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.

Free e-book: Iceland, Our Amazing Planet

Free e-book: Iceland, Our Amazing Planet

Bucket List

FREE e-book: Iceland, Our Amazing Planet

Iceland, Our Amazing Planet, explores the pure magic that is this small country in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Here are two dozen photographs of Iceland’s mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, wildlife, and beautiful light captured by renowned nature, wildlife, and travel photographer, Richard Bernabe. This virtual tour of Iceland will visually demonstrate why Iceland truly is one of our planet’s most amazing places. Come take the tour!

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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.

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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.

A Passion Driven Life

A Passion Driven Life

Inspiration

A Passion Driven Life

You cannot change what you are, only what you do. – Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

In a commencement address to the graduating students of Stanford University in 2005, Steve Jobs recalled a quote he first read when he was 17.

“If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

He went on to say that the quote stuck with him though most of his adult life and that he would look himself in the mirror each morning and ask himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

If the answer was “no” for too many consecutive days, he knew it was time for a change.

So after waking up too many mornings with a resounding “no” reverberating through my own groggy and tired head, I drove down to the office and promptly terminated a successful corporate career. My own. It was January 14, 2003, which also happened to be my birthday.

Photography was a serious hobby with occasional financial rewards, but not nearly rewarding enough to pay for my lifestyle at the time – not even close. Photography and travel were excellent ways to spend money, not make it (That’s still almost entirely true, by the way). Still, I was determined to give it a go, even if I really had no idea how to get there. The only thing I knew for certain was that my talent and energy were being atrophied as I counted down the days to each bimonthly paycheck.

This was new to me. I was a rationally thinking organism with an economics degree who always made decisions with cold, hard logic and yet there was nothing rational about this line of thought. In return for a six-figure salary, benefits, and financial security, I was getting what exactly? No salary, no plan for getting any income in the near future, no benefits, no financial security? On its face, it was a no-brainer, yet my intuition and heart told me otherwise.

Wild places, wildlife, and travel were my passions in life. Capturing and sharing my experiences in these places were what inspired me to get up each morning, not my 9-to-5. It was the first thing I thought about each morning and the last thing each night before drifting off to sleep. If I were going to preach that you had to do what you love to truly be successful in life – as was my mantra to my employees – I would have to buy into it myself and not look back. I was only willing to accept excellence in myself and I could only achieve excellence by doing what I loved and was truly passionate about.

Throughout the transition, I received a tremendous amount of emotional support from family and close friends. I’ll always be grateful for that. Some were genuinely concerned and that was certainly understandable. Others thought it was only a phase I was going through – a mid-life crisis, perhaps – that I would eventually outgrow before crawling back to the real world again. At least no one told me to grow up and get a haircut.

“But taking pictures isn’t real work,” many would say. “You’re just running off to pretty places and having fun.

“Right,” I would answer. “So what exactly is your point?”

You see, I never considered being a photographer as an occupation. The word occupation is derived from the same Latin word that spawned the word occupy, essentially meaning, “to take up space.” That little phrase should paint a vivid enough word picture to illustrate precisely what I’m trying to convey here.

Vocation, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word, vocare or “a calling.” If throwing away a “successful” career and financial security – not to mention rationality – in order to chase down one’s dream and passion in life isn’t a calling, then I’m not sure what is. Being a photographer is my vocation. It’s not what I do; it’s what I am. There aren’t very many people who can say the same about their occupation.

So after many years now of traveling the world, chasing down magical light, and capturing as many unrepeatable moments in the wild on film and digital media as possible, I’d like to think that I’ve achieved a modest amount of success as a professional photographer. But what is a “success” anyway? By one yardstick, I already was a success those many years ago.

But if living an inspired, passion driven life doing exactly what I feel I was meant to do – while managing to live financially comfortable as well – is another yardstick with which to measure success, well then I guess I’ve achieved something after all. It’s also the greatest birthday gift I could have ever given myself.

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.

The Best of 2017: A Retrospective

The Best of 2017: A Retrospective

Inspiration

The Best of 2017: A Retrospective

The end of each year is always a good time to look back at the year that was. In my case, it’s been mostly a blur. I traveled to 15 different countries plus Antarctica during 2017 and its only now that I’ve been able to relax and reflect on my travels. Here are my favorite moments of 2017, through the lens of my personal bias and tastes of course. My personal comments are in italics. I hope you enjoy!

“High Noon” Serengeti National Park, Tanzania (June 7, 2017).

RB: A wildlife image taken with a wide-angle lens! I love these types of photos: the minimalist feel, the billowing clouds against that blue sky, the interaction between the giraffes – I fell in love with this image the moment I pressed the shutter.

“Keeper” Deadvlei, Namibia-Naukluft National Park, Namibia (May 17, 2017).

RB: I’ve been to Deadvlei many times and I was determined to come away with something new. I purposely stayed away from trees and compositions that had yielded good results in the past in order to see something different. As it turns out, Keeper is now one of my all-time favorite images from this area of Namibia.

“Adelie Waddle” Adelie penguins at Brown Bluff, East Coast of Tabarin Peninsula, Antarctica (December 11, 2017).

RB: I spent a lot of time watching and observing before capturing any images from this location. I noticed the penguins leaning forward meant that they were attempting to jump. Sometimes they chickened out and didn’t but usually they did. When I saw this congregation and the body language, I was ready. I purposely left space to the left and the bottom for what i was hoping would be an airborne penguin. I got my wish. I also reminds me of another one of my favorite photos.

Patterns in the lava lake in the caldera of Mount Nyiragongo volcano, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo (February 7, 2015).

RB: The experience of spending the night on the rim of an active volcano was exhilarating. The 6-hour, uphill hike to get there was grueling. The glowing spider web patterns in the volcano’s lava lake were utterly mesmerizing. 

“Zen Monkies” Gray langur monkeys at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka (September 26, 2017).

RB: I could not have set up this wildlife scene any better if I had actual monkey telepathy.

“Almirante Nieto” Cerro Almirante Nieto and layers of lenticular clouds at sunrise, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (April 11, 2017).

RB: An intimate telephoto vignette of a grand sunrise scene, replete with stacked lenticular clouds and intense scarlet light.

“Laughing Gorillas” A group of mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda (February 5, 2017).

RB: Mountain gorilla love a good joke as much as anyone.

“Crystal Ice Cave” Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier in Vatnajökull National Park, Southern Iceland (January 28, 2017).

RB: The volcanic soot imbedded in the glacier ice created a conspicuous line that leads right to the trekker. Ice caves are just one good reason to love Iceland in winter.

“Terra Incognita” Iceberg and foggy mountains in the Gerlache Straight, Antarctica (December 9, 2017).

RB: More than any other image of mine from Antarctica, this one captures the enormous scale of the coastal mountains, glaciers and ice of the continent. Handheld from a moving boat, I used a high ISO to ensure a sharp image.

“Fire on High” Sunrise on the high peaks of Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (November 15, 2017).

RB: Ridiculously dramatic sunrise over the Paine massif. This is an often-photographed scene but what I liked the most about this morning is the intense colors reflected in Nordenskjöld Lake. For more images from Torres del Paine and Patagonia, you can download my free e-book, Patagonia: Our Amazing Planet. 

Thanks for taking a look at some of my photography highlights from 2017. Here’s to an awesome 2018! Here’s to Truth, Adventure, and Passion –  Richard

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: Patagonia, Our Amazing Planet

Free e-book: Patagonia, Our Amazing Planet

Inspiration

FREE e-book: Patagonia, Our Amazing Planet

Patagonia, Our Amazing Planet, is a compilation of 20 photographs from Los Glaciares National Park of Argentina and Torres del Paine National Park of Chile. These two areas contain some of the most dramatic and inspiring mountain scenery in the world. Renowned nature, wildlife, and travel photographer, Richard Bernabe takes you on a virtual tour of Patagonia, one of the planet’s most amazing places, through images, extended captions, and camera settings – all free of course.

Add to Cart

*  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.

Sample Pages

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.