Keep Creating!

In times like this, particular right now, the world needs your inspiration through whatever it is you create. Yes, we need inspiration, something that will give us hope—your art, your writing, your music, your photography, your painting—again whatever it is you create. You can make a difference, not by doing anything out of the ordinary, but through whatever it is, you create.

So keep creating.

I know it is difficult to keep the creativity flowing in bleak times like this. We’d all rather feel like cover up under a blanket or go in hiding, just let things get better and wait the situation out. But I know you have it in you, you are a creative person, after all, you are reading this blog, so please bring whatever it is you create into the world.

You have this gift and it’s full of light and love and wisdom but the thing itself is worth nothing until you make it happen and then give it away. The making and the giving of it is the only thing that allows the gift to keep moving. It is the only thing that prevents that light and love and wisdom and grace from damming up inside you—and in all of us.

You may feel like you are running on empty. The world is hanging on its hinges, whether we look at it with respect to the political situation in many countries, the climate, and of course—and not the least—the pandemic that more than anything inhibits us right now. But don’t let it inhibit you from creating.

We need your art. This world needs your art. But most of all we need you. More than ever, we need people who are vulnerable and compassionate and see things differently and are willing to be as fully, brilliantly human as possible, and it is making your art and having the courage to give it forward that will make you so.

Don’t worry about whether it is good or not. It is good. Because you have made it with passion and love—and that passion and love will transcend to all of us.

It’s a new year. Blank pages. Let’s not let the pandemic be what fills these pages. Let’s live. Let’s inspirer each other. Let’s create. I wish you all the best for 2022.


Photo Workshops and Tours in 2022
In believing that the world will return to some normalcy and open up again within reasonable time, I and Blue Hour Photo Workshops plan a handful of photos workshops for this year.

“The Personal Expression”—a weekend in Bergen, Norway with focus on how to develop your personal, photographic expression. June 10th to 12th 2022.

”Telling Stories with the Camera”—five days in the beautiful village of Bleik in Northern Norway. A dream spot for any photographer. The focus will be on storytelling and the visual language. September 21st to 19th 2022.

”Photo Tour in Granada”—a week in Nicaragua for the adventures. We will explore the colonial city and its extraordinary countryside. November 5th to 11th 2022.

Are you interested in developing your photographic skills? Do you like to travel? Do you want to make your photos tell a story in a much stronger vocabulary? Find your own expression? Develop your vision and become more creative? Any of these workshops would take your photography to the next level. I promise you, you will be in for an amazing experience. Click any of the links for more info.

Become a Better Photographer

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I have been pondering about what it takes to become a real good photographer. I mean everyone can capture a decent photo – particularly with today’s cameras that take care of the basic handling. However, to make your photography stand out requires a bit more than just having a camera. The question is, how can we make that transition happening? Yes, understanding and learning the craft is maybe one springboard, but it can only take you this far. The difference between good photography and photography that stands out is subtle, but at the same time makes a substantial difference. As mentioned, I believe everyone can take a good photograph if they just put a little energy into the process. But the next step, how do we get there?

It’s actually not that difficult, either. Yet, it takes commitment and finding a way to connect with you inner self – and finally make that wisdom be expressed through your photography. I know, it sounds a little phony, but it’s quite how it works. There are no simple tricks, really, but just dedicated steps towards mastering photography at a more profound and more personal level. As with everything else in life, we are talking about making priorities, that is, if you really decide to become an accomplished photographer – and this decision gets ingrained in your backbone, then you can become just that, a photographer who creates captivating and even outstanding photography.

The obstacles, of course, are that it takes time, effort and sometimes even money to make such a commitment. In addition, it follows that you’ll need to downgrade other things in life, often things that you care about, things that you enjoy, or just things that simply is easier and more pleasurable to do. The difference between a photographer who creates outstanding photography and one who merely captures good photos, may be that former is the one that works relentlessly and don’t mind standing in muddy water for hours – figuratively speaking. Nevertheless, we can all make progress, and he are a few steps that can help you on the way:

Look to other photographer. Read photography books, go to exhibitions, watch other photographers’ work and find photography online. Surely, there is going to be a lot you will not like, but the point of this is just to find photos and photographers that inspire you. Bury yourself in what you find inspiring and that which gives you energy, whether it is workshops, photo books, exhibitions or anything else. Whatever it is, see as much photography as you can find in any media or outlet, and immerse yourself in it.

Work on a personal project. Nothing brings your photography so much energy and is pushing yourself more than working on a personal photo project. But keep in mind, complete freedom is not inspiring. Instead, set some limits you will have to stick with. Find yourself a project or even a couple of projects, and work within the limits you have set for yourself. Do not be tempted to expand the boundaries simply because it is easier and more relaxing. For something really good to come out of your photography, it must have a core of authenticity and a nerve that is being expressed in the work. That is something you won’t get through boundless and leisurely respite. A project can be done in a weekend or it can take years to accomplish. The theme is not important – as long as it somehow touches or is relevant to you.

Care for more than the photography itself. Remember, photography is a tool, not an end in itself. A tool must be used for something. Whether your goal is an art expression or to tell a story, that goal must be foremost in your thoughts, not photography as such. Some of the world’s best photographers do not see themselves neither as photographers nor as artists: James Nachtwey is primarily a social reformer, and the same can be said about Nick Ut, W. Eugene Smith, Sebastião Salgado and several other of the world’s foremost documentary photographers. This also applies to many of the world’s greatest art photographers, but in a different way. They often choose to turn to the world and the viewer differently, but the desire to tell, ask questions, provoke thoughts, to make the viewer smile, react and feel alive, remain the same.

Seek cultural experiences. Cultural impulses are important, even more so it’s important not only to seek impulses from the same field you feel familiar with. The Matrix films would never have come into being without the inspiration from cartoons and their idiom, and the same applies to famous and beautiful movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Sin City, just to name a few. Photographers such as David LaChapelle are possible largely inspired by film and music, and others are inspired by literature, sculpture, painting or numerous other artistic expressions and cultural forms. Keep an open mind, take your pick and expose yourself to different concepts, cultures, thoughts and impressions. Somewhere in there, you might just find your brilliant idea, which you would never know exactly how in advance.

Photograph a lot and often. It takes a lot of work to master a discipline such as photography. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect – no less true in photography. What you do a lot, you will excel in, and although 99.9 percent of your shots might end up being trash, in the process you have trained your eyes, brain and finger. Moreover, taking 1000 photos of which 0.1 percent is good, well, then you have gotten at least one good shot. Not bad at all, or?

Art – What is Art?

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I often get asked how I would define “art”. What is art as far as I see it? Of course, it is an almost impossible task to write what art is in an absolute sense. Much sharper intellectuals than me have tried to define what art is. Nevertheless, I should still be able say something about how I understand the word and look upon art.

For me, what is and what isn’t art, isn’t a clearly defined line, though. There are no unconditional criteria. For me, art certainly does not involve an elitist understanding. An artist does not have to have an art education for the work to be called art, he or she does not have to express herself or himself within the classical art genres—or, on the other hand, having to be part of the avant-garde scene. There are no limitations for subjects art can deal with, the work does not have to be manifested into a physical object; and it certainly does not have to hang in galleries. Street art and street performers can be doing art just as much as a traditional trained painter or musician can.

Art surely isn’t something defined by a selected few connoisseurs or experts, by those who partake in the contemporary dialogue or discourse about art. Anyone have the right to define art as they want to, even if they don’t have an art education, even if they don’t understand the latest trends in art.

Maybe it’s easier to say something about what art is not, rather than what it is. However, at the bottom of it all lays a capability to touch our emotional sensations. For me, art also needs to challenge conventional thoughts. After all, creativity, which is where art originates from, means bringing into life, or bringing something new into existence. Art that repeats whatever already is isn’t art any longer. Vincent van Gogh was a groundbreaking artist, but if everybody afterwards imitated his style, that work by his successors would not be art any longer, no matter how good it might have been, on a technical level.

This much said about the non-repetitiveness of art, I want to add that, although art constantly changes and develops, just because something has come out of fashion, doesn’t mean it isn’t art any longer. Some time ago I came across some very interesting thoughts by the blogger Melissa in her post Perspective, in which she writes about her discomfort when looking at art from artists who have been taught at art schools and how they think about art: “They have been taught that they must participate in the conversation where it was when they came on the scene. They must not paint, because painting is dead. Had they all been born a few decades sooner, they would have been able to join the conversation at an earlier point. Say, before painting had been declared dead. According to this line of thought, all painting that happens today is derivative.” Of course, at least to my understanding, art is not limited to the latest fashion or the latest anti-whatever-was-before.

On a more basic level, art deals with human experiences. It says something about what it is to be human, not scientifically and factually, but in a way that allows us to interpret the artistic expression. As the photographer and artist, Carlos Jurado, once expressed it: “Art allow us to expand the dimensions of our everyday life.”

Art enlighten us, again not through scientific or factual means, but by touching our emotions and make us reflect about who we are as human beings with all what that encompasses. “True art is an epiphany, an enlightening spark dancing in the perceived gap between ourselves and everything else.” That is what Duane Preble writes in a foreword to the book Tao of Photography.

In her post Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Challenger’s Choice (Architecture) Sally W. Donatello wrote that “art is meant to illicit doubt, dialogue, emotions, joy, thought and uncertainty; it is meant to provoke in calming and unsettling ways and everything in between those reactions. It is the artist’s responsibility to give us something to consider, to digest, to ponder, to query.” I wholeheartedly agree with her statement.

So what is really art, then? As I opened this post saying, it is a difficult question to answer. I know it when I see it, but defining it eludes me. I sometimes see glimpses of it in others’ work. Limiting myself to photography, I know that great art is about compassion when I see W. Eugene Smith’s photograph Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, Minimata, 1972. I know great art is about reverence and humility in the presence of great things when I see Ansel Adams’ Clearing Winter Storm. I know great art is about optimism and endurance when I see Paul Strand’s work in the Hebrides—and I know it is about pessimism when I see Robert Capa’s photograph of the falling Spanish soldier. I know it is about the human search for spirituality when I look at the work of Linda Connor. I know it is about the loneliness of life when I look at the work of André Kertész. I know is it is about revelation when I look at the work of Josef Sudek and I know it is about the obscurity and the confusion of life when I look at the photographs of Robert Frank or Garry Winogrand.

In short, great art is never about the art work but seems to be about life, and possibly not, generally, the small things in life. The best artists appear to be engaged in the great dialog of life—the dialog that is usually the field-of-play for philosophers and theologians, for mystics or even political scientists. The great artists don’t seem to be asking questions about technique or the craftsmanship, but are asking the same kinds of questions that were asked by philosophers Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Nietzsche, or Freud—the same questions asked by the poets Aeschylus, Dante, Goethe, Victor Hugo and Mark Twain. What is man? Who am I? What is good? Why is there evil? How should we treat one another? Why don’t we? Why does suffering exist?

I have a Norwegian friend, Morten Løberg, who is a photographer also working with photo as art. On his web site, he has stated that during his 40 years as a photographer he has heard two good definitions of what art is. The first one stems from the then director Ole Henrik Moe at the museum of Høvikodden in Oslo, when he opened the Association of Fine Photographer’s anniversary exhibition in 1979: «A photograph is art when it shows a slice of reality seen through a personal temperament.» The other originates from the former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, Jan Brockmann: «Art brings the viewer to new insights and understanding, or to the brink of this.»

Those two points of view complement each other. And together they bring an understanding to the term art and what it stands for, that for me, is as close to a definition as it is possible to arrive at. So maybe I can extrapolate from those to quotes something like this: Art brings the viewer new insights seen through a personal temperament.

Have you any thoughts about what art is?

Start with the Box!

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I often state that as creatives or artists—in whatever medium you are working—we should more often break the rules, not feel confined to conformed understanding; or as it is often expressed: be thinking outside of the box. At the same time, I acknowledge that those rules or all that which comes with traditional craftsmanship is there to help us learn and develop. It can be seen as accumulated wisdom (collected over centuries or even millenniums by artists before us) functioning as guidelines more than rules. Only when it starts to limit our creativity is all that accumulated knowledge becoming a limitation.

What I am trying to say is this: Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.

We need to learn the basics of our craft. If you understand the traditional craftsmanship, that is—when speaking about photography—the technical aspect of handling the camera, understanding composition, having thorough knowledge about light’s influence on a photo, and being familiar with the visual language of photography; only then do you achieve full freedom to express your intentions with a photograph.

Some believe learning the traditional craftsmanship will limit their artistic voice. However, I do not agree to that perception. As I see it, knowing will only make you freer—as long as you do not let those old rules confine your creativity. It can actually—and most likely will—become a resource for expressing your artistic intent.

Yet, the result may well be an unliberated or constricted photographer, if he or she in a mechanical fashion attempt to reproduce a rigid, pre-established vision and in so doing is averting the possibility of seeing the unexpected—which I have just written enthusiastically about in various posts last week. This kind of restricted awareness can indeed impoverish a photographer’s vision and art. As Philippe L. Gross writes in his book Tao of Photography; “Imprisoned by the discriminatory mind, the photographer with constricted awareness is unable to appreciate the boundless visual richness of the world that lies beyond the filters and projections imposed by mental constructs. Only when the photographer can become free of the discriminatory mind can creative, unconstructed seeing occur.”

It may seem at first that Gross believes the box—to use this expression—is actually constricting the photographer. However, that is not his conclusion. The point—and my point, too—is not to throw this box of traditional understanding away, but use it as well as thinking beyond what the box contains. Thinking outside the box only becomes possible when you have a box in the first place.

In his book, Gross does not use expressions such as a box and thinking outside of the box, but uses the term Little Understanding for the traditional craftsmanship and Great Understanding for being open to the world—both inside and outside—and having an unconstructed awareness. Philippe Gross makes a point that to develop our true artistic voice we need both.

He writes; “General speaking, Little Understanding in camerawork represents the frame of mind that concentrates on techniques, sets goals, applies photographic rules, arranges a scene to fit a desired outcome, and attempts to gain control over the subject. Great Understanding, on the other hand, corresponds to the photographer’s ability to respond holistically and spontaneously to a scene without overtly interfering with the subject. Ultimately, the liberated photographer is a companion of both forms of understanding: to develop one’s artistic ability demands first fully knowing and then transcending techniques—seeing, feeling, and responding holistically to a photographic scene.”

In other words, mastery of the craft’s skill does not mean rejecting the thinking outside of the box. It simple means freedom from the belief that traditional craftsmanship is a reliable, necessary, and, not the least, an exclusive guide to artistry. The creative and free artist can make use of the box without being entangled by it.

I will not conceal the fact that photographers are biased about this, particularly when it comes to compositional rules. In The Essence of Photography Bruce Barnbaum writes that in his book he does “not discuss any rules for good composition. I avoid them because there are none. Every composition is unique, and following some concocted formula will not guarantee a good photograph. There are no formulas; there are no rules of composition. I strongly urge all photographers, beginning or experienced, to avoid any instruction that claims there are—it’s bogus.”

Not surprisingly after what I have written so far, I do not agree with Barnbaum (still, I do recommend the book; it is a very personal and insightful book about his photographic approach. I only disagree with him on this point). Well, there are no rules as such—of course. Nevertheless, painters for centuries and photographers for almost two have built upon each other an understanding of what works and what normally does not work in order to create a balanced composition that is best read by the eyes’ movements. Of course, that may not be your intention—which is just fine. But these ageless compositional rules—which I would rather regard as guidelines, because no one has to follow them, indeed—can be very helpful for particular beginners who try to come to grasp with creating a photo that somehow works compositionally. And of course, any time those guidelines can be broken, as I have always been encouraging.

However, and here I am in total agreement with Bruce Barnbaum, he writes: “You have to be flexible at all times, and you have to work with the situation you’re in, even if it’s not the one you wanted.” Yes, and I would like to add; use all of yourself in the process, whatever you have in the box and whatever you can find outside of it.

Incubation Time

Last week I spoke with a photographer. She told me she had lost inspiration and hadn’t photographed for a long while—despite her love for photography. The frustration was radiating out of every word she spoke. She so wanted to find a way back to her muses.

Of course, I had no wonder cure for her ailment. I certainly couldn’t bring back the muses just like that. Nobody would, included herself. Nevertheless, I told her that any photographer, anyone doing creative work, experiences times of lapses when nothing seems to move forward, but rather the creative life comes to a standstill.

Creativity works in a flux. Sometimes we are on top of everything and creativity seems to ooze out of every pore. At other times, the head feels embalmed in cotton or some thick substance that keeps every creative thought out of reach.

It’s just the natural order of things.

The more we experience this lapse of creativity—and the regaining of it again after some time—the more we can accept the condition without panicking. In addition, what is just as important to realize, is that those dry spells are not only part of a natural flux, but in fact part of the creative process itself.

We may feel uninspired, but our subconscious is still working for us. It’s the natural way of replenishing our creative well. As photographers, and as any artist, we need to realize that we have to maintain a balance between what we take out of the well and the need to replenishing it. Sometimes we experience dry spells because we have drawn heavily on the creative well, even over-tapped it. It’s like overfishing a pond, it leaves us with diminished resources. We fish in vain, for the creative ideas we require. Our work dries up, we lose inspiration, and we wonder why, “just when it was going so well”.

Creativity needs replenishing. Sometimes because we have overfished the pond. Other times because we need the small fry to grow big before we want to catch it. The latter corresponds to a variation of replenishing: Creativity needs incubation time.

We do so by letting it all go, and letting the subconscious work its own mysterious ways. Suddenly it’s all back again, fresh and eager to express itself again. We can even help the process. By doing something totally different. Going for a walk. Visiting a gallery. Cooking. Go paragliding. You name it. Even sleep. Haven’t we all experienced, struggling with some Gordian knot, going to bed without having resolved the problem, only to wake up next morning—eureka—having found the solution.

It’s like on an overcast and raining day. It might feel disheartening and dark, but if you think about it, you know that the sun will eventually shine upon you again. It just needs some incubation time to burn the clouds away.

Easter Ponderings

Easter is a special time for many Norwegians. Not so much for its religious significance, not at all in fact. Easter is when we seek up in the mountains, to go skiing and enjoy the last spell of winter. It’s one of our major holidays, and as such I think Norwegians are almost alone in the world to have institutionalized the whole week between the weekend of Palm Sunday and the Easter Weekend, included Easter Monday, as days off. That is 10 days of holidays in March or April—depending on when Easter falls in any given year.

For many Norwegians having a cabin in the mountains it what means to be Norwegian. Almost as their birthright. And part of that legacy is the pilgrimage up in the mountain during Eastern.

Certainly, plenty of Norwegian don’t own a cabin in the mountains. Some prefer one along the extensive coastline. And some don’t have a cabin at all. Me being one. I have never wanted the bonds and the limitations owning a cabin impose on you. I want the freedom to roam wherever I desire. Of course, it’s an economical question as well.

Even without my own cabin, I have sought out the high mountains during Easter, but then rather backpacking; sleeping in a tent, snow caves or public cabins or lodges spread out in the mountains. That is another special feature of Norway. An outdoor organization runs a network of cabins or huts all over the country. Some are run like lodges—with full board and lodging—but some are unattended, with only food you may use, stored in the cabins. The system is based on trust; that you leave payment for the lodging and the food that you use.

The alpine region of winter mountains can be quite weather prone. I remember one Easter, many, many years ago. A friend and I was captured by a full storm with heavy snowfall and strong winds. It lasted for almost a week. We dug a snow cave, and spent the next many days inside the cave. Safe, but pretty bored by the time the storm dwindled.

Despite both the danger and the nuisance of possibly bad weather during winter in the mountains, I have learned that waiting for good weather, will only make sure you never get going. In fact, I have discovered that defying foul weather often gives the strongest, most exquisite and most memorable experiences (at least as long as you play it safe). Not the least for a photographer. It’s in the moments of transitions between bad and good—or good and bad—that the mountain show off its best. Besides, I live in the part of the world where, if you wait for nice weather, you may wait for a long time.

And here comes what this is all leading up to: It’s exactly how inspiration and creativity works. You cannot wait for it to show up. You will have to go after it with a club, as the writer Jack London once said. Or as the American painter, artist and photographer put it: “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work”.

Inspiration isn’t prone to show up when you need it—just like nice weather in the mountains isn’t. If you wait for it, you might wait a long time. Instead, get yourself properly dressed, to use the outdoor metaphor¸ and get going. Set yourself down in front of the computer or the drawing pad, or grab your camera and get outside. It might be hard work and rather unpleasant in the beginning, but suddenly everything changes. Suddenly, you find yourself in a magical moment, the light of inspiration spiriting you away, the flow of creative taking you to unknown places.

Enjoy Easter, whether you celebrate it or not. And enjoy being creative.

The photos in this post have been captured over several Easters.

Capture Unique Photos

In the first months of 2021, we have been blessed with some lovely winter here in Bergen, Norway, where I have been grounded for the last year. Blessed for those of us who like winter, that is. Right now and for the recent weeks, winter is receding, though, but it might still show up again for an occasionally appearance.

Of course, when winter showed up in its full splendour, I had to take advantage—photographically—of the snow, which suddenly adorned the city (contrary to what one should expect, we only irregularly have winter come for a visit).

While walking the snow-covered streets and photographing Bergen in winter garb, I came across another like-minded fellow photographer, who was out on the same errand. I noticed he was both capturing stills and shooting videos. Naturally, we ended up talking with each other.

It turned out he had only been photographing for little less than a year, but already had a Youtube channel up and running. About photography. He told me he was adamant about wanting to capture images that weren’t like anybody else’s. If he had already seen another photo of a scenery, he would go out of way’s length to find a different angle, something distinct. He wanted to capture unique images.

That is a worthy approach, something most of us aspire to. However, in retrospect I thought a little more about the desire to create original photos. You see, there is a danger. In wanting to be original, we might just end up been possessed by what is different, and instead of capturing something unique we end up with a result that is rather contrived. Maybe different, but most likely uninspiring.

We risk losing ourselves in the search for the different.

All good photos emerge from a personal engagement; they materialize through our hearts. In fact, that is all it takes. Yes, you still need to know you craft, understand the visual language, be able to use your camera, but to create captivating and compelling images; you need to become emotionally engaged with your subject. If you do, you don’t have to “look” for the different.

You are unique. Your person is exceptional. No one is like you. That’s where the creative uniqueness surface from. Be yourself, involve yourself, lose yourself in the process, and your photos will be yours, different from anyone else’s. The point is; everything has already been done, been photographed. However, nothing has been done with your eyes and through your emotional filter.

That is the secret to captivating, compelling—and unique photos.

The Curse of Hit Rate

The photo above was captured on my last overseas photo workshop before the world closed down. That said, I am not going to rant about the pandemic and what it has deprived us of—we all know that too well. Neither am I going to write about photo workshops I hope to get going again—if the pandemic will allow me to do so.

The reason I chose the photo has to do with the photographic process, the workflow of capturing images, if you will. As much as it isn’t depicting something I could plan, but rather capturing the unpredictability of life as such, neither is it an accidental photo.

The photo was taken in La Higuera, a tiny village in Bolivia with only a handful of dwellings. It’s where Che Guavara, back in 1967, was captured by the Bolivian army—or more precisely in a gorge right outside the village. Irma Rosada, the woman in the photo, was only a girl when the world came crashing down on her village. She clearly remembers the capturing of Che Guevare, his imprisonment in the local school and the subsequent execution the next afternoon.

Today, Rosa runs the little store in the village, and the photo shows her baking bread for her store.

Everything in the photo tells the story of Irma, or adds to the story; obviously herself, the bread and the brick kiln, but also the water melon, the dirty ground, the sunset behind trees, indicating the landscape beyond, and even the bit of laundry hanging out to dry. And more so I captured Irma as she was about to empty the kiln from a batch of rolls. Her gaze, her lifted right foot, the habitual handling of the baking tray, her facial expression—all say something explicit about Irma.

The photo tells a story about Irma Rosalind. I took the photo, and it turned out very nicely. I am happy with the result. However, as mentioned, it wasn’t accidental. First of all, I was ready. Secondly, I took a lot of photos to ensure I got it.

The latter, I am not the least embarrassed to say. I take a lot of photos that are crap, not working, looks like shit and will never make it out of my archive. The thing is, I don’t care about all the bad photos I end up with. What I care about is the few left that I can be proud of or feel good about.

Too many photographers have a thing with “hit rate” and being good enough. They think that some day they will be able to take 40 photos in a day that are all masterpieces, because that is kind of the idea you get when you look at exhibitions or a photo books and see the masters’ images. You somehow think they did them all in one take.

Reality is that every photographer who ever did any master images only did a relatively few good photos and even fewer great photographs in a lifetime.

If you look through the negatives, slides or digital files of master photographers, you will see plenty of photos out of focus, too over- or underexposed, empty streets (because the subject hasn’t entered the frame yet or has left before the photographer pressed the shutter release button). Even more importantly, when you study the best photos that define history, you will see that the photographer actually captured a lot of photos of the same scene—and only one survived.

As Elliot Erwitt once said: “It takes a lot of photographs to make one good”.

If you do an internet search on “hit rate in photography”, you will find a lot of articles and posts about how to boost or increase your amount of so-caller keepers. Why would it even matter if it’s 5 percent of 20 percent of captured images that are good? What matters is how many good ones you have in the end. All the rest, and how many, is of no interest at all.

Yes, some photographers blast away and aren’t mindful when photographing, but usually I see the opposite; that is, most photographers are not photographing enough. I see that in every workshop I teach. They may capture three or five images of a situation—and think they have photographed a lot. When in reality they have hardly started.

As you can see the screenshot beneath, I took a lot of photos of Irma Rosado, to get then one I was satisfied with. That’s why it isn’t an accidental photo. And I don’t care for a second how many captures it took to get the one. So, don’t worry about your hit rate. Just photograph.

Are We Making Things Better?

A couple of years ago, I came across a post written by the Canadian photographer David duChemin. He was telling about an episode when eating in restaurant in London, during which he happened to eavesdrop on a dialogue next to him. The conversation was between two tech guys. At some point, the discussion turned into whether their technology is helping people make better things, or make things better.

The distinction has philosophical, ethical as well as practical implications, as duChemin continues to elaborate on in his post.

Ever since I read his post, I have wanted to pick up on duChemnin’s pondering. Not the least, because this goes to the core of what I do as a photojournalist.

Of course, in my line of work, I want to capture better and more compelling images, but in the end, I also hope and wish that my stories may have a positive impact, one way or another. In fact, at least judging purely journalistically, without the latter, journalism becomes meaningless. The whole point is to inform in order for members of a society to be able to make informed decisions for necessary changes. That said, I have been in the business long enough to know that any single story of mine will not change the world in any direction. However, I believe—or at least hope—that every piece will add to better our combined knowledge so that over time it all together will lead to positive advancements.

Right now, for instance, I am working on a story about the impact of isolation. How do we cope with being isolated and how does seclusion affect us? The story will have a broad focus on various aspect of isolation. Of course, the idea springs out of the corona pandemic, which holds the world in its grip. Everywhere we are all affected and forced into various degrees of isolation. I will meet with students who have lost their social arenas because universities have been closed down, I will meet with elderly, who will not receive visits in order to protect them, but I will also meet with inmates, who are isolated independently of the pandemic. To the latter, I originally had set up to go to prison tomorrow, but this week newer and more severe restrictions have been imposed here where I live. In fact, my city has been completely locked down due to the new mutated strains of the virus, so I have become secluded myself.

Anyway, the point is, yes, I want to capture strong and compelling images, whether showing students, elderly or prisoners, but when push comes to shove, I hope the story will have some sort if impact, if only educationally.

And isn’t that the case for anyone photographing, or anyone involved in creative activities, no matter at what level? Of course, we want to improve and develop our skills so that we can make better photos (or things), but don’t we all hope that our images will have some positive impact? You want your image of a magnificent winter landscape to produce some kind of awe in the viewer, you want your photo of a newborn to touch others, and you want you art, whatever you create, to bring joy or enlightenment or amazement—at some level.

One doesn’t exclude the other. However, maybe we sometimes forget the question about making things better. Or at least becomes less aware of that side of the creative coin. As duChemin writes: “Does making this thing, whatever it is, make the world a better place? Does it add a little more light? Does it bring me joy as I make it? Does it help me ask (or answer) bigger questions? Does it contribute to the experience of being more fully human and alive?”

Let’s not be oblivious about that part of the equation. In fact, being aware of how to make things better, will help us make better things. Creativity is at the very core of what it means to be human. Nevertheless, the equation is reciprocal by nature. Pushing myself to make better things will most likely result in making things better.

Therapy of Now

The raw material for photography is right now. You can’t take a photo tomorrow. Of course, you can wait until tomorrow, for that particular now when you press the shutter button. But you can’t capture the photo, neither before nor after, if you didn’t do it then. In the same way, you can’t capture a photo yesterday, if you didn’t do it then, in that now.

Photography forces you to be in the present. It’s all about finding the right now to press the shutter button. You can’t vast the moments if you want to photograph. Whatever you didn’t capture now, is forever lost. Photography forces you to pay attention and notice whatever is happening right in front of your eyes. Right now.

The camera is an instrument for presence. By default, photography facilitates mindfulness. No doubt, all creative activity, which allows us to enter flow, will have that affect, but in particular, photography is a forceful catalyst for mindfulness, exactly because it forces us to be so aware of the now.

You can’t worry about what has happened before or about the future, when you are fully aware of the present moment.

The photographic process pulls us into the moment, makes us seize this precious time we never get back. The ability to concentrate and be present is a prerequisite for taking good pictures. What more is, practicing being in the presence when photographing, makes it easier to be present even without a camera.

Whether you capture a photo at a fraction of a second or with a minutes’ long exposure, your mind will be focusing on what is happening right now. In our modern society we all too much think about and plan the future, get stressed by all the things we need to do, have regrets and are bothered by whatever we didn’t get a chance to do or did do but erroneously; there is so much to think about, that we forget to live. In this very now. No matter what, life happens here and now. Not tomorrow and not yesterday. Future plans have no value before they actually happen, or even worse, if they don’t ever come to be realized.

Thus, photography is a mental health catalyst. It gives us a feeling of mastery. Because the way to master the present moment, is also the way to master everything else. It all starts with the first, uncertain step, the first, terrible photo. Right now. Photography is therapy for the mind. It keeps the mind healthy.