Monday, September 14, 2015

Creative Pokes (Part One)

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As photographers, we often come up with new ideas regarding what we want to shoot, how we want to shoot, where and when we want to shoot, that sort of stuff. Sometimes, our ideas slowly materialize in our photographic consciousness. Other times, they hit us suddenly, like thunderbolts and seemingly out of nowhere!

So where do our shooting ideas come from? Both the slowly appearing ideas as well as the suddenly-out-of-nowhere ideas?  Obviously, they come from within and without.  Sometimes, they seem to arrive purely from within-- regardless of whether that's 100% accurate or true -- while other times, they poke us from without. When they poke us from without, the pokes act like sparks or catalysts for spontaneous shooting ideas suddenly appearing from within, albeit prompted from without... if that makes sense.
There are some people who believe in "Divine Inspiration."  I'm guessing some photographers also believe in that notion. You know, that some creative ideas are "God-given."  Me? I don't believe in divine inspiration. Not even a little bit. In my mind, anyone waiting for divine inspiration for shooting ideas (or any other sorts of creative ideas) has a long wait in store for themselves.

Michelangelo, in my mind, was not divinely inspired to paint the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. Instead, I'm confident it was the patronage of a pope that gave him the idea, at least in part, and motivated him with more earthly rewards.  Yeah, some of you might disagree -- in whole or in part -- but that's my opinion and I'm sticking with it.  I also don't believe God inspired Mikey to sculpt the Pietà. The Pietà is an extraordinary work of art, for sure. In fact, I once saw the Pietà when it was on display at the 1964 World's Fair in NY --  I'm that old, although I was quite young then -- and to this day I vividly remember it. But was it divinely inspired? Not in my book. IMO, any artist who claims their work is divinely inspired simply has a hyper-inflated sense of self-importance. There's probably a psycho-babble term for that, one with the word "syndrome" or "disorder" attached to the end of it, but I don't know what that term might be. I'm a photographer, dammit. Not a psycho-analyst.

Back to those non-divine sparks and catalysts for ideas that sometimes poke us: Do they accidentally poke? Are they lucky pokes? Does serendipity play a poking part? Do we need to be in the right places at the right times to be creatively and spontaneously poked?

Occasionally, I suppose, all those notions might be true. More often than not, though, I'm pretty sure we have to purposely look to be poked, i.e., we need to go a bit out of our way to make ourselves available for poking. You know, make ourselves open to pokes. Search them out. Being open to those often-elusive, inspirational, idea-generating pokes means putting ourselves in places, not just physical places (although certainly those too) but mental places where the creative pokes have a better chance of, well, poking us in ways that spark creative ideas.

And here's how you do it, leastwise, how I think it's done:

Step One: Hopefully, you already realize there's no such thing as a  bad creative idea. There are only creative ideas. Creative ideas, especially at first, aren't necessarily good or bad because those ideas come in a variety of degrees of completeness. What one person might think of as a bad idea another might perceive as being merely an incomplete idea or simply the germ of an idea. They're much like stepping-stone ideas. You know, creative ideas that might not seem like great ideas at first, on their own, but are still ideas that lead us to other ideas or bigger and better ideas... like a path or, well, like stepping stones.

Here's an uber-simple example: Your new idea is to shoot landscapes. Well gee! That's great. Isn't that special? Bonne idée, homme!  But as good an idea as that might sound, at least initially, it's an entirely incomplete idea. Generically, landscapes cover a lot of terrain. (Pun intended.)  Besides, to have the idea to begin shooting landscapes is, frankly, an idea about a gazillion other photographers have already had and a gazillion more will have. You see, your idea to shoot landscapes is only a good idea in terms of it being (sort of a ) stepping-stone idea. A poke, if you will.

To make your germ of an idea even better, how about narrowing things down a bit? How about shooting landscapes which feature beautiful rolling hills in the countryside? Okay. That might be a better idea. Not particularly original or seldom-seen but, at the very least, a little more complete.   So how about photographing rolling hills in the countryside all captured around dawn or dusk?  What if your dawn or dusk images of rolling hills in the countryside also include old abandoned barns, farmhouses, or other abandoned structures as thematic elements?  Now we're talking a more complete creative idea, a more narrowly focused idea. Perhaps even a better idea even if it's one we've all seen before. You get where I'm going with this?

Well, if not (or if so) I'll be back soon to expand on this subject a bit more. I'm still narrowing my focus for my follow-on update about being creatively poked and, as a result of such pokes, developing creative ideas that lead to creative images.

The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Devin. I snapped it in a residential house. It's a combination of a single strobe -- a monobloc modified with a 5' Photoflex Octo -- ambient, and window light. (Coming from a bank of overhead windows, framed out of the shot.)  ISO 100, f/3.5 @ 125th with a Canon 5D (classic) and an 85mm prime.


DrMike said...

Hi Jim,

Love your blog... can I ask a question? How do you adjust the color balance in your photos that show a lot of skin?

Perhaps a topic for a future blog post?

Dr. Mike

jimmyd said...

Hey Dr. Mike: When shooting in the studio, I often warmed my main light with a bit of gel, usually Rosco Bastard Amber or Straw. What I've done and sometimes still do is use a small strip of gel, like you get in the free sample thingies, and tape it in front of the light. It barely covers a quarter of the light but that's enough to warm the skin a little. In post, I might saturate just a little but I don't usually alter the hues. Sometimes, I'll add a warming filter in post, but just a touch of it. Generally, i keep my camera's WB set to 5500 Kelvin for consistency and a touch of warming.