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.
“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.
How are you? I hope life is good. Today I have some awesome ideas for you.
What I love about photography is that anything, and I mean anything, can be your subject. In photography, we are limited only by our abilities to see interesting things in the world around us and to use our imagination to put them together in compelling ways.
Sounds simple, right? Well, today I would love to talk to you about one of my favourite things. We can call it abstract street photography, but I like to think of it as exploring the streets with my camera and letting my imagination go wild.
For me, almost nothing allows us to use our imagination in such a personal and interesting way as abstract photography. And because I spend a lot of time travelling and shooting cities, abstract street photography is one of the genres of photography I love to shoot the most.
I would, though, offer a caveat. I am not an abstract photographer. In fact, I wouldn’t assign myself to any genre of photography. Too restrictive! There is so much of the world I love to explore with my camera, and so much more to learn, that I have stopped even trying to confine myself and my curiosity.
Today I would love to give you a bunch of different ideas about how you can jump into this liberating style of photography – either if you’re new to shooting in this style or not!
If we’re going to define abstract photos I would start with this quote from the writer Henry Miller:
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world itself.”
Everything for me about abstracts is removing the realism, the candid, the obvious from our images, and making images that, as Miller says, evoke mystery and provoke our minds into thinking about magnificent new worlds.
Abstracts are creating new subjects, new worlds that have sprung completely from our imagination. We are leaping away from the old, familiar world around us.
What’s at your feet?
A big thing I see in my students is how little they look around when observing a scene. People are used to looking in the obvious places – but what about what’s at your feet? What’s behind you, what’s up high, and what’s around the corner?
Having infinite curiosity to explore the space around you from every angle is a really strong sign you are becoming more adept in your photography. Usually I am looking around to find interesting patterns of light, and watching where light is bouncing, streaming and falling.
And I love to find interesting things at my feet. Strange discarded items, colours, patterns, textures, dirt and hidden treasures. The world of the actual street is super interesting.
Always be looking at what’s at your feet!
Another fairly obvious, but often forgotten, place that I look all the time for intriguing elements are walls. I love to shoot things like torn posters, interesting shapes, bad wiring, holes, moss growing, light illuminating a dank and dark wall. The possibilities for creating a mini-universe all of your own is completely open and up to you!
Look at this crazy wall I found in Havana, so cool!
Playing with the shapes, lines and perspective of walls and corners is exciting. You have here in Morocco some very simple colours and lines, giving a nice depth with the angle I chose.
Playing with buildings and perspective in my photos is a favourite. Shooting buildings straight on in a realistic way can be good, but also trying out different angles and perspectives is super fun.
I shot this one below in Paris, and I was intrigued by the shapes and colours of the buildings all slotted together in this small area of the city. I wanted to capture their looming feeling, but I also was really intrigued by the golden disc. It created a strange element, something unrecognisable, and added a quality that meant the buildings stopped being pure buildings but with this perspective became a series of shapes and colours.
It’s also great to use the windows, lines and textures of buildings to fill your frame and disconnect the viewer from the whole scene. I like how the lines of windows converge; it looked to me like the building was being folded in half.
The world is awash with fascinating textures! And often I find things that normally would be ignored or were thought to be ugly, but when you go close in and shoot them, they become quite unctuous and touchable.
The rain on a road with broken tarmac feels like a case in point:
As I mentioned earlier, shooting torn posters on walls is a favourite. I find that you get this interesting mix of poster and wall, which means you can have these strange elements left on the wall, out of context.
If you’ve never looked for torn posters I would encourage you to now. It’s super fun to find how many remnants are left on walls, and the fun starts when you find many stuck on top of each other, each torn and worn. Then there exists an interesting collection of contrasting images.
What I really love too is how the textures of the paper and the wall create their own strong element in the photo. And you know what they say, one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. How cool that we can repurpose the unneeded and discarded for something interesting and new?
I am often on the lookout for reflections because I am ALWAYS on the lookout for interesting light. And light creates all kinds of interesting effects.
I really love creating these kinds of discombobulated reflections:
Having lots of overlapping elements in the frame that take some time to really see what’s happening in the photo. You can do a lot of fun things with reflections like these, creating a sort of ordered chaos:
What can you create with all of the elements around you?
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography” George Eastman
If I were to pick a subject or general way to describe myself, it would be as a photographer of light. Light is really my main subject. And therefore what light falls upon is really my secondary subject.
I love to chase light, follow it, explore and play with it, and I observe it constantly to see how it’s changing the world around me.
Because light is always changing how we see the world around us. You can be at a scene that looks one way at midday and completely different two hours later, all because of the light.
One of the biggest challenges I see many of my students face in their photography is that they are thinking too much about their subject and not about the light surrounding them.
If people haven’t a deep awareness of light, I always encourage them to spend time just observing the light, seeing what it’s doing where they are now, and then how it starts to change.
Where is the light going? Is it bouncing off a window and creating pools of light on the floor? Is it creating shadows? Is the light warm, cold? How does the light feel and what does that feeling do to your subject?
“Energy and motion made visible – memories arrested in space” Jackson Pollock
Motion is just pure fun in my mind. It’s really about having fun with light and your subject, and totally ignoring reality. The sensation of movement, the colours of it, are wonderful to capture.
I like this idea that these connect with memories too – and how so much of what we shoot, especially in this abstract style, is about things that remind us of experiences, places, ideas, people, books, events, characters from films etc.
We could even say that so much of our photography is about shooting our memories, because what we are curious about, what we notice and what fascinates us is filtered through who we are. Our entire life experience comes into every shot we take.
“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” Georgia O’Keeffe
Colour is a very important subject for me. Almost as important as light! Shooting colours is awesome – and they can be their very own subject.
Colours bring all kinds of feelings to an image; joy, melancholy, danger, fear, fun, exhilaration…. And are often very impactful. What do these colours below feel like?
Abstracts are obviously not about creating clarity, but using the world around us in a new way to make something that fires up our imagination. We are looking for the elements to take on a life of their own. To become something else.
Like in this photo. The shapes of the branches and the barbed wire fence are easy to figure out, but what is interesting is seeing the shapes together, stripped of colour, and only in silhouette. An intriguing contrast I think.
Here we have some great bold colour and a simple strong shape:
In the photo above this is just a piece of an element I found whilst wandering around. It’s nothing fancy or unusual, I just made the shape from the larger whole object, taking the little piece of it that I found interesting, and ignoring the rest.
These shots of mine are not really abstract photography, more surrealism. Surrealism is in a very similar realm to abstraction, because it’s using our imagination rather than being committed to documenting the reality of the world around us.
We can tell stories, reveal people’s lives or just create interesting moments by not making literal, realism-based photos.
Finding quirky moments, odd situations or sad experiences. We don’t need to get everything in frame to tell a story.
We are always working to open up our awareness as photographers, to see more. This is so important because we don’t see anything close to what is actually there in the environment around us. Our brains focus our attention so we don’t get overwhelmed by the billions of bits of visual information around us.
It is why I can take six photographers to the same spot and they all capture something different. So opening up our awareness to take in more visually will help us find more awesome moments to capture.
Shadow and silhouettes
The feeling of silhouettes and shadows can be immensely powerful. The darkness and the shapes they create can bring so much feeling to an image. For example in the photo below I at first used a correct exposure so I got the detail of the man. But it was a really boring image.
So I went down a couple of stops and created him in silhouette instead, and I think it was perfect. The simplified outline of his posture is so much more powerful than having all of the detail.
Here we have the pattern of the repetitive shapes and that is very pleasing to the eye. The brain loves order and repeating patterns create that soothing feeling for the eye.
There we have my collection of ideas for creating engaging and compelling street abstracts. I really hope that sparked some ideas for you, and you are inspired to go out and see what you can capture.
I would love to know if you’ve got some ideas from this article – let me know in the comments below. It’s always great to hear your ideas!
Have a deeply awesome day.
Anthony and Diana
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It might sound strange to suggest that painters can teach us anything about photography.
I believe, though, that any creative pursuit springs from the same space within us – whether it’s photography, writing, painting or even making exquisitely beautiful cakes.
Creativity comes from a desire to express ourselves, to verbalize our experiences, thoughts, ideas and what fascinates us about the world.
The ways we express ourselves are merely our personal preferences, but the fact that we choose to create, that is a universal desire and, what I would argue, is also a need.
In keeping myself motivated as a photographer I love to look for inspiration from all across the creative spectrum.
I like to take the advice of my favourite photographer Ernst Haas in this, when he recommended to:
“refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”
Not only do I love Van Gogh’s paintings, but I love how he talks about being an artist. I feel he expresses that desire to see the world in a new way so uniquely.
I liked too how he wrote very simply of the life-giving qualities of being creative.
Today I wanted to indulge in his brilliance and see what we can draw from his life to help us with our photography.
1. We are all deeply creative
“Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.” Van Gogh
I have met too many people who say they aren’t creative types or arty types. And yet they have a huge desire to create, to be people who make things.
That desire is enough. That fire within is enough to take you to where you need to go with your photography.
2. The strange magic of creation
“What is drawing? How does one get there? It’s working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall? — since hammering on it doesn’t help at all. In my view, one must undermine the wall and grind through it slowly and patiently.” Van Gogh
I love this quote. It shows some of that strange magic that is involved in the act of creativity, but also the grind of just doing the work.
Sometimes I don’t know where my images come from. I just know my role is to show up, push through discomfort when it arises and keep going.
3. Paying attention to your subject changes what it is
“It is looking at things for a long time that ripens you and gives you a deeper meaning.” Van Gogh
When you look deeply at a subject it starts to transform into other things.
Perhaps it becomes intertwined with your imagination, your memories, and thoughts. Your imagination transforming it from one thing to another.
Perhaps it changes because as you look, really look at something, you notice its many facets, its individual details, its many elements. It becomes less a part of a whole, and more a whole world in itself.
4. We all need to be courageous
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? Van Gogh
I need this stapled to my forehead sometimes. I feel that my life requires a lot of courage, often. I’ve chosen a different path to others, so I see what this would be. When I overcome fear and feel courageous, wow, it’s an amazing feeling. When I succumb to fear and am not courageous, then, yes, it doesn’t feel great. But the mere act of attempting courageous acts induces a lot of creative energy within me.
“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore” Van Gogh
5. Taking photos is the most important thing I can do
I wonder if it’s my age, but my desire to create photographs feels in some ways more urgent than when I was younger. Maybe urgent is the wrong word. It feels more essential than it ever has.
When I was younger taking photos was a deep pleasure, it was fun, it was adventurous! I have loved all of my work and projects and learning.
But there is something about getting older when you see with starker and starker clarity what is essential to your life and what is unnecessary filler.
I want to only fill my life now with things that are essential to my being. That makes me proud, that push me to be a better person, that help me grow and learn and help me experience the world in beautiful new dimensions.
6. Kill self-doubt with action
This connects to my last post about how we all need creative pursuits in our lives. I love this quote of Van Gogh’s:
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Self-doubt is the enemy of creativity, and it’s one we all face. But self-doubt only controls us if we let it. If we plough on regardless, self-doubt is eradicated by taking action.
7. When we are seeking to do what we love, life is complete
“I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.” Van Gogh
This is the true test for me of a good life – are we in it with all of our hearts? I like to think I am in mine, and like family, photography is a natural conduit to living in a wholehearted, connected way.
So I hope these are some nice thoughts for you, giving you some inspiration for your photo practice.
I’d like to leave with one last quote from the great man, one I have quoted several times before on my blog, but is always a good reminder for me:
“I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.” Van Gogh
So there is no reason not to do things. The time to do things is now, regardless of where you are and what you don’t know (yet.)
Can I help you become a more creative, confident and artistic photographer?
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PS: Want to know more about us?
I’m from California, but I now live in Andalucia, Spain with my beautiful family. I came to Europe to shoot London twenty years ago for my first book, London at Dawn, and stayed to create a series of books and exhibitions on Cities at Dawn. I run my business with my wife Diana who is a writer and marketing genius. My projects and work have been featured on The Guardian, BBC World, French Photo Magazine, The Economist, CNN, Atlas Obscura and Digital Photographer. As well as sharing my knowledge and passion for photography in regular articles + videos I also run photo workshops around the world and inspiring live online classes.
“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.
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 email@example.com
Tripod as Zen Master – Using a tripod regularly in my photography has created a huge impact on my photos – not just technically but in how I shoot. It has slowed me down and given me the opportunity to become even more connected with my environment.
My most controversial photography article – ever – Even with my regular smartphone use I am still a massive fan of shooting on manual. No computer makes better creative choices than us. Hands down. Until that changes, this is what I discuss in an article I wrote for Digital Photography School which people loved or hated!
(It’s really all about) Developing the artistic mindset
“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” Ernst Haas
This is where I start with people in my workshops and courses – your mindset! Because we are what we shoot!
Photography starts with preparing yourself and how to connect with your creative energy, becoming present and connected to your environment and bringing your imagination into your photography.
Here are some great ideas to help you:
You are an artist (even if you don’t think you are) – So many people say to me – I’m not a creative person! Well, you are. Every single human being is creative. It is how our brains are made. All that happens to our creativity is that it atrophies from under-use.
What kind of photographer are you? – We are all on our path, our own journey as creative people. So there will never be a one-size-fits-all learning journey. That’s why I personalise everything I teach, so that it connects to who you are as a photographer, as a human being and what excites you creatively the most.
Fear is prevalent in almost everybody’s photography practise. It’s a normal reaction to new experiences and new learning situations. I am not immune to it either. Here are two articles about how I deal with fear – How fear holds us back from being better photographers and
Creativity and Age – There is such a misconception about aging and being creative. I say – let’s get more creative as we get older, not less. Use our incredible life experiences to blossom in our photography.
(Not the normal) Composition techniques
Photography is all about what you leave out – Photography is a process of construction AND reduction. In this article we talk about how to bring this idea into your photos so that you are able to consciously construct your composition.
Capturing the feeling of light – George Eastman summed it up for me when he said – “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
5 advanced composition techniques – I love to teach all of the core compositional techniques like leading lines, as they have helped my photography tremendously. But here are some more unusual techniques that are super-helpful to create better compositions.
My ultimate guide to travel photography – Immediately I am going to say I am not a traditional travel photographer, but really a photographer who happens to travel a lot. But what I have to share is fascinating and it’s a lot of in-depth teaching in this guide.
In keeping myself motivated as a photographer, I love to look for inspiration from all across the creative spectrum. I like to take the advice of my favourite photographer Ernst Haas in this, when he recommended to: “refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”
What John Berger can teach us about photography – I photographed the writer John Berger before he died a few years ago and he inspired me so much with his love of photography and art. He has a wealth of excellent ideas for us photographers.
Some pure and beautiful photography inspiration
Here are a couple of videos I made about my love of travelling, shooting and light!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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).