Story and photography by Kelly Funk
As photographers, we can talk about technical issues, composition, directional lighting and depth-of-field until we’re so blue in the face that people call 911. But I’ve always felt it’s part of my job to inspire people to improve their work, and I also think this can be the key element in attaining a higher level. Personally, if I don’t feel challenged and inspired, almost all the love for being behind the camera disappears. That’s a trait that, of course, is not unique to photography or a few people, but is especially prevalent in an art such as photography. For example, take the images you see in this article. All were paid shoots; however, all were born from concepts that came from wanting a challenge and inspiration. When I finalized each vision, I was excited enough that I approached existing clients and was able to sell them on that particular vision. The reason I bring this up is that I need to feel inspired; otherwise I don’t think I’m at my best, which ultimately leads me back to passing that inspiration on to you. The year is new and possibilities are endless, but I’d like to present at least enough challenges for you to start 2016 off being excited about pushing yourself to a whole new level.
1. Be at a location of choice before dawn. Yes, before dawn, not when the sun is coming up. You might not like getting up at that hour, but I can virtually guarantee you’ll be happy you did during and after the shoot. Have a good look around, pick your spot(s) and just have fun shooting in my absolute favourite time of the day.
2. Light paint. Landscapes are fun. Not only do we escape the city, but getting back to nature is good for the soul. Add photography to that and, as Martha Stewart says, “it’s a good thing.” Now wait until dusk or dark and paint with light. There are a thousand tutorials online about the basics of light painting; our own Darwin Wiggett has more than a few. Grab some knowledge, a flashlight and just do!
3. Shoot the best image you can with your phone. Yes, you just read that! By using your phone, you simplify. By simplifying, you’ll need to look at things differently, with more attention to details, light, composition and content. It’s totally different, simplistic even, but it leads to good tendencies if you’re aware, whatever the subject.
4. Try night photography. Whether you’re in the outdoors shooting stars or in the city lights, night photography can be a blast. You’ll need a good tripod, and here’s one solid tip: When using a small aperture like ƒ16, lights will get a star-like appearance instead of a solid “blob” of overexposure. It adds a great dynamic.
5. Try a panoramic! If you’re looking to get more from a scene than your widest lens will allow, try a pano. Tripods allow for better results here. You’ll need the camera in vertical orientation and a smooth arc with your tripod head movement. Once you get the arc you want, overlap each shot by about 1/3, shooting as many shots as it takes; typically, I shoot about six to eight. Then stitch it together in your software program. The results can be stunning.
6. Take a day and just work with moving water. Working with water is just clean fun! It can also create some of the most ethereal images, if done properly. Water looks like flowing water around 1/50 or 1/60 of a second. Any slower and it starts to take on a blurry effect. Add a solid graduated filter in the 4-8 stop range and your shutter speeds are instantly reduced to a speed conducive to creating a soft, silky flow that can be quite stunning. Experiment with this; everyone has distinct tastes with water and its characteristics.
7. Take a few of your best images in your favourite software program and experiment with black and white. You might be surprised at the impact and inspiration this simple act can have. Use your colour sliders to attain the density you desire. Tip: Simplistic images work really well for black and white.
8. Create a dream book (document). This is something I’m in the middle of doing myself. These are concepts and ideas that are born solely from my imagination. In my head they look like scenes from Game of Thrones; epic fantasies, if you will. But put these ideas down when they come into your creative thought because they can lead to monumental final images and also total inspiration.
It’s a new year — a perfect time to attain a new level with our craft. Even if some of these concepts don’t appeal to you, give them a go. Learning and achieving new skills can go miles toward inspiration to be better!