Going to the beach

It looks like my day job is winning at the moment. I’ve been ‘asked’ to go back to full-time work. Today is my last part-time day off. Friday was my second last–I had to take them where I could because I really haven’t been working a proper part-time schedule for some time now. The demands of my day job have just been far too great.

But…

I’m not going to let this stop me. As a big ‘F you’ to to my day job, on Friday I went to the beach. The remains of Tropical Cyclone Winston were floating around off the coast and whipping up some impressive waves. I wanted to get a really summery photo of a perfectly breaking wave and also just spend some time sitting and watching the water–doing nothing at all for the first time in a month.

It was amazing. The locals came up and chatted; their dogs kept running up to say hello. There was even an osprey fishing and I was so excited to get some really cool pictures of it…

Currimundi Surf-1006Currimundi Surf-1044Currimundi Surf-1067It was the perfect day. I took over a thousand pictures of the water and eventually got the image that I wanted.

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So it might be a bit harder now that I’m back to full time work but I’m determined to keep with my artistic journey. I even started writing a new story today about someone who blows off work to go to the beach.

Not a resolution

It appears I’m starting up again. Hooray! I stopped a lot of creative stuff at the end of last year mainly because work was so busy they asked me to go back to full-time and that included much longer hours. Anyway, my day job is more or less back to normal for now (although another longer stint of full-time is ahead) and, almost without me realising, I’ve picked up all my creative pursuits again.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions because I’ve found that I inevitably follow through for a month or two like a total machine and then fizzle out and collapse like an overtired two-year-old. I’ve noticed that seems to be a pattern for me: I get all excited about a new project, tell myself I’m going to work on it every day, power on for a while and then eventually stop and feel bad about failing.

However, this year I’m trialing a new approach. I’ve set up a schedule of things I want to do—exercise, writing, photography—where I have a modest weekly goal. At the moment I’ve set myself the target of doing each of those things three times a week. More is great if I do it, but three times is the goal. That way I don’t have unachievable (for me) goals like a daily word count and I’ve massively reduced the pressure to succeed I put on myself. And the goals are completely flexible—I can do them on any day at any time and tick them off as successes. I’m hoping this way will also spread out the energy I put into projects so I don’t blow it all at the start in one huge burst. This is a big switch for me and kind of a strange reversal—by doing less and putting less pressure on myself, I’m hoping to be able to achieve more.

In line with this, I’m experimenting with different story formats. One of my writer friends wrote a blog post about how he discovered he was unable to write the sort of huge fantasy novels he wanted to because his drafts always petered out around 50,000 words. But in doing that he discovered he was really quite good at novella-length stories. It got me thinking because a lot of what Matthew said about himself could have come directly from my brain.

So I’m starting with really short stories, no more than about 5000 words, to see if that helps me stick with writing more. My ultimate goal is to develop a bunch of characters and weave them together through short stories into a much larger meta-plot but still have each short story more or less complete within itself. Not sure how this will turn out but it seems like it’s worth a shot.

I used a fire extinguisher for the first time today

In the purest sense, NaNoWriMo is not going too well for me. I reached 15,000 words pretty quickly and then stopped. I’m not unhappy with that–it’s 15,000 words more than I started with. And as words go, they’re pretty good ones with plenty of potential.

However, to keep up the creativity, I decided to shoot a Christmas still life like I did last year:

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I ran across this tutorial on 500px ISO about using sparklers in glass jars. It looks amazing and seemed doable so I thought I’d give it a go.

I decided to set it up in my garage because it’s entirely concrete and thus fire-proof. Great decision number 1.

I also brought along the fire extinguisher I keep in my kitchen and put a bucket of water nearby as well, just in case. Great decision number 2.

This was the set-up I decided on:

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I reused the glass reindeer from last year because I quite like it. I went to a dollar store for the decanter and wine glasses because the tutorial mentioned that the heat from the sparklers could cause the glass containers to crack and I didn’t want to break anything expensive. Great decision number 3.

It turned out to be really difficult to get the sparkler bits in the bottom of the decanter to ignite. I tried various things–varying the amount of sparkler bits, dropping in lit matches, using a taper. I think the main issue was the shape of the bottle. Anyway, it took a long time but eventually I got it to light.

That’s when it went wrong.

Instead of the delicate spray of sparks bouncing off the interior of the decanter, I got this:

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That’s right. I accidentally created a homemade blowtorch that went off with a very unsettling roar. Like any good photographer, I kept my finger on the shutter while I panicked about what to do. My first thought was to grab the fire extinguisher but all the fire was enclosed by glass, which was less than helpful.

Fortunately…? a moment later the decanter exploded, showering glass everywhere and setting fire to the backing fabric:

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This was the very last shot in the burst.

Of course, that meant the fire extinguisher would be effective so I got things under control pretty quickly.

All in all, this shoot did not go to plan. However, I persevered through the ensuing clouds of smoke to get the shot of the wine glasses and with a bit of work in post, I ended up with this:

Xmas still life 2 recomposed_square crop

It’s a bit different to the image I’d originally planned but it’s got a certain drama that I quite like. Overall I’m pretty happy with it. Maybe don’t try this at home, though, kids.

One Year Later

Well, it’s been a whole year since I started this journey and I haven’t faltered or looked back yet. Hooray! I’ve kept up my blog posts (averaging 2.5 a month, which I’m really happy with). I’ve posted relatively regularly to my 500px gallery and my instagram (nathan_chester). I’ve written a lot, but still not finished anything, which bugs me. I’ve done some courses in photography and Photoshop that have really improved my skills.

All in all, it’s been a successful year though without any dramatic advancement. I’ve left the stifling and total security of my house and crossed the backyard, but I haven’t yet ventured very far under the eaves of the wild, creative forest. I am inching closer and that’s the goal for the next year–to be more adventurous, more dedicated and invest more of myself into this journey.

I’ve posted the photo below as an expression of how far I’ve come and as a promise to my future. I almost didn’t get this shot because I was standing safely on the beach, clicking away. When that egret landed in the water, I didn’t think twice about slogging through 100 metres of thick, slippery, above-the-ankles tidal mud to get close enough for the photo. A year ago, I probably wouldn’t even have taken a chance and headed to the coast for the possibility of a sunset like that. The future is bright (but with good contrast and properly exposed highlights).

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Sneaky universe

Turns out the universe is sneakier than I thought. I’ve been feeling very un-creative lately. I’ve been worrying that I haven’t been writing enough, that I haven’t been photographing enough, that I haven’t been blogging enough. I’ve felt like I was wasting my days off from my day job because I haven’t followed through with my plan to devote them solely to creative endeavours. Instead they’ve been filled with dentist appointments and grocery shopping and other mundanities.

And then the universe started sending me messages–little moments of synchronicity that have become impossible to ignore. More and more of my friends seem to be reaching turning points in their lives. Everybody seems to be discovering that where they are now is not where they want to be and, in order to get where they want to be, they need to make scary decisions. The theme coming out of hours of deep and meaningfuls is that in order to get what you want, you have to take a risk and jump in wholeheartedly. You have to believe that you have the ability and determination to pull off your dreams. I started this process last year. However, it’s becoming clear that I haven’t quite managed to follow through. Going part-time at work was a big step for me, but I haven’t done enough with the time. I think the universe is onto me.

Perhaps it’s just me, but the number of inspirationals about following your dreams in my Facebook feed seems to have doubled in the last couple of weeks.

And then there are those stupid gambling ads on TV that keep yelling at me to back myself. Even Masterchef the other night (I swear I wasn’t watching it and just flicked over in the ads) was going on about how I am the only one that can make my dreams come true and that if I don’t actually do anything, I’ll forever be just a dreamer.

So I was going to write a blog post about how I was failing at writing and failing at photography and failing at being the change I need in my life. But as I was doing it, I started to come up with a list of all the things I’d been doing instead of being creative. And I realised I’d made a mistake.

A couple of weeks ago I did two of half-day courses in Photoshop and started going back over old photos to see if I could improve them. Turns out I could…

I also started a document of random, incomplete story ideas the other day. So I’ve actually been doing a couple of hundred words of writing every day even though it’s not on one specific project.

And on top of that, I made up some Valkyrie wings for a fitness model friend for her next comp. image1   So it turns out that I’m a bit more on track than I thought. Instead of the horrible I-Haven’t-Done-Enough motivation I had at the start of this post, I’ve got more of an I-Can-Do-This motivation. It’s amazing how much more motivating that is. Thank you universe. I need to go write something.

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.