Learning for Life

The creative process goes hand in hand with a willingness to learn. The day we decide we have learned enough, we stop developing our creativity. Vincent van Gogh began painting when he was twenty-nine years old. He did not have an abundance of natural ability at the start. Hand-eye coordination did not come easily for him. But he knew how to learn.

Those who accept that learning is a never-ending process develop an ability to grow beyond whatever talents they may have. Winston Churchill, considered to be one of the greatest orators of the twentieth century, was not born with a silver tongue. He began his career with pronounced speech impediments, and he could not speak extemporaneously. In order to compensate for these difficulties, he wrote all of his speeches and practiced delivering them before a mirror. Over years of practise and work, he continually learned.

As a photograph I naturally read as many photo books as I can get my hands on. It may be about Photoshop, it may be about other technical issues or—and that is more often the case—it may be photo books by other photographers, because nothing teaches me as much as looking at other photographer’s work. But my learning process doesn’t stop with pure photography related issues, even reading a novel may teach me something I can use in my creative process. I look at all kinds of artistic work, I listen to music, I search the web, and, not the least; I read a lot of books about creativity in itself. I also attend workshops and I teach workshops – which is just as much a learning process for me as for the students. I keep my eye open for any possibility to learn. Sometimes I get nothing out of whatever it is that I immerse myself into and sometimes I find a treasure of knowledge I can make use of.

The learning process may be filled with moments of failure, disappointments, and perhaps even embarrassment. Yet each failure can lead to greater competence when it becomes a basis for learning. It is only those who don’t believe in learning who assumes that failure is not a legitimate stage of development. They do not recognize that learning often means they may be «bad» before they get «good». To those willing to learn, perfect performance is not an issue; it’s all about the final results. Furthermore, this ability to create results is closely tied to learning and be willing to learn. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, the saying goes. One may add that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly until you can do it well.

We may all have various natural talents, but we can all learn and we can all grow. That’s why I think creativity is not connected to talent, but the willingness to learn. We all have creativity in us, as long as we are willing to look for it and learn so that we can express it.

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Free Shooting

There is not one way to approach photography. Most of us find a way that fits our temperament as well as our photographic vision. Some photographers spend a lot of time reflecting over each photo they capture. This is particularly evident with a so-called contemplative approach, which is very much a Zen-like way of thinking and, I would add, a slow style. (I wrote about the contemplative approach in my post Different Perspective) .

I, on the other hand, mostly find myself at the other end of the scale, applying a more intuitive and faster approach. It goes along with my restless nature and need for speed. However, from time to time I do try to slow down and become more thoughtful in the process of capturing photos. As I wrote in the post called exactly Slow Down some weeks ago (written as a reminder to self), it’s often too easy to “spray and pray” when rapid-firing the shutter without too much reflections. Slowing down, then, is about being mindful and staying with the subject and findings its inherent quality rather than forcing yourself and your vision upon it.

One approach isn’t better than the other—or any other way of shooting, necessarily. We each need to find the way that works for us. However, I do think it’s always valuable not to become too rigid in one kind of expression or approach. By changing approach, trying out new ways, we keep developing our photography. Yes, the quick and intuitive way of shooting is “my” way when I don’t have time to experiment and play. Nevertheless, I should by no means become confined to it.

This much said, though, I believe we often tend to overdo the thinking, maybe as a result of an uncertainty in how to approach a certain subject. As much as I a couple of weeks recommend to slow down and approach the capturing with mindfulness, I think it’s equally valuable to, at least from time to time, let go of all inhibitions, preconceived ideas and over-thinking.

I am a strong believe in what the renowned photographer Henri Cartier Bresson once stated: “Thinking should be done beforehand and afterwards—never while actually taking a photograph”.

One way of letting go, is through something one could call free shooting. You have probably heard about free writing. This is the idea of letting your ideas flow to paper. No concern is given to grammar, completeness, or final usage—just opening the door and let it flow. No idea or statement is too crazy. The same approach can be applied to photography. Thus the term free shooting.

With free shooting you let your imagination go wild. Try any idea that comes to mind. No concern should be given to limiting your composition, exposure, or any other technical or artistic considerations. Don’t hold back. This approach often works when trying to capture a fleeting moment, taken many shots in a row, hoping one may deliver the perfect image. Just letting go. What happens happens.

Free shooting is a way of getting you juices flowing.

Some time ago I photographed a roller derby tournament. It was a perfect event for using free shooting. There was so much energy and speed with the teams flying around the track, ever faster and more competitive as the competition evolved. There was certainly no time for a contemplative approach or slowing down for a more mindful approach. I just raised the camera and kept shooting without knowing what I got.

Have you ever tried free shooting? Besides, what is your favourite approach to your photography?

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Canon Eos 1D with a 16-35 mm lens set at 35 mm. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

If Only

Sometimes when I am down and feeling miserable, I wish that my life would be different. We all do, don’t we? How often have I not thought; imagine if only I had been one of the big stars in the photography world. How would my life not have been then?! If only…

Some time ago, I proposed a photo story for a weekend edition of a major newspaper. It was a story about the drug scene in my hometown, which had changed after a park where drug addicts and dealers had been gathering, was closed down. To my dismay, the proposal was turned down. I had been sure I would get the assignment.

When the idea was rejected, I felt as if my creativity had been belittled and discredited. I started to think what if the former editor who knew me had not just been replaced with a younger yuppie? If only I was a renowned photograph, surely he wouldn’t have turned me down, replaced or not?

Craving for success and acceptance for our creativity is a very human reaction. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily. However, the trap is falling in under us when we don’t see the difference between our creative abilities and the world’s reaction to it. When we don’t get the acceptance we crave, that is when we start to think if only… True creative people, though, don’t use “if only” as an excuse.

Creativity has always been about making the most of what you have. Sometimes creativity thrives when you are having fun, and other times it flourishes when you have your back against the wall. The latter was the case with a young man named Johannes who lived in medieval times.

Johannes was ambitious but short of funding. He got help to make what he called “holy mirrors” for religious pilgrims to buy. When the mirror was held up to a relic, it supposedly captured and reflected the glory of God. However, Johannes business idea flawed, among other factors because a severe flood delayed the pilgrimage until the following year. Johannes didn’t give up after this failure. Living in a wine producing region he was acquainted with the process. Suddenly he saw a different use for the traditional wine press. With a few modifications, he transformed the press from making juice to printing words. In so doing, Johannes Gutenberg had invented the printing press that changed the course of the word. The press was first used to print the bible and thus Gutenberg was able to provide people with a way to experience the glory of God, even if his “holy mirrors” had failed miserably at first.

Creativity is never about wishing things would be better or different or disasters wouldn’t happen to you. Creatives don’t use “if only” as an excuse. “If only” focuses on what might have been. Creatives focus on making the most of the raw materials that they have and under the circumstances that surrounds them. Taking these materials and combining them into something new is where creativity becomes art.

We should never forget that the creative path itself—creating—is what makes photography, or any creative endeavour you may embark on, such a fulfilling undertaking. Too often, we forget this simple truth as our desires for mastery, for recognition or even monetary gain possesses us.

Yes, we all dream of getting worldwide recognition, to become the next Richard Avedon, W. Eugene Smith or Ansel Adams. However, do not let this desire get in the way of your photography. Enjoy the process, move down the creative path with open senses and an open mind, breath, live, be one with your art, and do not get caught up with desires that may well turn you away from the path. And don’t use “if only” as an excuse.

I reworked my story proposal of the drug scene, sent it to a different magazine where it finally got accepted. These days a new issue of the magazine is out, with my story spread over 14 pages.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 10.9 mm (the equivalent of a 24 mm for a full format canera). Shutter speed: 1/60 s. Aperture: f/1.7. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Do you need some ideas to improve your photography and not having to spend a lot of money on new equipment? My eBook 10 Great Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Point-and-Shoot Camera might be what you are looking for. It’s an inexpensive eBook full of inspiration, and it’s available on my website http://www.munchow.no.

A Camera Will Open the World


Summer is a time for taking time off, for breaking up from usual routines, for travel, for relaxation, for exploring waters or mountains, for good food, for spending time with friends and families. The last two weeks I have enjoyed all this. And off course photographed all while enjoying my summer holidays. The camera is always with me, even when I take time off from working as a photographer.

Summer is high season for photography for most people. It’s also a time when we photograph more freely and use the camera not only to record our dear ones but the world around us as we go travelling to new places. The camera becomes a tool to connect to the world. And it becomes a tool to connect with people. If we only dare.

Photographing people we meet on the street takes courage, persistence and not the least being willing to face a no when people don’t want to be photographed by strangers. However, the reward when we dare take that step will make it all worthwhile. We learn about the life of others, we learn about their culture, we learn about their country in a different way than just reading about it in a travel guide and not the least, we make new friends.

If we only dare.

When my interest for photography aroused many years ago, it was mainly routed in nature and landscape photography, mostly because I have always been an outdoor junkie, but maybe also because it was the easier way around when it comes to subject matter. I simple did not have to relate with or take into consideration anybody else. After some time I started to develop an interest in street photography, though, probably as a natural extension of my passion for travelling. But back then I was pretty shy, and I approached street photography with a 200 millimetre lens – from far away. The result was equally remote and uninteresting.

I remember I read articles and interviews with famous photographers stating that photographing had enhanced their own experiences on many levels not the least in getting in touch with people from all corners of the world and of any and every kind. They talked about how the camera was a way to get into people’s lives. Back then I had a hard time grasping this, not the least seeing myself approaching people on the street. Why would anyone let a complete stranger take a photograph of them? I simply didn’t have the courage to get into their faces. But slowly and over time, my lenses became shorter and my courage increased in reverse proportion. I started to interact with people around me wherever I went and I started to photograph them. In the beginning only a single snap or two and then back up and out again, but eventually I started to relate with people I wanted to photograph on a more profound level. Suddenly I found myself in the same place as those famous photographs I had read about. And at some point my 200 mm was replace by a 17 mm (which I later on mostly have abandoned again because it tends to distort people too much when you shoot a meter or yard away from their faces).

For a long time it still drained me to shoot on the street, and after a day of shooting I could be completely exhausted. I remember quite some time ago; I had been travelling in South East Asia for half a year, and on my way back I had a stop-over in Karachi in Pakistan for 36 hours or something like that. On any given day I would use such an opportunity to go out and shoot for most of the time available. But after having pushed myself onto the street for the most part of half a year, I couldn’t face it one more time. I was too exhausted and I stayed in my hotel all those hours without venturing out even once.

Today I mostly don’t feel uncomfortable approaching strangest on the street or in ghettoes or in camps or wherever my photography or travels take me. Mostly, because some days are still set to be my introvert days, but I find that quite OK. Nevertheless by using the camera and being willing to go out of my comfort zone, I have been able extend my photographic experience and open up myself to the world. The camera has brought the world to me.

(Part of this post is an excerpt from a post I published in May 2012).

The World Doesn’t Need Another Ansel Adams

«Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.» – Oscar Wilde

We all have our heroes. We all have our role models. Be it in arts or in other aspects of life. And that is all fine. The hardest part, though, is to break ties with those heroes. Particularly in arts. To find our own voice takes courage and determination. It takes consciousness and willingness to do those first stumbling steps on our own. Finding your own voice may take some time to develop. But there is no way around it if your want to become true to your own vocation, if you want to become a true artist. It’s just like the child breaking ties with its parents to become a grown-up himself – or herself.

As artists we have all copied others at some point in our creative training. That’s but natural. We learn by copying. One of the great artists may have been the inspiration for our own pursuit of artistic development. And we may have gained momentum by this artist’s vision. But there comes a time to break away. There comes a time to stand on our own, because we don’t want to remain copycats the rest of our lives. That is when your artistic vision starts to develop, and that’s when you start to develop your own artistic style. If you don’t make this initial break, you will always stay in the shadow of your heroes – and nobody will ever care about your arts. No success of any other artist will help you become successful yourself, no matter how good you are at copying their way of seeing, their way of doing and their way of expressing. If you are as good as Ansel Adams doing what he did, no one will ever see anything but his influence on your work – if at all they will cast a glance on your work.

In his book «The Accidental Creative – How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice», the writer and creative consultant Todd Henry opens the last chapter with the title «Cover Bands Don’t Change the World». The same could be said about any arts – our arts. If we don’t free ourselves from our heroes, we will never be able to impact anyone with our arts; in fact it will hardly be worth the term art at all.

Henry continues: «It’s my desire to continue to strive to find my own voice and to weed out all the places where I’m being “cover-bandish”. This can be very tricky because it often means turning down more work than I accept, but my hope is that the original value that I bring to the clients I chose to work with will create raving “fans” who want to continue to work with me and trust me when I develop new products or ideas.»

Back when I started out pursuing a photographic career one of my heroes was Ansel Adams. I thought his black and white landscape pictures spoke directly to my heart. I was very impressed with his way of bringing out details and tones in all parts of the landscape and his dramatic visual language. He inspired me to learn about the Zone System – and needless to say, my pictures started to look very much like his – if far from as good. In my case breaking loose happened by itself, simply because I lost interest in landscape pictures and moved on to other fields. Of course I found other role models, but then I was already more conscious about my own vocation and my own way of seeing.

Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even if it’s clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work. – William Klein.

A few years ago the magazine Wired had an article about 10 photographs one should ignore. One of them was no other than Ansel Adams. The writer Blake Andrews wrote about him: «Adams created some remarkable images and he wrote the book (literally) on photographic technique. Yet on the whole he’s probably done more harm than good for photography. How many young photographers have fussed over which zone to put the shadows in while the light fades and the photo disappears? More importantly, how many perfectly exposed black and white vistas of snow-capped peaks or rivers snaking into the background do we need to see? Yes, nature is majestic. We get it. Saint Ansel showed us, and he did it better than you ever will, so move on already or we’ll score your performance as a negative.» Point made, I should add.

To sum up my point then: The world doesn’t need another Ansel Adams. It needs a genuine you.

On a different note: For the next two weeks I will take some time off from blogging – I am actually gonna have some holidays, padling and travelling and visiting friends. But alas, by mid July I will be back blogging again. See you again then. Have a great summer (if you are in the northern hemisphere) or great winter (for those of you in the southern hemisphere).

The New Visual Language

I come from a tradition of classical story telling with my photos. It’s the way documentary photographers have emphasized both content and moment in the stories each of their photographs tell. My friend and colleague, Sven Creutzmann, comes from the same tradition. And this—you may call it traditional visual language—is what we teach in our workshop, like the one in Cuba earlier this month.

We are not stuck in the way we see photography and of course let each student develop his or her own voice. At least that’s what we try to stress for ourselves as well as the students and that’s really our focus. Even though we believe in the classical use of visual language, I think it’s fair to say that we are both open to other approaches in ways of shooting and expressing oneself.

Nevertheless, over the last many years, we have seen a shift in how for instance award winning documentary photography are less and less accentuating the clear story telling, and we have both been puzzled by this change. In documentary photography, a more artistic or ambiguous approach has become more prevalent. Personally, I like photos that are open to interpretations, in which the message is not clearly set by the photographer, and where there are layers of understanding embedded in the photo. However, the photos that win these contests have quite often baffled both Sven and me.

It’s the postmodern or even post-postmodern school of young photographers that are now dominating the spearhead of photojournalism. It’s a kind of photography that is often described as deconstructed in which traditional rules or guidelines are broken in order to create a new visual language. Again, I am one who promotes not following any rules or established guidelines. However, I have found a lot of this new photography rather boring, drab and uninteresting. As I wrote in my post The Emperor’s New Clothes? a couple of years ago, the postmodern approach is often plain and boring—almost as intended—but is raised to the sky by pretentious acclamation.

I admit. This sounds like an old, outdated photographer ranting about times that are changing. And maybe I am. Still, I have always been one to push myself and try to go into unknown territory. So, after Sven and I were done with this year’s photo workshop, we decided to sit down and figure out what this new visual language is. We looked up a bunch of award winning photographers and tried to deconstruct their deconstructed photography. I tell you, the result was quite surprising.

To quickly sum up what we found: One aspect that we took away was the fact that a lot of the photography we looked at for us would have been mistakes we wouldn’t have selected and certainly not submitted to any photo competitions. Furthermore and to be more specific, we found that these photos often put elements in the foreground that are unsharp and add a visual disorder to the imagery. Photographers who shoot with this new visual language move further back or move out of the story (whereas I always teach that you cannot get close enough). They seem to capture in-between-moments where Sven and I have trained ourselves to be able to capture the peak of a moment. They use less wide-angle lenses and they often shoot reflections or through windows or openings. They often include weird details or something that is not quite clear what is and often the composition is static or symmetric. Their photos are often simplified and does not try to build a story, at least not in a classical sense, and part of this is that they often do not include moments at all (not only off-moments as already mentioned) nor people. Finally, we found that many of these photos are heavily worked over in post-production.

One thing that puzzled us was why some of these approaches were used, until a friend of us who is not a photographer, told us that maybe it’s to leave more open to interpretation instead of showing a clear-cut story, simply to be less clear. Of course, that is at least part of it.

Deconstructing is one thing, though. After having done so, Sven and I went out in the streets of Havana and tried to shoot with this new visual language as a template. At first, it felt a little weird and uncomfortable, but it didn’t take long before both of us got a sense of freedom in our shooting. The next couple of hours we completely lost ourselves in the process and captured thousands of photos. We had fun, we felt inspired and it was simply liberating to do something completely different.

Even the result took us aback. I am not saying this is amazing work, by far. But it certainly gave me a different perspective (you can judge by yourself). I think I am more open to the new visual language. Furthermore, I am sure I will pick up what this lesson taught me. It won’t shift my photography completely, but I have gotten a new tool in my photographic tool box. I really enjoyed this new visual language. Of course, by now what is new has already moved ahead to a new place. But that’s OK. I will just have to repeat this exercise every so often.

It’s What’s Inside That Matters


You know best what triggers you when you are out photographing. It can be light, it can be forms, it can be beautiful landscapes, it can be ugly, rundown buildings, it can be strong, characteristic faces, it can be cityscapes in twilight or it can people jumping in the air. I don’t know what it is for you. For me it’s certainly people living their regular lives in combination with good, natural light. That is what triggers my index finger more than anything else.

But here is a twist of thought: It’s not what’s in front of the camera that matters – it’s what’s behind. Or to be more specific; it’s what’s inside you as a photographer. Now, how is that for a thought?

My point is; any situation, any subject matter, any moment holds infinite possibilities for creating strong and engaging photographs. Maybe – or surely – you don’t always see them, but someone would. Haven’t you come across a photographer who is directing the camera towards something, and when you look around to see what it is, you think by yourself that’s gonna be a boring picture. It’s no picture at all as a matter of fact. Or so you think – at least I have done it numeral times. But I have also been fortunate enough sometimes later to be able to see the final result from something I first thought would never make a decent picture. And I was no less than astonished. The photographer had seen something I was not even able to get a glimpse of. His or her vision had been able to turn that boring subject matter into a photograph that blew me off my ignorance. Maybe the way the photograph was processed after the fact or maybe just by the way it was framed and focused.

I have come to learn that nothing is without photographical potentials. I have seen it again and again. Throughout my photographic career I have attended many a workshop and taught numerous workshops myself, too, and every time I notice attendees of those workshops coming back with photographs from situations no one would think would be worthy a single capture. What more is the photographers are able to show some amazing results. And they all come back with photographs taking in a variety of locations and in a variety of situation.

What has this taught me? First of all not to judgementally write off any photographer I come across shooting something I can’t see the point of photographing. Ignorance and condemnation has never been positive sentiments in any given situation. Secondly I try to expand my own vision; I try to see pictures where I before never thought a picture excited. By that I am forcing myself to go outside of my comfort zone; I try to challenge myself – which is something any artist wanting to develop his or her artistic expression ought to do.

When Catastrophe Hits You

Sometimes we just have to take the bad with the good. The reality is that nothing is so bad that it can’t be good for something. If we can only wrap our heads around and see the misfortune—whatever it might be—in the right perspective.

I know, it’s easy to get discouraged when bad things happen to us. Right in the middle of it all, it’s hard to encourage positive thoughts. But however hard it is, if we can slowly drag ourselves out of the miserable feeling, we stand to win more than we might have lost.

I am in such a place right now. The last couple of weeks have been hard. My work has been slowing down more than I like to admit. The reality is, I have hardly gotten any new assignments over last the fortnight or so. What more is, I believe I won’t get more work for the rest of December.

Of course, it has to do with the industry I am working in. As you probably know, the media businesses have been struggling for years already. The disruption of the digital era has come down hard on the media, as it has for instance on the music industry as well as other branches. For most media companies it’s been hard to make a profit these days and keep a sustainable business, and for one who delivers to those businesses, of course I would have to expect to get hurt, too.

So far, I have managed fairly well, though. Yes, it’s been harder to get assignment at times, but I have just pushed harder, and gotten what I needed to survive. Now in the end of November, it seems to have come to a standstill, though.

I don’t expect it to stay like this forever. As a matter of fact, I believe I will be in full business come January as all the companies I am working for will start on a new budget year. However, the present standstill has gotten me thinking. I need to diversify and I need to find more legs to stand on. What happens now have giving me an opportunity to reflect on my own situation.

It’s by far a new thought for me. For years, I have been thinking about other areas I can expand into. The problem is finding time to develop new business areas, when you are so busy with the work you already have. I have—slowly and discontinuously—done various attempts but nothing that is ready to take over the loss of business during this time of standstill.

But alas. Suddenly I do have time. Moreover, that’s what I am going to do the rest of this month. Start working on my new ideas and develop those business areas. My hope is I will get far enough to be able to put them into action already in the beginning of next year. It was about time I got going. I knew I was playing with fire when I year after year postponed getting into new areas. Time to expand and find myself again. I hope…

I will end with a quote by Becca Fitzpatrick, an American author, best known for having written the New York Times bestseller, Hush, Hush: «Sometimes bad things have to happen before good things can.».

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 105 mm. Shutter speed: 1/30 of a second. Aperture: f/4.0. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

The Rollercoaster of Learning

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It’s funny how, when you first notice something, it tends to reappear almost regularly thereafter in various situations and place and in various forms. Not long ago, I read about the four stages of learning in a little ebook by the Canadian photographer, David duChemin. Then, not long after, an explanation of those same four stages appeared in a book I then read, by the photographer Rick Sammon. Interestingly enough this book I had bought long ago, but only recently got around to read.

After those two first encounters, the four stages have appeared in many different circumstances, until I finally learned that they originate from Gordon Training International. Initially known as the «four stages for learning any new skill», the four states of competence was a learning model originally introduced by Noel Burch, an employee of the institute. First drafted in the 1970s, this «conscious competence» learning model is described as the psychological states that are involved in transforming skill incompetence to competence or outright mastery.

The Four Stages of Learning provides a model for learning. It suggests that individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence. As they recognize their incompetence, they consciously acquire a skill, and then consciously use it. Eventually, the skill can be utilized without it being consciously thought through: the individual is said to have then acquired unconscious competence.

Being one who teaches workshop and give lectures, and also being passionate about understanding the creative process, this was for me an eye-opener. On some level The Four Stages of Learning is pure common sense, but seeing it in writing made me realize how well they describe my own journey as a photographer, as well. Because it is a journey.

As duChemin writes in his lovely, little book Master the Craft; «Mastery is a tricky thing. It’s not so much a destination as a journey. That journey takes us through predictable stages:
• Unconscious incompetence
• Conscious incompetence
• Conscious competence
• Unconscious competence
We go from not knowing what we don’t know, to knowing how much we really don’t know, to learning more and being very aware of what we know, to finally knowing a great deal but being able to operate in that knowledge somewhat intuitively.»

The first stage, unconscious incompetence, can also be describe as «I don’t know what I don’t know». In photographic terms, it describes the entry level to the craft, the first encounter, maybe, with a camera. When we first get into photography, we take some shots, look at them on the camera’s display, and say something like, «hey, that’s cool, I did it!»

For most people that is probably good enough, but others maybe get caught by a more profound interest in the photographic process. They enter into a new stage where they search for knowledge and understanding. This is the conscious incompetence stage, «I know what I don’t know». This stage can hit us like a ton of bricks. It can be frustrating and it can be demanding. We realize that we need help and have potential. This is the first step, really, in becoming a good photographer. We maybe read books, attend workshops, take online training courses and so on to get a better understanding.

At some point we reach the third stage, conscious competence, «I grow, and know and it starts to show», or, «I know what I know». Knowing we are good is a good feeling. However, it takes a lot of hard work to get to this level of learning. At this stage, we also know that there is plenty out there that we still don’t know, and we may still at times feel inadequate or encounter low self esteem. Nevertheless, we do know what we know.

As you build experience and expertise, you reach the stage of unconscious competence—wherein you do not have to think about the activity that you are very good in. You use your skills unconsciously and keep building your level of understanding on a more unconscious level. This is the level we all want to reach in the things we care passionately about. We don’t really have to think too much about what we are doing—we just do it. The rollercoaster ride of making pictures is not over; we still have creative ups and downs. Nevertheless, being on the rollercoaster is much more fun than being on the merry-go-around of making middle-of-the-road photos, as Rick Sammon points out in his book «Creative Visualization».

This is what duChemin writes about the last stage: «To me, mastery is about getting to the point where the tools in my hand no longer get in my way. It means getting to the point where I more easily reach a state of flow in my creativity. It doesn’t remotely mean the creative efforts themselves come more easily; they may come harder. Once you’ve been doing this for 30 years, you’ve picked the low-hanging fruit and your standards have grown along with your craft. You always have something new to learn.»

In the end, that is all what matters to me; to keep learning. I may have creative ups and downs, but learning more about my craft, my skills, myself and the world around me is for me always a driving force and ultimately nothing but pure enjoyment.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/640 of a second. Aperture: f/13. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Collect and Save for Times of Sparseness

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In your creative endeavour, have you ever had the feeling that you are staring into a blank wall? Nothing is wanting to be expressed through you. You have no idea what to photograph. Or you have a blank canvas or a white screen in front of you, and nothing, absolutely nothing will make its way from your mind to the medium—whatever the medium is.

I am sure you have. As everybody who is engaging in a creative adventure, has. I, for one, certainly have many a time. Not long ago, I simply could not take one single photo, it was as if all of me simply didn’t want to photograph, every muscle resisting even the thought of bringing out the camera. My mind was empty. Nothing. Nada.

That’s when collecting raw materials comes in handy. Over the last year or so, I had written down ideas for photo projects I might want to pursue one day. Now I dug out that list and found an idea that could be worthwhile trying out, despite my lack of creative energy. Before I knew it, I was thoroughly engaged in the process.

We have all heard of writer’s block. It happens to not only writers, but anyone doing any kind of creative work. One way to get out of the rut is to collect raw materials whenever you encounter something that seems interesting. Then, in times of emptiness and standstill, you have a list of ideas that can help you back on the creative track again.

Creativity comes from making associations and connections, and toying with convergences of thoughts; seeing things in a new way—extrapolating, expounding, and using different perspectives that allow new concepts to be seen. All those processes begin with pre-existing materials that trigger new ideas. Raw materials.

Raw materials are words, images, objects, concepts, structures, and other stimuli already in existence that give you a place to start and banish the bewilderment of blankness. Raw materials seduce you to take something in your own unique direction by rearranging, modifying, using an aspect of, repackaging, tweaking, springing off of it, and adding your personal twist. These actions are some of the most effective ways of being creative.

Like Twyla Tharp, the renowned American dancer, choreographer, and author, points out: «Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.»

Twyla Tharp collects boxes with anything she finds interesting, no matter whether it’s relevant for her present project or not. If something attracts her attention she collects it. This is almost like magical boxes full of unresolved ideas, available for her whenever she needs something to spring off from.

We can all learn from Tharp. Anyone working in some creative way should collect raw materials. It can be objects, words, thoughts, yes, anything; the important thing is to collect them when you encounter them. Put them in a box or write them down in your notebook or on your cell phone. Immediately. Do not wait until your mind is empty and you stare at that blankness.

About her boxes, Tharp furthermore says: «A box is like soil to me. It’s basic, earthly, elemental. It’s home. It’s what I can always go back to when I need to regroup and keep my bearings. Knowing that the box is always there gives me freedom to venture out, be bold, dare to fall flat on my face. Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.»

Do you have a box—literally or figuratively—that you collect raw materials in for later use?

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Fujifilm X-10 with the zoom set 7.1 mm, equally to 28 mm for a full frame camera. Shutter speed: 1/400 of a second. Aperture: f/3.2. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.