Just Say Click

Sometimes, you just don’t have time to spend with a personal creative project. Sometimes, your weekend consists of 13 hour days at work, and you’re too tired to pull out the camera.

So try taking photographs without one.

Composition is a visual exercise; no camera is needed. You can do it anywhere: driving your car, sitting at your desk, or almost anywhere.

Take a look around you and pretend you have your camera with you. What would you take a picture of? How would you frame it? How do the compositional elements come together? Picture all of this in your mind and say "click".

You’ve just taken a mental photograph.

Sure, you say, that’s all well and good, but how do I show it to people?

That’s not the point. The point is to learn, to practice, to grow in your own personal creativity.

There’s a story that’s been going around for a few years about a basketball experiment. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but it doesn’t really matter.

Three groups of people were taken to a gym, the story goes, and asked to shoot a series of free throws. They were then divided up into three groups.

The first group did nothing. The second came to the gym every day for a month and practiced free throws for 30 minutes.

The third group was told to think about free throws. Visualize it in their minds. See themselves step up to the line, see the ball leave their hands, see if fall effortlessly through the hoop. Nothin’ but net.

After 30 days, they were tested again. The first group showed zero improvement, which was expected. The second, the group that practiced for 30 minutes each day, improved by 95%.

The third, the visualization group, improved by 90%.

This can easily be applied to photography. How many times have you heard "it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer"? How much effort goes into creating a photograph before you even pick up the camera?

Give it a try. It’s important to say "click" (you can say it to yourself, if you’re self-conscious) so that you have that feeling of completion and accomplishment. "Click" means that you’re happy with your composition and ready to take the image.

Visualize it. Practice it. Create art.

12 Things to Photograph…

It’s not often I subscribe to a blog based on one post, but this was an excellent article.

You’ll photograph lots of subjects and reel off tens or even hundreds of thousands of images before you lay down your camera for the last time. Some of those pictures will be memorable; a few will serve as milestones in your life. One or two might even change it.

Here are twelve subjects we think you should photograph before you die.

12 Things to Photograph Before You Die, by Photopreneur.


Photographing smoke is a great exercise in creativity, since there is no wrong way to do it and a bazillion ways to do it right.

That being said, there are a few guidelines that make it easier.

I like to use incense sticks (or "joss" sticks) as my smoke source. It provides a steady source of smoke, and you can take many different images using one stick.

smoke1Candles can also be used, but the best smoke comes just as you blow out the flame.

This image was taken with an ordinary red taper candle. I had a black velvet background about two feet behind the candle, and an on-camera flash set to minimum. I lit the candle, pre-focused and composed (this is highly cropped), blew out the candle and made several exposures. Be careful not to create too many air currents when you blow out the candle. Or, deliberately create them and see what you get!

With a joss stick, I used the same black velvet background. This time, however, I used a studio flash with a grid below and to the left of the smoke. To get the cleanest lines of smoke, you need a small aperture (for a large depth of field) and a lot of light.

Be sure to ventilate the room every once in a while. Not only do you want to clear the room so you can breathe, but the halfway dissipated smoke can interfere with the light, contrast, sharpness and detail in your images.

You want to keep the air movement in the room to a minimum, and controlled deliberately. See what happens if you just let the smoke rise, then try slowly waving your hand near the smoke. Very small air currents work better than large ones. Also try letting the smoke curl up under a spoon or other object.

smoke2 Once you have an image you like, you can try and turn it into a work of art with Photoshop. Here’s how I created this image.

First, I captured the left part of this image on its own. I brought it into Photoshop and adjusted levels to get a higher contrast and completely blacken the background. Then, I inverted the image to turn the background white.

Next, I extended the canvas to the right. I duplicated the layer, selected free transform, and dragged to the right to create a mirror image.

Then I created two hue/saturation adjustment layers; one masked on the right and one masked on the left. By adjusting the hue on each, I was able to create some colors that I liked, roughly opposite to each other.

dragonsmoke Here is another version we created during this session. Julie explains her process of editing this on our After & Before photoblog, where we post before and after images along with our techniques for creating them.

orig_dragonsmoke Here’s the original with the black background.


Smoke photography can be lots of fun, but it can get a little frustrating, too. You can take many, many images before you end up with one you like; I know I did. Keep at it, and have fun!

Think differently. See differently. Create art.

Color and Emotion

The goal of most art is to provoke an emotional response from the viewer. Fundamentally, art is the communication of emotion.

In photographic art, nothing provokes an emotional response better than color. Show a person a black and white image of a gruesome automobile accident and they will be disturbed. Show that same image to them in color and they are likely to become physically ill. As a more pleasant example, show a person a black and white image of a red rose, and they’ll notice the texture, shading and composition. Show it to them in color, and they’ll feel the power and energy of love.

Colors have been identified with emotions for as long as we can remember. A man’s face gets red with rage, a woman who is depressed is feeling blue, a cowardly man is yellow, a lover may be green with jealousy, and a woman who is feeling healthy is “in the pink, even though she could have take kratom capsules to feel like that.

The emotions triggered by a specific color can depend on nationality, social upbringing, personal preference and past experiences. Some studies have shown, however, that some colors or combinations of colors can affect people regardless of other factors.

The science of color psychology can get very complex, but understanding how some colors are traditionally linked with emotions can help when you want to elicit a specific response.

Let’s examine some major colors and some of the traditional meanings and triggers generally accepted in western culture.

20050529110820_ooti-594Red, a primary color, is an emotionally intense color. It can signify danger, which can have the effect of raising respiration rate and blood pressure. It is the color of blood and fire, so it can also signify energy, war, power and strength, as well as passion, desire, and love. Red has very high visibility, which is why danger signs and flashing danger lights are usually in red. 

PWOOD-20D-060423-7583 Yellow, another primary color, is one of the most difficult colors to visually focus on. It is the color of sunshine and triggers joy, happiness, sense of intellect and energy. It has a stimulating impact on memory. If overused or used with the wrong combination of colors (such as brown or dark orange), it can signify criticism or laziness. Darker shades of yellow can evoke feelings of decay and sickness.

20061029185557_swirls2 Blue, the third primary color, is the easiest for the eye to focus on. It can signify peace, tranquility, trust, loyalty, faith and wisdom. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows metabolism and produces a calming effect. Lighter blues are associated with health, tranquility and understanding, while darker blues are associated with power, strength, integrity and knowledge.

20050624211400_alnc-10d-040912-1147 Green is the color of nature. It includes all the qualities of yellow and blue (its parent colors), and is associated with hope, growth, freshness, soothing, sharing, and good health which you can achieve with the exercise Thomas DeLauer’s program. It is the most restful color for the human eye, and can suggest safety and purity. Darker greens can be associated with jealousy, greed and ambition. When yellow is dominant in green, it can indicate sickness, cowardice, and discord.

20050605082354_la-20d-050423-1793 Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It can symbolize steadfastness, courage, confidence, friendliness and cheerfulness. Orange is not as aggressive as red, but nonetheless stimulates mental activity and invigorates the body.



White is almost always associated with positive emotions. It is the color of purity, goodness, innocence and virginity. It is considered to be the color of perfection.




Black is a mysterious color, associated with evil, shadow, death, formality and ultimate power. It usually has a negative connotation, but can also represent elegance and prestige.


While in the past, some black and white purists have decried color photography as less artistic than black and white photography, I would tend to disagree. While no one can dispute that black and white photography can create some beautiful images, color — if used properly — can induce a stronger emotional impact.

Though most of us will look at the colors in art and simply enjoy the emotions produced, learning to intentionally use these colors can be an important artistic tool and even a lifelong obsession.


This is a reprint from an article I originally wrote for Bending Light Magazine.

The Bathroom Exercise

One of my all time favorite books for inspiration and creativity is Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson. In it, he discusses principles of composition and visual design, and provides techniques and exercises for exploring untraditional concepts. He also talks about barriers to seeing, and how to observe, imagine and express your art in a personal and creative way.

One of the exercises in his book is called the bathroom exercise, and I recommend this in all my seminars for photographers (and other artists) learning to see instead of look.

Take your camera and lock yourself in your bathroom for at least 20 minutes. Take at least 20 photos of something unique. If you’re not struggling to find images by the end of the 20 minutes, stay a little longer.

The key to this exercise is not to get wall-quality images. It’s to look at familiar objects and begin to see them in unfamiliar ways.

For example, look at the chrome on the faucet. Really look at it and see it. What’s there? Do you see reflections? Are they distorted or clear?

Turn on the water and let it drip. Can you capture an image as the water has just dropped? Watch the drops for a moment. Are they regular? Can you anticipate the next one? Or are they random?

If there is a window in the bathroom, look at the screen. What do you see? If you throw some water on the screen, what does it look like now? If you look really close, can you see reflections from outside?

mirrorcandleWhen I first read about this exercise, my first reaction was "20 minutes in a small bathroom taking photos? How much can there be?"

But once you stop to think about it and actually start seeing instead of looking, you’ll find that there is a wealth of images, just waiting for you to discover them.

This candle image is an example from my first try with this exercise.

(All images on this blog can be clicked to enlarge)

DAM it!

Have you ever said something like this to yourself? "I remember taking a wonderful sunset photo last year, and now I need a copy of it. Where did I put the file?"

C. C. Lockwood once told me that he spends at least twice as much time managing his images as he does taking them. He had just finished a year on a houseboat photographing Louisiana’s vanishing wetlands, and wasn’t looking forward to the two years he expected to take cataloging and managing his images.

arrrghAlthough we don’t use a formal Digital Asset Management (DAM) system at the studio (arrrgh), it’s almost impossible to manage stock images without one.

I’ve been through several different methods. I started out using descriptive folders, and I’m sure many, many people still use that method. It’s what we use at the studio, and it works for us. Sure, it could work better, but one step at a time. When I got there, they weren’t even keeping backups.

For my own images, I was soon overwhelmed by numbers, and moved to ACDSee (an early version). For a home user, it would still probably work fine, but it didn’t fit within my workflow and large number of images.

Next I tried iMatch. Now, this was more like it. It was robust, fairly quick, and made it easy to find my images. It also could keep the meta information with the image, so I wasn’t locked into that particular solution. I wasn’t real happy about the interface, but it was doing what I needed it to do.

lizardAfter a while, though, I realized that since I wasn’t entirely happy with the interface, I wasn’t using it as much as I should, and I was getting behind on cataloging my images. A search for "scaly lizard"  wouldn’t return anything unless it had been cataloged first.

Next, I moved to Iview. This was nice. The interface was slick and easy to use, it was pretty, and I kept up with my images. Then it was bought my Microsoft and became Expression Media. It became a little less pretty, and a little more buggy. I also realized that I didn’t like keeping multiple catalogs for my images — Expression Media has a maximum 2GB size for its catalog database. Time to move on.

Now, I’m using IDimager. It’s got a bit of a learning curve, but I’m getting the hang of it. It’s powerful, and can handle large databases (up to 2TB for the desktop pro edition). It’s very customizable to make it work and look like the way you want it to. And it’s got a remarkable support forum, with very quick updates to correct any problems found.

I think (and I hope!) that I’ve finally found a Digital Asset Management system I can stay with for a while.


One way to force encourage yourself to look at photography in a new and creative way is to use an unconventional lens or camera. Back in the long ago days of film, many people turned to the Holga toy camera. Plagued by vignetting, light leaks and a plastic lens, it still managed to produce some wonderfully artistic images.

I, for one, never saw the attraction of the Holga. I like my images sharp and crisp. Blur? Delete. Vignette? Delete.

But the time comes where you need to stretch yourself, to learn new techniques, to put yourself in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory.

Enter the Lensbaby. The Lensbaby is a flexible, selectable focus lens that captures images with a "sweet spot" (an area of sharp focus), with the rest of the image surrounded by gradually increasing blur. Here are some examples:





Can you get this sort of effect in Photoshop? Sure. But where’s the fun in that?

We have two of these: the Lensbaby 2 and the Lensbaby 3G. The 3G is by far the better version, since it allows you to lock the lens at a particular angle and focus.

We bought the 3G at the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) Convention in San Antonio. This was the year of the Great Ice Storm, and all of us were trapped for an extra day in San Antonio. So, of course, there were hundreds of photographers all over the city, having fun and taking photos for themselves. We ended up at the Alamo with the entire Lensbaby sales team, and we had a great time.

If you ever use of these, though, be prepared for some strange looks.


Look for the unexpected

I do a lot of photo shoots were I know the type of image I’m expected to get. Sometimes they aren’t particularly exciting, but it’s what I need to do. A customer might want a particular look, people might want a standard group photo, or a business person might want a conservative headshot. Those are all well and good (and they pay bills!), but sometimes you have to look beyond the job to maintain your creativity.

For example, I recently was assigned to photograph Mardi Gras float krewes and float heads. This is the type of image they wanted:


But while I was walking around waiting for some of the krewes to get ready (750 women + lots of booze + party atmosphere = a considerable amount of time to coordinate), I saw something unexpected:


I guess he either had a hard night the night before, or was expecting a hard night tonight. Or both. I didn’t think anyone could ever sleep on a tractor seat.

Either way, it was something unexpected, and it broke me out of the mindset that I was only there for group photos. Not only did I take this photo because it caught my interest, it made me feel more creative (by taking a photo just for me), and I began to see the group photos in a more creative light.

Things like this remind me of why I became a photographer, and why I love it so much.

Stay creative. See, don’t just look.

See the light

One of the ways I’m try to increase my creativity is to explore unusual lighting situations. Julie was kind enough to let me experiment on her, and here is the result.


I didn’t want a normal silhouette (although I like those, too), so I tried to create a sort of line-art image. This is one light, on the opposite side and low. I didn’t measure the output, but it was blasting pretty strongly to create this rim lighting.

If I do this again, I’d like to even out the rim lighting a little bit and create more definition to her lips. But I’m pretty happy with this result.

Think differently. See differently. Light differently. Create art.