Creativity

Being creative is one of the most multidisciplinary things a person can do. When making a photograph, you don’t just wave the camera around, randomly pressing the shutter release. Admittedly, you could do that if your intent was making abstract images. But, that’s not the usual practice. For all the parts involved in making a photograph to come together, even a mediocre photograph (a “snapshot” in the opinion of some), the photographer consciously and unconsciously dips into their internal resource of knowledge and experience, pulling inspiration from education and practice, other interests, from family, culture, and from occupations. The photographer actively and purposefully selects the subject, elements, arrangement of those elements in a pleasing and/or meaningful composition, and sets an exposure to achieve the result visualized in their mind. From the relative chaos of our surroundings photographers create the appearance of a selective world, define a visual space with boundaries in which we decide what is relevant, what is worthy of our attention, and what we want to bring to the attention of others. We select the elements of the story we want to tell and the meaning important to our intent.

Around 2500 years ago, philosophers began trying to answer the question “what is creativity?” Well, they’re still at it. And in the last 60 years or so the philosophers have been joined by neuroscientists who are attempting to tease creativity out of the cells of our brain and the wiring of our body. In all that time, there is still no agreement as to where creativity comes from or how it’s generated or a single definition of creativity. There are even different aspects of creativity: general creativity (as defined several ways), the creative person (who is a maker and/or thinker), the creative process (the process/steps in being creative), creative thinking (solving intellectual puzzles), and the creative object (which can be creative in and of itself in addition to being a created thing). What is, though, the essence of creativity? In this article I’ll be describing a definition of creativity, characteristics of the creative person, and the creative process.

In my research and through a bit of thinking on this question, a common denominator seems to form the foundation of creativity, in both humans and other animals: curiosity. The act of curious investigation involves a recognition and comprehension of things inside and outside our mind and body. The simplest definition of curiosity is exploratory behavior, the recognition that knowledge about something is missing which creates a desire to know and understand that missing information. Curiosity is seeking the answer to the question, “why, how, what?” and answering that question often relies on non-standard ways of finding out the answer; relies on the making of devices or formulas or ways of thinking or processes that previously didn’t exist. And humans are not alone in their quest for the answers to curiosity.

It’s a fact that the once held belief humans were advanced above other animals because we used tools and communicated has been debunked. We have to choose another criteria because in the last century we’ve discovered that birds, other primates, marine mammals, fish, and even invertebrates use tools, and often in a creative and innovative way once reserved strictly for us. The male bower bird of Australia builds an elaborate performance arena from grass and sticks, clearing an open “dance floor” then decorates his construction with specifically-colored items to attract females. Crows, ravens, and jays have been shown to possess advanced puzzle-solving skills equivalent to that of a 5-yr-old human child and even invent tools on the spot to solve those puzzles. Herring gulls and some hawk species drop hard-shelled prey onto hard surfaces to crack them open. Chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas use tools to get food from hard to reach places, use stones and sharp sticks as weapons, and leaves to make noises to warn of predators. Octopus have been observed using coconuts as “armor” against predators and for camouflage and their skill in figuring out how to escape enclosures is well known. Humpback whales expel air while rising from the deep in a circle to create nets of bubbles trapping fish they scoop up at the surface. So, curiosity leads to novel solutions to discovered “problems”. I put problems in quotes to refer to the general idea of solving puzzles or finding solutions, like how to get a termite out of its home, to eat, without destroying it so more termites will be available later, to eat, in the same place.

I mentioned earlier how creativity is more than a single thing, that creativity applies to people, processes, things, and thoughts. The definition of creativity is somewhat separate from the creative person, the conditions for creativity, and somewhat separate from the creative process, but let’s see if we can narrow down a definition of creativity to start with. Almost every definition agrees that creativity is the ability to bring various elements together that previously were related, unrelated, or believed to be unrelated to form something new or innovative, involving an agent (person), a process, and a product. Newness and innovation are important criteria in all the definitions I’m aware of. “Original” pops in now and then, too, but there’s a different discussion about originality, and a person, thing, or process can be creative without being original. Another aspect of creativity is the product must be of some value. The thing has to have some utility, which I think is meant to differentiate actual innovative creativity from things that are made for no other purpose than simply to be weird or shocking, or otherwise generally useless.

The creative person can refer to a person who devises or makes innovative and new things, or a person who lives a life outside of convention, conformity, and habit. These two characteristics are not exclusive to creatives, though many creative people, as I’m sure you’re aware, live lives somewhat different from the “norm”. There are four or five components to the creative person, as determined by observation and psychological study:

1) Openness to experience, the ability to recognize novelty and to seek out novelty. It’s the way the creative person views the world and the various situations that make up a given experience. It’s an awareness of how things are in an open, nonjudgmental way that allows for connections, juxtapositions, and nontraditional associations to be examined and explored. This is called observational learning by some authors working on the theory of creativity. Novelty and seeking out novelty has a significant impact on the brain and how we feel, both releasing amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine into our system, which makes us feel good. Our brain and body, once it tastes the “high” of dopamine can, in some people, enforce what we might call risky behavior like rock climbing or BASE jumping or car racing. For most of us, we don’t directly notice a sudden flood of euphoria but, when we make or do something that makes us happy, dopamine is one of the primary motivators to “encourage” us to try again.

2) An internal source of evaluation. The creative person values the creation based on internal criteria; Is this creation satisfying to me? Does it accurately express a part of me – my emotion(s), thoughts, interpretation of my experience and knowledge? The value of the creation isn’t based on external praise, validation, and criticism by others, by acceptance or rejection to one show or another, by sales numbers or mentions in the news, and not by likes and numbers of followers on social media. There’s an old saying that the harshest critic is yourself (or should be, though I’m not 100% behind that part, because as the harshest critic you could also be the worst). Self-evaluation is important to your growth as an artist, and there is an external component to that evaluation, to be sure. The primary self evaluation is “have I created something I intended, that meets the standards I set for myself, that has meaning to me and my experience with the world?” rather than “have I created something of value others have requested or others have told me I should be doing?”

3) Innovative behavior. The ability to see beyond form and function, beyond labels and categorizations, to be able to play spontaneously with ideas, colors, shapes, relationships, combining elements into impossible or previously unconsidered juxtapositions, to shape wild hypotheses and express the ridiculous (Albert Einstein once said “If at first the idea us not absurd, then there is no hope for it”), and to translate from one form to another the wild, nonjudgmental exploration of what if? Creativity is, in many ways, problem solving. Creative, innovative, behavior is risky. But without pushing boundaries we never know where that boundary lies or what potential lies beyond. History is full of individuals, partnerships, and groups who thought to themselves, “that’s interesting, what if…?” or “there’s got to be more to it than that…” I’m sure you can name several off the top of your head right now.

4) Interest. This is a characteristic I haven’t seen in the literature I’ve read so far, but one I feel is as important as the others. A person might be extremely talented, but what if they don’t have any interest to pursue or apply that talent in any way? We read about talented individuals who “just had to do it” as if compelled by some unseen force or internal mission. How many piano concertos or computer systems or architectural designs or theories of everything have never been made because the individual had the capability, but was more interested in something else? A couple relevant examples that come to mind is Ansel Adams, who was an accomplished, trained, concert pianist, but chose photography instead, and Henri Cartier-Bresson was an accomplished painter before switching to photography. What if Elon Musk wasn’t fascinated by transportation?

5) Dexterity. This is another characteristic not addressed in the literature. Is dexterity a characteristic or requirement for creativity? Must we be a Michael Jordan or Alex Honnold or Picasso or Beethoven to be considered creative? Certainly, some creative endeavors do require some physical skill and coordination; dance, rock climbing, basketball, playing the piano. But there is mental dexterity and dexterity of leadership; Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln. Included in this group are those with savant syndrome, who can solve complex equations in their head or play impromptu original musical scores without training, but not tie their shoes or tell you how much to pay for a hamburger. These people are no less creative, in my mind.

6) Knowledge/Experience. What you know and what you’ve experienced play a big role in being creative. Sometimes, not knowing anything can produce innovative results by not being caught up in the rut of “we’ve always done it that way”. I’ve had a couple jobs that I wasn’t as experienced as someone else might have been in that position, but being able to see processes from an outside perspective allowed me to make suggestions and change procedures to make improvements. But, in general, the wider your experience and knowledge the more likely you’ll be able to make those unconventional associations between unrelated or related elements. Throughout history, many of the most creative individuals had interest, experience, knowledge, in a broad range of subjects. Called polymaths, these people were (and are) philosophers, scientists, musicians, painters, chemists, mathematicians, all rolled into one, and through this broad range of exposure to different things were able to make connections that were unseen by specialists.

Being creative also involves some type of process, not just in the making or creation of the thing, but in the period of time leading up to and after. Nearly every study of the creative process concludes the same way: there are four stages to the creative process. They might use different terms to define the stages and slightly different descriptions of what happens in each stage, but they are essentially the same.

1) Inception/preparation/exploration. This is the stage where wild ideas are born. This is usually the point in the process that inspiration strikes you in the face, when you suddenly have an insight into associations you may never have consciously considered before. And, often, you’re not consciously aware of the mixing and thinking that goes on in your brain behind the scenes, putting things together like a puzzle with no picture to follow…..does this fit here? What about there? This process involves what has recently been discovered as the default mode network, the unconscious or subconscious brain processing that sometimes comes to our awareness when we’re not occupied thinking of other things or concentrating on an activity – like when we’re in the shower or taking a walk, watching television, or in the moments right before we wake up (or makes us sit up in bed in the middle of the night – better write it down or you’ll forget it!). We may also be inspired by a news report or movie or event we’ve witnessed, and this puts us on track to see where that inspiration leads. Sometimes we can visualize the end product, other times we’re heading down a blind alley. But there is always an initial idea or concept that propels us forward and keeps us moving.

2) Incubation/illumination/development/selection. This stage potentially incorporates separate, but related, processes. Each of the stages in the creative process are interactive in many ways, it’s seldom a linear path from beginning to end. Here is where we ask “will it work?” and “can I do it?” Do I have the skills to pull it off, can I learn these skills? do I have access to equipment needed? How much will it cost and where will I get the funds? It’s in this stage we sift through the various ideas and select the one we’d like to pursue. Maybe it’s the most interesting, or most challenging, the one we’re most prepared for and able to complete, or the one we’re finally at the stage of experience and knowledge to do it justice, to bring out the essence. It’s also the stage at which we’re most likely to quit. Answering our questions may reveal we’re not prepared, and self-doubt can creep in. We begin to feel isolated, anxious perhaps, about embarking on a new project. We tell ourselves, “nobody has done this before, maybe for good reason”, or “this has been done before, and much better”, “I’m foolish to pursue this, nobody will be interested”, “I’m not good enough to do it justice”, “I don’t have time.” These are strong thoughts and anxieties to overcome, but everyone has them, whether they admit to it or not. Most often what overcomes this anxiousness is the desire to communicate your idea or concept, especially to others who share your idea (even if the creator has to also create or imagine such a group).

3) Completion/verification. Completing the project depends on your personal evaluation: is it done? Has it answered the questions you intended to answer or asked the questions you wanted others to consider? Is it of the quality you envisioned? Will this be put out for others to see or is it only a stepping stone to something else and will be kept private? This is where external validation/feedback can come into play (also during the incubation stage), where you find out if your efforts translate to others the way you intended. While your creativity should primarily engage your own enjoyment (photographer Vivian Maier, is perhaps a recent example), there might be interest by others in your work that inspires you to keep expressing your creativity, and provide the funds to do so.

Creativity is complex. It can be argued that creativity is more highly developed in humans, yet other animal species exhibit profound creativity where it was once thought not to exist. There is in creative development a beginning, middle, and end, like any good story. We have to start somewhere on that journey, and each step forward adds something new, which may change the project entirely or improve it beyond previous imagination. That step forward always holds the potential for making things worse, too. And we either go back and try again, give up, or transform it into something else. The creative process, if I now include the creative person, the process, and the thing, is a contiguous process, each stage is connected to the previous and following stage. All along the way, elements are connected, discarded, discovered, often by their appearance, familiarity, placement, and perception of the element in space and time. Elements, like words in a poem, are associated by their similarity and by their structure – rhyme, rhythm – and other elements become contiguous because of common elements, like mathematical or chemical symbols. Anytime otherwise remotely related or unrelated ideas become related, a creative solution can be formed.

Canon EOS R: Review

For a trip to Iceland in November, I rented a Canon EOS R mirrorless camera as my workhorse for 10 days. I hadn’t shot with a mirrorless camera before and my expectations were mixed. I’d had a Sony Ar series in my hand at one time and didn’t like it. The small form factor ergonomics and menu-driven operation turned me off, as did the off-balance feel I had with long lenses attached. But, recently I read a couple good reviews of the EOS R and decided to give it a go. What pushed me over the hesitancy is the larger body. I’m used to shooting with larger DSLR bodies with controls ready to hand, relying on the menu system only for specific situations and for “set it and forget it” types of operational controls.

Canon EOS R front

So, here we go. I received the camera on rental from BorrowLenses, a company I have rented from several times in the past. I’ve recommended renting gear, camera bodies, lenses, etc. if you’re deciding whether to buy. Renting for a weekend or a week is an easy and inexpensive way to “try before you buy”. Anyway, if you followed my posts on Facebook and saw my first Facebook Live video from that trip, you might guess that I wasn’t at all pleased with the camera. At the time, you’d be right. While the EOS R is, internally, a mirrorless version of the 5D, getting used to a new operation can sometimes be frustrating, even though I’d received the camera a couple days before leaving. The ergonomics of the EOS R body is great. The size, weight, and how it fits in my hand were all very familiar and comfortable. I’ve been a Canon shooter for a long time, and my current DSLR is the 1D Mark IV, a camera that is very near its end. But the body plan, the large grip (also similar to the 1Ds which I used for a decade) lets me hang on to the camera securely while operating most of the controls and while carrying it in hand.

I’m not going to give any technical specs. This review is based on my own personal preferences with how and what I shoot. Any “technical” information is more or less going to be subjective and based on practical use. I hope that’s useful to you.

When I first fired it up and began setting it up at home, there was a mysterious shutter lag of about 1/2 second that was “fixed” just as mysteriously as I worked through the setup. I suspect it had to do with one or more of the shooting control operations, but I wasn’t able to pin it down. It could have been related to the dual pixel focus setting, which I eventually disabled. I didn’t run into that specific issue again during my trip (but see below for more info about shutter lag I experienced).

Operationally, here are my critiques:

1. I set up operation for back-button focus but the shutter release focus wasn’t disabled. So, I would back button focus then when I pressed the shutter release it would refocus. It’s possible I missed a step somewhere, but I’m pretty sure I had it set up properly.

2. I’m not a fan of the electronic viewfinder. It’s nice to be able to review the image in the viewfinder, but with review turned on you get the preview in the viewfinder while you’re trying to shoot. Several times I was fooled into thinking I was looking at the actual scene when it was just the preview image. I eventually turned off the preview function (which also disables it on the large rear LCD and you have to manually press the preview button. Not completely a problem, but sometimes was inconvenient). It would be nice to be able to have a setting of preview only on rear LCD.

3. Another aspect of the electronic viewfinder I didn’t like was I couldn’t look through the camera if it wasn’t on. If the camera is off, so is the viewfinder. There’s no way to compose prior to making a photograph if powered off or in sleep mode. This, of course, will apply to all cameras with electronic viewfinders, so this is a characteristic I’m not liking across the whole spectrum of mirrorless cameras. This reduces battery life.

4. On the body that I had, the light meter tended to overexpose by about 1.5 – 1.75.

5. Rear LCD touch screens are both a help and a hindrance. Useful sometimes for focusing in odd situations and for adjusting camera settings. But a hindrance at other times when the focus point shifts at random when your hand or nose brushes across the screen while you’re composing or carrying the camera and the screen gets activated.

6. The viewfinder shut off sensor became a frustration when I used my rain cover, which has transparent panels so I can see the camera controls. The sensor kept shutting off the LCD screen when it sensed the rain cover, treating it like it was my face at the viewfinder. I had to hold the panel away from the sensor with my thumb, hand inside the rain cover.

7. The menu touch strip, located just to the right of the viewfinder, turned itself on at random when I had the touch strip turned off. I would get a notice in the viewfinder asking me if I wanted to enable it or not if I brushed my thumb or face across it. I’m not sure of the utility of this feature.

8. I’m also not a fan of the toggle setup for the back control. I have a pair of waterproof/windproof gloves I can easily use with my 1D and its control wheel and buttons, but I found operating the rear toggles and the buttons (which are slightly recessed) very difficult with these gloves on and often had to remove them. I prefer the rotating control wheel over the toggle.

9. The low light focus was pretty good, but with my EF 70-200 f2.8L there was a lot of hunting in low light after sunset (that’s probably more of a lens issue, I think).

10. The menu system is familiar to me and organized in a logical way that’s easy to navigate, though there are more categories on the EOS R than on the 1DS. It would be nice to simplify the menu system with an option to disable categories that aren’t used, like the picture style/JPG processing features, that some photographers like me may never use.

11. Perhaps it was just me operating a new camera, but at slower shutter speeds, 1/4 sec or slower, there was no shutter release indicator (no sound, no “click”). It was as if the shutter release timer (2 sec delay) was engaged. Sometimes I wouldn’t realize the shutter had been released and moved the camera during the exposure. This didn’t happen at faster shutter speeds when I had a tactile signal from the shutter button that it had been depressed enough to release the shutter, and no shutter release delay.

12. The jack for the cabled remote is a mini-plug and the remote for the EOS R doesn’t have an intervalometer or timer. I prefer the TC-80n3 remote.

13. Battery. The EOS R uses the same small battery as the 5D. I also rented the battery grip and an extra battery, so had extended use as well as a bit more body to hang on to.

Instead of a control wheel on the top for switching shooting modes, there’s an LCD screen, a mode switch, and a wheel. I found this somewhat inconvenient to use, though you can see the modes in the viewfinder when the mode switch is pressed. It wasn’t a showstopper and eventually I would probably get used to it.

Image quality

I’ve been going through the files from the trip and I don’t have any image quality complaints. I do notice more pronounced chromatic aberration than I do with the 1D, but that may be due to the larger file size making it more apparent than it does with the sensor (yes, CA is created by the lens).

One of the reasons I rented this camera was for the reported high ISO quality (much better than the 1Ds) specifically for night shots of stars and Aurora borealis. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much opportunity for the Aurora, but I did shoot some night scenes at reasonably high ISO (2500) and the noise was easily taken care of with Photoshop noise controls. One very useful aspect of mirrorless cameras is with long exposures and telephoto shots. It’s essentially a permanent mirror lock-up situation and camera vibration is greatly reduced, especially when using a cabled remote.

My frustration abated somewhat as the trip progressed and I became more familiar with the EOS R’s operation and particular idiosyncrasies. For me, while I ended up liking the camera overall, it wouldn’t be a camera I would buy as a replacement for my 1D at this time. I would likely still opt for the 5D, even though it seems that model is on its way out. Here’s another issue. Lenses. The EOS R has a different lens mount, so your EF lenses won’t work without an adapter. And, the RF lenses for the EOS R line are amazingly larger and heavier than EF lenses (and there are fewer of them at this time). I think there’s promise in the EOS R line if a “Pro” model was made with the larger NP-E3 battery (and the associated larger grip) and a control wheel on the back instead of the toggle, an optical viewfinder option, and remove the touch strip. These are, of course, operational critiques. Camera operation, where controls are and how easily they are to use – bare handed or with gloves – is just as important (to me, anyway) as image quality, focus accuracy, and ISO performance. You can have the most advanced camera with amazing image quality and performance, but if it takes you 15 seconds to change the ISO or shooting mode or focus point selection, or you can’t operate it under certain conditions, it will be mostly worthless, no matter how much money you spent for it.

I did like the articulated rear screen. It makes low and high angle shots more pleasant. I’m not a vlogger or selfie taker, so the forward-facing capability didn’t concern me, but might be a feature others would appreciate.

The weather sealing on the EOS R is pretty good. I used the camera with a rain cover in heavy rain and without in light rain conditions and there were no problems with water affecting controls or getting into the body. Weather sealing is better with lenses that also have that capability.

My conclusion is the EOS R is a pretty good mirrorless camera. Of the cameras I’ve had in hand, this one is more practical in the hand for me, easier to handle, better balanced with long lenses, and a familiar layout which is easier to transition into. This is, of course, because I’m a long-time Canon shooter and they’ve kept their layouts fairly consistent. It’s larger than the Sony and that body type, especially with the RF lenses. If you’re looking for a compact mirrorless, the EOS R isn’t it. But if you want a camera that fits your hand and is comfortable to use, that is balanced, performs well in all weather and puts out a nice image file, the EOS R might be what you’re looking for. I’m just hoping future models will accommodate a more practical “field layout” that is functional using gloves.

Review: The Photography Exercise Book

Some time ago I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing Bert Krages book The Photography Exercise Book: Training Your Eye to Shoot Like A Pro. Published by Allworth Press in 2016, I’d seen it while browsing in the bookstore. I picked it up and thumbed through it, wondering if it would be a good reference for me and my classes and workshops. At the time, nothing stood out to me about the book other than it seemed to be written for beginning photographers and, at the time, I was working on my own book and there were more advanced concepts rummaging around in my head. So, I put it back on the shelf.

When I was asked to review the book, I remembered looking at it that one time and thought I should give it another chance. Bert Krages is an attorney and photographer living in Oregon with a couple other books in his bibliography; Legal Handbook for Photographers and Heavenly Bodies: The Photographer’s Guide to Astrophotography. I’m pretty sure I’ve also seen and thumbed through both of those books at the bookstore. The Legal Handbook for Photographers delves into an aspect of photography that has many fewer references available than for any other aspect of photography. If you are a photographer interested in your legal responsibilities and liabilities, that book and others would be beneficial to you.

Mr. Krages begins The Photography Exercise Book by describing its purpose and who it is for. In my own classes, I describe three groups of photographers; those who are technically-inclined, those who are not, and the largest group that’s somewhere in between. This book is for people who have at least a comfortable understanding of camera operation, in terms of using the various exposure modes and making exposure adjustments, but it does not discuss exposure settings, focal lengths, filters, flash, the “Rules”. This book is not a “how to use your camera” book, but a “how to explore your surroundings” book. It’s for photographers who are starting out and for those who need a little inspiration for exploring. It is a book of photography exercises after all.

I agree with most of the author’s premises: to become a better photographer you must make photographs, you must pay attention to the world around you, you must experiment, you must keep an open mind and always look for opportunities. The Photography Exercise Book is divided into sections that begin with letting you know you should have a basic understanding of how your camera works, some general tips about composition, and the importance of evaluating your work. The rest of the book includes the exercises. The exercises are a bit open-ended, which is good because it allows you freedom to find subjects and situations at the time you’re doing the practice. You don’t have to seek out a specific situation, wait for a certain time, or amass various props and equipment to do the exercises. This approach may not work for some individuals because the exercises are not “recipe-driven”. This is why I mention the need for comfortable understanding of camera function and photography principles. None of the exercises instruct you to use f8 at 1/125 and ISO 200 with a 85mm lens. You’re given the concept of the particular practice, like photographing people who are in action or light, shadow and shapes when clouds are passing overhead, or revisiting a location multiple times.

The final two chapters are about “photographer vision” and Thinking Like an Artist, with a little history of art and the relationship of photography with other art forms, discussions about defining your own individual approach to photography and what you would like to express with the medium, inspiration, and work ethic. Nothing too deep, but put straighforward and simply.

Some of the exercises, admittedly stated in the introduction, won’t be for everyone. But, like the author suggests, try them anyway. You never know what you’ll learn that will apply to other situations. Overall, The Photography Exercise Book is a useful reference for photographers who are starting out and who would like a little guidance for exploring and improving your craft.

The Fugaciousness of Favorite Things

There are recurring questions photographers are asked when discussing photography: What is your favorite photograph you’ve made? What is your favorite photograph by another photographer? What is your favorite place to photograph? What is your favorite camera/lens? etc. Questions about a photographer’s opinion of things that more often than not have no actual relationship between the photographer and the person asking the question. Sometimes it’s genuine curiosity, but most often these are “easy” questions as a conversation starter, perhaps. But, do you really want to hear why I like a certain photograph or location or piece of equipment? Because, from me at least, you’re likely going to get more than you asked for. Besides, how do I describe a photograph you’ve probably never seen in a way you understand why it’s a favorite of mine? Without the ability to show you the picture you form in your mind from my description won’t be close. Even if I could show you the photograph, my reasoning is probably going to be too long, too short, or lack relationship with your own experiences or expectations. The same for locations, gear, and my praise of another photographer’s work. These and other “favorite” questions are difficult to answer or are even irrelevant because favoritism is temporary, and because we don’t favor THINGS.

Make a list of your favorite things. Do it now in your head or write them down. It’s likely a long list: movies, food, people, events, beaches, music, cars, clothes, cities, countries…the list goes on. Then review your list. What’s missing? I’ll bet what’s missing are some of your favorite things from last year or when you were 40 or 25 or 12 or 3. Why aren’t your favorite things from high school still your favorite? Do you have a singular favorite that has withstood the ravages of time? If so, examine it, analyze for yourself why this favorite thing has persisted. Brainstorm and write down everything you can think of that makes it a favorite. Compare the characteristics with your favorites that have come and gone or are in your “favorite bin” at the moment. Any similarities? What are the differences?

Our favorite thing is not actually a thing, but an experience or emotion. It’s what moves us to feel good, strong, empowered, empathic, safe, smart, accomplished, alive, accepted. The list of favorite things changes with our knowledge, experiences, preferences and skills. How many times have you said on vacation “I want to live here”, only to have that feeling replaced by the next awesome place you visit?

Our favorites can be fleeting or grow in stature over time, like the accumulation of a patina. A favorite dessert of mine is cherry pie. But not just any cherry pie. There are certain characteristics of texture, flavor, intensity and consistency that elevate a cherry pie from simple preference to the favorite bin. The mixture of sour and sweet (more sour than sweet), the consistency of the filling (not thick), the texture of the crust (flaky, not doughy), and the addition of complimentary spices that add an element of surprise, all add up to a pleasant emotional experience that I will return to as long as that experience is maintained. It’s the experience I enjoy, not just that I like sour cherries.

Your favorite location might be the beach, but if you think about it, it’s not just any beach and it might not even be a specific beach. It’s a beach with certain characteristics that can exist at many different locations – a certain slope of the beach, the composition of sand or rocks making up the beach, the sound of the surf, solitude or bustling with activity. And, if you’ve visited several beaches, you likely have more than one favorite type of beach depending on your mood at the time, or your “need.”

In photography, our taste in photographs, equipment, locations, is controlled by similar criteria. Our favorite camera is the tool that is easiest to use and/or gives us the ability to control the factors that allow us to create the visual image we have locked away in our head, that allows us to make a photograph when we need to. In some situations, my favorite camera is my smartphone because of its simplicity and I can make a complete photograph while in the moment, a spontaneous creation inspired by the subject, event, and emotion of the instant. At another time, my favorite camera is my 35mm DSLR because of its flexibility and sometime need for deliberate contemplation, exploring the subject, composing visual elements, choosing the aesthetic appearance of depth of field, shutter speed, focal length, lighting, etc. Previsualization of how I’m going to process the image, it’s final appearance, may or nay not have an influence or relationship with my experience of the moments surrounding when I make the exposure. But there is almost always influence and inspiration from the external and internal environment as I make the many decisions needed to make a meaningful photograph (meaningful to me, primarily. If you as the viewer also find it meaningful – Bonus!)

Our favorite moments are juxtapositions of ideal circumstances – atmosphere, companions, emotions, location, etc. We often try to replicate these circumstances to relive the emotional high produced by these special happenings. But it rarely works. However, there will be other such moments that eventually replace the previous moment as a favorite, and those older moments join the others in the group of favorites we can lovingly recall from memory.

The basis of our favoritism can be complex. A significant object or event is often connected to a significant experience. The favorite thing is a memento mori of sorts, reminding us of our vanity (how good we felt, how good we made others feel), mortality (you can’t take it with you), and the transience of everything (this, too, shall pass). Emotions and memories fade and are replaced, material objects break and decay. A true favorite, though, withstands time, trends, fads, and vanity. It remains because of its influence on you, its emotional importance, and despite negativism and ridicule by others.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote A Theory of Human Motivation in which he proposed a hierarchy of needs. Diagrammed as a pyramid, physiological needs necessary for survival form the base, or foundation. This is where food, space, shelter, and mates exist. Moving up the hierarchy are safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (the motivation to realize one’s full potential). It’s interesting to note that 3 of the 5 levels in Maslow’s hierarchy are emotional motivations – esteem, belonging, potential. The association of motivation and favorite things has been exploited by salesmen and marketers since the dawn of history. Creating pleasurable emotional experiences engages customers, helps control their buying impulses, and retains them as repeat customers. In some circumstances, people will be repeat visitors or customers for the experience even if the product is not considered a favorite.

For photographers (and other artists), our satisfaction comes from creating beautiful, interesting, meaningful work as the result of experiences we have in life and in making art or making photographs for a client. A photograph of a landscape can be as much of a favorite as a corporate headshot or a sporting event. And as our experience grows and our skill set improves our list of favorite photographs and locations and gear will change. Even the much-discussed and promoted concepts of personal style and vision are just the current ways a photographer uses to interpret their world and communicate their message. These, too, change over time.

Favorites are fugacious: transient, temporary, ephemeral, ever-changing. That’s a good thing. It’s improvement, variety, growth. Don’t hold too tightly to favorites. It can be sad to see a favorite go, but the new ones will be just as good, if not better.

White Sands National Monument Photo Workshop & Giveaway

White Sands National Monument photography workshop, March 20-27, 2018

Join me March 20-27, 2018 to explore the beautiful, minimalist landscape of New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument, a dramatic environment of shifting contrasts, lighting, patterns and textures with a backdrop of the rugged San Andres and Sacramento Mountains. Emphasis during this workshop will be your interpretation of the stark dune environment using your senses and perceptions to search for simple, elegant compositions using elements to give depth, graphical design, and abstract impressions from broad panoramics to up close macros. We’ll discuss in a group and individual one-on-one guidance about using light and shadow to create form, improving composition, setting exposure under difficult lighting conditions, abstract impressions, and sensing and perceiving the environment to help find subjects and make meaningful photographs. Each student will also receive a copy of my book The Ecology of Photography.

Also, I’m excited to share that this workshop has been chosen as an Unordinary Trip of the Month by Infohub.com, the #1 portal on the internet dedicated to out-of-the-ordinary, special interest vacations. If you book my White Sands National Monument photography workshop before January 5, 2018, you will be entered in a random drawing among those registered for my workshop to receive a one-year full membership to the GPSmyCity app for Apple and Android, from InfoHub’s sister company GPSmyCity. Since there is a maximum of 8 for this workshop, your odds are pretty good!

The GPSmyCity app features offline city maps, self-guided walking tours, and travel articles for 1,000 cities worldwide. Because the app works offline, there’s no worry about roaming charges when using the app abroad. One lucky person who has registered for my White Sands photography workshop will be randomly selected to receive a one-year full membership to the GPSmyCity app and the over 6,500 self-guided city walks, offline city maps, and travel articles, a value of over $8,000 (includes all in-app guide purchase options).

2017 Workshops

Here are some of the workshops I have scheduled for 2017. Come join me and explore these amazing locations while learning to improve your photography and way of seeing. I’m working on others for summertime and into 2018, including an Antarctica workshop for 2019.

Winter in the Palouse Winter in the Palouse, Feb 9-14

Iceland Twilight Iceland Twilight, March 5-16

Alvord Desert, Oregon Alvord Desert, Oregon, April 14-16

Oregon Coast Oregon Coast, May 14-20

Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park, May 24-30

Monterey & Point Lobos Monterey & Point Lobos, May 31 – June 5

Spring in the Palouse Spring in the Palouse, June 9-14

Washington Coast & Olympic National Park Washington Coast & Olympic National Park, June 16-22

Fall Colors of Iceland Fall Colors of Iceland, September 1-12

Scotland: Here Be Dragons Scotland: Here Be Dragons, September 14-23

Acadia National Park, Maine Acadia National Park, Maine, October 11-15

Portland & Japanese Garden Portland & Japanese Garden, October 17-20

November – January Photography Class Schedule

Here is my upcoming class schedule. Please visit my class page for more details and to register and contact me with any questions you may have. All classes are available as one-on-one or On Request. If you don’t see a date that works with your schedule, let me know and I can work with you to fit it in.

Photography 101
Nov 1 – 21 (first session is on Tuesday, the remaining are on Monday) 6 – 8pm
Jan 3 – 24, 6 – 8pm

Before You Buy (best for new camera purchases and gift buying. Don’t buy what you don’t need)
Oct 26, 6-8pm
Oct 28, 6-8pm
Nov 2, 6-8pm
Nov 4, 6-8pm
Nov 5, 1-3pm
Nov 7, 9-11am
Nov 16, 6-8pm
Dec 6, 1-3pm
Dec 6, 6-8pm
Dec 10, 9-11am

Basic Camera Operation
Nov 2, 1-3pm
Nov 5, 9-11am
Nov 9, 6-8pm
Nov 12, 1-3pm
Nov 22, 6-8pm
Dec 7, 6-8pm
Dec 10, 1-3pm
Jan 5, 6-8pm
Jan 7, 1-3pm

Iceland Hot Springs & Northern Lights special Icelandair deal + one-on-one instruction – deadline July 31

Icelandair Hot Springs & Northern Lights

Here’s a special deal offered by Icelandair: 5 days, 3 nights, hotel, some meals, some activities, and airfare, starting at $685. I’ll sweeten the deal in that if you pay my way (double occupancy or single), I’ll provide you with one-on-one photo assistance during the trip. I’ll pay my own transportation to Seattle as the departure city, meals and other expenses. You pick the dates (for Northern Lights, go with February or March). I will depart from Seattle. Here’s the link with info. The catch is the deadline for booking this deal is July 31.
Icelandair Hot Springs & Northern Lights travel deal

Contact me for more information and to make arrangements.

May, June, July, August Photography Class Schedule

Here is my schedule for upcoming photography classes for the rest of May, June, July, and August, as well as a list of upcoming workshops that still have openings:

For a complete list and to register online, go HERE

Photography 101
June 17 – July 8
June 21 – July 12
June 29 – July 20
August 1 – 22
August 3 – 24

Basic Camera Operation
May 25
May 31
June 20
June 25
July 2
July 7
July 16

Photoshop I: Basic Photoshop & Bridge
June 21
July 15

Photoshop 2: Layers & Adjustments
July 22

Composition 101
June 29 – July 13

Exposure Equation
May 24
June 1
June 20
July 14
July 20

Light & the Light Meter
May 30
July 5

Before You Buy
June 25

Workshops: for complete list and to register, go HERE

Alvord Desert, Oregon June 3 – 5
Oregon Coast, June 7 – 12
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, June 14 – 16
Cyanotype printing, June 18
Oregon Coast, Sept 6 – 11
Scotland, Sept 21 – 28 (only 1 space remaining!)
Iceland, Oct 3 – 14 (only 1 space remaining!)

Acadia National Park Oct 19 – 26 (pending)
Bruneau Dunes, Idaho November (date pending)

2017 Workshops in planning

Death Valley, Feb
Oregon Coast, April
Yellowstone National Park, May
Iceland Twilight, May 16 – 25
Scotland Highlands, May 28 – June 6
Grand Teton National Park, June
Palouse, Washington, June
Palouse, Washington, Aug 13 – 16
Yellowstone National Park, Sept
Acadia National Park, Maine, Oct
Iceland, Oct
Yosemite National Park, Nov
Monterey/Carmel, California, Nov