Identity and Shooting for the Right Reasons
Welcome back. I mulled over what to discuss next as we go forward in this curious little journey. On occasion, in my own experience, the journey feels like that crammed station wagon on the way to Florida for summer vacation. Feeling the desire to get to the destination is overwhelming. Become artistically aware, however, I have learned to pay attention to what you encounter on the way. Writing about the creative process has made me aware of my apparent philosophical side. I am fighting the urge to sit in the park in clothing made of hemp and play a flute I carved from a piece of bamboo. Yes, that was sarcasm. If you feel philosophical and/or artistic, go with it. There is absolutely no need to “dress the part” for any reason. I’ve encountered too many people who continuously announce, “I’m a writer, painter, musician, or photographer.” Let people find out what you are by experiencing your work. Above all, being an ego-maniacal and pretentious ass bag does generate artistic talent or merit. Be approachable and be gracious. Doing so will make people remember you as the artist as much your actual art.
If you shoot for profit or as your primary source of income, that’s perfectly fine. Just remember to set time aside to shoot for yourself. Creative photography should not be a “job” that pays the bills or buys snappy new clothing. It should be something that is done on your own terms and at your own pace. I do have respect for those who are full-time photographers. If you have great marketing skills or a solid client base, you should be able to separate the work from the art. People who hire you for your services tend to fancy themselves as directional professionals, given that their artistic exposure was a paint-by-numbers set they got when they were six years old. This why it’s so important to shoot for yourself when you can.
The Creative Process (Starting in the Middle)
Beginning in the middle might be the best way to get this started. There are plenty of how-to manuals and youtube videos on the technical side of photography, so let’s focus on the creative process (no pun intended). Definitive knowledge of the technical aspects of photography is obviously a must, but finding your voice and style are also tantamount in the creative process. Light, both natural and artificial, will be your best friend and greatest source of frustration. Creative composition will become a new way to break up mundane and conventional themes. Without being overly philosophical, understanding your own moodiness will allow you to bring it to fruition in your work. I could go on and on, which I tend to do, but let’s get to it…
There are some basic principles I adhere to when I work:
The latter of these three is for those of us who are self-taught and seek to improve technique. If you’ve worked with me or have seen me shoot, you know I take many photos during a shoot…many, many photos. There are few reasons why I do this. One is to make my editing workflow as stressful and arduous as possible. Shooting a lot of photos gives you the opportunity to pick the best images possible, which can also be done shooting fewer photos. However, the slightest change in expression or body position when it comes to portraiture can affect the entire photo. This is why I shoot between 5 and 275,432 photos of the same pose. There should be at least 10 to 15 percent of your total photos that are worth editing after the shoot. You don’t have to edit everything, which is something I still struggle with when I edit. You can save some of your images for later when you want to experiment with new editing techniques.
Shooting manual allows you so much more creative control over how you shape light and where you place your focus. Shooting RAW takes up significantly more room on your memory card, but it is extremely important when it comes to post-processing. These three principals and others will be expounded upon in greater detail later. Let’s bring it back to the creative process. Are you creative? You are the only person who can truly answer that question. If you are heavily influenced by internal and external emotion, the seasons, music, and other forms of art you are ready to move forward in the creative process.
When I am in the mood to shoot creatively, there has been something that has inspired me to do so. I find a great location, I see an image that I want to build on, or I dream something up in my mind that I want to bring to life. Location is akin to the technical necessity to shooting RAW. I prefer shooting in a non-studio environment when I am doing creative and conceptual work. My friends know me to be an urban exploring junkie, yet another topic that will be discussed in much greater detail a little later. Old buildings have light spilling in from numerous sources and allow you such great opportunity to shape it in very creative ways. This kind of setting allows me to create the dark ethereal, moody, surreal imagery I love so damn much.
I’m also a music junkie, especially cinematic and instrumental music. I remember when I first heard ‘Ebla’ by E.S. Posthumus (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iu-WAHBbW8). I nearly fell out of my chair because of how it impacted every facet of my creative identity. I still listen to it frequently when I need inspiration or creative energy before a shoot. In short, find some influential music and your ear phones. Go for a walk or a drive (you might want to take your ear phones out at this point). Isolate yourself and your creativity from the ambient noise of the humdrum world. Trust me, you’ll start to see things in a different way. You’ll rearrange the static into the abstract and you’ll begin compose incredible imagery in your mind. Should you grab your camera? If you feel ready, grab your gear and head out. Just remember, this is not tournament, Daniel-san. This is for real.
If you fancy yourself a creative person, be prepared to fail often (fortune cookie and greeting card companies…feel free to use these words of wisdom). Of the maybe dozen or so images that look great in my camera, there are quite a few that are over exposed, under exposed, and/or blurry. I’ll even have a shoot that I looked forward to go completely south. It’s ok to be agitated and in the mood to smack a hipster. It simply means you are not settling for something that is not your best work. You’ll be motivated to try again and again until you are satisfied. There is one piece of advice I think will suit many of you well. It’s ok to shoot often to practice technique. When you are on a roll creatively, however, don’t shoot to excess. You will quickly burn out and it will take longer to recover. I speak with absolute authority on this notion, so embrace quality over quantity.
I’m going to end this entry here. I tend to be overly chatty sometimes. There is a great deal I want to share with you about the creative process, technique, and the overall photographic experience. If you are interested, I will be posting frequently. If you have questions or requests, I’ll address those as well. If you want me to show you how to shoot exactly the same way that I do, you are going to be disappointed. I am happy to show you a decent path to follow, but I am not going to provide you with the exact directions on how to get there. The best part of this is finding your own way.