“Look to your right... It is the path back home. If you choose, you can take it. It is safe, easy, and comfortable. You do not have to work out or fight or do anything else you do not want to...
Or you can keep moving forward. I will not lie to you. I cannot predict what may become of you. It will require a lot of training, hard work, study, and danger. But in the very end, you will know strength. I swear it. You might just become someone who will make a difference in the world.”
― Wesley Chu, The Lives of Tao
We all have to be creative in order to navigate our way through each day. Here I am talking about creative moments that moved me away from the predictable and known.
One must first learn the fundamentals of art and the camera. While one develops these fundamental skills, there will be a slow development of a personal style. This can be understood mostly with hindsight. One’s personal style is a creative expression, because it is all about the artist. Its evolution and expression only comes with time practicing the fundamentals. Small and great moments of creativity often come from the doldrums of repetition.
The first fundamental step is learning that what we produce is indeed new and creative but needs help to bring a purer expression. That expression is what comes from the heart.
The second step is learning your camera so well that your fingers know where to move based on what you want to capture and composing the image you want. This step involves having your camera equipment become an extension of your vision in a seamless manner.
The third step comes in the studio while processing the images captured on a photo shoot.
The first two steps, learning the camera settings and capturing the image you want in the viewfinder or screen, are technical steps in this process.
Art does not significantly enter the process until you sit in front of the computer and processes an image into a print. (For me, the result of all this is a photographic print on fine art paper.)
In the studio one must first learn how to create the image of your vision with the software of choice. You must learn your preferred software so thoroughly that it too becomes an extension of your vision. After that your art is made into the print of your choosing.
Most RAW images are quite dull and require adjustments to bring out what the photographer wants. There are first technical and then artistic steps.
The technical steps are creating a black and white point, working with the shadows and highlights, and then doing some preliminary sharpening.
After that comes the artistic steps of removing or adding elements, working with the shadows and highlight areas, changing the shape or perspective or orientation of the image, and developing the colors and color palette that one wishes
Practicing this process hundreds or even thousands of times is necessary to become proficient to develop something creative and unique. There is no other way but to spend time doing the same thing repeatedly.
The process I have shared has been learned over the last decade. I cannot say it is the only way to process one’s work. It is just my workflow.
After years of capturing thousands and thousands of images and developing them in the same way, a thought forcefully came to me one winter night, “I am tired of all these straight lines.” I had for months and years been working on images from the southwestern US. There seems to almost always be straight lines in images from the Southwest.
This was the image I was working on.
After allowing that thought some time and space, I eventually processed it to this image.
At the time I thought my actions were scandalous, and the police were going to break into my house and take me to jail!
After decades of molding my thinking through the rigors of medicine, I was suspicious of this odd thought that wanted to take me in a different direction from the work I had produced before. As I had learned from my medical training, I sought peer review. Thankfully, I asked an artist for help and not a physician!
Expecting to be told to get back to following the path I had for the years before, the artist surprisingly said, “Take it further and see where it leads.”
The artist in question is a professional artist. I had previously entrusted my artistic path to him. His statement gave validity to continue this type of processing that was different from all the other landscape photographers I had seen and followed. They did not change the basic form of the image.
I had just crossed a line. I had started to show my landscapes as what I saw them in my soul.
It was a step into the unknown for me. It was really into the unknown of my own creativity and it was the first experience of unencumbered creativity I had experienced in decades. It was frightening, enlivening, and at the same time surreal.
The word “surreal” kept coming to mind. It means “more than real.” Indeed, my creative divergence from what I had done before was a more real path than the one I was following…at least for me at this time.
Now this is not to say that my previous work did not contain desirable aesthetic qualities. This new thought led to a different form of creativity built on the previous years of following others, slowly evolving my own color palette and personal style of presentation.
One cannot capture an image and process it to print without it being a unique work of art. Creativity is inherent in producing a tangible form of art as well as navigating through life. The creativity so desirous in art is a necessary break from previous patterns of perception into new ones. This can be a tangible form of art or a new way of perceiving life.
I experienced the departure from the path I was following as bold, risqué, fraught with danger. I was leaving the tried-and-true. I was hearing the voices in my head tell me to stop and return to what I had been doing for it was much safer. It was what everyone else was doing. I imagined driving down a well-paved road and then unpredictably turning to the left to cross a muddy field and plunge into the uncharted woods.
Yet I could not turn back. That one simple thought that I was tired of all the straight lines lead me down an unpredictable path.
The next step therefore was to sit and process and print and then repeat over and over. After practice and long amounts of time, you too will drive off the well-paved road…at least if that was your initial desire. It was for me, as I wanted to express something of me in my art.
And if you who are reading this and want to stay on the path well-trod, I suspect you would not have gotten this far in the article.