!
Later as I was heading back home, almost off the highway, feeling like, “ that was good but what did I miss?”,
I noticed in the road, things tossed from cars – mostly tinfoil that doesn’t move much in the wind – it just sits there getting run over again and again and takes on the form of the road itself. New idea no. #4 – how about if the pollution is changed again, from a once discarded thing into something that is both attractive to me and repellent at the same time.
This idea took me right back to my love for the abstract! Did I try to make it beautiful? Of course, I am predictable that way. It is what I do best.
The point is I had new ideas inspired by an old one. I carried my expectations with me but I didn’t let them limit me. I went to the highway to create photos of detritus and ended up with more abstract work I like. It was a great exercise in observing and letting my mind roam free.
And I guess that is the point of it all my friends – let your mind roam free, trust in it and you never know where it will lead you. If you have what feels like a pointless thought that was brought on by a shadow, a glimmer of your past, something smelly, whatever, go with it, don’t hold back, but follow your instinct and open yourself to it.
If you are stuck with your photography then drop or control your expectations, and open yourself to new opportunities; by cultivating new thoughts, and with new thoughts come new ideas. They may not all be great ideas but that is beside the point – generating new ideas is how creativity starts. And when the creativity starts it flows like water. Ideas in all forms are the fuel that creativity needs.
If you take anything from this post it is this – photography is more than just being a good observer and understanding light – it is a thinking craft where one must generate ideas to keep your photography moving forward into new places – new ideas that make you feel excited about what you are doing and why you are doing it!
It should be a journey of joy and personal satisfaction.
If you would like to see more of my work of things “at my feet ” I have a collection called Concrete Alibi that you can view over at the Albumen Gallery. I took several portfolios with me when I went to meet Albumen Gallery in London. And to my surprise it was the simplest idea I carried that made the most impact with them. Just goes to show I guess!
I hope you are all well. I wanted to give you some insight into a project I have been working on the past few weeks.
You probably don’t know this about me but one of my hobbies is creating giant bubbles. I am known in town as Tony the Bubblero!
I have been entertaining kids and anyone else around for about ten years with my giant bubbles. I have gotten very good at it and I don’t think anyone enjoys the beauty of the bubbles more than I do. I am always mesmerised and enchanted by them no matter their size. But I do make some really really massive bubbles – my largest wands are over 3 metres long, they are that long so the membrane loop does not touch the ground to give you an idea of the sizes I am talking about. You could easily fit two grown men in one bubble.
I make the bubble juice myself. I started with a recipe I found online but now after ten years of practice I have created Anthony The BubblerO’s Secret Bubble Juice Mix. It’s awesome (and not really a secret. I actually taught a workshop on how to make it…)!
Like being in the darkroom with photos, making bubble juice is a simple chemistry and I find it very enjoyable.
I started this photo project with the simple idea of capturing bubbles with my camera. This has been something I wanted to do from the very first time I did the bubbles, but like most things in life – when the time is right you will know.
So I went out on a day with good weather for bubbles (high humidity, low breeze) and started to shoot. Instantly, I knew I could make this something special. The qualities they possess when interacting with light are astounding. The variation in colour seems infinite – a bubbles thickness (a few microns) determines what colours are reflected and refracted.
On an overcast day with direct sun I can make the bubbles look like they’ve been blown from glass.
In another shoot it was capturing the bursting that I wanted (not as hard as you would think it would be). With some fancy post processing the bursted bubble takes on a figurative presence.
I was liking the photos a lot but was feeling I needed to take it to a more abstract place. So, working with a model I decided I would aim to achieve a figurative scene and shoot through a bubble at slow shutter speed to see what it would look like. This first test was very encouraging and I learned a lot about how to shoot bubbles.
This is from the second model shoot.
Everything so far, visually, I could predict with some accuracy. It is when night came that the real magic started. I am working on these images with Zippy, my bubble wizard and creative partner who controls the wands as I am shooting and also has a new ideas coming out of his ears!
It was nearly dark and I was stowing my camera when Zippy shrieks and tells me to come see this. I looked and was instantly awed by what I saw – the interior of the bubble was alive with light. They were just specular white points zooming around but I saw the potential in them. So I unstowed my camera and guessed the exposure for what I saw in my mind.
I went home that night and dreamed bubbles and light – a sleep of falling into wells of swirling chaos. It was awesome!
I mulled over the technical applications and possibilities of what was achievable. It seemed anything was. We did five more shoots and with varying concepts and goals over the next few weeks.
I am feeling really excited about these images. I personally have never seen anything quite like them before. They are unique, gorgeous and nothing but pure chaotic light. For those of you who know my teaching and how I am constantly going on and on about light and its qualities, you may have an understanding of the visceral feelings I am having…wow. I am very pleased!
There is still much I want to explore and experiment with. The penultimate image is one with a model (figurative or not) inside the dancing lights. I just need to figure out how to light it…
Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts please. Commenting below would work the best.
I hope you are all good today and finding your life in a content place.
This Friday is another full moon and I am preparing to do another shoot up in the mountains here in Spain. As you may already know I love to shoot in the moonlight. It is not just the wonderful light and locations, but the feelings I get from being out on an adventure either solo or with a friend. I love convincing my non-photographer friends to come alone and share the experience – they are always blown away by the tranquility and beauty of the moment, many decide then that they should have brought a camera. And those that are photographers have an unforgettable experience
My first forays into full moon shooting began when I first arrived here in Spain
I was first inspired by the first weeks living here. I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. There was a window that overlooked the sea and high above it was a full moon (I was not aware of this one!). The moon was stunning but it was the reflection on the sea that inspired me at that moment to get dressed and go down to the beach to capture the scene at 3am. I was not disappointed.
I think when photographers think of shooting the moon they think of literally capturing the moon in the image with all its glorious detail of shadows, light and craters. The problem with this approach is the full moon is a daylight exposure (the moon is luminated just as a sunny day is) and this exposure requires that anything not near this exposure value will be severely underexposed. This is easy enough to fix with a large exposure bracket and some Photoshop, but I want something a lot more holistic. I want it to be about the light and not the material moon. After all, I am drawn out there by the moonlight.
So for a more creative outcome I do not include the moon in a lot of my full moon images and when I do the moon has no detail and is blurry and overexposed, which I like (looks more like a giant star than a small orbiting ball of rock).
How the moon actually turns out in the image has a lot to do with exposure time and haze in the atmosphere – the more hazy, the more blurry it becomes.
I still have other images in my head under a full moon for locations around my area involving the sea but the opportunity has not yet arrived to make it happen. There is, after all, just one chance per month! Instead I have been exploring the many ruins around and finding it to be much more satisfying to me personally than the sea imagery. These ruins are almost the opposite of the sea and moon photo in terms of feel; the sea and moon are tranquil, transcending and evocative. What the ruins photos bring are feelings of mystery and abandonment and fantasy (fantasy being the dying dystopian feelings).
There is something about the ruined architecture that really evokes a sense of time. There has not been one occasion where I am shooting in a ruin and not wondering how long it has been there and what it was like when it was loved and occupied.
The ruins also depart from the sea in terms of the graphic nature of the buildings when revealed under moonlight; shadows are their blackest and the angles create large shapes to work with and examine.
WHAT TO BRING
All you need is a good sturdy tripod and some kit to help you in the low light.
I would recommend you at least bring the following:
a torch for walking and focusing the image
gloves and scarf and hat (all optional)
an intervalometer (remote timer)
the Photopills app (not needed on location, usually, but essential for prepping the shoot)
water and snacks
Also, a good pair of ankle supporting boots is nice to have. There can be many stumbles in the dark.
Moonlight is actually quite bright if you give your eyes time to adjust to it. This takes me around 20 minutes for my eyes to become catlike!
TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING IN MOONLIGHT
There is not a lot of technical skill needed to create these types of images. The exposures can be long or short depending on the ISO being used.
My advice is to prioritise aperture to whatever you are shooting (landscape, detail, etc) and let the shutter speed adjust the exposure. And you most likely will want results with a low ISO for greater detail. You will be amazed by what a camera can pick up in moonlight: colours and textures that you cannot see will be resolved easily by the camera.
Also, make sure you know how to setup your camera and timer to do exposures over 30 seconds. I find a lot of people do not know how to do this so be sure to learn this before you get on location.
Your exposure should always be on the dark side as you don’t want to sacrifice ambience for detail. It is, after all, about a mood you are trying to capture. So an EV of -1 to -1.5 is perfect for most situations.
The most difficult thing you will discover is focusing. Rarely do I put the focus on the moon. I will more likely focus on the foreground or ⅓ into the image using an aperture of f/11-16 for great depth of field. If you are going to focus on the foreground then the torch can be really helpful in illuminating it for easier focusing.
That’s it really. I find I prefer longer exposures if there are clouds. Creating wispy clouds in moonlight is surreal!
This Friday is another full moon. I will use my Photopills app to find the elevation of the moon and be sure to start shooting then. I like an elevation between 40 to 60 degrees. This makes for great shadowed angles and interesting shapes.
It is a great idea to do beforehand. It makes it much easier when you scout with full light. You can compose your shots and get used to the terrain in advance. Also, familiarity with a location makes it more comfortable when it is dark.
This is my location for this coming Friday. I found this place last month on my Spain workshop. It will have a completely spooky feel as my intention is to photograph the interiors of the ruins.
It is also critical that you check the weather. If there is heavy cloud cover your moonlight shots will not work. But again, 50 percent cloud coverage I find amazing. With a partly cloudy sky and the moon obscured you can make longer exposures and get the nice wispy clouds, then when the moon is revealed again (assuming the clouds are moving) you can go back to capturing the light in all its glory.
I hope you found this post helpful and it is motivating you to go out and experience what it is like to be under a full moon prepared to create amazing photos.
If you have any comments or want to know something particular about shooting in moonlight just reply to this post and I will answer your questions.
I have had an intense feeling of nostalgia the past few weeks. Maybe it is because my son has left home for school or maybe it is the change in the seasons. It is very hard to tell with these types of emotions.
It got me thinking about film and how much the craft of photography has changed so much.
It started thinking about my film cameras I still have but never use anymore, so I decided to share with you my last real film project, Arboreal Dreams. This was very successful for me, and I sold editions of almost every print (except the one below, Fairyroots).
Strangely enough this is still my favourite from the project even though I felt it was rejected out of hand the last time it was on the walls.
Maybe I am feeling more sentimental than nostalgic.
I’ve included some words about the project and my film technique below, and you can also see the full gallery on my website. I would love to hear your thoughts on this project. As always, hit reply to be in touch.
Thank you for support,
This is the statement that explained the project when people arrived at the gallery
As a young child growing up in Maine the forest was my back garden. I would leave my house early in the morning and wander the forest all day. For me the natural world is a second life, a fantasy land of purity and calm that I escape to when the violence of our concrete city gets too much for me.
In Arboreal Dreams I want to convey the powerful feelings that I get when I wander through a forest, as well as drawing in that fantasy element into my work. The images are developed through a dual film process which I have evolved in order to get a sense of ‘hyper reality’.
I feel an attachment to the artistic tradition of reverence for natural beauty and reverence for the technical skill of the artist. The rejection of beauty and skill in much of modern photography makes me return with stronger conviction to my beliefs.
..and this I felt I needed also so people would not think the images were made digitally. It was about that time just as digital art became wide spread.
A note about my photographic technique:
The images in Arboreal Dreams were shot on medium format film(Hasselblad) and hand processed through a technique called Colour Acceleration. It is process I have been experimenting with for fifteen years. Colour Acceleration is a “dual film” process not a “cross process”, as most altered film is. In the first phase the film is processed in black and white chemistry, fixated, then bleached and re-exposed to light. The result is a negative that has been “solarized”, which I control in the bleach step.
The images in Arboreal Dreams are printed on Fuji Supergloss polyester based photographic paper. It’s qualities are deep saturation, and high contrast with an archival life of five hundred years.
The image colours are natural and are inherent qualities of its negative and are not manipulated digitally or enhanced.
“Walking brings me back to myself.” Laurette Mortimer
How are you today? I hope this is finding you and yours safe and well.
You know what – I hate walking.
I admit it!
I am not someone who will ever say, hey let’s go for a walk!
Unlike my wife and son, who love walks, and will walk for hours and hours – with no purpose or destination in mind!
That seems so unappealing to me.
If I have a purpose, a destination or a reason to be walking – other than just walking – I love it.
And guess what my favourite purpose is?
Yes! Taking photos. You got it.
Walking with my camera and exploring is my very very very favourite thing to do.
The whole process of walking for a few hours or more at a time becomes almost a meditative practice with my photography that is simply essential to how I love to shoot.
Walking and getting lost – are usually the best combo for me.
And I imagine you might feel the same.
Today I’d like to share some of the reasons why walking is the secret to great photography.
Set your intention
“Most of the time walking is merely practical, the unconsidered locomotive means between two sites. To make walking into an investigation, a ritual, a meditation, is a special subset of walking, physiologically like and philosophically unlike the way the mail carrier brings the mail and the office worker reaches the train. Which is to say that the subject of walking is, in some sense, about how we invest universal acts with particular meanings.” Rebecca Solnit
For me walking and shooting requires me to set an intention to be open to everything on my walk and to approach this experience not as a journey to getting anywhere – but to simply be on a journey of curiosity and seeing.
Clear your mind and go without expectations
This can actually be pretty challenging – removing yourself from expectation. The reason you should do this is because it makes you ready to receive more photographic opportunities. It opens you up to see more.
The reason it’s tough is because our lives are dominated by expectations. We expect our walks to end at a certain destination, we expect our spouse to stack the dishes in the sink a certain way, we expect our kids to be less noisy.
When we are out walking with our camera we want to stop expecting to see certain things because it limits our capacity for observation.
To give you a basic example – when you’re walking around Paris, you don’t want to keep looking for the Eiffel Tower all the time, because you’ll miss so many other things by spending our attention looking and expecting to see the Eiffel Tower.
We only have so much attention to give at each moment.
Brings deeper meaning to simple pleasures
“Nature’s particular gift to the walker… is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe — certainly creative and suprasensitive.” Kenneth Grahame
Walking is something that almost all of us have access to, even if we’re limited to how far we can go. It’s not about going to exotic new locations, or buying more kit.
It’s just about being outside, probably being alone – and becoming ‘suprasenstive’ to what’s around us.
Travel light – one body, one lens
I travel with my full kit because I am well practised with it, I can change things without being pulled out of the creative experience. So until you feel like this – try walks with just one body, one lens.
The lens you feel most comfortable with, and then you are not wrestling with kit, but being awake and curious to the world around you – and shooting with as much ease as possible.
Look behind you – regularly
Light directionality changes the world around you, so don’t always be looking ahead – see how the light is changing where you have come from. Plus your perspective changes the light.
Nurture your curiosity when your walking
“With the utmost love and attention the man who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf, or no more than a poor discarded scrap of paper on which, perhaps, a dear good child at school has written his first clumsy letters.” Robert Walser, from his short story “The Walk
What’s in that old building, what’s behind that fence, what’s down that path, what is that person doing? Going slow and being insanely curious about anything that piques your interest – this is guaranteed to lead you to some interesting things.
Don’t have a set path & use your senses to guide you
I try as much as possible not to set out on a route, or have a destination in mind. I often like to guide myself through sounds and smells around me. To use senses other than my eyes to give me a different perspective, and help me find different things.
Get out of your rut: walking gets creativity and inspiration flowing
“I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.” Rebecca Solnit
I find it easy to get locked into working on my computer, being at home and thinking about my photography. I know I am in a bit of a rut when I start working on my images for the 4th or 5th time.
This is a sign to me that I need to get myself out the house and just walk somewhere and shoot.
The process of walking almost always sets off ideas and thoughts that I wouldn’t get sitting at home. Even if I walk somewhere and then think – this is not what I want to shoot!
And I love the quote above about how slow we actually think – so giving ourselves a task that fits in with our mental processes is going to make ideas and creative inspiration easier to flow in right?
Don’t be afraid to go to the same place over and over
I made a whole project where I shot the sea from the very same spot, same framing, over several months. The whole point of this project was about capturing the changing colours and textures of the sea and light. It’s one of my favourite recent pieces of work.
By the way if you are interested in doing a photo project – I have a new class coming up in a few weeks all about that. I will help you develop an idea and help you complete it. It’s super cool, details here and I’ve made this an excellent price for this 6-class online workshop of £397. Limited spots.
Life changes all of the time. Be prepared to pay attention and notice. See what’s new and different when you go to the same location over and over. Challenge yourself to see in your ‘old haunts’ what you haven’t seen before.
“London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.” Peter Ackroyd, London
I spent almost twenty years shooting London, in particular at the dawn hours for my two books about the city. This city is for me one of the most inspiring and interesting to photograph, even (maybe especially!) because of the challenges of steely grey skies, abundant drizzly weather and the short daylight hours through the winter. Seeking out good light in London is an adventure in itself, you appreciate it so much when it comes.
The biggest challenge most photographers face when shooting London is creating interesting and unusual shots of the landscape and buildings. Most photographers who are famous for shooting London are known for their street life work. This city is hard to get a handle on.
But what’s special about London is the the landscape and the buildings. They are not just a backdrop for portraits. They can be the subject. And what will help you capture this aspect of the city is being up at dawn – shooting these incredible buildings and cityscapes when no-one one is around. You’ll catch a purer experience of the city.
Here is what I what I want to cover in this post:
Outline the basics of how to technically capture dawn
Give you ideas on some of my favourite places to shoot in the city (the city is way to big for me to tell you all in one post)
Tell you how I captured some of my favourite shots of London
What is fundamentally interesting about shooting London at dawn is that contrast of the urban environment, the overwhelming imprint of human beings on its streets and the ethereal, floating, piercing beauty of mother nature’s light at dawn.
Even the most busy tourist sites, where hundreds and thousands of people swarm to see the stunning views, are empty at dawn. And dawn is time away from distraction when you are connecting with your subject, alone.
Incidentally, Monet believed that most people are blind to their environment. They don’t notice what lies before them, so habitually are we locked into the habit of our minds. But he believed that the light of dawn and sunset actually coloured reality, making it easier for people to see the wonder of the world around them. And that was why he spent so much time painting in the twilight hours. So if Monet believed in the power of dawn, then so can you 🙂
Dawn can be wondrous at any time of the year, but spring, summer and early autumn are my favourites. The transience of the light makes dawn special. And you know that within an hour or two that it will be gone and the feeling of life returning to normal will have invaded the landscape.
“Just before dawn I have the world all to myself.” Terri Guillemets
Note – from here, I have chosen photos of details of London that are interesting to me. I haven’t got any more sweeping views because, quite frankly, they aren’t that difficult to take. Instead I want to look at how you can tell the story of a city by picking out details and smaller scenes.
And I love London’s abundant oddities, like the law that says it’s illegal to die in the Palace of Westminster. I mean how crazy is that?
So here are some ideas, tips and techniques on shooting this great city.
The sheer joy of it
I don’t know why being up when the sun rises is so powerful – but it is. It feels like you are at the beginning of something really special. It is a truly magical feeling seeing the rebirth of the day. As I wander through empty streets I feel I could be wandering through a forest, or a vast expanse of green, or even along the sea shore. There is that sense of freedom for myself – away from the distractions of people.
“Have you ever seen the dawn? Not a dawn groggy with lack of sleep or hectic with mindless obligations and you about to rush off on an early adventure or business, but full of deep silence and absolute clarity of perception? A dawning which you truly observe, degree by degree. It is the most amazing moment of birth. And more than anything it can spur you to action. Have a burning day.” Vera Nazarian
Now for the technical bit….
Every photo that I have taken for my dawn books, before sunrise, was exposed at -1.5 stops. As the sun rises this exposure gets closer to 0 as the light increases. Why, you may ask? Well, I will give you a quick lesson on the camera meter. The camera meter is an averaging system. It looks at all the tones in an image frame and averages it all to a middle grey. From now on and forever think of the 0 exposure as a bland middle grey.
For example, say you had a black wall that filled your frame. If you were to expose that wall at the meter’s 0 setting – like the image below – your black wall image would not be black but middle grey. Same for a white wall. If you made the exposure at the 0 setting your white wall image would come out middle grey. You would have two photos looking exactly the same. Your meter is telling you that the black wall is way too dark and the white wall is way too bright, so here is the proper exposure. Stupid thing doesn’t know anything. You have to know and interpret the information.
The correct exposure for the black wall is at -2 stops (darker) and for the white wall +2 stops (brighter). Dawn being darker than a middle grey needs to be underexposed to retain the deep shadows and rich colours that are inherent for that specific time. NOTE: This is something about auto-modes that people need to understand. If you are on an auto-mode (shutter or aperture priority, etc) your base exposure will ALWAYS be on the 0 exposure, unless you move it with exposure compensation.
I can go into much more detail about this in another post. Just remember, if your tones are predominantly dark your exposure will most likely need to be darker. Inversely, if your tones are mostly bright, or at least brighter than middle grey your exposure will need to be brighter. Counterintuitive, yes? Essential, absolutely!
For most shooting situations that 0 exposure is going to work fine. But not for dawn!
I think crowds and busyness make people act a bit un-human, and so when there are less people around, people are definitely friendlier (and often they’ve been up all night and still on that all-night high of happiness). There is a sense of camaraderie.
When you do happen upon people at dawn it’s much easier to really see them. What they are occupied with? Who they are? They can be very interested in what you are doing photographing at such a crazy hour. Often they want to be a part of it (I’ve had loads of people want to be in my photos over the years. I think that may be a great blog post!) Here are a few of the people I have seen:
What do you think this guy is feeling? I sense tiredness and resignation. Other people have seen humour, that his face is turned in the direction of the gorilla’s behind. I like that people see different things in this photo. And I love the little pops of colour of blue, yellow and red in the sea of grey and brown. There is a lot of muted colour (and grey!) in London. So looking out for strong colours is a great way to provide interest points and contrast.
When I first came to London my good friend Nick, who was a black cab driver, drove me around. One fantastic thing I discovered through him were various all-night places to buy tea, like the Blackheath Tea Hut below (someone even made a documentary about it) and Cabman’s shelters – cafes in little green huts dotted around the London streets for cabbies.
I love this photo of the tea hut, situated in the middle of a vast stretch of green, Blackheath, and edging the A2. An odd place for an all-night cafe, but it was always busy with workers, late-night partiers and other random night folk when I visited.
But apart from the memory, I love the colours. Even though the heath looked scrawny and dusty, I managed to position the red and green colours of the hut against the deep blue of the morning sky. I love simple bold colours and contrast! It doesn’t even matter that the people aren’t all in focus, which is sort of unusual for me. It’s the feeling you get when you look at the people that makes it.
When in doubt, wander
The photo below was the very first one that I took in London for my book. I was walking around at 5am, fresh off the boat from LA and I was freaking out. I didn’t know London at all. My only previous visit had been for two weeks over Christmas with Diana, which was mainly spent in pubs and at parties.
I had been commissioned to do a book about London and once I had actually arrived it seemed like the most daunting task in the world. How could I do this (unknown-to-me) city justice? What I have learnt over the years, though, is I always freak out at the beginning of a project – my wife says she can predict it down to the minute. The first step is to just get my ass out of bed and wander.
So I was walking around feeling excited about new discoveries and suddenly I turned a corner and saw this scene in front of me and I thought, wow. Yes that’s it, I can do this. This is so London to me. Pubs! History! A jumble of mismatched low buildings.
I then walked up to St Paul’s and took this one, below, which is almost the same view but in the opposite direction (always remember – don’t just take the photo of the iconic view or building, look behind you, go inside, look for a different angle).
I love this photo even though it doesn’t have great light; you can feel the grimness of the city, and in spite of the greyness of the scene the scene works. (Can I just repeat – I know this repetition is probably deafening – but can I encourage you to always, always, always consider the light before you take your photo. You don’t have to have great light, as this photo shows, but you do need to be completely in tune with the light and you want to try and respond to what the light is doing, and if necessary adjust accordingly).
This photo would not have worked without the little orange lights. So, again, when you have an abundance of grey or quite similar colours, look for some pops of colour or light that will allow the scene to be what it is but adds some depth or points of interest.
I love photographing at the Thames Barrier. It’s an otherworldly spot in the very far east of London. It’s a wonderful view way down the river and I think it’s the only place in London I’ve seen the sun rise just as it comes up on to the horizon.
Tip – I use the Photographer’s Ephemeris app to tell me where the sun will rise so I can get in position in time. The light changes very quickly and so I want to be exactly in the right spot.
The photo below is of the canal in Hackney. (You can walk for six miles along these canals.) Those houses are very London – all squashed together (or that’s how they seem to me; I’m from the land of ranch styles homes). It’s this closeness that struck me and the blandness of the light that said to me I’m no longer home! Very English. Very London.
The Square Mile as ‘the city’ is nicknamed is fantastic for the mix of old and new buildings – and represents that constant changing nature of the city. This is probably one of my favourite shots as it mixes shiny, reflective new buildings (love those to photograph) and an old house and church. And then a lush tree at the top.
This photo may not be my most well composed or technically amazing, but it does something that photos should do – which is to capture and communicate the essence of my subject. It tells a story about London, and that’s what I’m here for.
There is also many stories of the area on the blog Spitalfields Life, which also has a small publishing arm. I loved Bob Mizer’s book of photographs of London in the 70’s and 80’s. Very different look to the city then.
Along the Southbank there’s a lot of Brutalist architecture (which has become a bit of a fetish I think for some photographers. It looks to me like big slabs of concrete, one-colour Lego put together by a symmetry obsessed child. Here are some interesting buildings in the Brutalist style). Below is my image of the now demolished Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle.
Here you can see that I have some very muted colours to play with but then some rich sunlight appeared, and because beautiful light makes everything look interesting, you can see that it makes these subtle browns, yellows and greens look sumptuous.
This photo below personifies that urban/dawn contrast very well. We have beautiful light penetrating and illuminating the dense London graffiti (which is Leake Street by the way, a legal graffiti tunnel started by Banksy and a place I like to go pretty often. Mostly the graffiti is your standard words and tags, but sometimes some really cool pieces of art pop up.)
“London is a roost for every bird.” Benjamin Disraeli
Walking along the Southbank from Waterloo to Tower Bridge is a favourite, but usually I veer off into the side streets. Just one or two blocks south of the river you’ve got a hodgepodge of buildings and architecture that create all kinds of interesting opportunities for light to bounce, reflect and refract from.
Just north of the river is this hidden view of the Shard. I love this photo because it’s a view that very few people spot. I was walking along Upper Ground and caught this through a gap in the buildings. You would miss it if you were in a car and maybe even a bicycle. It’s a very small gap.
London will always keep you on your toes. Its views aren’t organised in the way that those in Paris are; nothing feels ordered about London. It’s almost like a treasure hunt where you are walking miles and miles to spot things in little gaps, down side streets or on top of buildings.
Battersea Power station is a great structure; shame it’s surrounded by some pretty boring landscape. The photo below uses natural framing. It’s a fairly simple technique where you use an internal frame within the photo – either something natural or manmade – which works nicely when you have a strong subject that you want to draw the eye to. It also creates a pleasing layer and additional element. Make sure what you choose as your natural frame is distinct and doesn’t blend in with the subject or background.
A touch of the west and the north
If I’m honest, south and east London are my favourite places to shoot. There is tonnes of history in both areas, and many more contrasting buildings than in the west. Although West London suffers from ‘same-ness’ (sorry), I do live there because it’s a fabulous place to bring up kids, very green and the river is awesome.
The photo above is of Richmond. If you head directly up Richmond Hill from here there is such an awesome view stretching across the river and out to the west, one that Turner painted. Then you can head into Richmond Park, a great little stretch of wildness (well, manicured in my opinion, but wild for a city.)
Other good green spots
My preference is for shooting places like Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park in winter or autumn when the leaves are not so thick and allow for a bit more depth to the photo.
Can you see in this photo the leading line that is taking the viewer on a journey through the photo? I love leading lines, they are one of the few compositional techniques that I still avidly use.
Now, photographing dawn is a challenge
It’s a big challenge to get up before dawn, I ain’t gonna lie! Sometimes I am awake at 3 or 4am to start out. And it can be cold – even on a hot day. And it’s dark, and hard to get around. There are so many things that make it inconvenient when you sit down and analyse it. But didn’t Nietzsche say that the hardest things in life are often the most satisfying?
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. ~Rumi
But…it is exhilarating. And not many people do it. So go for it!
So that’s it for me. I would love to know how you would photograph London. Please comment on my blog below -I love hearing from you.
Have an amazing week. I’m heading off to the Redwoods now!
Today I’m sharing some interesting ideas that I think will help you leap into a good photo practice if you are stuck in a rut or struggling to get inspired.
1. Photography should always bring you joy
A few days ago, we were having lunch with some friends and one of them mentioned how his photography education had been quite a joyless experience. There was such a focus on what wasn’t working with the students’ work, and what needed to work better, that it sucked all the enjoyment out of taking photos.
I can see that too in some of the emails we get – people worried about their lack of skill or experience, worried they haven’t got far enough or berating themselves for not using their camera more.
To all of this I want to say – Stop. Just stop.
Photography – and the act of creating anything – should not a be negative or endlessly difficult experience. No way. If we are weaving this beautiful practice into our lives, don’t we want it to be fun?
Of course, there is challenge and difficulty in any creative practice, and there are hurdles to overcome. There are the forces of boredom, the procrastination to deal with. Naturally, there is the need to put in effort and learn things you find difficult.
But ultimately, it should bring something wonderful into your life.
2. Find your good photos – and hang them on your wall
When you want to get good at something, it’s important to build positive momentum. Which means you have to recognise your progress and all the good photos you are taking – not just those which need to be improved.
Photos should be living, breathing things – adorning your house, given as gifts, made into books, posters, prints – whatever you desire for them. Don’t let the images that you work so hard to take languish on your memory cards or hard drives.
We love the joy and fun of Self Publish, Be Happy – the photo organisation dedicated to you taking control of your work and putting it out there.
Why not enter your best photos into the Sony World Photo Awards. It’s one of the few comps you can enter free – so risk-free. Just go!
3. Look for people whose ideas and work fascinate you
I was reading about Tina Modotti recently, admiring her famous photo of a worker’s hands.I love to explore the lives of artists who are lesser known or whose work has fallen out of fashion.
In reading about her, I then came to Edward Weston, from whom Modotti learnt much of her craft. Modotti was actually only one of two female photographers who were very significant in Weston’s life.
Edward Weston is considered one of the masters of twentieth century photography. He made his still lives of cabbage leaves, peppers and shells incredibly emotive and sensual.
Margrethe Mather, was once the most famous female photographer in America but appears to have been almost forgotten. She played an important role in Weston’s life, teaching him and developing his interest in photographing still lives of shells, flowers and everyday objects.
After Mather, Modotti came into Weston’s life, and he taught her much of the craft of photography. They moved to Mexico together in the 1920’s and she became increasingly interested in documenting the social and political world of Mexico City.
Her short career (she died aged 45) was prolific. In her work she was innovative, and she mixed her fine art sensibilities with her strong social conscience. Tina Modotti Photos
Ideas & resources:
I loved this incredible collection of images Of Love & War from photojournalist Lynsey Addario, where the stories of unbearable human tragedy are weaved interchangeably through images of resilience of the human spirit.
I am rarely a fan of contemporary street photography. The abundance of comedic images often feel empty. To me, photos need to give me something more substantive – a little idea about being human, a glimpse of a story, a feeling. But I do love cities, and I love to explore them. So to expand my awareness of the possibilities of this genre, I have ordered the updated edition of Bystander – A History of Street Photography by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz, a collection of some of the most interesting street photography going back to the 19th century.
4. Commit to your progress
I remember when Anthony bought his first digital camera and started to practise using it alongside his film cameras. I was shocked by the results – they were dreadful.
Possibly it was the new world of digital cameras as they weren’t as good as now – but it was also that it was a whole new system for him to learn. I admired that he jumped in head first and spent hours and hours learning and perfecting.
Even now I often find him watching YouTube videos or reading articles about different techniques. I remember when he started really getting into HDR he’d be reading and practising, unswayed by his initial mediocre results.
While it’s obviously necessary to keep up with technology as a professional photographer, one thing that I have learnt from Anthony that I try to remember in my own work is to not get impatient with the learning journey.
Anthony starts learning something and keeps going. He starts out with no skill, keeps practising over time, is never in a great rush, and eventually gets to the proficiency he seeks.
He accomplished exactly this when learning about editing for our new video course, and he did it with time lapses and little videos that he wanted to make of his travels.
He is patient with himself – and this is what I’d like to share with you. So many people get frustrated with their progress, expecting to make massive leaps immediately. I do. Always. I am impatient, I am in a rush.
But learning is an every day, every year, lifetime experience.
Take pleasure in the learning journey. Recognise that you will get to where you want to go. Consistent incremental progress will get you everywhere.
“Leisure, is not the same as the absence of activity… or even as an inner quiet. It is rather like the stillness in the conversation of lovers, which is fed by their oneness.” Josef Pieper
If I were to have a goal right now, it would be to bring more space and silence into my life. Because I know when I am not working or distracted or doing, then I will naturally turn to the act of creating.
You have to create the environment around you that will help you do the things you love to do.
For me, it’s – turn off my phone, log off my laptop and be alone. That’s all I need.
For Anthony, it’s often having enough energy and time to get up before dawn and go out. So exercising, and early nights.
It is different for everyone – the point is to know about what environment you need to create to take photos, and to make sure you have that in your life on a regular basis.
Everything that is within us comes out in our photography, or writing, or creative practice.
When we are in deep creative flow, we are untethered from what others think of us: lying on the ground taking that shot, or asking that stranger for a portrait, or spending months photographing beautiful feathers because they are just so interesting to us.
But when we are showing people our images, all that is unique about ourselves can suddenly feel vulnerable. And let’s be honest, for all the yes, that’s great, we are so much more sensitive to criticism.
I have developed more of a thick skin over the years, but what made me filter criticism more vigorously was when Brene Brown said she won’t listen to criticism from people who aren’t putting themselves out there and doing something themselves.
It’s easy to just sit there and critique. But to say – this is who I am and this is what I’ve made is actually pretty brave. Even if it’s just putting your photos on social media or getting them printed to show to friends, it’s a brave act to reveal your work.
If you want to truly be creative, you have to unhook yourself from the judgements of others – and commit to that.
Ideas & resources:
A recent favourite photo project of Anthony’s was The Last Testament by Jonas Bendiksen. Anthony saw the exhibition during our Arles workshop in the summer, and brought home the book. It’s an in-depth exploration into the lives of men who think they are the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
The photography is stunning, but made much more poignant accompanied by the men’s stories and teachings. Bendiksen’s approach is very respectful – as this could have turned into a giant comedy project. Instead, he gained the trust of his subjects and brought their lives and worlds vividly to life.
7. Drop the self criticism
Strangely, though, it’s often not what others think that is so destructive to our creativity. It is our own personal inner voice that scuppers our work.
“Were we to meet this figure socially, as it were, this accusatory character, this internal critic, we would think there was something wrong with him. He would just be boring and cruel. We might think that something terrible had happened to him. That he was living in the aftermath, in the fallout of some catastrophe. And we would be right.”
“Nothing makes us more critical, more confounded — more suspicious, or appalled, or even mildly amused — than the suggestion that we should drop all this relentless criticism; that we should be less impressed by it. Or at least that self-criticism should cease to have the hold over us that it does.”
How about doing something radical in 2019 and just completely and totally dropping the self-criticism? Instead of beration – think celebration. Instead of worrying about where you need to go, celebrate where you are at.
Print the photos. Enjoy your photography. Let it take you places you had no idea you wanted to go.
8. The power of surrendering to the world
Let’s be honest, so much of our lives are lived on the surface. It’s looking at things in the same way, doing the same things – not questioning the status quo. Our own personal status quo, our families or our cultures, how we work and what we do with our free time.
Travelling has given me a new perspective on habit and routine. I see now, truly see, that the maxim ‘wherever you go, there you are’ is 100% true.
So travel won’t take you out of habits, out of your routines of thinking and doing, and help you experience the world anew unless you allow it to.
If your thoughts are – things should be like this and like that, which I most certainly suffer from, you will have a similar experience whether you travel or stay at home.
You have to surrender that certainty and those thoughts about who you are and how things should be.
Nothing is certain, nothing is 100%. You have to allow travel and new experiences to change you. You have to unhook your habit and see what emerges.
Surrender to the new experience – allowing all of the new sensations to be alive in your body, even if this involves fear. Especially if it involves fear.
Trying to hold on to habits or preformed ideas you have about yourself and the world because you feel fear will block the potential for so many new enlivening experiences that could be dancing around in your life.
As Anthony and I are in mid-life, we are attempting to buck the trend – to consciously go in the opposite direction to where we are expected to be, in order to open up more possibilities.
It takes a lot of effort and overcoming of fears to become more of who we can be. But it’s an exhilarating experience of what life can become – and when you do it can elevate your creativity beyond your wildest imagination.
9. Find ways to be amazingly inspired on a regular basis
There is a sensation that I feel when I know I am deep in a creative flow state. I realise that somehow my worries or things I have been going over and over in my mind – although still there – seem to have shrunk.
I also notice that there is a beautiful, light feeling within me.
This is not an everyday state for me – yet. But it is a state that I’m trying to bring more into my life. One way I do this is meditating regularly which helps to ‘declutter’ my busy mind from excessive thoughts – and that’s the best way I can describe the benefits.
Meditating gives me space to be more thoughtful and creative, rather than obsessing over how we are getting to the airport tomorrow or wondering if Anthony called the accountant like I asked him to.
Another way is to fill my life with things that are deeply inspiring.
When I was in London I would take regular trips to the woods near us on the outer edges of West London. It’s scientifically proven that seeing trees every day (I think seeing at least 14 trees is the magic number) improves your mental health.
I can attest that whenever I found life too stressful, spending time in the woods would alleviate so much anxiety.
It’s what the Japanese call forest bathing – or Shinrin-yoku.
(And did you know that trees have feelings, families and communities that they communicate with? The Hidden Life of Trees is a fascinating book proposing this new understanding of tree life.)
Anthony and I have found being by the sea intensely inspiring this year.
The vast expanse of it is so hypnotic. Some days it’s beautifully calm and still, translucent so you can see the sea floor. And then it’s wild and angry. Deep green with big waves, telling us all to keep away.
As Lord Byron said “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
Incidentally, trees and the sea are both subjects Anthony has done photo projects on. A decade ago it was his project on trees, Arboreal Dreams, and this year his ongoing work on the sea where we live, which has the working title of Meditations.
10. Give up what binds your creativity
I am addicted to Facebook. There I said it. I admitted it to the world. Why do I need to say this out loud? Because it angers me that it almost seems like an unconscious act that, having put my daughter to bed, I fire up Facebook and suddenly realise an hour has disappeared from my life.
If I came off Facebook full of joy and ideas and inspiration then, hey, it’d be an hour well spent. But really, no-one expects to say that it makes me happy, right?
I don’t want to get into should’s though. I should be doing something else, I should be being productive, I should be better in every way. That to me just leads to the above point of intense self-criticism.
I would, however, like to give myself the time to potentially pick up my pen, to commit to what I love to do, to make progress on another book I have been writing for over a year now. That would be awesome.
So I am going to become Facebook-free.
I am going to remove just one thing from my life as the new year gets under way, and that’s the thing that binds me the most, and keeps me away from creating.
We all have things that impinge on taking photos or being creative. What is yours?
I hope you have enjoyed those ideas and they ignite something within you that will help your photography. Let us know in the comments below.
Read more of our articles …
One of my favourite articles was about Ara Guler. He was a phenomenal photographer – as you can see in the documentary about him – The Eye of Istanbul. I also deeply, deeply love Istanbul. It might be my favourite city in the world. Or how about these:
One thing I haven’t written about before is abstract photography. And you may have seen it is a genre of photography I really enjoy – but it isn’t something I think about as separate from my other images.
In fact I don’t consider myself a genre-specific photographer. For me, sticking to specific genres is so limiting. I like to go out, explore the world and see what attracts my eye.
So although I am going to share some ideas about abstract photography – it’s not definitive or exclusive.
These ideas and photos are aimed at inspiring you and sparking ideas for your photography.
“Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colors, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.” Wassily Kandinsky
And I feel the same is true of abstract photography. It seems easy and simple – but in fact requires real attention, a ‘heightened sensitivity’ to both composition and to the world around you.
So what is abstract photography?
There are many definitions, but what it means to me is that you are removing the context of the subject so that you don’t know what you are looking at.
You are creating a photo that is all about colour, light, shape, form or texture.
And you are re-forming the world to make your own subjects, things that are not what they appear to be in real life.
It’s a really fun medium to play with, because I think so much of photography can be about recreating reality. This genre is about breaking rules and escaping reality.
My definition of an abstract image is when someone looks at it and they say: what is that?
1. Abstraction is pure imagination
I talk about imagination a lot in my courses, because imagination is so important to my photography.
It’s all about looking around the world and letting my imagination run completely free.
Asking questions and dreaming up scenarios….
That reminds me of…
That makes me think of…
I wonder what that would look like if…
“To deal with the chaos of life, I escape into the prism of glass, dancing to the visual music in my mind. My photographs express my interior movement from darkness into light and back.” Polly Norman
This to me is like some old broken, 70’s colour TV.
I love to capture textures, and they make a great focus for abstract shots.
Textures are a really easy way to create a feeling in a photo, to translate how something feels when you touch it.
Textures are a way of thinking not just what your subjects look like, but what are the textures that make up the world.
The fronds of long grass.
The sleek shine of marble..
The unctuous feeling of bread dough.
The tense feeling of the grit in a pavement.
How can you play with textures in your photography?
Photography for me is what you take out, not just what you include. Because often people include too much, or don’t consider every element of their frame, leaving bits and random pieces in their shot that distract the viewer’s eye.
Abstracts are a great way to focus so completely on your subject, you can be ruthless in reducing what you include in the frame.
You can also play with colour?
4. Abstracts caninvoke a feeling of mystery
“Abstraction generally involves implication, suggestion and mystery, rather than obvious description.” Robert Genn
This photo is not maybe what you would think of as abstraction – but to me it looks like a lost head on a moon crater:
It’s a little mysterious right?
Looking at the world beyond the obvious, finding the mysterious all around you – using suggestions and questions…these are all good things to consider.
5. Breaking the world down into elements
For me abstraction is all about having FUN. Making images that are strange or weird or mysterious.
It’s about breaking the world down into elements, but more than that, into its purest forms, making what we see in the world completely about shape, colour, light and form.
It’s not recording a subject but almost inventing your own subjects.
What are the elements that make up our world? What do things look like when disconnected from their whole?
6. It’s not easy photography
In fact it’s harder to make abstract photos interesting because there is less going on.
“Abstraction forces you to reach the highest level of the basics.” Alan Soffer
It’s celebrating the simplicity of elements, forcing your brain to disassociate from the known and making the simplest of lines and shapes interesting.
7. Bringing the essence of our subject out
“To abstract is to draw out the essence of a matter. To abstract in art is to separate certain fundamentals from irrelevant material which surrounds them.” Ben Shahn
Using shape and form, colour and light, to create something completely new.
To try and capture the feeling of different elements around you – and bring their inherent qualities to the forefront of your images.
8. Refreshment for the eye, and the imagination!
Abstract images are creating something stripped down and giving the eye and the mind something completely different to look at.
“I understand abstract art as an attempt to feed imagination with a world built through the basic sensations of the eyes.” Jean Helion
And I love that! Feeding the imagination, and generating different sensations for the eye to behold.
Finding unusual angles for things is a great way to shoot everyday things so they appear untethered from what you usually see.
10. Celebrating the pure emotional impact of form or colour or light
“Abstract art has helped us to experience the emotional power inherent in pure form.” Anton Ehrenzweig
I love anything that is about creating simple images that evoke feeling through colour and shape:
And, of course, because for me everything is about light – playing with light to make your elements more interesting, more imaginative, more exciting to look at. Or even just capturing light by itself.
I want to have a lot of fun with my photography.
To play, to be absorbed in it and to have it really enhance my life.
I hope these ideas have helped spark some ideas about what you can do with your photos this week. Regardless of whether you are inside or able to explore outside.
I’d love to know what you thought – comment below.
Stay safe, Stay creative,
6 lessons Henri Cartier-Bresson can teach you about photography
I love looking in detail at another photographer’s work, because to immerse yourself in the space of someone else’s creativity and seeing what their ideas spark in you, what excites you, what makes you sit up and think – wow, that’s really cool – that’s all great fuel for your own photography.
My subject today is Henri Cartier-Bresson. Born in 1908 he was initially drawn to painting before discovering photography at the age of 24 (and the Leica camera!). After a spectacular career he started to move away from photography at the age of 60 and spent the rest of his long life focused more on drawing and painting.
Although I can’t ever imagine giving up on photography I really admire it when people take big leaps in their creativity like this. I mean he was a world famous photographer, he could have coasted on that for the next thirty years, but instead he was drawn back to his first love.
I aim to be that fearless with my decisions in life. To just go for what moves me, and not what makes most practical sense.
What I love about Cartier-Bresson’s photography is his steadied and almost scientific approach to composition – he had a great feel for shape and form and putting that together into compelling compositions.
In this article I am using my own photos that I think draw from is style and influence.
He is very much known for his street photography which, as a genre, I often find comes across in a cold, slightly sterile feeling. But I think Cartier-Bresson’s photographs, and his street photography, have a real warmth combined with a concern for humanity.
So here are some things Henri Cartier-Bresson can teach you about photography.
You know what all good photographers have? Patience. You know what almost every person who comes on my workshops needs more of? Patience.
You have to accept that if you want to be a great photographer (or even almost-great. Or anywhere above average) you need the ability to not rush the moment.
You need to enter into the moment that you are in, be totally present and to let it just run as it sees fit. To observe the world around you with no expectation, to drift through the place you are in, and to completely resist the temptation to keep moving on.
“One minute of patience, ten years of peace.” Greek proverb
If there is one thing I would like you to take away from this post that will make your photography instantly better, it is to take twice the amount of time looking than you usually do.
To fight your mind and your body in the urge to keep moving on.
When you find a scene that interests you, stay put.
Explore it, probe it, wait for things to happen. And in general, walk twice as slowly, stay out taking photos for twice as long.
But as Joyce Meyer says – “Patience is not just about waiting for something… it’s about how you wait, or your attitude while waiting.”
Be patient in your patience 🙂
2) Find the perfect expression of your subject
Cartier-Bresson is most famous for coming up with the term the decisive moment. The term actually came from the English title of his book. The book opens with the quote from Cardinal de Retz, who wrote in the 17th century:
“There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment.”
“The decisive moment refers to capturing an event that is ephemeral and spontaneous, where the image represents the essence of the event itself.”
When they talk about the decisive moment it could come across as being that you wait for that perfect moment, then you take a photo, then you move on.
But actually Cartier-Bresson worked the scene like most of the rest of us, taking lots of photos. And from this he would pick a photo that most accurately captured the essence of the situation – that gave the viewer the most information and feeling about the subject.
3) Use your intuition
“Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.” Cartier-Bresson
This to me again speaks of shutting off your chatty, worky, to-do mind and trying to just enter into the moment. There is a lot that we intuit that we probably don’t acknowledge, so occupied are we at listening to our endless thoughts.
I feel like it’s like you need to get out of your mind and into your body – and see what it is noticing about where you are at, ignoring that busy mind of yours.
“Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. It’s drowning yourself, dissolving yourself, and then sniff, sniff, sniff – being sensitive to coincidence. You can’t go looking for it; you can’t want it, or you won’t get it. First you must lose yourself. Then it happens.” Cartier-Bresson
I like that, you must lose yourself. It’s exactly what I feel when I am in the ‘zone’ or the ‘creative flow state’. I am losing track of space and time, and just completely immersed in my subject. It doesn’t happen every time I shoot, but I know that when it happens I am getting something very special.
4) The beauty of shape and form
Cartier-Bresson was very into lines, shapes, organising and balancing the geometry of the world.
“In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry– it is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself.” Cartier-Bresson
5) Take the time to reveal your subject
“The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.” Cartier-Bresson
This for me perfectly captures what you need to be doing when taking someone’s photo. And this isn’t easy! Taking a portrait for me is about your subject revealing something about themselves or their experience.
It could be through their movement, the expression within their eyes or face – but it has to tell you something about the person or the situation they are in.
Almost everyone (with the exception of young children) have a veneer that they present to the world, and this veneer will harden when you put a camera up in front of them.
People are programmed to want to project a certain image – but that image is boring to photograph most of the time.
So what this comes down to again is time. Spending time with your subject or watching your subject so that they start to relax and reveal something about themselves.
You want them to go from feeling consciously looked at, to feeling unconsciously looked at. Because that veneer is hard to maintain, and people will forget about a camera after a while.
So, in order to get to that point where people are losing their guard and starting to reveal something interesting about themselves you need to push through the discomfort you are likely to experience whilst waiting.
It’s weirdly self conscious pointing a camera at someone you aren’t acquainted with for long periods of time. So again, be patient with yourself and move through the discomfort.
It could be that you are just clicking away, having the subject get used to you. Gradually they will.
Or talk to them – or watch them if you are shooting them unawares. Wait for those fluttering changes in their face, their eyes. See what they do with their hands, where their eyes turn when their preoccupations come back to occupy their minds.
But then sometimes it’s more interesting to see not what I think of people, or my view – but what they think of themselves and of the world.
6) Don’t be nostalgic about your photos
“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.” Cartier-Bresson
I think a lot of us photographers worry that we aren’t ever going to take a truly original photo. When I visit to new cities I certainly worry about that. I mean there are photographers everywhere! (This writer worked out that “Every two minutes, humans take more photos than ever existed in total 150 years ago.”)
I think there is a little bit of nostalgia in wanting to take photos. Life is such a flowing, never stopping act, that to take a photo and halt that process of always changing, always moving on, is to gain a small window of time to stop and reflect. To have an opportunity to stop and breathe.
Photography is a weird dichotomy of being completely present and living in a very rich connected way, and this constant reflecting back on the past. On past moments that you have captured.
But Cartier-Bresson was someone who constantly pushed forward and gave very little thought to his earlier photos.
“The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box.”
I hope you are inspired to explore his work more. A good place to start is the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, set up with his wife Martine Franck (a great photographer in her own right), and his daughter. And as he was one of the co-founders of Magnum.
And, as always, we love hearing what you think, so if you’ve got some thoughts on Cartier-Bresson please comment below. And please share with anyone who you think would enjoy this post, it means a lot, thanks!
How are you today? I hope things are good and you are doing some interesting things with your photography at the moment.
As usual I am always thinking of ways to teach and inspire you, and I am really excited about today’s article because it is jam-packed with some really useful ideas + teaching.
I decided I would love to take you ‘behind the scenes’ on a shoot I’ve been planning for some time, using a new piece of kit that I am super thrilled about (ND filters!).
I want to give you all of the tools and techniques I will be using to capture an incredible shot that although it is a little vague and foggy in my mind, feels like it will be one of my best shots of the year.
I want to share my whole process so you can get ideas of your own and start shooting with more intention and with more ideas about planning.
I want to take you through my process:
The idea Kit and tools Scouting & Planning the shot Test Shot Final shot
Because this is a lot of info, and I have good resources to share, I am going to split this into a couple of newsletters.
So let’s get started!
Where do ideas come from? Who knows! It feels sometimes like a really weird and mystical experience. And sometimes it feels very clear and logical.
But what I know is that it starts with curiosity. Something that I seek peaks my curiosity and my imagination starts to create images and ideas in my mind.
Here’s how I got the idea for this upcoming shot.
A few weeks ago some friends and I were taking a boat trip along the coast, heading towards a very beautiful waterfall where we wanted to stop and snorkel.
The snorkelling was wicked by the way, I got to play with an octopus! My free diving training came in handy as to access the very best snorkeling spot we had to swim underwater, under a 12 foot overhang. So awesome…!
So here I am having a great time, and I spotted this as we were speeding along:
It’s called Torre de la Miel as I found out later…
Now, it may not seem like much but I’ll tell you what attracted me. Can you see the old ruin on the hill? This coast is dotted with old watchtowers and ruins like this, and the shape of this one looked very cool.
But what I also really liked the look of were the big rocks just off shore. That looked super interesting, the shapes of them as they jutted out of the bluey-green water – and I wondered what it would be like to capture both the rocks and the ruin. My imagination was lit up!
I snapped the shot on my phone to capture the GPS data coordinates from it, and decided that was my next spot for a shot.
I later used the GPS info to locate the tower and find access roads on Google maps.
Kit and Tools
When I saw this location I started to think about creating a beautiful long exposure. For a while now I have wanted to buy some heavy ND filters for my camera. Like 16 stops of ND. It felt like the perfect excuse to buy the ND filters I’ve been dreaming about, and then use it straight away to capture something breathtaking (no pressure right?!)
Now you may be asking – what are the filters for and how will they help me?
These filters will allow me to go out in full sunlight and get up to minus 16 stops of exposure.
So in full sunlight I can have an exposure of around 5 minutes. Nuts!
When they arrived, I shot a quick video to share with you some more info about why they are such a cool piece of kit and what you can do with them.
Scouting & Planning the shot
Now my next step is to scout the area so I can think about what kind of shot I want and how I want to shoot it.
Photopills are my key planning tools when I want to capture specific light, where the moon or sun will be, for a specific location. It is really effective if you can scout the location beforehand and use the app to capture interesting dates to come back and shoot.
For instance, here are the positions of the Sun and Moon at very specific places at the best times for amazing light. See the images below.
I had the huge pleasure of interviewing Rafael Pons of PhotoPills about how to use their App and let it help you capture the perfect shot:
This is a super informative 20 minutes, and I really recommend you watch it if you want to get the best out of PhotoPills, or learn more about planning your shots in different light conditions.
Because I am a super experienced photographer, and because I know this area pretty well, the location I picked turns out to be magnificent. The perfect location!
When you are scouting for yourself it might take more time, you might have ideas about places that don’t turn out to be as wicked as you’d hoped, or you can’t get to it in the right light.
This still happens to me sometimes, so don’t fear! I always think of scouting and exploring as a really pleasurable, fun and essential part of getting great shots.
Regardless of if you end up with the perfect location or not – you are doing something you really love! Looking for wonderful moments in the world around us.
So be patient my friend, be patient!
After my scouting I have a good idea about when and where I want to shoot, and I am ready to start shooting some test shots.
I wonder what they will be like? Will all of this effort be worth it?
Stay tuned! My next shoot, and the final shoot are still to come…!
If you have any questions or comments about this, my process, I’d love to answer them in the comments below.
I hope you enjoyed this, and I’ll see you soon with the next stage….!
What’s being a member of Light Monkeys really like?
I recently created a membership site for people who want to learn my artist-led approach to photography.
It’s been a freakin awesome experience!
We have so much fun learning together, sharing photos, giving and getting feedback, doing live classes – all backed up with my library of recorded courses and classes which are…well why should tell you, when my members can do the talking….
Later this week I’m going to be sharing a very awesome way to sample the membership and try the lessons, join my live sessions & experience community.
If you’d like to get an inside peek drop a comment below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Di and I have been talking a lot about the meaning of photography recently. I suppose it’s being inside so much. It feels like we are being faced with: what is important and what isn’t in our lives.
It’s a bit of a soul searching time, isn’t it?
We have talked about how not all activities and not all experiences are the same.There are activities we do in our lives that are pure distraction. They offer us very little in terms of long term impact or deep satisfaction.
I would say watching the news, or most TV, or scrolling endlessly on Facebook fall into this category.
Hanging out with some people would also fall into this category – when we spend time with people whom we don’t find nourishing or who are at odds with who we are.
It’s like eating junk food, it’s nice at the time, but it doesn’t nourish your body. Afterwards you are left feeling unsatisfied, because the fat & the salt don’t nourish your body, but create a sensation of lack.
Then there are activities in our lives that bring us a deep feeling of satisfaction. They seem to fill our bodies, and our minds and spirits, with warm and deep sensations.
Spending time with people we really enjoy and appreciate.
Doing work we love.
Finding something we are passionate about and pursuing it.
Spending time in nature, seeing the beauty of the world, and it’s ever changing fascination.
And it is in this category that I think photography fits.
When we are taking photos we are spending more time being aware of the world. We are moving away from that take-away, distraction-led world.
We are moving away from the temporary, surface activities that are fun for a while but bring us nothing really deeply meaningful.
When we are taking photos we are actually making an effort to be here in this world. To have experiences that mean more to us than the meaningless things that are on offer elsewhere.
I have to make an effort every day to choose meaningful experiences over distraction.
I love distraction, I will be honest. I love to get involved in the drama of the news and politics, I love to see the weird and wonderful things people share on Facebook, I love to get involved in TV series, and live a little through the worlds of others.
I am prone to distraction.
And that’s because I am a human being with the same stresses and ups and downs as the next human.
I have responsibilities to look after my family, I have to keep calm when my kids declare war on each other, I have to make dinner when I am exhausted, I have to deal with clients who forget to pay, insurance companies who are intractable, toilets that break, landlords who are stressed.
You know, all the normal stuff.
My concerns and my worries generate at a normal rate and get added to the ongoing heap of worries and concerns.
And distraction is a wonderful, seductive way to escape that mound of worries – I will be honest. I like a little time of the day to just escape from these ongoing thoughts.
And I am OK with that.
But I know that my distractions should be contained because they don’t solve anything. They don’t remove any of the worries from my heap.
But you know what can? All the things I mentioned above, and…
As Picasso said: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
When I am walking through a forest, free of human noise, but alive with the sounds of nature – birds chirping, the crunch of twigs under my foot, the rustle of leaves in the occasional gusts of wind.
When I am walking through a busy city, not with any destination in mind, with no deadlines, I am free to experience the pulsating energy that thrives in its streets. I am free to witness, as Elliott Erwitt said, the ‘comedy of the human experience’.
I am free, too, to really see the history and human imprint and the stories of the city. The buildings that people toiled to create, the vision of its architects, the beautiful and scenic, as well as the dirt and the shock of the urban.
This is so important to me because when I am removed from my mind and my pile of worries, when I am making an effort to not be confined to the limitations that my mind says my life is, I am free to completely bask in all the experiences this world can offer.
The fierce energy of the sea on a stormy day.
The exquisite peace of the mountains as I walk with my family.
The opulent, sensual beauty of summer flowers.
Would I work to experience the world in such a deep way if I wasn’t taking photos?
Would I make the effort to drink in the beauty of the world when it was offered to me?
Would I search out experiences, like asking an old man in Istanbul if I could take his portrait?
Would I make such a tremendous effort to be in this world, rather than just constantly on the surface, thinking about it?
No. No, I don’t think I would.
Diane Arbus said photography was like a license, and for her that license was a reason to approach people she found fascinating and ask them if she could take their portrait.
For me it’s a licence to sometimes get up at 3am to go photograph the full moon.
Or take a wander through the Paris streets and find interesting characters to shoot.
It often involves conversations with people who ask me what I am shooting, and sometimes, take me to interesting places, like up an ancient clock tower in Venice to watch someone fix an old clock.
So while we while away our time in lockdown, whether we are busy or not, it feels like now, more than ever, photography feels important.
Photography has given me my entire way of living, my entire philosophy of who I am. It has made my life interesting and wonderful in so many ways – even when my life felt more challenging that I could possibly deal with.
At times of grief or pain, of sadness or fear – it has brought me outside of myself and nourished my spirit so that I felt stronger and more able to see what was important.
It has also shown me that nothing lasts forever.
Overall it shows me that life, and everything in it, is to be valued in all forms.
I look at many people’s photographs and I’ve noticed that how people take photos is in direct correlation to how they live their day to day lives. This may not sound like a startlingly profound fact but, put simply: your personality can create the biggest barrier to achieving interesting and unique photographs.
It’s not your kit, it’s not your ability to capture perfect focus. It’s who you are and how you live that you need to examine.
Let me delve a bit deeper and explain.
For example, let’s take me. One thing that I do profoundly well is live in the moment. I am very present and that is stunningly useful when I want to connect to the world around me and take photos. It’s also super cool when you are around kids, because kids are just so totally present. Even my uber-dreamy son doesn’t understand later – he wants to share his discovery about slugs with me right now, because it’s just so exciting.
So presence is a very awesome attribute to have as a photographer. But guess what – there is an aspect to it that makes my photography more challenging, that I’ve had to work on getting over, so that I can be a better photographer.
I realised a while back that neither the past nor the future seem to occupy my mind much, so it made creating long term projects and stories very hard. I have always found it easy to take singular wonderful images.
But the part that I have had to really work on and push myself out of my comfort zone with – is creating these stories and projects.
Now here are some stereotypes…
Are you a busy, task-oriented person? Your photos are more than likely going to be rushed and you are going to struggle to be present, truly in the moment and to take photos that are meaningful and well composed. They may make you feel like you’ve achieved something, but really you haven’t. Taking 500 photos is not an accomplishment, taking 2 or 3 well composed, meaningful photos is.
Are you a very practical, handy person? Can you read a manual for a washing machine and understand it? The issues you are likely to have are excellent technical skills in your photography, but ones that don’t capture mood, feeling or experience well.
Are you a very creative, dreamy, ideas person? You are likely to have the opposite problem. Your photos will probably full of mood and emotion.
You’ll be able to recognise in the world around you wonderful moments of human expression, or evocative moods in the changing weather. But technically? You’ll likely struggle as you try and kick that bit of your brain that is underutilised into action.
Now I ask you: what do you see in your personality that is reflected in your photos? Both the strengths and the weaknesses. And if you recognise it, you can discover the key of what you need to learn and it is that that will radically improve your photography.
Photography is a very personal journey and everyone needs to learn different aspects at different times. I work with beginner photographers all the time and no two beginners are the same, we are all on our separate path.
We all learn at different rates – and more importantly we absorb information differently. Some people find things like learning manual a breeze, while others struggle for years. And the same goes for composition, capturing emotion etc.
Learning is a hugely personal thing that is most effective when it meets us where we are.
When I looked recently at the portfolios of images that my students give me, it is obvious that everyone’s challenges are distinctive. And it basically comes down to their personalities.
But what exactly is the problem?
Now, we could just accept who we are, carry on and just try improving over time, right? We could just focus on our strengths and keep going – which is what I find many of my students do.
The super-techy ones just keep learning more and more about tech things, the creatives keep reacting to the tech stuff with horror and working harder on capturing mood and emotion.
Developing a skill, though, is not just about increasing your strengths, but working on your weaknesses. This will help you create balance within your imagery.
You don’t have to make your weaknesses as strong as your strengths, or be totally in harmony – but by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone you will surprise yourself, you will generate new ideas, you’ll even start lighting up different parts of that big ole brain of yours. Clear the dust out I say!
Photography is an inner process. It’s not an outer process. It’s about you, your experience, your passions, your mood etc. So by looking clearly and objectively at yourself you can more easily identify where you should be improving.
And you know what’s so funny about this? When I tell people where I think they are weak, they always know deep down. They see immediately what I am saying because when I demonstrate the weakness in their creative output, their photography, they see that weakness in their personality.
Now how do you we identify our weaknesses and improve?
Ask your nearest and dearest! Ask them not just about what your weaknesses are (because after all by living with or close to other humans we are often helpfully reminded by them what our weakness are :)) but also our strengths.
We usually think we know our strengths, but you can also get super surprised about other people’s opinions of your strengths.
And often our perceptions of ourselves are outdated. What we were told as children we were good at is often what we carry as a permanent vision of ourselves – and that gets outdated! You need a fresh vision of yourself as an older person 🙂
I know you aren’t all trying to be the world’s greatest photographers. But if you want this photographic journey to keep reaping its beautiful benefits on your life, then it’s worthwhile examining what might be limiting you, or stopping you from developing.
I want to encourage everyone whom I teach to think about photography not as an endpoint or an output – how can I get the very best focal length etc.
I mean of course that all has a place, a very good place, and a function – but as a sense that your photography is on the same journey as you. It’s intertwined with your life. For me, taking photos is how I make sense of, remember, enjoy and connect with what’s around me.
Photography is not always easy or effortless for me either, it does kick my butt at times – but it keeps me thinking, keeps me fresh and most of all it keeps me awake to this amazing world.
I’d love to know what you think. What do you think that is in your personality that is holding your photography back? Please comment below.
And as always, get in touch if you have any thoughts, questions etc. about anything to do with photography at all.
Would you like to watch me process your images LIVE?
Would you like to see how I would go about working on YOUR photos?
I approach processing how I compose an image – with the spirit and soul of an ARTIST.
Every image is unique. I work on bringing out the inherent qualities of each of my photos, playing with the image and experimenting with different approaches.
I love processing – it is such an exciting part of bringing images to life.
I want to help you not just learn new skills and techniques for processing – but the confidence to explore, experiment and PLAY!
Today in my new Light Monkeys Membership Program I am inviting members to send me their images.
I am going to be processing them LIVE in our Weekly Thursday Live Session.
I want to share my approach and techniques so everyone can learn new tips and ideas on how to go about processing like an artist.
I still have space for ‘Founding Members’ to join.
As a Founding Member you not only get the membership at a super awesome price (forever), but you also get the chance to work with me directly in the early stages so I can give you lots of direct feedback, advice and teaching.
As well as all the other incredible Member benefits like all of my ‘transformative’ online classes, community, weekly sessions + masterclasses.
This is an unprecedented time in our history. The COVID-19 pandemic is having an massive impact on our health and wellbeing, the essential services that we rely on, the global economy and on small businesses that we use.
We want you to know that we will continue to work during this time to support you in any way that we can.
All workshops have been postponed until August 2020.
At Anthony Epes Photography, the safety of our clients and team is our highest priority. The following applies to our group photography workshops.
Next steps for postponed workshops.
To make sure you travel with confidence, we made the difficult decision in March to postpone all scheduled photo workshops that are running between now and August 2020. We are giving our guests three choices to reschedule workshops that are affected by the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic:
1) Reschedule your currently registered Photo Workshop to a future date. This could be as early as autumn 2020, or in 2021 or 2022. This provides you with flexibility and assurance to postpone your workshop to a later date.
2) Select a different photo workshop in the future and your payment will be applied to the new adventure. Your account will be reconciled with either a credit or an additional balance due, depending on the price of your new adventure. Select dates in late 2020, 2021 or 2022.
3) You don’t need to decide right now. Reach out to us whenever you are ready to discuss rescheduling your postponed workshop. We will remain flexible as much as we can.
As we postpone workshop dates, ultimately our intent is to be fair and flexible.
Sudden infectious disease outbreaks can significantly impact small businesses worldwide. Our terms and conditions note that we are unable to issue refunds, only postponements. We are confident that this will be behind us in the near future and will be adding dates and exciting new destinations to our schedule.
Stay connected with us.
Next steps for future workshops.
Understanding this situation is fluid, we will continue to monitor developments and be in touch with all clients. Please stay tuned.
To learn more about COVID-19, we recommend visiting the UK GOV page. As always, as we share your passion for exploring the world, we thank you for trusting us with your travel. We appreciate your patience and understanding. If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact us on email@example.com
How are you all doing? I hope things are good – that you and yours are staying well and healthy.
Di and I and our kids are doing just fine. Staying put in our peaceful little village. Being grateful and thankful for this beautiful country of our adopted homeland.
Today I wanted to share a new photo challenge with you that is perfect for these days of being at home.
I am finding that I need something creative to do every day whilst I’m at home so much.
I am not shooting every day, but I am finding little fun projects to do, as well as spending time in my archives and having some fun processing (or reprocessing) my images.
I am remembering the good times I’ve had shooting these past years, and enjoying the photography I have already done (and of course dreaming of the times I can do more!)
This idea today, though, is for shooting now! It is super fun, and will let you explore and play with a different style of photography – if this is a new way of shooting for you.
Close-Focus photo challenge:
Since we’re all focusing on a bit of distancing in our lives right now, I thought I would propose a challenge that reflects this change in our lives.
But unlike social distancing, this is going to be close-focus distancing.
I’ve taught this technique many times in my workshops for those people who have wanted to do a macro image.
You don’t have to have a macro lens to do this. A macro lens just allows you to get a lot closer. The closest focusing distance of a macro lens will be much nearer, as that is what they are designed for. This distance will vary from lens to lens.
For example, with a 50mm lens that doesn’t have macro capabilities, the closest focusing distance will be about 24 inches/60cms.
A 50 mm macro lens will allow you to focus much closer, probably around 3 to 4 inches/7.5 – 10cms; some go even closer.
The challenge is this:
Take your lens off auto-focus and put it on manual focus
Then turn the focus ring to the close-focus distance; this is the opposite direction of where the infinity mark is. [Infinity mark looks like the number 8]
Once you have the lens set to this distance don’t move it again!!
TIP: Put your hand in front of the camera and move it back and forth (your hand not the camera) until your hand comes into focus. This will be that lens’ close-focus distance.
Now that you have the close-focus distance you can properly position yourself to your subject.
Make the shot!
The technique is not to twist the focus ring on the lens.
What I want you to do is move the camera back and forth to find your focus point for each shot
Smaller apertures can be really handy in this exercise, as they give you more depth of field, and this in turn means you might want to have a tripod handy for those lower light scenes.
What we’re doing with this challenge is down scaling our universe.
Changing our perspective and finding creativity in the small things that are all around us.
Every image you take is going to be within a few inches of you.
This can make your home or your current surroundings very interesting. You may start to see the place you’re in in a whole new way.
As the writer Henry Miller said:
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
Let’s make many magnificent worlds in the places we call home!
You can do this challenge on your own, or if you want to share and get feedback from me and other photographers – post it in my
These live critiquing sessions are always packed to the brim with ideas and knowledge that you can use in your photography – so I encourage you to sign up for this in depth hour of learning this weekend.
So – post your photos to my Light Monkeys photo sharing group here– if you’d like comments and feedback with the chance to have me critique them live on Saturday.
Post your images by Friday 3rd April – at midnight PDT (California time).
“For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” James Baldwin
How are you today?
It’s Diana here, hello 🙂
Today many of us in the world are in the flux of the feeling of uncertainty and fear. Justified or unjustified fear, to me that is not the point.
The point is how we all live through these times, or any times, that bring up so many feelings of uncertainty and instability.
How do we live with the challenges that life brings us? And it doesn’t have to be a global virus, but all of the other things that life throws at us – the death of loved ones, financial problems, political problems in our respective countries. You know what I mean.
How do we live well in these times when we feel challenged, and how can we do more to make sure our days are good and positive and feel like we aren’t just feeling that sense of contraction and fear that challenges bring.
Ultimately, after dealing with the practical aspects of our lives, our creativity practices are the things that Anthony and I turn to to bring in feelings of expanse and joy.
We want to use our creative practices to gain more perspective so that we aren’t just making our lives about the challenges we are facing.
One of the reasons that doing something creative brings good things into your life is simply because:
“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”
And also because, and I share another quote from my favourite writer James Baldwin because he had so much to share about the interminginly of creativity and the challenges of life:
“The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
I would like to share a few of the reasons and ideas that make creativity so fruitful and helpful for our lives in times of unpredictability – I hope these are of help or service to you.
Creativity is a way to work things out
We humans like to figure things out. We like to know why things are the way they are. And facing the challenges we feel head on are ways to work through the fears that may stick in our minds.
“We are born makers. We move what we’re learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands.” Brene Brown
A perfect example is why I felt the desire to write this post. It is not just to share my thoughts with you, but by exploring these thoughts and writing about them, I am working things out myself.
We can use the environment we encounter to create things. To process what we might be feeling.
It’s about not letting things get stuck in your brain, or just complaining or freaking out. It is using the conduit of creativity to find a positive way to deal with the challenges.
To allow us the chance to see other possibilities
For me being creative is about bringing me away from the big, sometimes anxious things, and down into the beauty and joy of the moment.
“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.” Henry Miller
Bringing calm to our minds and bodies
Being creative is often compared to meditation as we get lost in the task, and the nature of getting lost in something is so positive that it has a calming effect on our nervous systems.
“The average person has about 60,000 thoughts in a day. A creative act such as crafting can help focus the mind, and has even been compared to meditation due to its calming effects on the brain and body. Even just gardening or sewing releases dopamine, a natural anti-depressant.” Forbes Magazine
To engage our imaginations and go beyond ourselves
Being creative is like a lot of things that release us from the tightness of stress – exercise, meditation, laughing with friends. It creates good chemicals within our brains. It makes us happier, more joyful.
Being creative can help us accept what the world and its challenges are.
Hope this finds you very well. Today I have swapped the wintery life of London for the heat and vibrancy of Mexico City.
I am a little tired of course from the long flight, but there is nothing like beating jet lag with the excitement of being in an incredible country like Mexico.
This is the weather I left behind on my short trip to London. Still beautiful, and when London gives me beautiful winter light like this, I can forgive the cold…
A few days ago I saw this quote on the cover of my mother-in-law’s National Trust magazine, and it struck me as really quite wonderful:
“We all want quiet. We all want beauty…We all need space. Unless we have it, we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.”
Octavia Hill, 1883. Co-founder of the National Trust
And it stuck because it combined for me the idea of our human need for quiet + space with the rejuvenating power of witnessing beauty.
When we look at the definition of beauty, it is – “the quality of being pleasing, especially to look at, or someone or something that gives great pleasure, especially when you look at it.”
The pleasure of looking. What a gift this is to us as humans, but also as photographers.
One of the most significant things that beauty can bring to our creative lives and our photography is the awakening of inspiration.
Placing yourself slap bang in front of beauty is just a fantastic way to inspire yourself – and, of course, to then lead you to fabulous photos.
Sometimes we need something to shock us out of the boredom and habituation of our life.To remove ourselves from that stale feeling that seems to collect in our minds from being so involved in routine.
To be in total awe of your subject, to be mesmerised, to be thrilled and excited – these are all fantastic emotions to have coursing through your body ready for you to lift your camera and shoot.
Something quite magical seems to happen when we fill our eyes, and spirit, with beauty.
As Joseph Campbell wrote:
“When we are transfixed by beauty, we are beheld in an aesthetic arrest. We are so transfixed that we stop breathing. We well up inside and experience life lived to the point of tears.”
Beauty makes us stop and pay attention.
It makes us revel in something that stirs our spirit and lifts our soul.
But it isn’t something that is just vacuous and pretty – the experience of beauty can be challenging because beauty connects us to the feeling of eternity.
“Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”
It is almost pain and pleasure mixed into one. The perfect explanation of life, right? And as photographers, don’t we want to capture what is so wondrous and strange about this part of life?
I am often placing myself in the midst of incredible beauty. I seek it out everywhere I go.
This is why I love to shoot at dawn – because sunrises can create such intense beauty they make any location, and situation breathtaking.
(And I will be on my usual travel routine by having an early night and shooting sunrise tomorrow.)
Let yourself get lost in beauty…
What I think is important about the witnessing of beauty is this: our eyes get worn out with all that we see – just as our minds get worn out by all the thinking and doing of our lives.
Don’t we all need sometimes to let go of all the worries and things on our mind, and just surrender ourselves into a state of awe? Once in a while?
To surrender to the immenseness and eternalness of life is to refresh one’s spirit.
I felt as photographer Ernst Haas did about Paris – “All I wanted was to connect my moods with those of Paris. Beauty paints and when it painted most, I shot.” When beauty presents itself, let it lead you.
Beauty washes away the cobwebs and gives us the chance to relish something wonderful in a world that can sometimes feel, less than wonderful.
And of course because..
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard
I want to spend my life full of passion, creation and appreciating all of this beauty of the world. So I must then make decisions in my day to do exactly that.
I’d love to know if you are seeking beauty when you are shooting?
After I work with a fabulous group in San Miguel de Allende – in a few months time my next workshop is in the mesmerising country of Morocco.
I am taking a small group of people into the heart of the Sahara Desert to photograph its timeless beauty and sweeping landscapes – and capture the gorgeous splendour of a supermoon.
We’ll also be shooting the diverse and changing landscapes as we travel to and from the desert – the red rock mountains, luscious rivers and vast rich orange scenes of the deep desert. And we’ll explore the little villages we encounter along the way.
After our trip deep into the silent beauty of the desert we will explore the ancient and beguiling city of Marrakech, home to some wondrous architecture, vibrant street markets and fascinating history.
We will photograph the iconic sights, capture the people and spirit of the city – as well as venture off the beaten track to explore the local neighbourhoods.
I want to help you capture the feeling of this interesting country and culture, and help you bring your unique vision of Morocco to the world.
As always I want to bring incredible photography opportunities into your life – and this will be one amazing experience.
I have two places left on this workshop – don’t miss this experience and sign up here – or hit reply if you have any questions.