Essential Photography: The Creative Principle

Essential Photography: The Creative Principle

Creativity

Essential Photography: The Creative Principle

The following is an excerpt from my e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass. It happens to be the very last chapter after outlining and explaining the many compositional “rules” and concepts used in photography and the arts.

The Creative Principle

Creativity is the process of making, or creating, something new and useful – in our instance here, that would be a photograph. So in order for a photograph to be creative it must involve a scene, technique, or composition that’s never been done before. But making something new isn’t enough. There are an infinite number of ways to make new or novel images with your camera – including tripping the shutter as you throw it down a mountain or firing it remotely after attaching the camera to your dog’s tail as it walks the yard. Each of the results would be new or different, to be sure, but they wouldn’t necessarily be creative. Almost all of the photos would be failures, unless you stumbled upon a random, happy accident. The photograph needs to be both new and useful, meaning it has to make a meaningful connection with the viewer. Art cannot be the product of an accident. Art must be purposeful. Composing a scene through your camera’s viewfinder is just one conscious, purposeful thing you can do as a photographic artist.

Following the composition “rules” as outlined in this book will surely lead to visually appealing images that are “useful” but they will lack the creativity you’re striving for since there’s nothing new in any of them. You must learn to break the rules in order to achieve true creative results but you also have to know the rules in order to break them. Actors are told to learn their lines so they can later forget them and improvise on the spot. The good ones do just that. Call it irony if you wish, but I prefer to call it the Creative Principle. Feel free to break this one too since there are, in fact, no rules.

It’s also crucial to understand that breaking the rules just for the sake of breaking them is not being creative either. What’s most important about knowing the rules is understanding why they work most of the time – something I hope this book has accomplished for you. Knowing why the rules work will lead to something akin to a higher state of compositional enlightenment: knowing when your photo is successful when not using the rules, or better yet, purposely breaking them. Once you get to that happy place, you will be on the path to true creative synthesis.

The last step on this journey to creative expression is actually putting The Creative Principle into action. The French artist, Henri Matisse once famously declared, “Creativity takes courage.” It takes considerable courage to deviate from the safe confines of conventional compositional rules because trying something different could lead to failure. Your art should be an intimate expression of yourself so it’s easy to take failure personally. It’s important to remember, however, that artistic growth requires experimenting and trying new things. Failures will definitely occur along the way but they’re a small price to pay for the creative breakthroughs you’re going to make by venturing outside your comfort zone. Edwin Land, the founder of Poloroid, said, “An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” Don’t be afraid to try something new.

So consider the rules merely as guidelines or suggestions with which to take generous liberties. “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,” Pablo Picasso offered as advice to fellow creatives. When I’m behind the camera, I am not thinking about any compositional rules, guidelines, or suggestions but instead I’m working on more of an intuitive level. I don’t think too much about composition. I simply defer to what feels right. Yet the concepts in this book have helped teach me how to see and they’re never far away from the conscious decisions I’m making in real time. Later on, I often discover that I did, in fact, use one of the rules presented here (or I’ve discovered that I ignored all of them) but I’m never thinking that way at the time of the capture.

Remember, no one is born an accomplished photographer and master of composition. It’s not an innate talent. It’s not a gift. There are no child prodigies in the field of photography. Every great photographer has had to learn the rules, intentionally break the rules, then ignore them altogether. If you’re just starting out, rest assured that you are in the same place that I once was, as well as every other professional photographer. Learn the rules, adopt the Creative Principle, then follow your heart and intuition to a life of creative expression. Enjoy the journey.

You can learn more about creativity and composition in my 74-page e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Essential Composition: Using Frames

Essential Composition: Using Frames

Creativity

Essential Composition: Using Frames

Using frames is an effective compositional technique in photography that provides an powerful way of emphasizing the primary subject in the photo. Framing immediately directs attention and leads the eye to the subject or anything else you feel is important in the image. I’m talking a “frame within a frame” here, not the actual image border, which is a frame itself. Frames are another way or helping manipulate how your audience looks at your image.

Look for frames in architectural elements such as doorways or arches, natural elements such as tree branches and natural arches, or variations in light and dark to effectively frame your subject.

“Spring Garden” Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 58mm, 1/20 second @ f/13, ISO 500.

In the image above, the arching tree branches not only provide a frame for the walkway and “V” shape created by the azaleas and receding tree trunks, but it also gives some needed balance to the image by counterpoising some visual weight the colorful flowering shrubs in bottom part of the photo (learn more about Achieving Photographic Balance in a previous blog post).

You can learn more about using frames, as well as many other compositional concepts in my e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Essential Composition: Achieving Photographic Balance

Essential Composition: Achieving Photographic Balance

Creativity

Essential Composition: Achieving Photographic Balance

There’s a concept in Gestalt theory commonly referred to as the Law of Symmetry, which states that the human mind will constantly seek out balance in all the visual information it receives via the optic nerve. It is said that if something is unbalanced, the viewer will waste valuable time trying to resolve the problem instead of focusing on the contents of the scene itself. With regard to photography and composition, photographic balance is the equal distribution of “visual weight” within the image frame. The placement, size, and brightness of visual elements will determine if the image feels in equilibrium or not. Photographic balance is harmonious. When an image is out of balance, it can give the viewer a negative or uncomfortable feeling or sensation.

There are two types of compositional balance used in photography, art and design: formal and informal balance. Symmetry is a type of formal balance where two sides of a photo are mirror images of each other. Symmetry can refer to vertical balance – where the top and bottom are basically the same – or as horizontal balance – where the left and right sides of the image are equal.

A symmetrical reflection is one of the few instances where bisecting the photo through the center of the image frame works. This symmetrical composition is usually chosen when the photographer wants to communicate or project equality, equivalence, uniformity, or even fairness. There is little visual tension with this arrangement and all the visual elements are harmonious.

With informal balance, visual equilibrium is gained by counterpoising two or more elements at opposite ends of the image frame. The arrangement can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Image balance is achieved by the strategic placement of two or more of these strong visual elements and distributing them equally in the photograph. While formal balance creates symmetry, informal balance leads to an asymmetrical composition, yet it’s still balanced.

By positioning two strong visual elements at opposite ends of the image frame, you not only give the image informal balance, but you trigger powerful visual tension and energy by moving the viewer’s eye back and forth between the two elements via a virtual diagonal line (see above). These elements could be two competing focal points with varying sizes and colors, as long as they are conspicuous. The end result is an image that is not only achieves photographic balance and harmony, but is also dynamic.

You can learn more about photographic balance, as well as many other compositional concepts, in my e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Essential Composition: Seeing Abstractly

Essential Composition: Seeing Abstractly

Creativity

Essential Composition: Seeing Abstractly

“We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.” – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki 

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I can offer a beginning photographer to help see and create more compelling compositions is learning to let go of the literal elements of a scene and embracing the underlying abstract qualities instead. That doesn’t mean you should start making purely abstract images, although that’s not necessarily a bad idea for its own sake, but rather try to see through the literal elements to visualize the scene abstractly. For example, instead of seeing a scene’s obvious aesthetic beauty – the mountains, trees, rocks, clouds and river, you should train yourself to look deeper for interconnecting shapes, space, balance, lines, patterns and how they relate to each other and the image frame.

When working with students in the field, I might ask them to squint their eyes just a little so the literal elements mostly disappear and all that remains is the skeletal structure of the scene – shapes, lines, patterns, etc. This is very good practice if you’ve never tried it before and a good way to learn the art of visualization. The literal elements flesh the image out later when the image is captured.

In the images above, you can easily see how the elephant family creates a virtual triangle. There is aesthetic value in arranging important visual elements into power shapes – triangles, diamonds, pyramids, and circles – rather than random grouping of animals or primary subjects. Seeing abstractly allows you to identify these underlying shapes that help give your image balance and order.

Pretty scenes are a dime a dozen but well designed pretty scenes are much less common. Developing the ability of seeing abstractly will lead to stronger compositions and more compelling photography.

If you find you have some difficultly in seeing abstractly when doing your photography, try the advice I gave above about squinting so that the scene’s literal details are blurred out. If that doesn’t work, you can practice by studying the work of other photography masters and artists while identifying the underlying abstract nature of the images.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Photography And The Creative Process

Photography And The Creative Process

Creativity

Photography And The Creative Process

When it comes to photography and the creative process, I fully embrace the principles of brain function lateralization. In a nutshell, brain function lateralization refers to how the left and right hemispheres of our brains process information in different ways. The right half of the brain is where we feel emotion, use our imagination, and do our dreaming, while the left half is where we use language, reason, and apply logic.

This idea is certainly nothing new to most of you, but learning how to use this knowledge can help you, as a photographer, better understand the creative process and make images that better express your experiences both intuitively and conceptually.

It’s important to understand that our conscious mind can only process information from one side of the brain at a time. We are able to switch back and forth fairly effortlessly, but it’s not the best way for the brain to operate. In the end, authority is almost always delegated to one half or the other when deciding what information enters our consciousness and what doesn’t. This includes visual information that is transmitted from our eyes via the optic nerve. Alas, the struggle is almost always won by our dominant left brain, while the right plays a much more passive role.

Our right brain is sometimes able to covertly sneak information into our conscious awareness but only when the left brain is either asleep at the wheel or lulled into boredom. During these episodes, random emotional and visual vignettes and freely associated images wildly dance and flicker through our consciousness before the rational left brain once again regains control and restores order.

For the photographer, it’s in the right half of the brain where the creative spark is kindled, making a connection to the world we see in intuitive, emotional terms. The left half is concerned with more workaday matters such as exposure, perspective, and composition (I am convinced that composition is a deliberate cognitive process rather than intuitive one although admittedly, I often simply defer to what feels right).

If your goal is to have others inspired and moved by the images you make, you must be inspired and moved by what you see and experience. If you want to evoke a strong emotional response from others with your photography, you must have a strong emotional connection to your subject matter. How can you expect others to be moved by your photography if you are ambivalent? How can you possibly expect your viewers to feel power, awe, tranquility, melancholy, or heartache in your images if you, an actual witness to the scene, felt nothing?

When I am in the field, I often forget that there is a camera with me. I am not thinking about composition, light, or pressure to make a single image whatsoever. I’m simply try to savor the experience and totally immerse myself in the present moment and place with heightened senses and awareness. I’m not looking for anything in particular, nor do I expect to find anything. Instead, I am creating a state of mind where I am completely receptive to something finding me.

The late fine-art photographer, Ruth Bernhard, once explained how she approached her craft. “I never look for a photograph,” she explained. “The photograph finds me and says, ‘I’m here!’ and I say, ‘Yes I see you. I hear you!’”

The key is being completely open and receptive to your environment while passive with your thoughts. I find this to be the most effective way for allowing the right brain to temporarily gain the upper hand. The worst thing you can possibly do is rush into the field or photography session with preconceived ideas or images that you want to create. That includes the pressure to create any image at all. There should be no expectations. Trying to force things only reasserts the left brain’s dominance and ultimately leads to photographic clichés, old concepts, and emotionally sterile results.

When something in the field does speak to me and I am emotionally drawn to a subject or scene, I don’t want to immediately reach for the camera and start shooting either. Too many times I have aborted the creative process at this point and began to take capture the images. These are usually disappointments as I am left muttering later over the computer, “What was I thinking here?” Far removed from the emotional high experienced during the capture, the images failed to trigger the same response later on. This is exactly how your viewers will feel, since they too are emotionally and physically separated from your experience. Your right brain may have provided the intuitive, emotional spark, but something was clearly missing in the translation to the finished product.

Instead of instinctively grabbing the camera, ask yourself some basic questions: Why do I want to photograph this? What is drawing me to this subject or scene? What emotion – specifically – is this scene eliciting from me and what ultimately do I want to express here? What elements within the scene are contributing to this emotional sensation I am feeling? If you can verbalize some of these answers, they will be easier to act on. Language is the domain of left brain processing and verbalization provides the catalyst to the left brain image execution. Remember, we cannot process information from both sides of our brains simultaneously, so this verbalization should jump start the transition from right to left.

What emotional sensation did you verbalize? Tranquility? Strength? Power? What elements – specifically – were contributing to this emotional response? The motion of the water? The ominous, foreboding sky? The sensual curve of the lake’s shoreline?

Now, what tools do we possess that can help accentuate these specific elements? Those tools can be found deep within your camera bag or in the well of your accumulated technical knowledge and photography experience. Where is the focal point of the image? Do these elements lend themselves to a wide-angle composition that merges the focal point gracefully with the surrounding environment, or does a more simplified presentation communicate this better?

Well, you get the idea here. We are creating a concept, which is all left brain thinking. If we remain in the right brain, intuitive mode without crossing over to left brain conceptualization, we are likely to create images with strong emotional content, but with little or no meaning to anyone but ourselves. Your emotional response to the scene must be conceptualized in order for others, who were never there at the scene, to “get it.” And if you only approach your photography from the left brain mode and never establish any emotional connection to the subject, the results will likely be technically adequate, well-crafted images that are emotionally sterile.

Creativity as artistic expression is a syntheses between the right and the left, the intuitive and the conceptual. A 2014 article in The Atlantic titled, The Power of Two describes the genius of The Beatles, how John and Paul were complementary opposites who probably would have failed without each other (I’ll let you decide who was the right/intuitive and who was the left/conceptual). Their creative process, and their genius, relied on both – as do you, the creative photographer.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Free e-book: Ten Easy Steps to Photography with Impact

Free e-book: Ten Easy Steps to Photography with Impact

Creativity

FREE e-book: Ten Easy Steps to Photography with Impact

Impact (noun) /ˈɪmpakt/ :  A strong effect or influence that something has on a situation or person.

This free e-book, Ten Easy Steps to Photography with Impact shares ten simple concepts that will help you make more creative decisions with your camera which will lead to making more visual impact with your photographs. Sample pages below.

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*  Depending on your particular mobile device and software/apps, you might have a problem downloading this PDF directly to your phone or tablet. If that’s the case, download to a computer first and then transfer to your phone or tablet.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.