Creativity vs. Equipment

I’ve been reading a lot of photography blogs and, while they’re full of valuable advice and fascinating ideas, they’ve also been making me a little depressed. The blogs are full of “key source lights with fresnel lenses” and “LED spotlights with gels” and “full frame cameras with 25mm f/.95 lenses”. And these people have produced some amazing creative works. And this is the very reason I read these blogs. But the fact that I don’t have any of this enviable photographic equipment sometimes kind of hits my confidence. I started to wonder if I needed all that stuff to take a good photo.

So I decided to try to do a portrait without all the fancy equipment just to show myself it can be done. I went with a Game of Thrones theme because I’m a geek and it’s fun.

Equipment:

  • a bedspread hung from a curtain rail (for the backdrop)
  • a reading lamp attached to an exercise bike’s handlebars (key light)
  • a few A4 sheets of white paper stapled together and blu tacked to a kitchen chair (reflector)
  • tripod
  • camera with 18-55mm kit lens
  • remote trigger.

I didn’t have anyone to model for me (which would have made things easier and maybe the final photo look a bit better) so it’s a selfie. The costume is just an inside-out, back-to-front coat, some black fabric, feathers, a belt and sweatpants*. I happened to have the sword prop already—probably the only ‘professional’ part of the costume.

So you can see that the set up is anything but professional, using only the most basic and cobbled together equipment, but I was really happy with the final photo:

portrait

I guess I need to keep reminding myself that creativity doesn’t rely on having the best equipment or most experience.

* I planned on only a medium or head shot but in the middle of the shoot I realised that I had to go for a longer shot and totally forgot in the creative frenzy that I hadn’t planned a full-length costume.

Finding my vision

I’ve been reading a lot about photography lately and something that really hit me was the advice (from many professional photographers) that, in order to become a professional, you have to specialise. At first I resisted because I didn’t want to lock myself into one style or subject. I liked the freedom of creativity and being able to do whatever I wanted. So much about photography fascinates me and I feel that I’ve created great images of lots of different subjects. However, the more I thought about it, the more specialising makes sense. In order to become really good at something, you need to devote a significant amount of time and energy to it. And while photography may seem like a single discipline to be perfected, the techniques required for landscape photography are vastly different to portraiture, which are vastly different to still life and so on. Spreading my time and effort across these varied subjects means that my growth in any one will be that much slower. Also, working without passion means that my work is much less likely to capture the sort of inspired beauty and fascination that I want from it.

That got me thinking because, of course, that immediately eliminates some areas of photography for me. For example, I will never be a wedding photographer because, for me, photography is a little too personal. I want to create and capture my vision, not someone else’s. I’m pretty sure that view wouldn’t sit well with many brides and grooms. Thinking further, I more or less stumbled on what I think I want my photographic focus to be: fine art, with a hint of fantasy. I want to take ‘ordinary’ beautiful scenes, preferably natural ones, and be able to add just a hint of fiction, fantasy and story. That captures everything I love about photography and creativity, from landscapes and weather (you need great settings) to stories and magic and interesting characters.

This will mean that I have to get better at Photoshop and post-processing, so I’ll have to start taking courses this year. I will also have to start developing my costuming and prop-making skills, because sometimes that’s all that would be needed to push a scene towards the fantastic. Luckily, I already really love making those sorts of things.

Steampunk self-portrait
Steampunk self-portrait

This photo is my first conscious pursuit of my vision. I dragged out the costume I made for my steampunk Christmas murder mystery and assembled a few props from around the house. It took quite a long time because I had to keep getting up to run around the table and check the images in the camera–this sort of thing would be much easier with a model. I’m extremely happy with the result, though.

So, a fancy dress party here, a bit of cosplay there, drop it into a beautiful landscape and add a touch of dreamy post-processing and I think I’ve found my vision.

Why the F

“Hey! How long has that been there?” he asked.
Puzzled, I joined him at the window. “What? The trees?” I asked. “I planted them ages ago.”
“It looks like a whole freaking forest! It’s beautiful.”
I looked again. There were quite a few more trees than I remembered. And the way the morning sun glanced off the shiny leaves and softened the rough, stringy bark did have a little something. “I guess,” I shrugged.
“Seriously? It’s amazing. How have I not seen this before?”
“I don’t know. I don’t really go out there much.”
“Why not?! Who else do you know lucky enough to have a forest like that right there?”
“I didn’t really think it was all that great. And I don’t have the time, anyway.”


I have always loved to create, whether through writing, painting or sculpture. However, I have never taken art seriously and, aside from a few paintings, I’ve never really finished anything. It hasn’t been until the last few years that I’ve even let anyone see any of my work, due to the fear that whatever I did was amateurish crap. I loved the feeling of creating art but unconsciously categorised it as a guilty pleasure; it was something enjoyable to fill in a few spare hours on a weekend but not something you’d want to do in front of everyone. Wink, wink.

In 2013 I bought a Nikon DSLR camera, partly because a lot of my friends had one and partly because I quite liked the results I got with a point-and-shoot. I figured a fancy camera would help me take fancier pictures. I had also planned to go on a storm chasing tour in the USA in May and I knew enough about photography to know that I probably needed a better camera than the one I had.

This trip changed my life. Except, because this is me, I waited a whole year and went on the same trip again in 2014, just to make sure. Now, though, I am finally ready to do something about it.

On the 2013 trip I met Jim Reed and Jenna Blum. I had never before hung out with such talented and crazy people – people who had made a career out of their art. And for two weeks I was there, trying not to make a fool of myself, and taking amazing photos right alongside them. And when I got back, complete strangers were complimenting me on my photographs and telling me I should sell them. And it was unexpected and weird and uncomfortable and confronting.

So I went again in 2014 and it was even better because this time Patti Schulze and Laurie Excell were there, too. I was overwhelmed by talented artists who, amazingly, said I had talent, too.

And so, when I got back, I decided to consider to start believing that maybe I possibly did actually have the beginnings of some kind of talent.

The problem is that my day job has begun to consume my every waking moment during the week, leaving me washed out and exhausted on the weekends, without any time or energy to engage in other pursuits. For some reason, I’m finding that mildly vexing. But, coincidentally, at the very moment I realised that my day job holds no satisfaction, my eyes have been directed to another infinitely more satisfying option.