Facing My Creative Beast

Creativity is my photographic Achilles Heel.  I feel confident with my equipment, I feel confident composing a scene, and I feel confident photographing a variety of subjects.  Despite all of that, creativity remains a personal beast that I struggle to tame.  Creativity is what separates good images from spectacular images.  I routinely encourage other photographers to think out of the box and push their vision but, it is me that needs to heed this advice more than anyone.  I, Donald Edward Toothaker, struggle to be creative.

So often I read about photographers envisioning an image before shooting it.  Ansel Adams did it.  Lou Jones does it. Joe McNally exemplifies it. These photographers cultivate their vision by paying attention to light and subject throughout the day.  They have the ability to see beyond the moment to another day, or another season.  Some of that is experience that comes with time, but, most of that is raw instinct.  Their planning is a pre-visualized path to spectacular images.   I understand exactly what these visionaries are saying but, too often my own creative voice eludes me.  I want to be better; I need to be better.

Creativity comes from within but, inspiration to be creative is provided by events, and people, that surround us every day.  Within every photographer is a visual voice that craves inspiration.  The trick, I think, is to welcome inspiration whenever possible but, act upon it with patience and clarity.  Inspiration does not come in a neat, packaged box; it comes from connecting to your subject.  The more you invest of yourself  in your photographic process the more rewarding your images will become.  Take the time to understand your subject and explore your creative voice.  Emotion is part of the photographic process:   Photograph What You Feel.  In general, I am not very well spoken, my edges are rougher than most, and my inner voice is too often a mere whimper but, I DYING to be creative.  I have potential. We all have potential.

This weekend I had, for me, a great success.  I photographed my beautiful daughter posing in a stand of familiar Red Pine trees but, it was so much more than that.  The success is not so much in the image itself but, in my vision of the image weeks before I pressed the shutter.  I had vision.  One night this spring while sitting next to my campfire I watched night creep through the woods just as it does in the city:  a slow parade of twilight blue giving way to total darkness brought inspiration.  Immediately, I envisioned “blue” Red Pine trees.   I was excited to make that image right then but, I knew that summer-time would yield an image with green vegetation growing around the base of the trees for added color and interest.  I waited.  Then, this past Saturday I was picking blueberries with my daughter among the Red Pines when inspiration struck again:  watching my daughter move among the trees I now wanted a red headed Fairy Princess in “blue” Red Pines for scale, impact, and visual interest.  I could hardly wait for twilight.


At twilight I set up my camera and lighting, posed my daughter, and pressed the shutter on images that I had envisioned weeks before.  I saw, I felt, and I planned.  Due to my inspiration, I made a quick series of beautiful images that I will treasure forever.  No, I am not Ansel Adams, Lou Jones, or Joe McNally, but for a single, beautiful twilight I had vision just like them.  I, Donald Edward Toothaker, was creative.  You can be too.

 

Photograph What You Feel

Don

 

Image information

“Soft Blue Fairy Princess”

Nikon D800

Nikon 24-70 lens

ISO:  100

APT: f6.3

EXP:  1/4 second with White Balance set to Tungsten

SB900 gelled with color correcting filter and triggered using PocketWizard TT1, TT5, and AC3

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The Versatility of You

Digital Photography is incredible.  Never before has our potential as photographers been so unlimited.  Today’s cameras are loaded with technology and capable of producing a broad range of results.  All they need is our creativity to make them shine!  We all should strive to be the best photographers we can be; not just the best portrait photographer or sports photographer or wedding photographer.  Your camera is loaded with versatility and you should be as well.

For me, one of the greatest aspects of digital photography is the opportunities it offers.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee, or something a bit stronger if desired, and spend some time studying your camera.   Look it over and learn its buttons and menus.  Understand what YOU need to do to make adjustments in the field.  How do you change your ISO?  Where is your histogram?  Does your camera have bracketing for HDR shooting?  Can you view your images in Black and White?  How do you set focus tracking?  Where do you set file size?   Contemplate what the camera and its technology is capable of.  Then, think about what it can do when combined with your creativity.  It is critical to know your gear but, it is even more essential to realize your aspirations  as a photographer.  The camera is just a tool and, ultimately, it is only as good as you are.  How good do you want to be?   Be aware, be creative, and be versatile.

The latest line of DSLR’s, both pro and consumer grades, give us more versatility than ever.  Seven years ago I bought my first DSLR – the 6 megapixel Nikon D70s.  It was a great consumer grade camera but, struggled at any ISO higher than 400.  I shot scenic’s at ISO 100 and used ISO 400 for sports/low light shooting.  I never went over ISO 400 unless I had to:   very similar to how we worked with film when you think about it.   My new Nikon D800 is a 36 megapixel powerhouse that will transform 35mm digital photography as we know it.  Right now, it gives me once unimaginable potential and versatility.  I welcome  that.
When I was a film shooter and headed to Maine for a weekend, I would typically bring 10 rolls of Fuji Velvia for pretty scenic’s, 10 rolls of 400 speed Fuji Provia for shooting in lower light, and 5 rolls of Kodak Black and White TMAX 400.  Each film had a job to do that was necessary but, costly and, at times, frustrating.  It would never seem to fail that I had half a roll of Velvia still left in my F5 but, now wanted to shoot a portrait in Black and White.  Instead of wasting film, I wasted opportunities.  Now, I dial a button and blow away anything that those films could ever do.  Think about that.  Think about the amazing versatility of that from a technology standpoint.  Now, think about the versatility of that as a photographer.  In a moments notice you can adapt to any situation and capture it with beautiful results.  That is not only very exciting but, it is highly empowering.
All of us should be very excited at the options available to us through technology.   The increasing resolution of today’s camera’s gives us breathtaking detail.  Being able to produce high quality images at ISO’s of 1600, 3200, and 6400 is mind boggling.   I can be in my garden shooting macro shots at ISO 100 and capture fine detail and rich colors.  A short time later, in order to defeat a frustrating breeze,  I can change my ISO to 800 and create a sharp, abstract image with similarly beautiful results. Then, just a few minutes later, change my ISO to 3200 and catch a GREAT portrait of my cat in poor, indoor light.  The power of versatility.   Wow.  No, seriously, Wow!!  
Technology continues to grow at an amazing pace but, to make it effective you must grow as well.  Having the latest, greatest camera does not make you a photographer.  YOU make yourself a photographer.  Push the limits of technology but, push your imagination just as far.  Nurture your creative energy, embrace the versatility of your camera, and harness the power of “you”.   The LCD screen and histogram give immediate feedback on your successes, your failures, and your necessary adjustments but, the best results all come from within.
How Versatile are You?
Don
“Photograph What You Feel”
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Old Friends

I turn to my camera often when I am compelled to be creative and expressive.  My trusty Nikon’s never fail to be a source of great comfort for me.    I feel safe with them, secure with them, and inspired with them.  They are constant companions and familiar “friends” as I explore my world and pursue my love of photography.  The images I make are a part of me.  They too are like old friends but, what happens to the images I DON’T process?

The creative process, for me, is something very personal, spiritual, and meaningful.  Every photo is taken with great purpose but, not every one works as a “final” image.   Too often my expectations exceed the final results but, one characteristic of experience is that I shoot less frames and come away with more “keepers”.  My workflow dictates that I immediately make a folder of my subject, download my images into the folder, and mark the images that I believe are notable.  Once done with those I make another pass through and look for more keepers.  I always find more but, inevitably there are many that never get much of a look, let alone processed.  I keep every image unless there is something excessively wrong with the photo.  Like my cameras, ALL of these images are my friends.  Like real life friends, we need to visit with them and nurture them and learn from them; even our mistakes.  They should not be forgotten.

I feel it is VERY important to go back and review your images at another time.  Almost every time I do this, I find an overlooked gem that now resonates with me.  In our enthusiasm to process what we believe to be good, we hurriedly overlook failed images that we can learn from and still work on.  Our skill set with software does nothing but improve and the software itself becomes more and more powerful.  Re-visiting our images from this year, last year, and years before should become an integral part of our creative process.  The advancements in Lightroom, HDR software, and Nik Software broaden our ability for post production.  Dig deep into your creativity and you WILL find more quality images in your library.   If nothing else, you will reconnect with images, places, and people who have meaning for you.

Go ahead, take the time to say hi to an old friend today; one way or another.

Don

“Photograph What You Feel”

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Only in New England

This past Sunday I was in southern Maine enjoying a fantastic day at the beach. Goose Rocks Beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand and cedar shingled homes just outside of Kennebunkport.  Not far from the beach there is fine dining, shopping, antiquing, and the booming, eclectic city of Portland.  Southern Maine is a worthy destination for a day trip, a weekend getaway, and photography.

 

Early that morning I had set out to shoot sunrise at the quaint seaside village of Cape Porpoise.  The lackluster sunrise yielded very few photos but, as always, I enjoyed watching the little harbor come to life in the early morning light.  Cape Porpoise is a working harbor that features colorful lobster boats, a fishing pier, and a lighthouse.  The area around the harbor was dotted with wild lupine, singing birds, and picturesque scenes.  Like many seaside locations there is always something to see and photograph along the coast of New England.

 

That night I drove three hours north to meet Bob at his family camp on Schoodic Lake.  The lake is a fairly remote area in central Maine that is surrounded by many  thousands of acres of forest.  This is the heart of paper company land, logging roads, wildlife, and farms.  In this part of Maine you are far more likely to see a moose than find any fine dining or eclectic shops.  The people of central Maine are hearty, hard working people that carve out practical lives amid the elements of nature.  Schoodic Lake seems a world away from the comforts of Southern Maine yet, brings its’ own sense of peacefulness with the sound of calling loons and gentle waves.

 

The next morning we were on the road early for Baxter State Park just outside of Millinocket, Maine.  Baxter is true wilderness.  Encompassing over 200,000 acres, the park was created through donations of land by private land owners and one governor, Percival Baxter, with great vision for maintaining a segment of the Great North Woods to be “Forever Wild”.  Within Baxter there are no showers, no flush toilets, no running water, no logging, and no inhabitants other than park officials and wildlife.  Surrounding Baxter is some of the most remote, rugged, wild land in New England.

 

We spent the entire day in and around the park photographing moose, deer, wildflowers, mountains, and the rugged beauty of the Great North Woods.  At one of our last stops I photographed a huge bull moose grazing at the edge of a pond.  He was wild and majestic.  I could not

help but reflect that just a short time before I was photographing lobster boats amid the affluence and comfort of Cape Porpoise and now here I was capturing images of North America’s second largest land mammal in Maine’s remote wilderness.  How lucky I am to live and work in such an amazing, diverse place.

 

Only in New England.

 

DET 2012

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