Don’t Give a Damn!

A week ago, I photographed and did an interesting and inspiring interview with an artist, actor and acrobat. She said something that made me think. In many ways, simple and yet so relevant for anyone engaged in creative work.

Some years ago while she was rehearsing for a movie shooting, the director of the movie told her: “You are too much of a good girl, doing what you are told. Loosen up and don’t give a damn!” She followed his advice and suddenly her creative career took a giant boost.

I think in my younger days I was too much of a good boy, too. I did what I was told. Creatively I certainly didn’t draw outside the lines. I follow the “rules” and did what I was supposed to do. Although nobody gave me the same advice as this artist I interviewed got, slowly by slowly as my creative self matured, I started to care less and less about doing the “right” thing. Instead, I have become more like a rooky, creatively speaking (not necessarily in my interaction with other people).

I think we all need to be less nice or good and rather let loose and don’t think so much about what is the right thing to do. When we start to don’t give a damn, we enter into a different mindset, our creative thinking changes, we see differently and begin to discover new ways of expressing ourselves. Our creative voice will take a boost when we loosen up, if nothing else, because we start to create and do things differently from everybody else. Giving ourselves permission to don’t give a damn will be the first step towards a distinctive way of seeing and expressing ourselves.

Thus being bad isn’t always bad. On the contrary, we need to be a little more bad—and please understand me right when I say so. There is a Swedish saying that goes like this: “Nice girls come to heaven, bad girls can come as far as they like”. Unnecessary to say, it goes for both girls and boys.

On a different note, some of you may have noticed I have been absent from the blog sphere the last week or so. It’s just been extremely busy times and I haven’t had a chance to engage in social medias. However, I hope to be back now that summer on this part of the hemisphere is approaching and life may start to become a little less busy.


Subdued Simplicity

Over the eight weeks that Phil Vaughn attended the online photo workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice», I noticed a significant development in his photography. By the end of the workshop, Phil was both clearer in his approach and were able to express his vision with more strength.

I think this is quite evident in the personal photo project he worked on during the last four weeks of the workshop. The theme for the project was something so everyday-like as a park, but the photos has a personal touch and transcend the peacefulness and quiet that many parks represents for its urban users.

Phil photographed the airy Engler Park, Farmington, Missouri with a subdued sensibility. The photos radiate this tranquil approach in both composition and the photos’ colour palette. The colours are a strange combination of being muted as well as subtle. There is a simplicity over his work that strengthens the expression and underlines the serene feeling of the park.

During the four weeks, Phil worked on the project he returned to the park during all times of the day. He photographed the visitors of the park, their activity as well as the more deserted areas of the park. The photo project comes together as a visual essay that tells the story of life and environment in a pleasant park.

Later in the spring I will start up another round of the online workshop, more specifically May 22nd. If you are interested, you will find more information about «Finding Your Photographic Voice» on the web site of Blue Hour Photo Workshops.

A Classical Documentary

It’s time to present another of the participant’s work from last year’s online workshop. Pat Callahan made a classical, visual documentary story for his personal photo project when participating in the online workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice» last year. And he did it with conviction and through a entrancing narration. In his portrayal of the Irish village Courtmacsherry, Pat captures the daily life of its villagers, whether kids and youngsters having fun in the harbour, a quiet moment of in the local pub, a burial or the bliss of a wedding.

The strength of Pat’s visual portrayal of Courtmacsherry is his well-developed talent both to perceive good composition and finding those smaller or bigger moments that bring the story together. He is a master of the decisive moment as articulated by Henri Cartier-Bresson. His eye is sharp and his technical skills foster the stories each of the photos tells so well, as it does the overall narrative of the photo essay.

What really impresses me with the essay is Pat’s ability to get close to the people he photographs. I mean both literally and on an emotional level. The people he photographs aren’t even noticing Pat, they go about doing there things as if he is not present with a camera. People clearly trust him. They let him into their sphere and into their lives, as if he is one of them. From that standpoint, he quietly and gently goes about photographing whatever they are doing, seemingly unnoticed and without interrupting the proceedings.

The black and white format fits perfectly the story of a village where time seems to have stood still and life goes about as it has done for decades. The photos become a glimpse into time long forgotten in most other places, where the community and care for each other is still the important factor in life.

If you like to see more of his work, look up the website and blog of Pat Callahan.

Later in the spring I will start up another round of the online workshop, more specifically May 22nd. If you are interested, you will find more information about «Finding Your Photographic Voice» on the web site of Blue Hour Photo Workshops. Furthermore, if you sign up before the end of April you will get the workshop for a discounted price. Only this week left for the reduced price!

Joy- and Colourful

Vigdis Askjem participated in my last year’s online workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice». For her personal project at the second half of the workshop, she chose two approaches, one was photographing details and light, and one was shooting people in various activities, such as during a festival or kayaking along the coast of Norway.

I have had the pleasure of having Vigdis attending one of my regular workshops (in Villajoyosa in Spain) and then last year the online workshop. Over time she has developed her vision and her photographic voice, and has a distinctive way of capturing whatever she is aiming her camera towards. Colour and light seems to be very important in her approach. And then Vigdis has a refined ability to capture the decisive moment when photographing people or movements.

Despite the two very different approaches for her personal project during «Finding Your Photographic Voice» her photos still have a very characteristic expression. Her way of shooting is the way she sees the world, whether it’s joy, people or close-ups we find in her photos. There is a certain vividness no matter what. There is exhilaration even when she captures something as mundane as a tower. It’s not only what we see, but layers of added details that brings forth a deeper story or a deeper understanding.

I really like the surprise factor in her images. They are—in one way or another—unique in that she shows me a worldview I don’t usually see. They convey her curiosity and her thrill in exploring the landscape around her. If you like to see more of her work, look up the website and blog of Vigdis Askjem (unfortunately only in Norwergian).

Later in the spring I will start up another round of the online workshop, more specifically May 22nd. If you are interested, you will find more information about «Finding Your Photographic Voice» on the web site of Blue Hour Photo Workshops. Furthermore, if you sign up before the end of April you will get the workshop for a discounted price.

The Magic Pond

© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland

Over the next couple of weeks, I will present the work of participants of last year’s online photo workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice». First out is Lee Cleland. During the last four weeks of the workshop each participants work on their own personal project, and Lee chose to photograph a small and elusive pond, surrounded by an open cluster of trees. The pond is situated in a large and lush landscape, and provided Lee with amble opportunities to convey its magic trough a gentle and distinct vision.

Lee approached the project from a variety of angles, capturing the open landscape, details in and around the pond, the small animals living of the pond, its plants and the different ambiences that occurred over time. Her photos have a quiet aesthetics, using a subtle and secluded colour palette. They clearly show she has a refined eye which radiates through her sensitive and unique voice.

What I really like about Lee’s work is that she constantly tried out new approaches over the four weeks she was working on her personal project. In the beginning, she came back with some beautiful landscape pictures, one that can be seen in this little selection above, and she also quickly started to shoot the small inhabitants of the pond. Soon she started to experiment with various techniques, such as using flash, using long handheld exposure time, and using different aperture.

The final product is a beautiful series of quiet landscape and nature photos. They convey the magic of the intriguing pond—they are magic in and of themselves. For more of her photography, please look up Lee’s blog Beyond Purgatory ~ A Photographer’s Paradise.

Later in the spring I will start up another round of the online workshop, more specifically May 22nd. If you are interested, you will find more information about «Finding Your Photographic Voice» on the web site of Blue Hour Photo Workshops. Furthermore, if you sign up before the end of April you will get the workshop for a discounted price.

Develop Your Photographic Voice

Do you want to develop your unique photographic voice? My online photo workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice» will help you on the way. I am starting another round of my acclaimed workshop in May this spring. I promise it will be quite an experience and of course more importantly, an indispensable aid to expand you photographic seeing and how you are able to express your vision through the development of a distinctive voice.

The workshop runs over eight weeks. I know; eight weeks sound like a huge commitment, but remember I always try to be flexible and let participants catch up if they can’t deliver each week. How much work you have to put down for it to be worthwhile, various from one person to another. Some shoot an hour or two each week, while others may spend time photographing each day of the week. Naturally, the more time you spend photographing the more you will benefit from the workshop, but in the end, it’s all up to you.

However the approach is, I think everybody who has participated in the workshop over the years, feel they have grown photographically over the eight weeks’ span. I am so confident that this is a great way to develop you photographic voice, that if you sign up and are not happy I will reimburse the money you spent on it.

During the workshop, you will receive a booklet in which I discuss the week’s theme and give ideas to how to approach a specific photographic challenge in order to develop your photographic voice. And then you will get weekly assignments. The booklets add up to a valuable book. However, the real value of the workshop is the individual feedback you get to every assignment. Every week I will record a video with your submitted pictures and my comments to each of them. This will all add up to around three hours or individual and indispensable feedback.

It’s not the most inexpensive photo workshop in the market, but no other workshop offers this kind of individual feedback, that is really what will help you develop your photographic voice. The regular price is 320 dollars, however, if you sign up and pay before April 30th, you will get it for only 220 dollars.

Do you want to develop your photographic voice? Why don’t you sign up for the next workshop starting as of May 22nd? You will find more information on Blue Hour Photo Workshops.

This is some of the feedback from participants that took «Finding Your Photographic Voice» last year:
Lee Cleland: «I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the course and the way it was laid out. The critiques were most valuable to me and often pointed out things I would never have picked myself.»

Vigdis Askjem: «I think it’s great that you are thorough in your photo critique. The course has really pushed me and given me new ideas and understanding in relation to photography and subject. I note that I am currently hungry for creative work.»

Pat Callahan: «I thought the best aspect of the workshop was the quality of the feedback every week. It was obviously thoughtfully prepared and professionally delivered. It was well balanced, covering both what I did well and what I could improve.

I have been fortunate to have attended workshops with a few renowned photographers, and the feedback was less carefully prepared and less insightful (and much more expensive). I also liked the pace of the course, the two month remote delivery was very manageable. I would highly recommend your workshop!»

Phil J. Vaughn: «I appreciate your hard work in teaching the workshop. I consider it to have been a valid and valuable learning experience. When I am out on a photo trek, I find myself silently repeating: “Watch your framing. Open up the view. Work the scene.” I enjoyed the opportunity to hone skills a bit more.

Working toward a “finished” project as a goal is helpful and directive. It is likely that most photographers don’t have the kind of goal and are just taking photos as they appear. It’s good to think in a new direction.»


Utsikten fra det hyggelige hotellet Casa del Mundo

I can’t really believe it; I have reach my 500th post on this blog. Who could have known when I started it all with my first post published in September 2009 that I would be able to keep going for so long? Back then, I was only trying it out more or less for fun.

Now, more than seven years later, it’s still for fun, but at the same time much more serious. This time around, I have quite a huge amount of followers and readers who make my blog more than just my place to ramble along with whatever comes to mind. You are all helping in making this into an arena for inspiring discussions about the many facets of creativity.

Without you, this blog wouldn’t have been what it is today. That along with the shear numbers of followers is committing. It’s like an implicit promise with all of you, definitely raises the stakes for me. As I said, I can’t stray off in just any direction or write just anything that comes to my mind.

What more appropriate, then, when this little anniversary came up, that I have already announced changes and new ideas for the blog. I have to admit I didn’t think about the concurrence when I first started pondering about further developing my blog. It just happened to be so. I am still in the process of developing my various ideas, but slowly throughout the year, you will start to notice the differences. Part of being creative is not standing still, no? Like the American author and politician Bruce Barton said: «When you are through changing, you are through.»

In the mean time, I would like to give something back to my readers. Over the years, I have taught the online workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice». Later this year I will start up another round, but since this is an anniversary post I already now want to give one of you, my readers, a change to attend it for free. Just send me an email, stating your name and why you would like to attend the online workshop. By the end of the month I will draw one winner who will get to participate for free. The value of the workshop is 320 US dollars. The workshop will kick off from May 22nd and continue over the next eight weeks. For more information about the workshop, look up the website of Blue Hour Photo Workshop for last years announcement of «Finding Your Photographic Voice».

Talking about workshops, just before the online workshop kicks off, I will teach another photo workshop in Cuba. I will get back with more information about it a little later, but already now it’s more than half full with signed up participants. So if you have any interest, don’t think to long. Take a look at the information about the workshop «Cuba in Essence» on Blue Hour Photo Workshops.

To end this little anniversary post, I want to thank all of you for contributing to making this blog what it is. Hopefully I will see you around for the next 500 posts…

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon EOS-1D Mark II and a 16-35 mm lens set at 21 mm. Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/16. The photo was processed in Photoshop and Nik Color Efex with the filter Bleach Bypass.

The Magical Pond

© Leonne Cleland
© Leonne Cleland
© Leonne Cleland
© Leonne Cleland
© Leonne Cleland
© Leonne Cleland
© Leonne Cleland
© Leonne Cleland
© Leonne Cleland
© Leonne Cleland

Lee Cleland participated in my last round of the online workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice». In the second part of the workshop, the participants work on a personal project for the remainder of the course. Lee chose to shoot a project close to home. She called it the Dam-project, and that is exactly what it is. Lee photographed a little pond or dam on her property, and wanted to capture images of the dam at all times of the day and in all weathers with an emphasis on the details and moods she saw there.

The pictures in this post are a little edit of Lee’s project. What really impressed me was her willingness to try out new approaches each week and how she was able to come up with different images of the pond through the last part of workshop. Lee created a coherent and beautiful body of work of the dam. She captured lovely overviews for the viewer to get a sense of the special pond and then focused on enchanting details. Some where small snippets of moments when for instance a dragonfly had settled on a leaf on the pond, some where much more impressionistic, using different techniques such as long exposure time or flash. The project came delightfully together as can be seen by this edit here. Lee was able to capture the magical feeling that radiates from the pond, she brought her own vision into the equation and produces a tantalizing photo essay about this little pond she has on her property. Her project is an example that it is not necessary to travel far and long to be able to create wonderful work. You can see more of Lee’s photos on her blog Beyond Purgatory.

Next week I will be starting another around of «Finding Your Photographic Voice». There is still space if you feel like developing your photographic vision. However, hurry up, then, so you are ready for the first lesson I will send out on Monday. You find more information about the online workshop here.

Grow as a Photographer

Finding Your Voice_2

Do you want to become a better photographer? Feel you are better able to translate what you see into an expressive photo? Wish to be good at capturing photos that convey your artistic vision?

Maybe taking an online workshop will really kick-start your photographic development.

As already mentioned some posts ago, I will commence with another round of my online photo workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice». This is a chance for anybody passionate about photography to grow their visual understanding and become a better photographer. Maybe it’s something for you, as one of my readers of this blog?

It will be a workshop over eight weeks full of inspiration, new ideas, my guiding to find and refine you own visual voice as well as my invaluable feedback. I will not talk much about technique, but rather focus on the creative process and how to express, as captivating as possible, your intent with you photography. I will give you lessons and feedback on the assignments you do each week.

The next round of the online workshop will commence on May 9th and continue for the next eight weeks. Why don’t you give it a try? I will send you the first lesson for free so that you can check out how it feels for you. Just click on the button, sign up and I will send the first booklet free of charge and no attachments whatsoever.

Get first lesson for free

Of course, you won’t get any picture critique for the free first lesson, which is really where the big value of the workshop lies. I give personal, direct and very constructive feedback on each assignment throughout the workshop. Nevertheless, the free first lesson will give you a good idea about the format of the workshop, as well as good tips and valuable inspiration in and of itself.

If you just want more information about the workshop you can look up «Finding Your Photographic Voice».

Embrace Critique—Critically

Why do we not take more changes in our creative endeavours? Why do we stay on the safe and narrow instead of straying off and explore the territory along its sides? The number one reason why we don’t take creative risks is because we are afraid. We are afraid the critical voices that will always be encouraged by any straying off the straight and narrow. And we are afraid that these voices might be right, afraid that we aren’t good enough. Not the least, we are afraid we will look like fools.

The result is that we stop taking risks instead of pursuing them, as we always should—as being creative is nothing but exploring new territories. In addition, we get conditioned to think that critique is bad, that it will only hurt us. But think about it for a second. If we get no feedback on the things we create, we never get a perspective on what can help our creative development. Critique is not bad, not when it comes from someone who has our best interest in mind, and at the same time is honest and constructive in his or her feedback.

Thus, even though it can stifle us, critique isn’t inherently bad. It can be corrosive, but it can also sharpen the edge. Critique is indispensible to our creative growth. Without critique, the quality of one’s creative output can collapse. For everyone, whether you are an artist or an accountant, critical feedback can help. Too much critique and it will crush, but just enough and the pressure can refine, strengthen, and be a catalyst for growth.

So embrace critique when you can—and when it’s appropriate, when the critique can be helpful for you creative growth. Just make sure you choose the right critical voices. And that it happens in a safe environment. Let someone you trust play the devil’s advocate, when he or she does it out of respect for you and your work, certainly not because they want to take you down. Choosing critical voices to trust is a double-edged sword, on one hand you don’t want those who go after your gut; on the other hand you don’t want those who care too much for you to be able to be critical at all. Blind appraisal is just as bad as slander and mocking.

In Seattle I have a group of colleagues and friends—all professional photographers. Every so often, we gather to discuss each other’s work. We each bring our latest project, which we then show to the others. The feedback and critique we receive is indispensible for all of us and often bring the projects into new and more convoluted directions. We trust each other, we are honest and we encourage each other all the same.

Most of the critique we encounter we don’t really ask for. It comes from right and left when we stick the head out—and even if not, it comes anyway. The best way to deal with this kind of critique is simply being critical ourselves—of the critique. See the feedback in perspective; if it’s helpful take those parts to us that we feel is relevant, and if the feedback is all but malicious, just ignore it. I know; simple right?!

I remember when I was in fifth grade. I had just moved from Denmark (where I had been raised and lived until then) to Norway and was starting in a new school. We had drawing lessons each week, and after each class, we pupils voted on each other’s drawings, paintings or whatever we had done, to be exhibit as the week’s best work. In my first class, the first week after having moved, we got the task to draw a troll. Coming from Denmark I had no idea how Norwegian trolls or ogres were perceived or supposed to be, so I draw a green devil-like figure. Used my imagination. My classmates voted it to be the week’s best work. I was proud and happy. That was until the teacher demoted my drawing, saying it’s not what a troll should look like. Some other pupil’s work was exhibited instead. Some weeks later the same thing happened, when I once again didn’t comply with her preconceived rules for artistic expressions. Was these incidents maybe the reason I became a photographer?

The Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho has sold millions of copies of his books, but still there are critics who tear his work to shred. When asked, do the critics hurt him, he said: «No. Writers are lampposts and critics are dogs.» Coelho had adopted a view that safeguards his creative role. Every creative act begets criticism. If you want to become more creative, you have to adapt a view that accepts, but doesn’t overinflate, this truth. You have to be selective in what critique to listen to.

Not long ago I wrote a personal and, I have to admit, critical piece about postmodern photography, my point being that too often it’s very much like the emperor’s new clothes—if you know the tale by H.C. Andersen. I posted a link to the piece on a Facebook photography group. I was taken aback by the response, and I won’t even repeat the harsh words and scornfulness that the article gave rise to. It was quite ugly. Of course I knew this would somewhat be the result, but was really surprised by how many people attacked me personally. I was still OK with that, as it was easy to distinguish between repulsive and sincere critique. More so, when I looked up the fiercest critics and saw what kind of photos they were taken themselves, there was no reason to take their critique serious any longer. It’s all a matter of perspective and being critical—to the critique. In this case, it was very easy to shrug off the critique as oppose to what happened back in fifth grade when I had no methods or means to fend off the response by the teacher.

The fact is that too often, we let those critical voices get to us. As valuable as constructive critique can be, we have a tendency to let the wrong critics hurt us. We do so, because they touch a chord in our unconscious mind. They resonate with own our critical voices that we carry around in our heads—being the harshest critics ourselves. So, when others’ unfair and unwanted critique gets to us it’s because we let them. These voices distract, scratch, bite, and nag—whether it’s your mom’s disappointment, a teacher’s demotion of your work, or the judgement of a colleague or a friend. We give these voices more credit than they deserver.

It is important to find those people or those circles of people that have our best interest in mind, but still don’t hold back on necessary and valuable critique, even if it ends up no being an appraisal as such. Good colleagues can be such a resource, or good friends, as long as they are able to give you an honest feedback. Workshops are another excellent resource that offers a safe and sensible environment for feedback on your work. Like I do in my workshops, whether in situ somewhere or through my eWorkshops. In fact, a new round of my eWorkshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice» is coming up in mid May if you are interested. You can find more information on the website of Blue Hour Photo Workshops—and even an offer for receiving the first lesson for free.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-7 and the lens set at 4,7 mm (the equivalent of a 24 mm full frame lens). Exposure time was 1/1600 of a second and the aperture f/2.8. It was processed in Lightroom and the app Snapseed with the Drama-filtet.