Want to engage your creativity effortlessly? Practice your craft. A lot. A lot, a lot.
Yes, shoot often. Shoot something every day. It's good advice we hear from a lot of professionals.
My personal approach?
Practice with purpose. Make sure there are plenty of every days that are solely for practice. Shoot what you like, yes. Search for what inspires you. But make regular time to improve and refine--and I've discovered a great discipline for that.
Return to locations and subjects you've shot before. Shoot them again. And again.
Refine your technique. Use a new technique. Practice with new equipment or a fresh approach to framing or composing.
It's boring, you say, to keep shooting the same thing?
What's boring about seeing how far you've come and how much you've learned and how you've grown as an artist come to life?
This is Panther Falls, too, when I shot it a little over a year ago.
The water's a little lighter (last year there was no rain, this year it won't stop raining), and the light's a bit hotter, but otherwise I'm shooting from the same typography from the same vantage point with vastly different results.
And last year, I LOVED what I was able to capture. I had my Nikon D7100 (a step up from the CoolPix I shot with the year before that), my kit lenses, and I was finally framing images with more than "taking a snapshot in mind." I wanted people to look at my image and see what I saw when I breathe in this majestic place. And folks loved this image and others I made that day--they loved "hiking" with me, experiencing what I was through the moments I brought back with me and shared.
But I knew there were issues with the capture--some of which I couldn't "fix" until I learned how to better use my equipment. Others, I'd need better gear to affect.
I compared what I'd created with my camera with what I wanted to produce, and I clearly had a lot to learn.
I wasn't working with a tripod yet. They scared me, the little beasties. My first attempts what I got one? Picture me in a death match with an homicidal octopus--and the octopus won every time. But I got better at it. The sea creature and I made peace. And now I create sharper images from vantage points I couldn't manage, hand-held.
I was shooting on programmed settings. Dealing with the manual aperture, shutter speed, and ISO on my D7100 was an intimidating prospect.
I shot almost exclusively on automatic focus--which goes hand-in-hand with relying on programmed settings and not having the stable base of a tripod. I was strong enough and determined enough to get myself wherever I needed to be to frame a beautiful image, but my skills were still significantly limited when it came to crafting and "painting" my creative vision to life.
I couldn't "slow down" the water the way so many photographers I admired could--a consequence again of automatic settings and no tripod.
And there's no time in a short blog post to list what I didn't yet understand about the best light conditions for water shots, vantage points from which to shoot, as well as how to balance "shadowy" images in post processing.
So I walked away frustrated, right? Angry and disappointed and looking for something "easier" to shoot?
You know me better than that by now.
To the right is Minnehaha Falls from a few weeks ago.
Below, a capture from summer 2016, using my point-and-shoot Nikon CoolPix.
Neither are perfect images.
But this summer I wanted to practice long-exposure water photography shooting in more balanced light.
I was working on composition.
I'm now shooting with a tripod, on full manual settings so I control the light and shadow I'm painting, and I'm using a full-frame Nikon D810 (a world of difference, even from the D7100 I was so excited to be working with last summer).
And, finally, there's very little post processing done to the image to the right.
It's not as vibrant and there are still shadows to deal with. But to be able to capture something this fluid and ethereal almost straight out of the camera felt like a dream for this photographer.
Yes, the tonality of the 2018 image could use some tweaking, but there's very little else to "correct."
As apposed to the hours I've spent in the last few years trying to get the 2016 capture (to the left) "right."
And it simply never will be.
Not the least of which because, since it was shot with so many less pixels than my full-frame image, when I expand it for a larger size print, it absolutely begins to fall apart.
It's hard work, getting better at your craft, so your creativity can shine through. But it's SO worth it.
The number one thing I've learned will help, is returning to familiar locations and settings and--lather, rinse, repeat--giving it another go.
Have a new goal in mind, yes. Shoot at different times of day, under different conditions. Focus on one new skill at a time, refining or improving or trying something new with it. PRACTICE, the way you would your music of favorite sport or that presentation for work that your next promotion or raise or opportunity depends on.
And them make a point of comparing your work to that of the past.
That's the good stuff.
You can be your best instructor. Guge your progress and plan for your next attempt at getting what you want from the scene.
To the right is one of the Glenn Falls, NC cascades I love to shoot.
This was summer, 2017, again shot with my Nikon D7100.
Not a bad image. I still like so much about it--including how difficult this vantage point is to achieve.
But those shadows were problematic and I didn't know how to deal with them in post. There was too much texture.
Even though I wanted to capture the roughness of the running water, there was too much of everything going on, distracting the eye.
The image to the left was taken a year later, just a few weeks ago, with my full-frame Nikon D810, using a tripod so I could slow the water down just enough to achieve the smoothness I wanted.
I shot in different light, in RAW format this time, so I grabbed as much information as possible. And very little cropping was involved in post. Which means I got to keep as many pixels as possible.
Composition-wise, I love this shot even better than the its peer above.
I've learned in the last year the value of foreground framing, so the eye has something to invite it into the image. Those rocks in the lower third of the image are EVERYTHING, making me so proud of my latest attempt.
No way is the image the best it could be. So, I'll keep trying. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I'll head back to Glenn Falls, Minnehaha, Panther and other favorite haunts.
I'll be hard at work, with new goals and skills to practice. I'll learn something new with each trip.
I can't wait to see what I create next.
I hope to see you there!