Content Trumps All

Is composition overrated? Whether that is the case or not; what is it that makes for a captivating photo—composition, something else or a combination of building blocks? The reason I am asking is a newsletter I received the other day written by the Canadian photographer David duChemin in which he asks how much composition really matters.

DuChemin himself was triggered by a photographer who accused him of paying too much attention to composition, arguing that moment is everything. DuChemin’s short answer was, that it’s too easy to put it all down to the moment. To that effect, I agree with duChemin. There is more to a captivating photo that just capturing the “right” moment.

But does it all come down to composition, then? I think many photographers do think so, maybe including light in the equation, too. However, in my world, composition, as well as light and moment, are only means to a goal, not the purpose itself. These are building blocks for as best as possible expressing what a photograph is about.

Yes, you can create a photo that is all about light. Or it’s all about some compelling composition of visually interesting objects. Or even a combination of the two. And the result can be captivating simply by surprising viewers with something they never saw themselves. But will those images stand the test of time?

Composition and light were in fact my stepping-stones to photography. In the beginning, that was what I was looking for. I read everything I could about composition and about light and how to put it all together for compelling images. And I went out looking for strong compositions and/or enchanting light.

None of those images have survived my later critical sense. I did after some time, learn to include and look for the heightened moments in my photography, too. Still, something was lacking. At the time, I was happy with result, but as I look back today, my attempts were rather bleak and boring.

Are there more building blocks you need be able to handle in order to create strong images, and maybe even more important than moment, light or composition? First of all, I don’t believe duChemin means that composition is everything. Nevertheless, in the aforementioned newsletter he writes; “Arguing that some photographers pay too much attention to composition feels a little like arguing that some chefs just pay way too much attention to flavour”. This is of course a tabloid argument, nevertheless in my opinion, puts too much emphasis on composition.

I have come to realize that the most important building block in photography is content—or subject if you will. In fact, it’s more than just a building block, it’s what a photograph is about, or ought to be about. It can be a story, it can be an emotion, it can be a statement, but a photograph has to be about something more than just visual appealing elements. The equivalent goes for writing, for instance. You can write the most beautiful sentences imaginable, but if they don’t tell the reader anything, nobody is ever gonna care.

If you want to improve your photography, my best advice is to look for stronger content. You may ask what, then, is stronger content? Unfortunately, there is not a magical answer to that question. Strong content is everywhere, but you will have to see it. The best way to find an answer is to look to yourself. What triggers you? What makes you happy or even furious? That’s where you—not me and not anybody else—will find strong content and consequently be able to create strong photos. When you have found strong content, you then use your knowledge about the other building blocks, such as composition, light and moment, to express the content in the most captivating way.

Fact is content trumps the other building blocks. If you capture strong enough content, you may still be able to create something extraordinary, even if you screw up the composition, the light sucks and there is no moment at all.

You don’t believe me? Look at photographs at least 50 years or older that have survived in our collective memory. What is the common denominator? Strong content. Yes, most of these classical photos are beautifully composed, lit brilliantly and may have captured either heightened or subtle moments, but you will also find examples of the opposite. The photographs taken by Robert Capa during D-day are a grand case in point. Technically, they got completely screwed up, nevertheless still stand strong to this day.

There is one more point I would like to add. It goes back to how to find strong content. In addition to content, composition, light and moment, there is a fifth building block. That’s you and your personality. In order to create strong images, you need to find a way to express yourself, your emotions and your passions through the other building blocks. You can’t necessarily do much about or change your personality, like you can change the other building blocks, but by learning more about yourself and becoming more self-aware, you can use this fifth building block as much as the others.

In this post, I have referred to David duCheming a couple of times. If you are interested in topics about creating strong photographic imagery, I recommend following duChemin’s blog.

Advertisements

The Soul of the Photographer

If there is one book about the photographic process released the last year and a half that I really want to recommend it’s “The Soul of the Camera” by the Canadian photographer David duChemin. It’s book for those who have come to a point where equipment and technique is of less importance, but rather seek ways to express themselves and feel the need to develop their personal vision. As he writes himself; clearly the camera matters—otherwise we wouldn’t be able to take photos—but in the end the photographer matters more.

It’s the photographer and his or her approach to photography that duChemin addresses in the book. How can you use yourself, your curiosity, your emotions, your creativity to unleash your photographic vision, your distinctive voice? That is what he writes about. It’s about being authentic to yourself and about photographing with a clear intention. As such, the title is actually misleading: It is not about the soul of the camera, but rather the soul of the photographer. I guess what duChemin argues is that the soul of the camera is us, the photographers, the ones holding the camera. It is us, and our vision, that puts the soul into our photographs.

There are plenty of books about how to take pictures by mastering composition, exposure, lighting, post-production, and more. But there aren’t many books about what goes on inside the mind of a photographer, what they think about, and how they approach photography. That is what duChemin addresses in “The Soul of the Camera”. This is a book for photographers who want to take pictures, not play with their gear. If you want to think differently about photography—whether you have the latest gear or not—this book is for you.

The book is beautifully written and in a manner, that perhaps only David duChemin can write. He uses the own experience and development as a springboard to write about the photographic process from the point of the photographer’s mindset. The writing is philosophical and expansive and thus will have a different meaning to different photographers at different points on their journey.

The “Soul of the Camera” feels like a different style of book from some of David duChemin’s previous works, such as “Within the Frame” and “Photographically Speaking”. Yet it really isn’t so different. Each of these books takes a core theme and explores it, trying to convey to the reader its importance and how it might be used to better our photography, and even to learn what better photography means. “The Soul of the Camera” is similar to the other two in that it focuses on a theme, that of “the Photographers Place in Picture-Making.” None of these books are very focused on gear or technique and this book is even less so than the others.

The one objection I have towards his writing is that it’s a little too vague. It’s like someone saying you should be mindful. But if you don’t know how to be mindful, it’s a statement that doesn’t help you anywhere. In trying not to set parameters for other’s development, duChemin becomes too elusive and not concrete enough to help the reader on his or her way towards a more mindful approach to photography.

He writes so himself, about vision, that it’s an elusive topic. So instead of attacking the subject head one, he becomes unusual unclear. Yes, vision is a vague subject matter, but duChemin has written clearly and insightfully about it so many times before. He excuses himself for exactly that in “The Soul of the Camera”; he says he has written so much about vision before, that he has become very self-conscious about writing any further about. Unfortunately, that makes his writing in “The Soul of the Camera” less enlightening.

Do you need another book about photography? DuChemin kind of answers himself: “[Y]ou don’t need another book[…] Yes, read all the books you can get your hands on. But you probably don’t need them as much as you need time to make this craft yours. What you need is time to make photographs.”

I principally will have to agree with duChemin. However, that view doesn’t give the whole picture (no pun intended), as I am sure he will agree upon; otherwise he wouldn’t have written yet another book. Books are good for inspiration, good for new ideas and good for learning more. If that’s what you need, I will highly recommend “The Soul of the Camera”. Despite the few objections I have raised, it’s an inspiring book for any photographer searching for his or her voice.

Then, after having read the book, you still need to go out there and practice. You still need to put in the time to actually make photographs.

In the book, duChemin explores what it means to make better and more personal photographs. Illustrated with a collection of his black and white images, the book’s essays address topics such as craft, mastery, vision, audience, discipline, and authenticity. “The Soul of the Camera” is a personal and deeply sensible book that quietly yet forcefully challenges the idea that our cameras, lenses and settings are anything more than dumb and mute tools.

Once again; DuChemin’s and the book’s point is that it’s the photographer—not the camera—that can make better photographs. As he writes in the book: “The camera on its own is a wonder, but in the hands of the poet, the storyteller, the seeker of change, or the frustrated artist, it can create something alive that touches our humanity.”


The Soul of the Camera: The Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

When Inner and Outer World Become One

En strålende dag i vinterfjellet
Artists and creative people frequently talk about the experience of losing themselves in the work at hand, being fully in tune with the process, with the heighten sense of being completely focused, being in flow—often emerging hours later as if having been in a trance. I know this from myself, and I also know that whenever I emerge from such a trance like state of mind after having worked hard during a photo session, I have been able to capture some great images. I can’t say which picture is going to stand out at the point of capture—as some photographers immediately are able to—but I know that within the batch of photos from the shoot there is bound to be some goods one. This trance like state of mind, in flow, when I lose myself, is for me the ultimate level of creativity, when everything can happen and I am not bound by my own preconceived ideas or thoughts.

I often compare this with being in a tunnel, where all kinds of unpredictable things can happen. I have now idea what happens in there before I finally emerge onto the other side of the tunnel. I wrote about this in the post “Tunnel Vision” quite some time ago. And it does resemble some of the ideas I wrote about the contemplative approach to photography in the post “Different Perspective” not long ago, in which I stated that contemplative photography in essence is about how to fully connect with the visual richness of our ordinary, daily experience.

There is a duality to this process. It’s two worlds coming together – the outside world and our inner world. We perceive and react to what we see, and then bring our inner self and spirit into the equation, almost as if in a dialectic process. In this very concentrated process we focus deeply on a single task, and at the same time something opens, deepens and widens. We are fully absorbed and present to the activity and the moment, to the exclusion of other elements and influences in our lives. But we are also equally attentive to ourselves; our responses, our impulses, and our creative interaction with the medium.

The late and great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson has aptly described photographic seeing as having one eye turned outward and one eye turned inward. When the two images converge, that’s the moment for capturing the photograph. In his acclaimed book “The Decisive Moment” he writes: I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.

The Big Leap

Munchow_1398-0491
I often get the question what it takes to become a professional photographer. Here are some brief thoughts on what one should consider before making the transition, based on my own experience.

Photography is a wonderful craft, whether you are pursuing it as a professional or as an amateur. For me it’s brought me all over the world, connected me with people of all kinds and made me understand and learn more about the world at large and the various conditions that human beings seize to exist on this planet—not to mention how much it has taught me about myself. Still, and maybe most importantly, photography is a way to express ourselves through images; articulate our concerns, emotions and innermost opinions through a personal vision manifested in the multifaceted media that we call photography.

This is the basic drive behind most photographs I know. And that is also why many photographers who start out as amateurs—as most do—at some point dream about making a carreer out of their passion. Unfortunately, and in all honesty, it’s a tough path to choose, but if you bring the passion and a desire to succeed along with you, it’s all worth it. At least if you ask me. You will probably find that you lose the freedom you so much appreciated when you were still an amateur, you lose control of your artistic expression, and you lose yourself in the commerce and trade of the business. But it’s still worth it—if you ask me.

So what does it take to make the leap to become professional? I have already answered one part of it. It takes a desire to make it. Not necessarily to become the best photographer in the world, but to survive. It takes persistence to keep at it, even when it seems all in vain. It simple takes a hell of a lot of work, both as a photographer and as a businessman or -woman. You will probably work more than you ever thought you would do, but then again, if this is your passion, that’s quite okay, no?

There is a lot that can be said about making it as a professional photographer. In fact there are books written about it, so I will only point to two equally important abilities in addition to desire and persistence which for me are the ultimate prerequisites. To even be considered for hiring to shoot for a magazine or a client or whatever, you need to be able to show a coherent body of work. Not so much work you have previously done for clients, but work that shows your personal vision, work that shows your passion for photography and work that shows that you can handle the craftsmanship in such a way that your vision comes through in every picture. That is why the best recommendation I can give to any aspiring professional—or any professional who wants to stay in the business for that matter—is to produce personal work all the time. Do a long term project and/or do shorter projects. But do. And do it continuously. This is anyway where your passion will find its outlet once you become professional.

The final point I would like to emphasize here is a willingness to constantly develop. Don’t ever think that you have made it to the top, that you are good enough. The moment you think like that, you are not good enough any more. The world around you develops all the time—and faster and faster for each year—and you need to, too. Learn more about the craft, learn more about what you are photographing, keep developing your vision and don’t get stuck in old ideas just because they seem to have worked this far. And not the least keep develop your creativity. In the end this is what you are trying to make a living out of.

For me creativity is the most fantastic part of the actual shooting and also the reason why I have devoted my blog to this topic. To try to understand how creativity evolves and functions in our brains and how we can facilitate its wondrous act is nothing less than fascinating.

Just to make a few, final thoughts here, the four most important factors that will boost your creativity—as far as I see it are: First—and most importantly—be passionate. I am not talking about passionate about photography, but about the subject you shoot. With passion for the subject, the rest will come easily. Without you will never make interesting pictures. Secondly; do the work. As already stated, you will have to work and keep working, also when it comes to creativity. Without daily practise it will shrivel up and vanish. Nothing boosts the creativity as much as being creative. Again keep working on those personal projects. Thirdly; step out of the box, as the expression goes. It means challenge yourself, get out your comfort zone, do something you thought you would never do or dare do. Fourthly; keep your creative well inspired. Get out there, look at the world, enjoy Mother Nature, travel, watch a good movie, go to an exhibition or just sit down on a street café and enjoy a cup of coffee. A famous photographer once said; if your pictures are boring, it’s because you live a boring life.

So have fun, while you photograph the world around you.

The Contradiction of Creating


Some days I can’t get going. I know I have a deadline tomorrow, but I still can’t push myself to start editing the pictures. Or, in another setting, I am travelling in a new country, and I just can’t get myself out on the streets to photograph. Or I need to write an article – or a new post for this blog – but I can’t get myself to do it.

Some days I just can’t get going.

It all comes down to fears, insecurities or doubts. It’s the big contradiction of the creating process. On the one hand it’s the joy I feel when I am creating, on the other hand it’s this big obstacle inside of me which sometimes makes it impossible to get there. This resistance is something all creatives have to fight. It’s part of the creative process, the dark side one may say. But as strange as it might sound, it’s also a necessary part of being creative. Only by overcoming the fears, insecurities or doubts inside of us, are we able to reach our full creative potentials. It’s like entering a cold stream after a long hike. It doesn’t make you feel good until you have submerged your body into the water. But then it’s like rejuvenation.

Adventures don’t begin until you get into the forest. That first step in an act of faith.
Mickey Heart, drummer in Greateful Dead.

The fact is, creativity requires faith. We are heading down a road we don’t know where it will take us. Thus this faith we need to have requires us to relinquish control. That is frightening, and we resist it. We throw up roadblocks on our path in order to maintain an illusion of control. This resistance to our creativity is a form of self-destruction. To overcome it, having a regular practice is a must, whether it’s journal writing, sketching freely, taking photographs casually and spontaneously, or tilling our garden without an eye to the result. The energy is in the effort.

Don’t fear mistakes – there are none.
Miles Davis.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
Albert Einstein.

What we fear the most is the very thing that we are called to confront and work with. Where we find fear, where we feel the most inadequate, is where the energy resides, where great potential hides, waiting to emerge into the full light of day. Once we begin, and move vigorously in the direction of our aim, a joyful moment comes when fear and resistance move into the background and become part of our experience, but not the dominating feature. Our bliss then often emerges from behind this dark, smoky wall of fear.

It is one of the paradoxes of the creative process that it is both immensely challenging and demanding and, at the same time, the source of real joy and true satisfaction.
David Ulrich in The Widening Stream.

Zen Camera

A Book Review


In last week’s post I wrote about Your Daily Record, a creative habit that resembles a free-ranging journal of thoughts and impressions in which you let the unconscious mind connect directly with the world around you through the camera. The idea I picked up from the book Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography by David Ulrich. The book itself is worth looking into for anyone interested in expanding his or her photography.

Zen Camera isn’t the first photo book which draws upon Eastern philosophy in its approach to photography. Others include books such as The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes, Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing and Opening The Good Eye: A Path to True Seeing, all books I can recommend even if you are not interested in Eastern Philosophy at all. They all, included Zen Camera, give you a unique and useful approach to expanding your photography.

However Zen Camera, differs from the others in that it’s more a cohesive program or a long term workshop than a book of inspiration and new ideas. David Ulrich draws on the principles of Zen practice as well as forty years of teaching photography to offer six reflective lessons for developing your self-expression as a photographer. His ambition with the book is to purify our seeing and allow our original self to emerge.

In my opinion, Ulrich largely accomplishes the objective. At least if you are willing to look beyond his sometimes a little lengthy deliberations about the meaning of it all, if you get my notion. The six lessons take you step by step from initially developing you seeing and observation skills to how to be able to reach mastery and being able to have your photography reflect whom you are as a person in grander perspective. Of course, mastery is not something you can learn by reading a book, but Ulrich’s reflections around the way to mastery are both well founded and encouraging. In fact, reading a book will not be of much help at all. You need to convert the words into skills by practicing. And Ulrich offers plenty of fun, applicable and challenging exercises.

The foundation of the “program” running as a red thread through Zen Camera is the Daily Record. All the lessons and all the exercises in each lesson can be fulfilled through the Daily Record. By working your way through the lessons and exercises you eyes will open up to seeing most likely in a different way than you are used to. It might also transform the way you perceive life, depending on your susceptibility to the Zen philosophy. At least Ulrich aims at making his thoughts valid not only for your photography but for life as such. As he write in the preface; “Zen Camera is not only about photography; it is about you. In six lessons, it guides you to cultivate creativity with the camera and all areas of your life… It helps you realize Socrates’ great directive, Know thyself, and uncover the seeds of the authentic self, hidden behind layers of conditioning and socializing”.

I am not a Zen practitioner myself, and sometimes Ulrich’s deliberations around life and meaning of life seem a little too contrived to me. It’s just too much of it and a bit too woozy and lofty. However, I am sure others will have a different perception of this. The language in the book is also somewhat scholarly and studious as is evident in the quote above—which at times makes it demanding to read. Furthermore, Ulrich’s wordiness can at times be a hurdle in and of itself for fluid reading. Personally, what I find most unpleasing is his tendency towards using a flourishing languages. An example: “Freshness blooms from the beginner’s mind that has its focus in the eternal now”. For me the language distracts. I get caught up in the wording itself rather than what the words try to convey.

Despite my objections, I have no problem recommending the book. You will just have to take it for what it is. But I am quite certain that no matter how you look upon Eastern philosophy and no matter how skilled or not skilled you are, you will arrive on the other side of the book with a different and more developed approach to photography, as long as you dig into it and transform the ideas into a practical approach. Zen Camera will make you a better photographer and if you can see beyond its elusive framework, it will be both inspirational and encouraging.

Available on Amazon:.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Your Daily Record

As mentioned in my last post, over a couple of weeks around Christmas and New Year I have been trying to connect and replenish my creative well. I have spent time letting the inspiration flow and getting in touch with my muses again, particularly in order to renew this blog.

One way to tap into our creative mind is by something called Morning Pages. I will get back to this in just a second. The reason I mention Morning Pages is a book I have just finished reading. It’s called Zen Camera and written by the American photographer and teacher David Ulrich. In the book, he suggests something he calls Your Daily Record, which has many similarities with Morning Pages except instead of writing it’s a journal of photographs. I think Ulrich’s idea can be beneficial for all photographers at all levels, and that’s why I want to pass it on to whoever is interested in developing their photography.

But first Morning Pages: Let me quickly summarize what they are all about. The award-winning poet, playwright, and filmmaker Julia Cameron developed the concept. Despite her extensive film and theatre credits, which include such diverse work as Miami Vice and the prize-winning romantic comedy God’s Will, which she both wrote and directed, Cameron is best known for her hugely successful works on creativity. Particularly her book The Artist’s Way has gained worldwide recognition. The book teaches techniques and suggests exercises to assist people in gaining self-confidence in harnessing their creative talents and skills. One of the basic tools is what Cameron calls Morning Pages.

Morning Pages are a way to connect with your creative well. It’s basically writing three pages in handwriting as the first thing your do in the morning after you wake up, just whatever occurs to your mind and without trying to control neither the thoughts nor the writing. The idea is that when you wake up you are still very connected to your unconscious mind—which then expresses itself through your writing. It really works (for more about Morning Pages, look up my post Finding the Creative Well).

I recommend anyone who has embarked on a creative endeavour to do Morning Pages, or at least try out the idea. Despite the fact that you have to write, it’s by far for writers only. You don’t even have to be able to write. Well, literally you will have to, of course, but Morning Pages are good training for photographers and everybody else who is creating even if they don’t believe they can write any good. It’s not really about writing, but about getting those unconscious processes to flow and become an integral part of your creativity.

I read The Artist’s Way long ago and ever since have done Morning Pages—admittedly on and off. Nevertheless, already back then in the beginning, I thought the idea could be morphed or moulded into a similar processed using the camera. I did try my morning photographs for a period of time, but never made it work.

But, alas, here comes David Ulrich and Your Daily Record. In the preface of Zen Camera he does himself compare Your Daily Record with the Morning Pages. Imagine how excited I was when I found out. He had developed a method that works.

The baseline for the idea is acknowledging that it’s imperative to photograph regularly and frequently if you want to strengthen seeing and become a better photographer. How much then? Personally I will strongly recommend trying to shoot on a daily basis. I know, it sounds like a lot, but I am confident that you relatively easily may accomplish some shooting during the daily rut of things you need to do. At least the way described by Ulrich. Doing so will encourage development of your skills as a photographer.

Your Daily Record is similar to a free-ranging journal of thoughts and impressions. You let go of conscious thoughts on how you ought to photograph and let the unconscious mind connect directly with the world around you through the camera. When doing Your Daily Record, make it easy for yourself and use your cell phone, which you always carry around anyway. And if you use a “real” camera put it on automatic or program mode. Furthermore, capture images in jpeg-format. I am an ardently believer in shooting with raw-format, but for Your Daily Record, jpeg makes sense since these are images you would normally not process but only capture as sketches and for you to become aware of and develop your photographic mind (truth be told, though, I have set my camera I always carry to capture both formats, just in case…).

Now dedicate time for the daily exercise. It doesn’t have to be time solely for shooting; use off time if you have a change. Shoot while you go for your daily walk, or shoot while commuting with bus or train, or during your lunch break. Whatever works and doesn’t feel stressful. Now just see and record what you see with you cell phone (or camera). Don’t worry or think about making good photos. These are only sketches. Take photos of everything you see and that strikes you enough to make you become aware of it. Photograph anything and everything that ignites any kind of response or resonates with you. Just captured images without thoughts and any worries about composition, light or technique. Use your emotions as a guiding light, photographing what hits you in some way, whether positively or negatively. Shoot a lot and quickly. Shoot from the guts. Over one week, you should try to capture at least 100-200 images according to Ulrich.

Reviewing the images is just an important part of Your Daily Record as the shooting itself. This is how David Ulrich describes this second part of the process: “Organize your photos and view them daily. You can do this at night or odd times throughout the day when you have a free moment. You want to look for recurring themes and core forms or shapes that appear and reappear. Study how you use colour and form, and your magnetic attraction or revulsion to certain subject matter. Above all, seek the pearls of resonance, those images and scenes that call to you from the deep within, that touch your being in ways you cannot yet identify. Place these, and only these are gem-like reflections, in a separate folder.”

Before starting the reviewing, upload the images to a computer. It’s much easier than watching them on a small cell phone screen. Then go through them, initially without any editing or judging. Remember that Your Daily Record is most of all about the process and much less about the final product. And remember—once again—that these images are merely photographic sketches. May I finally make a recommendation at least for those of you who are serious about your photography? Make this exercise a lifelong habit. Keep shooting a journal of free images every day. I promise you it will take your photography to places you wouldn’t even imagine. I have started myself.

The Long-term Project








For any serious photographer nothing is like working on a personal long-term project. If you want to develop your photography, make your creativity bloom, increase your energy and boost your self-esteem and confidence as a photographer, a long-term photo project will do all that for you. Such a project doesn’t have to be exotic at all or take place in a far-away-country. In fact the closer to your home-base the easier it is to follow through and use spare time whenever there is a chance. A personal long-term project can be grand and it can be small. It can be limited to your own backyard, like the project I have described before in the post Backyard Abstraction, or it can be a project about the world’s manual labourers as the famous photographer Sebastião Salgado has devoted a life time to.

The important thing is to devote yourself to a project you feel is important or speaks to you in some way or form and then stay devoted over a longer period of time. I mean keep going back, keep shooting, keep finding new ways to express the theme you have chosen, keep adding new images to the story. And keep doing it consistently even when at times it feels exhausting and nothing comes out of your attempt of shooting. Gradually you will merge into the project, it becomes you, and that’s when things start to take on a development of its own. By devoting yourself to a project over time you start to feel real ownership for the project, you will gradually relax with the subject—and the subject will relax with you, you lose all pretensions and any performance anxiety you may have. It all becomes about you and the subject and expressing that relationship.

“Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion… the subject must be something you truly love or hate.” This is according to another famous photographer, Dorothea Lange.

For a professional photographer as myself, long-term personal photography projects are the spice of life between the humdrum of every day life and shooting. It brings meaning and joy into my work. I can only recommend any photographer to devote time to a long-term project that feels important or inspiring to you—and it probably works the same way in any of the other art forms, too. The important thing is to start—now. Not keep planning it in your head and saying I’ll do it when I have time, or I just need to plan the project a little more. No, just start.

How long is a long-term project, then? There is no telling what is right when it comes to the time devoted to a long-term project. It can be months or it can be a life time. Only you know how long your project takes, and you probably don’t even know before it’s all done. One of my long term projects have been going on for more than 20 years—and still going on. Cuba has been my longest personal photo project to date. Not many posts ago I mentioned the farm I keep visiting in Cuba, where the members have become My Cuban Family. The farm is but a part of my project. Over the 25 years I have been returning to Cuba, I have tried to portrait and captured the changes is this contradictory country.

Training the imagination


It is the imagination that makes an artist capable of going beyond anything he or she has learned about the craft and from others in the field. It’s the imagination that makes the artist create something new in his or her own work; a new idea, a new approach, a new point of view, a new effect, a personal style. A person may read all the right books on the craft, attend lectures, go to school, and yet still not be able to do anything but copy from what he or she has learn. But we all have imagination and creativity latent in ourselves and it’s possible for all to bring out and develop that potential.

A good way to train one’s imaginative faculties is through mental exercises: try to imagine different ways of doing the same thing, different ways of rendering the same subject, different applications of means and technique. When confronted with an artistic problem we may try to visualize how the subject would appear from a different point of view – for instance in photography from higher up, from lower down, from the side, from the rear. Or how would it appear if the subject would be taken farther away with a telephoto lens? What would happen if a wide-angel lens were used? What about a different type of illumination?

By investigating systematically every controllable factor which contributes to the appearance of the work of art, by patiently searching for other ways than the obvious one for solving a specific problem, by critically analyzing the result of these investigations, by making clever use of the possibilities inherent in the subject, the inventive artist creates the kind of work that makes less patient or less creative artists exclaim: Why didn’t I think of that? How could I overlook such possibilities! Haven’t we all experienced this feeling at some point? But don’t worry, though, don’t get discourage by other’s creative work, it’s all about training your imagination.

Another way to do so is exactly to study and analyse the work of other imaginative artists, much as the student artist learns by studying the work of the masters. I believe there is no artist who, in one way or another, has not been influenced by the thought and work by others. Such influences are necessary catalysts to the artistic growth and development of any creative personality. We are not talking about imitation, but influence.

How do you train your imagination? And keep it sharp every day?

Creating more Creativity


Trying to be creative is sometimes very frustrating. Sometimes it is as if the muses have died out completely, while we sit there waiting for some inspiration. In articular, it can be hard to get in touch with our creative self if we have been neglecting it for some time. It goes into hiding if you don’t massage it on a regular basis and keep it awake. If we leave the creative self hanging out to dry for even shorter periods—even if we have years of experience in the creative field behind us—it gets back on us but short circuiting the creative connection. The muses die out on us.

The reality is that nothing encourages and develops creativity more than creating—being creative. It doesn’t matter what field you are exploring creatively, be it photography, writing, painting, design, performances, music or any other creative activity. Whatever we do, we need to keep doing it on a regular basis. If we want to develop our creative skills, become better and more profound in what we do, we need to keep creating—all the time. And we need to work creatively even when the result is mediocre and not what we want it to be. If we stop and just wait for inspiration to come, we only stagnate even more. Even more so, when we feel we have lost the inspiration—that’s when you have to push yourself through the wall of self-doubt and discouragement. Make mediocre art if that’s what comes out of your creative self. And don’t worry about it—and certainly don’t whip yourself for it. It’s only a temporary state, anyway. At some point the muses kick in again, and you become inspired and your creative skills start developing again. It’s like playing on the beach. As soon as you start, it’s hard to stop.

Being creative encourages creativity. That’s why I have made it a rule for myself to do at least one personal photo shoot or project each week (I am a photographer after all!). I usually shoot much more, being assigned to do so. And that’s adding to the creative equation, too. But I want to make sure I develop my personal photography as well, and once a week is what I can spare of my time during busy weeks, and when it’s less busy, it still forces me to go out and be creative. It’s been a good way to keep my creative spirit going—and developing.

How do you keep developing your creative skills and staying inspired?