Improve Your Photography - Take a Workshop

I just got back from Lake Powell where I participated in the Dynamic Nude Workshop held there by Joel Belmont. Joel does several workshops at Lake Powell and this one was for advanced photographers, meaning there was not going to be a lot of instruction, instead Joel would take us to various locations and we would plan our own shots. This was fine by me as I was mainly taking the workshop for access, and didn't really expect to learn something, but a funny thing happened as it does on all workshops.... I actually learned something and my photography improved as a result.

Marinating in Photography

My Dad used to go to 3-day or 5-day golf workshops and always played better as a result. He pointed out to me that when you are focusing on learning and hitting 1000's of golf balls a day you can't help but get better. Rarely would you go out and hit that many golf balls in a day on your own. The same thing happens with photography workshops, from the time I wake up until the end of the day when I go to sleep I am concentrating on nothing but photography. We get up and shoot, come back edit photos, go shoot again in the afternoon, come back and edit photos, do a photo critique and go to bed. I call it "Marinating in Photography", because I am surrounded by nothing but the pursuit of photography all day. No distractions, just shoot, edit, repeat. I always find that my vision, my way of seeing, my editing skills all improve as a result of the non-stop pace of a good workshop.

Hanging Out With Your Tribe

The other photographers at a workshop are my people, they understand me and the issues that I face in photography, we can have deep meaningful conversations about photography and I always learn something about photography from my peers at workshops. During this recent workshop at Lake Powell one of the participants showed me his simple technique for making a nude image stand out in a black and white image and it blew my mind and made me a black and white convert. (I'll share the technique in an upcoming blog post. Subscribe so you don't miss it :) ).

During our editing sessions there was a constant sharing of techniques, approaches. Every photographer thinks about an image differently and I learned something from each and every one of the participants at the workshop. Many workshops we edit alone in our hotel rooms each night, but I found I got so much more out of the workshop by having these group editing sessions. I'm going to seek this out for future workshops.

Sharing and Critique

I have often discussed the value of good critique, it is how I learned to be a photographer. I also see it through the growth of my apprentices in The Arcanum, every single one of them has grown as a result of the critique they receive from me. At workshops the critique sessions are extremely valuable and not for the reason you might think. Yes, you get feedback on your image, but for me the real value comes from seeing the work of others. Most of the time they are at the same location as I am, standing next to me, taking images of similar subjects and their images look nothing like mine! I learn to see in different ways. That is huge! We tend to get stuck in ruts and follow familiar patterns, seeing someone else's approach and how they look at the world helps me break out of my traditions and standard patterns and try new techniques.

Recharging Your Creative Battery

I always come away from a workshop reinvigorated and full of creative ideas and shots I want to pursue. Our creativity and passion levels ebb and flow and it can often be a struggle to get back in the swing of things and get out there and take photos that are meaningful to me. Workshops are always the kick in the butt I need to get me going again.

Next Workshop

I'm already looking for my next workshop to sign-up for. What is your favorite?


Cover photo courtesy of Ryan Fenix Sumner. Used with his permission.

Fill Your Creative Pantry

Filling the well, stocking the stream, feeding the beast, restocking the shelves, no matter what you call it, as an artist it is important to constantly consume other art to keep your creative juices flowing. The creative muse can be a fickle mistress and when she leaves you it is often because she has no raw materials to work with. If you are stuck creatively the best thing you can do is go consume other forms of art.

Visit a Museum

Whenever I travel I am always on the lookout for interesting photography exhibits, I have seen exhibits by some of the greats, Helmut Newton, Sally Mann, Dorthea Lange, Robert Frank, and many others, Sometimes it is just group shows by relatively unknown artists. If there are no photography exhibits in town I will seek out museums and galleries. It doesn't matter the medium. I have found inspiration for my photos from scultputues, paintings, glass work, abstract art, you name it. Looking at work of other artists is always inspiring and it is rare that I visit a museum and not come away with at least a couple of ideas for future projects.

Be a Couch Potato

I don't have to go somewhere to find this inspiration, I often get flashes of insight while watching TV. The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas has awesome ads that always get my creative juices flowing, as do the ads from the American Horror Story series. They have some great visuals in these ads and instead of skipping commercials I often find myself pausing them while I search for a piece of paper to write down some new concept for an image (I now keep a notepad next to the TV remote).

Surf the Web

Don't watch TV? Then surf the web and look at images; 500px is a favorite of mine, it is full of inspiring images. I also will go explore the images of the master photographers from the past. I can't look at Rodney Smith images without having at least 2 or 3 photo concepts pop into my head.

Take a Hike

Going for a walk is also a great way to fill my creative well. Whether I'm walking in nature, or down a city street, I am constantly seeing how the shadows interact with my surroundings, how a bright color attracts my eye. These go into my database of images which I can draw from in the future. Another important aspect of walking is that it causes my mind to wander, and it is when my mind is wandering that some of my best creative ideas appear.

Look at the Pictures

Coffee table photography and art books can be a wonderful source of creative fodder. Also photography magazines that are about showing the images, my favorite is Lenswork Magazine. I also like the Craft and Vision Photograph series. I always find each issue to be inspirational.

Let It Simmer

Creativity doesn't happen from a vacuum. It is the result of all of these visual stimuli that you collect throughout your day, week, month, they rattle around inside your head mixing together. It's like a giant puzzle that you are working on in your's like a making soup, you put all the ingredients in a bowl and let it simmer on the stove until it is's a blender of margaritas, swirling all these visual elements around...oh I know it's.... Alright enough with the metaphors, the reality is that you need to collect visual stimuli, and at some point there will be a trigger that will pull these visual snippets together and idea for a photograph will appear in your head. When that happens, thank your muse, make the shot, and then start collecting again.