Finding Your Creative Process
How do you start this creative thought process? You're out there, you've got a great location in front of you, you got a great cameras, the opportunity's there, where do you start your thinking, Pete? What are some of the ways we can do that?
That's the segway for me and my idea of a 10:10:10. How do we short-circuit this process of gaining a database of images and understanding why we like them? 'Cause when we walk out under the, into the landscape, and we take a photograph, well when we do, we take with us 20, 30, 40 years of experience out there of ideas. I've been to art galleries, I've seen multiple art books, I've got huge library of photo books bought over the years, been a magazine editor for 30, 40 years, I've got all of that behind me. So I walk out there and I see lots of things which are influences from other people. Now, they've been filtered over the years. I've worked out what I like and what I don't like and I'll watch what other photographers take and I'll say, "Oh y...
eah, that's like such and such, "never like that photographer anyway. "I like doing it this way." It's just a like. I can't do it any other way, I can't say it's right or wrong, but I have these ideas.
So how would I bring that down into a simple version?
My thought process is inspired by one of the photographers that came with me on a workshop. And what he did was he had a number of folders where photos, he'd have a folder called Tony Hewitt, and he'd see photos of yours that have been posted or whatever, he dropped them in there. So he had 50 different folders, different photographers that he's liked. And that was just a reference point for him to think about things. So I've taken that idea a little bit further, and the idea is 10:10:10. 10 photographers, 10 photos each and 10 weeks to basically building up a database for you to work with. So here's how I suggest it works. Start off with 10 photographers, all painters. I don't think you need to just stay with photographers--
Just because we're photographers. I mean, a lot of the stuff, a lot of my influences have come from painters, that's for sure.
And me too.
Caspar David Friedrich and the Romantics is just amazing stuff.
OK, so there are a lot of painters, this should influence what we're doing. We're all developing flat, two-dimensional art so far at any rate, until the holograms come in at a couple year's time. Grab those ten guys that, or women, mainly guys these days 'cause it's historical, but go for photographers. There'll be a lot of more recent women photographers. Get the people that you like and then go onto Google and cut and paste photos that you like, or paintings that you like. You'll have 10 photographers and each photographer is gonna have a folder, with 10 photos in it. So that's a nice, easy thing. Take a couple of days to put together, enjoy your time. Don't just put in any old photos, put in ones that you like, things that resonate with you. How do you know you like them? You like them, OK? Like having a Coke for a drink, you either like it or your don't. Then over the next 10 weeks, pick a time in the week, Sunday at 7:30, after the news is on the tele, with a glass of red wine I think is perfect for everybody. But you can do Tuesday, Thursday or every, it doesn't worry me, just pick a time every week. Sit down with your computer or your screen, get those 10 images up. Image number one, piece of paper, and write down 10 things that you like about that photograph. So we're looking at the photograph, I like the composition, I like the fact that the center of interest is in the bottom of right, the face is looking out or the clouds are dark, effective use of color, there's a lot of contrast, there's de-saturation, the lighting is fantastic, there's a sense of gesture, the posing. Whatever it is, 10 adjectives or ideas that describe that photograph. Spend five minutes. Five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, it'll take you around an hour with a couple of breaks to do that one photographer or painter. Next week, do another, don't do 'em all too quickly. At the end of 10 weeks, gradually by writing this down, you'll embed in your subconscious what makes you happy when you're looking at photographs. So then when you go out into the great wide world and you are presented with something to photograph, and you lift up your camera, you now have a built-in database of what you like. And I just figure that is gonna expedite what we have accumulated slowly over time, that you can catch up much more quickly. And you don't have to stop at 10 photographers or painters.
So your suggestion is 10 photographers.
In over 10 weeks, yes.
It just is an idea.
That's also gonna make it easy for them to follow in your way of then finding words that describe what they're wanting to do.
Absolutely. And it's another approach and the idea is to have ways for you to start the creative process. The end of the day, people worry about what they're gonna shoot and then they start to worry about, you know, someone will come to you and say, "Well where are we gonna take photos? "When do we go?" Well, to understand where you wanna take photos and understand when to go, you gotta understand what you wanna do and why. If you don't know what you want to photograph, if you're not aware of what it is you want to say or the sort of things that interest you and why, then you don't know where to go to get them. You're not gonna know when to be there. And the how, what's the point of knowing how to do something if you don't even know what is you wanna do? So it's really important to get an understanding of what you like and Peter's method there, the 10:10:10, is a way of being able to say that, "OK, I really resonate with this style of thing. "This is what I like. "And here's the reasons why, as much as you can answer it." Now if you say, I really like, well Peter and Erin, we talked about, Peter says, "I love that relief you get from lite light." And knowing that Peter likes to shoot that relief on the trees or that ripple on the beach, on the water, at lite light, helps you understand where to go and when to be there. There's no point in trying to get that effect in the middle of the day, it won't be there. And then the technique of how to do that follows. So it's important to have those questions answered for yourself. Which leads me to, you know, what really is vision as photographers? What are you trying to do? What are we trying to say when you say you wanna improve the value or the quality of your vision? And for me, vision is the art of being able to see what everybody else misses. I mentioned earlier taking a portrait of a colleague or a photographer from Florida, which he'd pick me up, drop me off and he didn't even look at that. He hadn't seen it. And how many times have you, well we do it, we drive past and we'll be talkin' to each other and, "Oh I wanna get that shot." "What, there's no shot there." Then suddenly you get out of the car and Peter will be shootin' and I'll walk up and I'll go, "Bugger." There was a shot, I never saw that.
Did that happened once?
It happened twice.
Oh fantastic, wins. (laughs)
Took 20 years for it to happen, but twice in 20 years is good. But, you know, that's vision, that's what vision is. Seeing things that other people don't. And I've got a little video here, little quick video. Basically, I'm in a city in China, I was doing some talks for Phase One at the time, and we were traveling between one town and another, we had to get on a train. And we had about 30 minute window and I hadn't had much chance to shoot, so I was just kinda itchy. Trigger finer was itchy, and I said, "Ah, there's gotta be a picture around here." I was lookin' at these buildings and I'm thinking, "God, that reminds me of something." I'll play this and explain. It was raining. It didn't look like there was much there to see, but I was fascinated by this building. And what I saw was this, I saw this building reaching up and it for some reason, when I was looking up, sitting on that train station bench, it reminded me of Transformers. I was looking at that building, I think, "God, that looks like a robot. I can see eyes, I can see a mouth." I had to, it's like we talked about, what are you as, I have to take this picture. Once I had seen it, once it connected into my vision, I had to capture it. So I got that capture, post-production, again we're gonna follow that up a little bit more later. This is what I saw in my mind's eye. So what I wanted to photograph and share with people was my interpretation of a building and the resonance or the connection I had between that and creative robotic type structures. What it was also about was individuality of each building when you isolate the rest of the city. 'Cause I've deliberately taken out anything around the outside of it. So vision is about uniqueness. Here's a picture of something, Pete.
One of your best.
I thought it was. We often forget as photographers, we get out there, we go to our camera, we pick it up and take a photograph, we forget that we're actually starting with nothing. Even though we're looking through the lens, nothing's recorded yet. And we need to remind ourselves, I believe, that we start with framed emptiness. There's absolutely nothing in there. We are the author, we are the master of our own fate, Peter. We get to choose what goes in that frame and what doesn't go in the frame and that is the uniqueness we bring to our photography. So, we talked a little bit about starting points, so you get there, you've got all this in front of you, I've got this blank canvas. And there's so much going on, what do I start with? Well perhaps one of the ways we can start is to focus on one thing. You know, like when you go to buy a car, Peter, and you think, "It's time to buy a new car, what sort of car do I want?" So you start looking through the magazines and you think, "I might get a Golf. "I'm gonna get a red one. Don't see many of them around, I wonder if they're popular?" What happens? Now that you've identified what you're looking for, bang. Everywhere you go, you see red Golfs. Suddenly they're not so popular because you focused, you've created a filter and it makes it a lot easier to find something. So often when I'm out, not so much nowadays, it's more subconscious, but when I take mentor students, I'll remind people, "Maybe just pick something. "Maybe it's repetition." If you're driving around and this was the same, this was the picture on Medicine Lake the other night, it was the repetition of those trees. That was the first thing I caught. Year or bit later, I started to see the hint of red up here. And this was about the memories of fire and ice and so on, but it was that repetition that first caught my eye. Perhaps it could be something totally different. Maybe it's about isolation. This is a complete rip-off of a Peter Eastway image, I must add, that Peter shot in Karjini National Park, which is a area of gorges, and there's this one tree. Now, you could be tempted, "Ah, the tree's so far away. "Peter, we need a long lens. "How are we gonna get this photograph from the other side of the gorge?" But really, what is the photograph? Is it about the tree? Or is it about how this tree's clinging on to the side of this gorge. To me it was about the isolation. The choice of lenses is driven by the story I want to tell of isolation. So perhaps that's what you start off by focusing on. Perhaps it's about looking at some rock structure coming up out of the canyon floor. And you look at it and think, "God it looks like a castle." There's a majesticness about it and that's what I start with. How do I make this more majestic? We talked about adjectives, Peter. And we use different techniques, how would, if we want something to look strong, should it have a strength of contrast or should it be soft? We probably want strength. Perhaps one of the most obvious ones to work with is go looking for color. Look for the vibrant, the most vibrant color, the most saturated color, the most, you might pick a color. You might walk around and say, you know, for instance in this studio right now, if I said, "Right, all I want your focus to be creatively "is on the color red." What's the first thing you're gonna notice? Your shirt. It's red. If we said, "I want you to notice white," I've noticed your socks. We might move to your pants 'cause they're a creamy color, but suddenly your brain, everything about you can focus on one thing. And for a lot of people, that's a good way to start creatively. Yup. Sometimes it's about a single moment, about recognizing that in that moment, there's an opportunity, so maybe you think, "Today, I'm just gonna look for those unique little moments." And this was an image taken on a trip we did together with a friend of ours, David Oliver. And it was overcast, it was gray, it was raining and we drove down onto the beach and just in that moment, the sun came out. So maybe your focus is on moments. Rather than think of the image and go, "What are you saying to me?" I might say today I'm gonna put on my atmosphere glasses. And you look around you say--
Do you think you can just go out on a day and look for moments?
I think so.
So for me I'd go out and I'd say, "Well, I'm gonna look for something that I wouldn't to be happening," and that's a moment for me.
Whereas, this would be about I'm standing there feeling cold, I'm thinking, "OK what is the atmosphere like?" "It's cold. "How do I express the cold? "Do I give it auto-balance? "Do I get into my post-production and go that looks a bit cold, the white balance? Let's correct it." But the reality is, when I was standing there, it felt cold. It was cold, it was one degree. So why not use the white balance to help share that message? Make it complimentary to the feeling that I want people to get when they look at this image.
And that's really the same approach with any post-production technique or filter or action or preset that you might buy or use, that it needs to be appropriate to the message or to the--
Compliment a compliment. Yeah, consistency of message, both through composition, through color balance or sharpness, et cetera, all of those things should be consistent with what it is you're trying to say, but of course, if you don't know what it is you're trying to say, or if you don't know what it is that attracted you to the image in the first place or why you pressed the trigger, it becomes a little bit more haphazard. And I think strong pictures, the ones where the author has been able to nail down all the things they felt and make all of those techniques line up.