Get Physical With Your Subjects

To truly touch your viewers you may have to touch someone or something else first.

We have many intelligences (intellectual, emotional, physical, etc), but when it comes to making images we often leave many of them out of the mix. Try energizing your creative process by using all of you.

Get physical. The power of touch can reveal volumes. Imagine how much and how quickly an extended hand or a pat on the back can say. This doesn’t only apply to interacting with people and animals. If you physically make contact with any subject, even inanimate objects, you’ll come to understand it better; its scale, texture, density and much more. You may even decide to make contact with more than your hands. Press your face up against a window. Step into the currents of swift-flowing waters. Lay down in shifting sands. Experience your subjects from many perspectives. Doing this will lead to many new ideas. It will also inform old ideas. As your understanding of your subjects grows, your images will take on new dimensions and new depths.

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Writing Artist’s Statements

It’s important to learn how to make the visual verbal, by crafting artist’s statements. Many artists feel that images are better seen and not heard. I understand their point of view. But, face it, things will be said and written about your images. If you don’t do it, someone else will. You might as well become involved in the process. After all, as the author, this is one arena where your words are definitive.

You don’t have to be a professional writer to write. Just write. Write like you speak. Write with your voice.

Like making images, writing is a process, a process of making thoughts and feelings clearer. Often, you don’t know what shape the final product will take, until you finish.

At first, I resisted writing about my images. Now, I find the process so valuable that I’ve made it a part of my artistic process. Every time a new body of work arises, I write. When I’m ready to release a book of the work, I write again. As a result of writing, I gain a better understanding of the work I did, the work I’m doing, and the work I’m going to do. So do the people who see my images, surprisingly, even if they don’t read what I write.

This is an excerpt from a longer essay Artists’ Statements.
Download it here.

Read my artist’s statements here.
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Breaking the Rules

In his book Photography and the Art of Seeing, Freeman Patterson offers excellent advice. List all of the rules of photography. Then break them. If you do this, you’ll develop a better understanding of the medium.
I recommend you take this advice one step further. List all of your rules of photography. And break them. You’ll either find confirmation that what you’re doing is right for you or you’ll make new breakthroughs. You’ll develop a better understanding of your personal relationship with the medium and your unique way of looking. Keep going. And revisit this list frequently.
Find my lists in my PDF Breaking The Rules.
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Take Inventory of Your Associations

Before you photograph, write. After you identify the things happening outside you, take a little time to explore what’s going on inside you. The events around us trigger many associations and emotions, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic. Often, it’s the inner dimensions of ourselves that we bring to image-making that make our work truly moving to other people. We all bring something different to each and every moment. To really be there, you have to know who you are. Find out. What are you bringing to the picture? Did you show up?

Write spontaneously and unselfconsciously. Give yourself freely to the moment. Be thorough. Go deep. Write until you have nothing left to say. And when you feel you don’t have anything left to say, ask yourself if that’s really so. Don’t evaluate your results or yourself until after you finish. Tell yourself how you really feel. Later, you can decide what to share with the rest of the world and how you’d like to do it. This kind of personal research will help you gain a greater understanding of your world, your self, and your photography. As a result, all three will improve.

Explore the power of words in these related resources.
Learn more creative techniques in my Illuminating Creativity workshops.

How To Identify Actions With Verbs

This article is part of a series …

1.    Take Inventory With Nouns.

2.    Discover Qualities With Adjectives And Adverbs.

3.    Identify Actions With Verbs.

Develop the habit of making lists and you’ll dramatically sharpen your powers of observation and retention. (We’re 72% more likely to remember and act on what we write down.)

After you identify the things (nouns) in your environment, identify what’s going on or the actions taking place (verbs).

For photographs to transcend becoming simplistic visual inventories they need to tell a story. That means something has to happen in them. So you need verbs. However, actions come in many flavors. They can be dramatic or quiet, fast or slow, active (peak action) or passive (a frozen gesture). Often we don’t recognize all the things that are happening around us simultaneously and making a list of them all will help you be more observant.

Don’t let this practice get in the way of capturing peak action. If you see something significant about to happen get ready ahead of time. Not surprisingly, if you’ve been making your lists, you’ll be more prepared and practiced and so more likely to notice it before (not after) it happens.

Usually, there’s so much going on around us that we miss things. Periodically putting your camera down and just looking carefully will help you see more. And, if you become more mindful of the events around you and their interconnections, you’ll make more insightful images.

Is it enough to simply make mental lists? It’s a start, so do it. But if you always take this shortcut, you’ll be missing out on some of the long-term gains of developing this habit – wider, deeper, more memorable, with the ability to identify patterns either in your environment or in your ways of relating to subjects and your medium. Again, action speaks volumes and pays dividends.

Find more ways to boost your creativity using words.
Learn more creative techniques in my workshops.

How To Take Inventory With Nouns


This article is part of a series …

1.    Take Inventory With Nouns.

2.    Discover Qualities With Adjectives And Adverbs.

3.    Identify Actions With Verbs.


Try this. Before you photograph, write. When you first arrive at a new location you can quickly become overstimulated or even overwhelmed by all the new sights, sounds, smells, and events. You can make sense of it all and make sure you don’t miss anything by taking inventory. Make a list of all the things you see. You’ll find that in the process of writing things down you’ll notice more than you ordinarily do.

Push yourself a little. Give yourself a high quota. Set a minimum number of words; start with 50. And set a minimum amount of time – 3-5 minutes. This initial investment of time will pay big dividends. When you start making photographs, you will have already found more subjects and more details about them.

Don’t just do this once, keep it going. Practice this until it becomes a habit. You’ll find that as you develop this skill you’ll naturally start noticing more. In part, this is because you aren’t pre-selecting or what you notice. You filter impressions after not before you notice them.

After an initial burst, you’ll find that the number of new observations you make will slow down. Use this strategy to expand your list and notice more. Break things down into parts. For instance, after you write tree also write root, trunk, bark, branch, leaf, bud, flower, fruit. You can even note the parts of the new things on your list; for fruit list stem, skin, flesh, seed. See you started with one word and ended up with twelve and in the process, you might have been tempted to break open and sample the fruit.

The time to stop this flow of words is not the first time you get stuck and probably not the second or third either. But there is a time to stop this flow of words and just be purely visual while you make exposures. But anytime you see the flow of images slowing down or stopping altogether you can pick it back up. This is especially useful right after an extended session of making exposures. Consider it a review to consolidate everything you noticed. And when you come back to the same or a similar subject you already have a list, which you can continue building on. (I make my lists on my smartphone so they’re always with me.)

With so many possibilities, where do you start making images? Start with whatever is most interesting to you. Highlight those things on your list so that you can find them quickly when you look at them again.

Keep building your lists. Your lists will come in handy when you start repeating yourself. As a result, you’ll be able to make many more successful and related images. Given time and practice, you’ll notice patterns in your thinking, which can be the start of finding what’s truly authentic about the way you see.

Find more ways to boost your creativity using words.
Learn more creative techniques in my workshops.

Take Note of Your Process

It only takes something to write with to learn a lot about photography and yourself in a little time. It doesn’t matter whether you use pen and paper or PDA. It doesn’t matter whether you finish sentences, spell correctly, or write legibly. Just write. Don’t just talk, using audio recordings, unless you transcribe them later. You need to see relationships – in writing.
One of the assignments I often give my workshop participants on location is to note your process. “First I do this. Then I do this. Next I … etc.” Most don’t follow through. They quickly fall into old habits and return to photographing the way they usually do, without finishing the assignment, without learning. So, to finish the assignment, they have to fill in their lists after they photograph. Then they don’t piece things together in the same way. They miss some things. They forget other things. One of the benefits of noting your process is that things that you ordinarily take for granted or weren’t aware of suddenly become clearer to you.
I do the assignment with my students. (Yes, I do the exercises I assign too.) They’re always amazed at how full my pages of notes are and how many pages I create in a short time. This comes with practice. And it comes with sharing your notes with other people. When you hear each other’s lists, you’ll find other people notice things you don’t. Both the similarities and differences you share with others can be revealing.
I find I write the same things down time and time again. This has lead me to create a master process list, which I copy and modify (add to or subtract from) on location. There are always new things. Are there new things because I noticed more? Why? Are there new things because I’m in a new environment? Why? Are there new things because I decided to try something new? Why? These are important questions that can unlock a new ways of looking, thinking, and working, now and in the future. Keep asking them.
Because I write … I’m clearer about what works and what doesn’t. I’ve streamlined my systems. I have a better understanding of how and why I work. I have dozens of new ideas to try. This is a great thing to do when you first start making photographs after a break or in a new place.
There are many more benefits to noting your process. With practice you won’t need to take as many notes as you do when you first try this, you’ll simply keep a running dialog in your head and note only the most important things or the things that are different. Do make notes. Writing reveals. Writing brings more choices. Writing leads to clear thinking. Writing leads to clear seeing.
Find more online resources in my Creativity Lessons.
Learn more creative techniques in my Illuminating Creativity workshops.

Using Visual Metaphors

Here’s an excerpt from my column in the current issue of AfterCapture magazine.
“In photography, metaphors are visual rather than verbal. Different kinds of connections and transferences of shared qualities are made more easily with visual language than with verbal language. Relationships that can be seen but not easily put into words may become clear to the viewer. The echo of compositional elements, such as line, shape, texture, or color, between two (or more) draws a connection between two things that ordinarily might seem unrelated. Quite often, visual metaphors are not the echo of things already existing in the image, but instead offer specific reminders of things that are not in the image.
Interestingly, visual metaphors are rarely as direct as verbal metaphors. When you read a metaphor like, “Your love is a fire that burns me,” it’s crystal clear what metaphor is being used. You read fire and see it in your mind’s eye. Visual metaphors are often less obvious and more suggestive. If a shadow suggests the shape of an animal, it may not be definitively clear which animal it is, rather than a specific animal, it may be animalistic. Consequently, visual metaphors may be subject to multiple interpretations and this may or may not be a good thing. Visual metaphors may not be recognized consciously, but if they’re present, they are always felt.
We use metaphors to invest things with heightened emotion, qualify our responses to them, and produce insight. You can use metaphors to guide you deeper into a subject and your relationship with the subject. This works best if you truly connect mentally and emotionally with the subject and the metaphors you choose. Once you’ve identified the subjects and metaphors you react to most strongly, nurture your connection with and understanding of them. Free association, amplification, contemplation, and gestation help. You’ll find that internal processes are just as important as the external processes. They are what provide the inner life to your creative endeavors.
Metaphors can transform a commonplace perspective into an exceptional one. They can enrich your life. And you, in turn, can enrich ours.”
Find more online resources in my Creativity Lessons.
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Having trouble coming up with new ideas? Get thousands of ideas with one word. Try SCAMPER. In 1939 advertising executive Alex Osborn, “the father of brainstorming”, first proposed a set of nine strategies for creative thinking, seven of which were later rearranged by Bob Eberle into the mnemonic SCAMPER.
S   Substitute
C   Combine
A   Adapt
M   Modify
P   Put to Other Uses
E   Eliminate
R   Rearrange
What are the other two missing words?
Minify, which I like to think of as expand and contract or put another way reduce and enlarge.
Reverse, which I think is the most powerful tool of all. It’s typified by the 180 degree rule. Do the opposite.
The underlying assumption with SCAMPER is that new ideas are based on old ones. This may not always be the case, but often it is. To use SCAMPER, you have to start with something.
You can use SCAMPER as a list of questions that can be used to generate new ideas. Simply ask, “Can I ____ something?” inserting the words SCAMPER represents one at a time. Next, you might try using two words at a time. Later try three. Classically, the best solutions are the simplest, but not always.
Find over 20 creativity tips here.
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