Discovery Can Happen At Any Point In A Creative Process

Illumination II, Sossusvlei, Namibia 2012.

In 2010, during my third trip to one of the oldest desert’s in the world, Namibia’s Sossusvlei dune field, I enjoyed one of the most sublime hours of my life, from a helicopter. Moments of grace like this fill you with reverence for the miracle world we live in and a deep abiding gratitude to be a part of it all. I was prepared for it, but nonetheless surprised.
Before arriving, to plan where to go and how to maximize my time this magnificent dune field, I had done a considerable amount of virtual aerial research with Google Earth, zooming and panning images made from the combination of thousands of satellite images at various magnifications, to familiarize myself with where it started and stopped, how it changed in character, and the relative location of landmarks such as the dunes Big Mama and Big Daddy and the famous clay playa Deadvlei.
None of that could have prepared me for the changing angle of light, we were on the second flight of the day, an hour after sunrise, and the atmospheric conditions, all week long, the air was filled with dust from far off sandstorms that scattered the rays of the sun, permeating the sky with a white gold light. On site, I had to assess the impact of current conditions.
Even at an altitude about 3,000 feet, twice the height of the largest dunes, I found I couldn’t fit the vast dune field into my viewfinder. So I improvised and started making multi-shot exposures for panoramic stitches. It seemed like a bold move, if the two or three shots did not merge successfully then both would be lost, until one of my companions, Paul Tornaquindici, made an even bolder move and requested we do a 360 stationary rotation so that he could make a panoramic image of the entire dune field. To my delight, this method worked.
The images lay simmering in my unconscious for more than a year before I found my final solution, to render an effect of light as if it were originating from within the land to complement the light that showered down outside it. Often, a period of gestation is necessary to distill the essence of rich experiences to their essentials and connect them to others.
New image processing features informed the final realization of this image. The body metaphors, latent in these images, were intensified with creative perspective adjustments, using lens profile corrections, designed to remove mechanical optical distortions, now used expressively. Quite different than a change of angle of view, which reveals and obscures information, these distortions offered complementary but distinctly different visual effects, changing relative proportions and spatial relationships within the image. This solidified my previous experiments to compare and contrast the two and so learn to fully utilize them in tandem with one another intuitively.
Unexpectedly, the dynamic explorations made during the creation of this image suggested an entirely new alternate solution – one not fit for print. Animations of progressive distortions made the images appear to pulse and breathe, an effect that is perfectly in sync with my view of land as a living thing with a spirit of its own.
Making this image required pre-planning and then allowing that plan to evolve while responding to new input at each step in the creative process.
How can planning help strengthen your creative efforts?
At what stages and in how many ways can you encourage the evolution of those plans?
When is it better to abandon an old plan for a new one?
What are the positive and negative effects of having no plan at all?
View more related images here.
Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

Impossible Photography – Erik Johansson


“Erik Johansson creates realistic photos of impossible scenes — capturing ideas, not moments. In this witty how-to, the Photoshop wizard describes the principles he uses to make these fantastical scenarios come to life, while keeping them visually plausible. Photographer Erik Johannson creates impossible but photorealistic images that capture an idea, not a moment.”

Images That "Sizzle And Fizzle" Versus "Sleepers That Are Keepers"

Sizzles & Fizzles

While color immediately grabs attention, other aspects of this image could be stronger and clearer, making its impact less durable than others.

Sleeper

Subtlety makes this image easily overlooked at first but its appeal grows stronger over time and in context with other images.

Keeper

Our strongest images combine immediate impact and staying power.

 

It happens to me all the time. I’m excited by what I see on location and hopeful about the images I’m making. Afterward, the final results aren’t as exciting as I had hoped they would be. I rarely leave a location with confidence that I have truly excellent images. I can phone-in competent and even good most of the time, but getting to great is another matter entirely.

It’s important to know the difference between good and great. I measure my current successes against my past success – I’m always trying to raise the bar. If the images you’re making aren’t making the cut for you, I’d take that as a sign that you’re being more discriminating and based on that I would bet that means you’ve got many more images in your portfolio that are better. That’s excellent! Plus, the world doesn’t need more mediocre images, but it does need more discerning eyes.

While this syndrome of “sizzling and then fizzling” is common. The opposite dynamic is often at work too. You’ll make images that don’t catch your attention immediately but you find yourself doing a double or triple take and your appreciation of these images grows with each viewing. These “sleepers” are very interesting; they tend to be smarter and/or more deeply felt. Because they don’t grab your attention quickly, it’s easy to pass these types of images by. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to look back through your images again, often after some time has passed so that you can see them from a refreshed perspective.

Sometimes when you present the two together, one type of image makes the other type of image more interesting. The attention getter does just that – it gets attention. It can draw viewers in to seeing related work that might not be as eye-catching but has more substance and depth. Similarly, if it’s related to the attention getter, in some way beyond proximity, the strong silent type can reveal hidden depths within its flashier counterpart and even transfer some of its own depth. Both can “rub off” on each other in a beneficial way. Their relationship can be mutualistic.

When you find the rare few images that achieve both immediate high impact and extended durability you’ve got real “keepers”. These are the images that should be celebrated most. These images set the course for many others, both current and future works. All the other images, the ones that come close but fall short, which are collected with the great images, should in some way support, amplify, and expand that greatness. Keep these fires burning and fan the flames. Carry this vital energy forward. Keep this energy flowing with new moves. Find out how long you can stay in the zone or what it takes to return to it or something similar. See how far you can run with it and where it will lead you. Work of this quality often gets beyond you; which doesn’t mean you can’t sustain it, or return to it, but instead means you probably won’t fully understand it until long after you’ve done it – if ever. Work like this expands you. It raises your bar and calls you to new heights. Answer these calls.

 

Learn more in my Storytelling resources.

Learn more in my creativity and digital photography workshops.

Jerry Uelsmann & Maggie Taylor – This Is Not Photography


“He experiments in a darkroom. She composes on a computer screen. Together, husband-and-wife artists Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor create haunting, layered dreamscapes that push the boundaries of photography’s possibilities. This documentary from lynda.com explores both the technical and emotional aspects of Jerry’s and Maggie’s work, from the composition to the criticism, with insight from other preeminent voices in photography.”
Find out more about this 1.5 hour documentary at Lynda.com.

Paul Strand – Under The Darkcloth – Video

Paul Strand – Under The Darkcloth Part 1

Paul Strand – Under The Darkcloth Part 2

Paul Strand – Under The Darkcloth Part 3

Paul Strand – Under The Darkcloth Part 4

Paul Strand – Under The Darkcloth Part 5

Paul Strand – Under The Darkcloth Part 6

This video offers remarkable insights into a the life and work of a remarkable photographer.
View more Videos On Photographers here.
Read conversations with photographers here.

American Photography – Exposures Video Series

Exposures – American Photography – Part 1

Exposures – American Photography – Part 2

Exposures – American Photography – Part 3

Exposures – American Photography – Part 4

Exposures – American Photography – Part 5

Exposures – American Photography – Part 6

Exposures – American Photography – Part 7

Exposures – American Photography – Part 8

Exposures – American Photography – Part 9

Exposures surveys American photography.
It’s a history lesson. It’s food for thought. It’s inspiring.
View more photography videos here.

The History Of Photography – Beaumont Newhall


“The history of photography is Beaumont Newhall! Throughout most of the 20th century he has seen a central figure in the movement to have photography recognized as an art form. It might also be said that he created the “history of photography” as a distinct and respected field of study. As a founder and father of the history of photography, photographer, curator, art historian, writer, scholar, teacher and administrator it seems as if there has been more than one Beaumont Newhall. Beginning in 1938 at the Museum of Modern Art, he created the first retrospective exhibition of the 100-year-old art of photography. This documentary highlights some of Beaumont’s experiences of being a lifelong friend, mentor and confident of many photographers now in the annals of history.”
Beaumont Newhall’s The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present is the first classic history of art photography.