Photography. I don’t know of anything that has so many people across the world so deeply enthralled. Creating imagery is a beautiful way to express ideas, emotions, themes, and more. With the advent of digital photography and iphoneography, the power to create is in everyone’s hands. With access to knowledge and the ability to continuously learn, the sky is the limit with making images. But, photography practice is imperative.
Why do we get stuck in our creative ruts and lose momentum? How do we break out of the predictable style we’ve come to rely on and continue to practice so that we grow as artists? How do we continue to develop our skills as photographers and as artists in a medium we’ve been using for years? The simple, short answer is: we must practice the art of practicing! Growing as a photographer is a continuous process and being able to deal with the wrong equipment at the right time, embrace not having a vision, and try new workflows to open up the creative flood gates and prepare for future creative opportunities.
Grab a Camera and Go!
One of my favorite exercises is to grab a camera body and a lens and go out and shoot. That means no planning and no packing everything “just in case.” As a refreshing change, I like to leave the camera bag at home as well as all the extra lenses, attachments, and filters and get out and see what I can do with what I have with me. When heading out with basic equipment, we’re forced to look at subject’s in a different way. It’s easy to shoot the most obvious thing with the correct equipment but look for the challenge of finding new beauty in unexpected places.
I recently went to the zoo when visiting Houston and while most photographers would take their gear for photographing animals, I chose to take my DSLR and a 17-35mm lens. What on Earth could possibly be shot with that? While enjoying the zoo scenery I found many different and beautiful textures and intimate foliage vignettes to photograph (pictured below) and because I was forced to find the unexpected beauty in my surrounds as I was unable to photograph the obvious.
TIP: If you typically shoot with a DSLR, try shooting with a point and shoot. If you normally use a universal lens, try using a fixed lens. When you go out with a camera in hand with no other options you are forced to problem solve, understand your equipment better, and will experiment more. Constraining yourself and placing boundaries on workflow styles and equipment will open different possibilities and new creative thinking.
Practice With What You Have
There’s a term I love: Decision Paralysis. The possibilities are endless when I have every piece of equipment I own with me! But what should I pick… and when… and why? What if I need the aperture of one lens but the length of another?!
When working with one choice, I am forced to be more creative with my photography. The questions to ask are where to position myself, what settings should I use, and how can I get the best shot now instead of which lens should I put on. When we step out of our comfort zone and start to experiment, we start to teach ourselves and learn new tricks and then we begin to see how we can work in new, creative ways.
Practicing with only the equipment I have with me not only challenges my creativity but it prepares me to face technical challenges in the future. It’s better to practice without the “correct” equipment when it’s just for fun than to lose the shot when it counts. Remember, the best camera you have is the one with you.
And how do we continue to develop as photographers and as artists in a medium we’ve been using for years? In a simple, short answer: we must practice the art of practicing!
Flipping the Script
After going out and shooting, I always return to the computer to edit. What I love about working this way is that my creativity is not controlled by a specific vision of a starting point but rather by the inspiration from shooting with my basic equipment choices. I can now take each image and try out new programs, new effects, and different ways of editing based on the image itself rather than on a preconceived artistic vision with controlled parameters. I usually enjoy a certain and specific style of photography and editing but I find I have more fun and learn more about refining my own style when I work this way! Flipping the script from “tightly controlled equipment constraints” to “try anything I want” allows me to reimagine my work and to reignite passion and excitement.
Getting Creative with Texture Effects:
Reflect on What You Did
When going out and shooting for the sake of shooting, I notice that I revisit the stage that started my love affair with photography: the stage of unpredictability riddled with challenges. While practicing, I try different camera settings, approach familiar subject matter in a different way, and experiment while processing my work. This is what is exciting about photography for me! Learning about what I can do with what I have is one of my favorite exercises. I love discovering new work flow processes and how they can affect my work while practicing shooting with what I have readily available.
After years of practicing this method, I can tell you this: it works every time! I’m now interested in a new theme and editing styles. I was previously focused on the theme of the decay of Americana whereas now I am interested in regrowth and change as well as in pursuing dreamy post processing workflow.
Give it a Try!
Discover new themes and styles with this method! You can always share your image with other Topaz users. Check out Topaz Labs on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. We also offer free Webinars and have a great community on our Discussion Forum.
About Jodi L. Robbins
Jodi is currently the Art Director of Topaz Labs. She has been an artist and photographer for over 15 years, starting with black and white film photography and alternative processing. After completing her BFA in Studio Art from Southern Methodist University and her Masters in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked in product photography for companies such as Heritage Auctions, Neiman Marcus, and the Dallas Cowboys.