Look carefully, record what you see.
Find a way to make beauty necessary;
Find a way to make necessity beautiful."
-Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces.
We're going to take a bit of a break from the mechanics of photography and explore creative living. I really, truly believe that every life can be enriched by having creative outlets, and that every single person has the ability to find those creative elements that fulfills them and brings inspiration to their daily life. Photography goes hand in hand with living a creative and artistic life. Developing your eye, seeing things differently, keeping your eyes open throughout the day to stay aware of your surroundings, and nurturing that desire to notice the world around you in a creative way are all ways photography can help that artist within you grow.
As a child, my father was always playing music and my mother was typically crafting something either in the sewing room or the kitchen. I remember from a very young age having a desire to make stuff. I wanted to draw, paint, write stories, take photographs, sew clothes for my dolls, build forts, compose songs, and direct plays with friends. My entire being was focused on being creative. This is just my experience, and I know that for many their creative selves are not born until much later in life.
I often have this feeling of wanting to fully submerse myself in a world full of art; where I would be swimming through colors, emotions, patterns, music, words, images that seemed endless. And I would stay there, adding my own ideas to the mix. It took me a long time to call myself an artist. And it is a daily conscious effort to remain thinking of myself as an artist.
Photography has opened up a door to a world of creativity that I wasn't even aware existed. I was first exposed to photography as a small child when I stumbled across my mother's old copies of LIFE Magazine from the 70's. I flipped through them and it was then that I knew I wanted to explore photography. I was so completely moved by the images. Have you ever looked at a photograph that immediately transported you back through time, to that very moment, and you could almost taste what that moment was like? It was this image of Lewis Hine that changed the way I saw the world forever:
The girl's expression, her clothing, the mess on the floor around her, the way she was placed in the center so dramatically...I remember being a young child and being so moved by this image I almost cried. I was immediately taken back to that very moment and seemed to feel it all. That very instant defined my goal with photography: to capture an image with such intention and such emotion that the viewer can place themselves in the moment.
Developing Your Eye
Do you have an image like this? Or perhaps a painting? Or a beautiful sunset? There are so many things that can inspire and nurture our creative selves; that gently nudge us in the direction we are supposed to go. For me, developing my eye came out of that goal to capture everything about a moment. When I found myself in a black and white photography course in high school, my goal became combined with the desire to see things differently. I wanted my images to be different from any I had ever seen before. I wanted to put myself into my images.
So it was then that I told myself to see the world and capture it in a way that nobody had ever seen it before. I try to carry this intention with me at every shoot, or even when I document daily life around our home. Because I have nurtured the creative way I see the world, and because I have been aware of my developing eye, now it is as natural to me as breathing. I don't even think about it.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How do you see the world?
- What details are you first to notice in a room?
- What is your favorite color?
- What patterns do you find yourself drawn to?
- What sounds do you love to hear?
- How do your emotions inspire you creatively?
- What brings you the most joy?
For me, seeing the world means seeing light. I am aware of light at all times. It inspires me, it guides me in framing a subject through my viewfinder, it evokes emotion. I also am aware of patterns; patterns of light, patterns in nature, patterns in textures. I am greatly inspired by intimate moments between people. Capturing love, laughter, or thought in a moment that is so true and so intimate, almost as if my camera wasn't there at all, is my biggest accomplishment.
Developing my eye has taken time, and most of all...practice! My first digital images were more like snapshots. I would go around the house snapping away photos of daily life, and at the end of the day I'd upload them to my computer and look through them and just feel "blah" about most. There was something lacking; something just wasn't quite clicking. And then I realized! For me it was intention. Merely snapping away to capture something resulted in photos that lacked emotion, feeling, and a magical quality. But when I put intention behind each image, treating each shutter click as an opportunity to capture a moment in time that could never be recaptured, it really took my photography to the next level. My images meant something.
To me, the most fascinating thing about photography is that no two people will see one thing the same way. Everybody will add their own personality to a photograph. I've started to compare photography to other forms of art: painting, sculpture, drawing, graphic design, etc. Everyone adds themselves to their work. Which means that there is an incredible wealth of inspiration out there.
Let's face it, the internet is a time sucking, addictive, sometimes inspiring and sometimes frustrating resource. It can make you feel motivated, or you can get bogged down by all that's happening around you and how little is happening in you. But in terms of developing your eye, knowing what else is out there, seeing other images, and being exposed to new places and people is essential to discovering just how you see the world.
I often am reminded of what my high school jazz music teacher told me. (I went to school for jazz performance on the trumpet, by the way.) He told me that the way to cultivate my ear was to listen to other jazz musicians. He said that was key to my own improvising. I immersed myself in a world of jazz music, listening to everything and anything I could get my hands on. I began shaping my musical phrases differently, my improvisation suddenly contained bits and pieces from what I had heard, and I had a more defined and mature style. This notion is key to your creative self; whatever art form you are interested in.
When you are first developing your eye, it is natural to imitate someone. When you find something you love, it's exciting to try to figure out how it was done. You start playing around with the idea, you add your own flare and personal touch, and all of a sudden you are starting to develop your eye. And by experimenting, you learn so much about photography and what you and your camera are capable of. The key is to be inspired by what else is out there and using that inspiration to nurture your own style.
The more you discover what is out there, the more you will decide what you love, what your particular style is, and what direction you want your work to head in.
Here is the small list of blogs or websites I check daily that always inspire me to slow down, see the beauty around me, and motivate my own work:
- Trendland Photography
- Freunde von Freunden
- Nicole Franzen
- The Socialite Family
- We Are The Rhoads
I find that just merely looking at these wonderful artists and their images, I am so completely motivated to get out into the world and shoot! It really helps transform my work when I'm in a rut too. Also, check out my Pinterest page devoted to some of my favorite images.
Here are some more questions for you:
- Where do you look for inspiration?
- Do you have a favorite photographer?
- Do you have a favorite artist?
- What childhood picture is your favorite and why?
- What are your favorite websites/blogs that inspire you on a daily basis?
Along with online inspiration, there are plenty of books that continue to inspire me. Definitely check out your local library to see what they have! Here are my favorites:
- Tomboy Style
- The Selby Is In Your Place
- Lewis Hine
- Vivian Maier
- Francesca Woodman
- Aperture Magazine
- The New Gypsies
- Joyce Tenneson
- Sylvia Plachy
Your Creative Workspace
The best thing I did for myself was to carve out a space in my home for my creative work. In my old space I had an entire room to devote to my studio space, where I did my photography work, painted, and brainstormed. I was able to shut the door behind me and separate daily life from my creative life, and that was terrific! But not everyone is so lucky...so whether it be a corner in your living room, a wall in your bedroom, or a sweet little spot on a sun porch, you can make yourself a creative workspace which will inspire your work and motivate you on a daily basis!
My workspace pictured above was at my old house where it was smack dab in the middle of the dining/living room. It's was a wee little space, but I made it my own. Because it was so small, I keep everything organized on a daily basis, otherwise it would get out of hand. I need a clean surface to entice me to sit down and WORK! Now I have an entire room devoted to a studio and work space, but you don't need much to get started.
Another great thing I did for myself was my inspiration board. I love looking at it throughout the day. I find inspiration from photographs, magazines, cool graphics or logos, pictures by my daughter, and inspirational quotes! It's super easy to start one...there are many different ways to do it! I just use washi tape to put my images on my wall:
I invite you to start your own inspiration board if you don't have one already! You can start on a wall, or get a bulletin board, or string up a line and clip photographs and cut outs to it. So many different ways! Here are some of my favorites:
Inspiration boards can be inspired by the seasons, moods, colors, and themes! Mine is kind of based on things that motivate me: inspirational quotes, photos I've taken that I'm really thrilled about, and little reminders to be myself and work hard.
Try starting with a small space. Flip through old magazines and pick out things you like. If you feel like there's just too much out there, concentrate on a single color or theme. Perhaps some old photographs inspire you? Or a piece of fabric? Or something from nature...a leaf or dried flower? Start with one thing and watch your board grow. See what direction you take your board in and what develops. Everytime mine shifts I am constantly amazed by how all the different things somehow seem very connected.
I'd love to see what inspires you! Share a photo of your board on the Flickr group!
Only recently have I begun keeping journals. I find that they are really essential to organizing my creative thoughts. I keep three journals: a personal journal, an art journal, and a photography journal.
My photography journal includes notes about camera settings (what I find works in difficult lighting situations, etc.), photographic locations, ideas for shoots, storyboards (if I have a particular image in mind I sketch it), business ideas, and general inspiration. I find this especially helpful if I am brainstorming for a shoot. I can think about the shoot and write down ideas and notes, and then refer to them on the day of. It helps me feel more confident going into a shoot.
My art journal is FULL of ideas for painting or sketches. Throughout the day ideas will constantly pop into my head, and I find that if I don't quickly jot them down I lose them. When I finally get a chance to paint, I'm able to go back into my journal and choose an idea to start with.
For photogarphy, I have a journal of shoots, with notes about each one. I typically do research prior to going into a shoot (whether editorial or fashion, etc.) and write down everything I need to remember to help me capture my subject accurately. I also jot down little notes about how I picture framing my subject, or what I want to capture out of the location, etc. It's very helpful to keep it all at my fingertips so at the shoot I can run through my list and make sure I've achieved what I set out to do.
I love Moleskine journals. I buy them at a local stationary store. And these are my favorite pens. But you can use whatever you prefer! I think a good habit to get into is journaling daily. You are challenging yourself to think creatively; whether it be an idea for a specific shot, or writing about something that inspired you, or an idea you have that you'd like to try, or just doodling...it's all working that creative part of yourself that will nurture your artistic interests and developing eye.
I have found that journaling has really helped me stay motivated and engaged in my work. To me, it's a very important part of living creatively and exploring my artistic ideas! So whether it's a piece of paper, a notebook, or blog...start jotting down your ideas, thoughts, and images! Explore what journaling can do for you.
I can't imagine my life without it being full of creativity. And all different forms of creativity too! If you are taking this course, I can bet you are a creative individual. Whether you do photography, painting, scrapbooking, knitting, sculpture, gardening, music...you are engaging your creative, artistic side.
To me, photography is just one way of being creative on a daily basis. Nurturing the artist within YOU in whatever creative way you prefer will only help you discover just how you see the world, how you want to shoot, and how you can put more of YOU in your images. By trying different forms of creativity, you will develop a certain style and aesthetic that will carry over into your photographic work.
The best way to lead a creative life is to make some time everyday, no matter how small, to do something creative. Whether it be a quick sketch, taking some time during your lunch break to grab your camera and head out on a walk, or some painting after you put the kids to bed. I find that our day isn't complete until we've made or worked on something.
Here are some ideas to add more creativity to your life:
During the warmer months, take your work outside! Set yourself up on the lawn with a sketchbook, a journal, or your camera. If you have little ones, bring some paint or crayons outside, or draw with sidewalk chalk! We also love to find rocks to paint to place in the garden. Another favorite thing to do with little ones is cutting up squares of fabric and painting them, then stringing them along a piece of yarn and making a flag banner for the porch or your door!
I love putting a blanket down on the lawn and bringing out my journal and writing or sketching in the sun. I also always have my camera on me...just in case.
Have a sketch date with your little one, your partner, or a friend! Put on some tunes and grab your sketch books and see what happens! We particularly love doing this on rainy or snowy days. We make tea, or at night have a glass of wine, and grab some snacks.
And my absolutely favorite way to add some creativity to your life, be inspired, AND be motivated is to host an art night! Invite a bunch of friends, have everyone bring something to work on, pour some wine, make some snacks (popcorn is always good...), put on some good tunes and start having fun! Everyone typically does something different. I am usually editing photos, some friends knit, others sew, some paint, there's typically sketching, and sometimes a fun game involving drawing (your drawing skills don't matter!) called exquisite corpse that always results in tons of laughter! By the end of the night, you feel good about what you've accomplished, you're inspired by what others were doing, and your friends appreciate the chance to be creative together.
Another fun thing to do is grab some friends and your cameras and head out on a photo walk! Go for a walk in the woods, a stroll through the city, or stage a shoot inside. Take pictures of each other, or things you see. Some of my friends and I have a blast staging shoots either inside or outside, with props we find at thrift shops, like this:
My friend setting up a shoot using old cameras:
Creative Photography Prompts
There are many ways to jump start your creativity with photography if you're just not coming up with any brilliant ideas. I struggle with getting stuck in a "rut" creatively a lot. Especially when life is stressful, sometimes the ideas just don't come. When that happens, I typically set a list of goals such as going to one new place I've never been and capture it with my camera, grab a friend and just walk around snapping some shots, or tearing out one page from a magazine and trying to create a concept based on that one page for my own shoot. Forcing myself to think outside the box is sometimes necessary and can be hard to do. But just like writer's block, all other creative endeavors will eventually hit a wall too.
Here are some prompts to get your creativity flowing!
- The 365 Project: A photo a day for 365 days. Or you could notch it up a bit and do only self-portraits. I did that for almost a year and it completely pushed me in many new directions that I am very grateful for.
- The 52 Project: Same as above, but instead of a photo a day, you do a photo a week.
- 30 Day Project: You can choose a theme or topic for 30 days and all of your photos have to do with that. Ideas are a 30 Day Happiness Project, 30 Day Portrait Project, 30 Day Landscape Project, etc.
- Choose one type of photography and practice everyday for a month: food, landscapes, portraits, sports, etc.
- 100 Strangers: You have to be pretty brave to do this one, but a lot of photographers participate in this challenge. Take a portrait of 100 strangers over time. Get to know your subject, take a photo that reflects who they are, and put them all together at the end.
- Styled shoot: Create at theme (like woodland tea party, or thrift shop fashion, etc.) and work with some friends or your kids at creating a story, styling the shoot, and shooting it it.
- All B&W: Shoot only B&W photos for a month. Reflect on how it changes the way you see the world.
Explore Creative Living!
Adding creativity, in whatever form, to your daily life will nurture your individuality tremendously. You will explore and discover so much of who you are, what makes you unique, and that will carry over into your all areas of your life. Your eye will start developing and seeing things differently, and you will begin to notice your own personal style evolving.
If you continue to nurture this creative side of you, you can expect so many wonderful doors to open! So go and explore with a journal, your camera, a paint brush, or anything that inspires you!