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Playing with my mental blocks

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A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” Ansel Adams

This blog is a bit late in arriving for a few reasons: 1) I was up in Northern Canada for a few days photographing the Northern Lights, 2) I was in Arizona on a landscape photography workshop, and 3) I was having a mental block on what to write about. Then, it struck me – why not write about having mental blocks in your photography, just like I was having them with my writing and VOILA, this blog session was born.

Aurora - NWT - March 2015

Aurora – NWT – March 2015

Sunrise over the Mittens Navajoland - May 4, 2015

Sunrise over the Mittens
Navajoland – May 4, 2015

Have you ever just sat and stared at your camera and thought to yourself – What do I photograph now? – or some variation on those words. A lot of you may have heard of “writer’s block”, well, I am sure a lot of us go through a lot of the same kind of situation when it comes to our photography. OR, do you feel like you are stuck in a rut – a photographic rut, where you feel like all your images look alike and the old “spark” seems to be gone. Rest assured, you are not alone.
So what do you do about it? Well, you can sit back, relax and hope that this whole “mental block” thing goes away and that you will be struck by a bolt of inspiration. This is probably not going to happen. When you get into this frame of mind, you have to actively do something to get those old creative juices running again. This is sort of a personal “brute force” exercise. No you don’t have to go out and beat up somebody, or get somebody to beat you up. You have to actively get up off your derriere, grab the camera and get out there. Regardless of what you do when you get “out there”, it is always nice to have some sort of a plan as to what you are going to photograph – the ”plan” gives you some order to what you are going to do, rather than wandering aimlessly around still wondering what you should photograph. Here are some suggestions for those of you looking to clear the old mental block hurdle.

Practice your technical skills – get to know your camera intimately. Grab the manual, sit down and find learn three or four of the buttons that you hardly ever use and learn what they do. Set up a subject in a darkened room – doesn’t matter what it is, use the built in flash, or if you don’t have one, put a flash on your camera and practice taking pictures in the dark. This should help you get to know where all the important buttons are so that you are not constantly looking for them when you are out in the field photographing fast moving subjects. Practice shooting the same subject with different focal lengths or different lenses.

Look at photos by other photographers. If landscapes are your thing, then go and look at images by Ansel Adams, any of the Caponigros or the Muenches, Galen Rowell, Art Wolfe, Alain Briot, Darwin Wiggett, to name a few. If flowers are one of your favourite subjects, then check out the work of Denis Ippolito, Harold Davis or Kathleen Clemons among others. I could go on, but you get the idea. Reviewing the work of others often provides ideas on what we like or not and why.

You can read tutorials on the web. There are a lot of them out there. Pick a subject, Google it and you will probably find hundreds if not thousands of sites that have something to do with the subject in one way or another. You could start by reading something about the elements of composition – http://photoinf.com/ – is one place to start. There are many others and we can all use a refresher on composition in our photography.

Try a new subject area. If your main area of interest is landscapes, then try photographing flowers, even if you have to go to the local store and buy an assorted bouquet. Got to a wrecking yard and photograph old cars or car parts, but be sure to get permission from the owners. Take a drive in the country (anywhere away from the city) and photograph domestic animals in the fields. Got to the zoo and photograph the animals. Be sure to check out their “rules and regulations” before doing so, just to ensure that you don’t get asked to stop or worse, leave the premises.

Go for a walk. Take your camera with a single lens – fixed or zoom, it doesn’t really matter and go for a walk in a park, or just simply around the block, assuming you have a block to walk around. Stop every ten feet and take five pictures. It doesn’t have to be five, I just picked that out as a nice round number. It could be two – one to the right and one to the left – your choice. The objective here is take pictures.

Now you have five suggestions as to what to do if you are suffering from photographer’s block. The real key is to do something – anything – to get you out of the rut you find yourself in. In the words of that famous Nike slogan – “Just do it”.

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