I see photography as having two separate elements. In fact, most art have two elements to it.
The technical part, where you learn how to use tools to create art. For example, paintbrush, music instruments, cameras, etc. Time and practice are both required to master the technicality of creating, there is just no exception.
Then, there’s creativity - the more abstract part of the two elements. In contrast to mastering the physical act of creating art, creativity has a non-linear relationship. More time spent creating art doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get better at it.
How do you then become more creative?
Not long ago, I read Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon and I couldn’t agree more. By the way, the book is both uplifting and entertaining at the same time. A highly recommended read!
Here are a few paragraphs that I thought was really inspirational and fit the purpose of this post.
Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don't come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.
At some point, you'll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing.
Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What's in there that makes you different? That's what you should amplify and transform into your own work.
So, to answer the question on how to become creative - you study the work of other artists.
To paraphrase that sentence and quote Kleon - you steal it!
Drawing Inspiration From Other Photographers
I’ve had this idea of asking other photographers how they create their work. What do they do routinely in their workflow.
Maybe we can learn from them, draw inspiration for our next project.
So, I emailed them a while ago to ask if they would mind answering three simple questions to explore their mindset as a professional photographer. I thought this would be both interesting and educational.
Before we continue, I just want to give a big shout-out to those who have kindly taken precious time to participate: Tony Kuyper, Mads Peter Iversen, Dave Williams, Tony Dalton, Todd Higgins, Wojciech Toman, Alex Miller, Jeroen Derwort, Riccardo Zambelloni, Thomas alias Germanadventurer, Maricel Quesada and Robin Koehler - Thank You!
For those of you who are reading, I hope you find tips, ideas and motivation from these photographers.
Technique, Style and Tools
We always want to know how photographers create their image, what gear and settings they use. It's a bit like wanting to know the secret behind a magic trick.
While these are all important to know, I was more interested in something else. I wanted to know their vision. Why they do what they do and how they present their work.
So, I asked each of them three questions.
(1) How do you get the person, place or thing that is in front of the camera onto the image in just the way you want?
(2) What exactly you like to convey with your photographs and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?
(3) What technology/software/camera gear do you use to keep focused on what you do best, as you photograph?
Tony Kuyper is a photographer living in Arizona. The desert Southwest is his primary subject with abstract details and vivid colors showing up frequently in his photos. His pioneering work with luminosity masks has had a major impact on how nature photographers process their images. He was the first to describe these techniques and has made them available to others through the Photoshop panels available on his website. You can also visit his blog here.
(1) My mindset when I'm out taking pictures is not one trying to find or capture light. I'm just not good at the photo safari thing of bagging a trophy shot. Instead, when I'm using the camera, it's a time of participation and cooperation with whatever light is happening. Unpredictable compositions and unexpected light seem to be what I ultimately end up processing. There's really not much technique or planning involved with this. I just need to be open to letting it happen and accepting that there is often something quite beautiful and even magical in simply giving the light a chance to say what it wants.
(2) I guess what I want most from my images is to allow them to express the beauty of the moment in which they happened. However, I'm not going to pretend I know exactly what that means. I just know that it exists when I'm taking the picture, and so I try to draw it out again during post. While I'm very much aware that I'm at the controls when developing photos, it only seems to work once I actually understand what the image wants me to do. Each image ultimately creates its own expression. I don't work alone.
(3) From a camera standpoint, the telephoto end of my zoom lens is something that seems to be helpful in seeing and focusing on parts of a scene that could otherwise be overlooked. I'm less distracted if I crop out some elements. Once things get narrowed down a bit, the hidden light becomes more obvious. For processing, I mostly use Photoshop. I do minimal work in the RAW converter. Not surprisingly, I use a lot of pixel-based masks, like luminosity masks, as I develop the image. For many adjustments, the way they subtly shift brightness, contrast, and color feels very natural . . . almost organic. It's not necessarily a quick process, but if I give it enough time and attention, the magic in that original moment eventually returns.
Mads Peter Iversen
Danish fine art landscape photographer and YouTuber with a passion for the epic, rough and Nordic landscape. I'm 31 years old and have been photographing for 6 year.
(1) Not really a specific routine. It varies a lot from scene to scene and idea to idea. Some of my favorite photos are lucky shots where the light just behaved in an unpredictable way and I was lucky to be at the right spot at the right time. Some of my most popular images are composites. These require two photos, which I stitch together in Photoshop. The composites rely heavily on vision and post processing skills while the lucky shots obviously require luck.
(2) I'm a bit of a fantasy geek. I love everything epic and bigger than life. I strife for this in my photography by seeking out these kind of locations while the light is interesting (everything but direct daylight). And that's the most important factor. Going to these amazing locations. Next is the editing. It's absolutely necessary. I like to exposure for the highlights and bring out details in the shadows by pushing the tones.
(3) The more dynamic range and light sensitivity as possible! I also really like a drone and how it can be utilized in both photography and video. And then of course Photoshop.
Dave Williams, also known as Hybrid Dave, is a travel photographer, Photoshop educator, and content creator based in London, UK, who lives by the mantra ‘lend me your eyes and I’ll show you what I see.
(1) I spend a lot of time extensively researching both the destinations I shoot and the demands of the market, then when on location I simply portray what I see in the way I wish it to be seen. I largely shoot locations which are familiar to the audience and as such I shoot angles and perspectives which show the subject in a new light so the image I make is as unique as it can possibly be.
(2) I tend to use quite a vibrant, clear image, and I like wider scenes. When I move in for a detail shot I tend to move in further than most people perhaps would do. This requires attention to detail when shooting and post processing that leaves no stone unturned to achieve the highest quality attainable.
(3) When in post I use the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, concentrating heavily on Photoshop. Hardware wise I’m Mac-centric and I shoot with Nikon bodies, Nikon and Tamron glass, and a multitude of accessories including 3 Legged Thing tripod, Platypod tripod system, Rapid straps, Lume Cube lighting, and I also use a DJI Mavic Pro for aerials.
Tony Dalton Photography
Tony Dalton Photography is based in Ireland.
(1) Through experience and technology changes I have adapted my technique for capturing images. There is certainly a bit more forward planning and thought that goes into my photography trips and remove the guesswork when it comes to the best natural light. Technology advancements have assisted in the planning stage, Google Maps, Photographers Ephemerids and Stellarium can help pinpoint the best location, ideal light and conditions for a given date and tyime of year. These apps take some of the guess work out of the shoot. Of course I'm always on the lookout for new locations or scenes and on the very odd occasion I get the shot first time out. More often than not I will return to a pre scouted location on several occasions during a sunset or sunrise to get the best possible quality and dramatic light. The technique for the actual capture is a simple multi exposure to ensure that I have captured the full dynamic range. Nowadays I'm thinking further ahead and in attempt to future proof my images I usually capture a range of multiple shots in both portrait and landscape to ensure that I can stitch together a hi res version of the scene for large format printing. Everything is captured in RAW and usually a few JPG's just to record the original colours in the scene. Adobe Lightroom is my workhouse and I rarely have to touch Photoshop these days unless I'm trying to salvage a poor shoot. Lightroom as a RAW editor has everything thing I need including the ability to stitch panoramics and work with multi exposures.
(2) My style is vivid, dramatic and attention capturing. Using the Golden hour and Blue hour to it maximum potential to capture the full dynamic range of light. With experience, trial and error and lots of mistakes has taught me to plan ahead and know my gear to the point of almost instinctively knowing the camera settings with out thinking. The use of the histogram is invaluable to confirm that I'm in the correct range and I will still bracket my shots as an insurance. Somethings it may require additional ND filters and polarisers to assist and when and how to use these comes with experience. Get as much right in the camera at the time of shooting including the time of day and the post processing is a breeze. The usual tweaks in Lightroom is normally all it takes to bring and scene back from RAW to original life.
(3) I'm a Canon shooter and I have built up a collection of L series lenses over the past 10 years. So I guess I'm wedded to Canon for now but really there is so little differences between some of the main players that it just isn't worth comparing unless you are a pixel peeper. Familiarity with a particular system does help (in my case Canon) , as I mentioned previously I can access and change most of the settings and functions in my camera in an instance and this can sometimes be the difference between capturing a winning shot as opposed to completely missing the moment whilst fumbling through your camera menus. It has taken me a while to collect a series of L lenses and I have simple found that good glass can "future proof" your images. All images look fantastic when printed to a small or medium size when captured on standard or quality glass. It is when there is a need to print beyond the usually sizes e.g. A2+ that the ability of a lens to resolve an images comes into play. Simply put the better quality the glass the more likely the image will retain it's quality when printed in large format. Some L lens even resolve better than others. A few of my go to lens are 16-35 f2.8 Mark III for landscape work and the bullet proof 70-200 f2.8 IS Mark II for general work. I still use the trusty 24-70 f2.8 mark I for everyday work and don't see the need to upgrade yet. These three lens are always in my bag as the cover the entire range that I need. I go through camera bodies more frequently than the lenses as you can imagine. Canon 5d Mark III and 5DSR and my workhorses and hard to beat. The only non L lens in my bag is a Samyang f2.8 14mm for night sky photography. Super quality lens for the money if you can live with the manual focus. The final item I will not compromise on mainly learned through painful experience, is a quality tripod and head system is a must. An extremely stable platform and remote trigger and good technique can supercharge your photographs regardless of what type of lens you are using. A good platform is as invaluable as good glass.
I am a landscape photographer based in Duluth, Mn. I spend most of the year traveling around the country, and I am always looking for new places to discover. I photograph the places I visit to share the beauty I see, and to cherish the memories of places I have been.
(1) I start this process simply by taking a walk. I look for a place of interest for me, (usually a woodland, someplace with rivers or streams) and start to hike until something catches my eye. Then I just explore the area, to find the best vantage point to convey the feeling of the scene. I will try and determine if the photo is best depicted as a grand landscape (i.e. wide angle) that will include as much of the landscape as possible, or is it a close up, isolated image of a single subject?
(2) I want the person viewing my images to experience the same sense of wonder I felt standing there while capturing the image. I am looking to inspire people to go out and explore, and to find their own special place, and experience their own sense of wonder. I try to do this by having an anchor point in the photo. Weather it is a foreground element, or just a simple point of view, I want the viewer to feel as though they are standing there looking at the landscape in front of them, and experiencing the surroundings. My Post processing is mostly done in Lightroom. Simple adjustments, Whites, Blacks, Clarity. Not much else. Lightroom will do most of the heavy lifting for me in the post-processing department.
(3) I love my Canon 5D Mark IV, it just feels comfortable in my hands, and is easy for me to use. My favorite gear in the field would have to be my LEE filter lit. I am a big fan of long exposures, so my LEE Big Stopper, Little Stopper, and my 3 stop ND filters are my favorites. That plus a 105mm circular polarizer, and I am good to go. That and tripod, I need a tripod.
Wojciech is a landscape photographer based in Warsaw, Poland. He loves to travel the world and photograph its natural beauty. When he is not travelling, he is probably editing his images. He is also accomplished software developer currently working in HDRsoft company on Photomatix Pro HDR software. But he started software development years ago as a graphics and AI programmer in video games companies.
(1) It really depends on the scene and what I want to convey in a particular image. Sometimes I will use HDR if dynamic range of the scene is very big (e.g. during sunset), sometimes I will long exposure to create particular mood (e.g. to make the scene look calmer or more dramatic). Of course, both techniques require using a tripod which is essential accessory to me.
(2) Most of my images are colour landscape photos with vibrant colours taken near sunrise or sunset. More and more of them are long exposure photos.In my images I try to show the beauty of the world we all live in. So I usually get up early (or go to the location at sunset), often when it's still dark and wait for the best light of the day to appear. I usually shoot from a tripod using wide angle lens but sometimes I will also use tele lens to focus on specific details of the landscape.As for the processing, I usually start with Photomatix Pro to create HDR image which I then later edit in ON1 Photo Raw or Photoshop. If my image isn't HDR I start with ON1 software and finish the editing in Photoshop.The key in my processing is to keep the things as natural as possible. I often make some adjustments to the image, leave it for half an hour, come back to it, fine-tune it (what usually means making the adjustments smaller), leave it for some time again, ans so on. It's a lengthy and often tedious process.
(3) I'm using Canon cameras and lenses 99% of time (although I have small Sony backup camera). As for the processing I'm using Photomatix Pro to create HDR images, ON1 Photo Raw to develop RAWs and Photoshop for any more advanced editing I need.
Alex Vision Photography
Alex Miller is a landscape and commercial photographer based in Oregon. He has worked with many different companies such as Keller Williams Realty and other local real estate agents, Out In Oregon Photography, Focal Point Photography, DMNDR, Salem- Keizer & Portland Public Schools, several brands on Instagram and many other clients in Oregon, Washington and California.
(1) Every scene I capture requires some different technique usually. When I shoot landscapes, I always use a tripod to keep my photos sharp corner to corner. I like to use a high f-stop when shooting landscapes as well to keep everything in focus. (Unless I'm creating something creative) My images haven't always looked how they do. I used to wonder how to create those 'magical' looking photographs, but it really comes down to understanding lighting angles, using proper exposures and using the fundamental rules in photography. If you want to make your photos look like those famous photographers you see, it comes down to practice and using the fundamentals of photography and understanding your camera. I always tell people that are newer to completely understand their cameras before upgrading. You might think the newest, fanciest camera will make your photos better, but it comes down to your eye and your understanding. (Many might not want to hear this but post-processing plays a big role as well.) No matter how against photo editing you are, I can almost guarantee you won't stand out unless you process your photos well and to your liking.
(2) I approach each image differently. Obviously I want my images by very visually appealing and show the beauty of nature, but the deeper part is that I want my images to make people pay attention to nature and all of the great things it has to offer. It's easy to get caught up in the artificial world of social media and the day to day grind of a job. We forget that we ARE nature. We came from nature. As a society we are quickly becoming digital everything and there's a reason people are so depressed. The more we get away from nature and into this artificial society we are creating, this problem will persist. So if I can inspire people to enjoy, protect and love our planet more, than I am doing my job. I want to use my art to combat depression because it helps me with mine. That is the baseline of what I try to convey in my art. The only way to convey anything in your photo is to FEEL it while your creating the image. Photography is more than a pretty picture, it's a feeling in a moment in time. Another big secret, is don't share all of your photos. I only share my best work. I have hundreds of edited photos I will never release because they don't capture that feeling that I want to convey.
(3) The gear I use to create my photos is a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a few different lenses and my tripod. I use Lightroom and Photoshop to process my images. I'm not a gear junkie by any means. I try to keep everything as simple as possible. 95% of my work was captured with only a camera and lens. Don't let people fool you into believing you need to buy all these extras just to create a beautiful image. While in some cases a filter makes a big difference, it really isn't make or break.
I am a Dutch landscape photographer, living in the city of Zoetermeer. I love framing beautiful landscapes, authentic cities and wonderful nature, wherever I go.
(1) I always try different compositions at a scene. An interesting foreground helps or a 'see through' composition with depth. Also I check if holding the camera near the ground makes the picture more interesting for example. Usually I take bracketed images so I have more options in post processing.
(2) As a landscape photographer, I try to bring the beauty of the place and the moment to the viewer of the photo. With post-processing I think balance is important. I want an image to look natural in general and not overprocessed. I make an exception in some cases with e.g. some HDR photos because it can give an effect that adds to the mood.
(3) Sony is my brand from the start. The A7RII camera I use is the best on the market for its generation. I love shooting with it. For lenses I also favor Sony, because they have such excellent quality lenses for this camera. But I'm also very much impressed by Sigma lenses, of which I used a couple in the past.For post-processing I use Lightroom, sometimes Photoshop and Photomatix.
I am a landscape and travel photographer from Northern Italy. I am passionate about nature, travelling and the great outdoors.
(1) Whenever I get obsessed with a particular location, I always try to scout as much as possible of the area to find the best spots to portray its features. Spending time hiking in the area is also essential to get the feel of the place, to explore new perspectives and to study the weather patterns. I believe that this approach establishes a deeper connection between the location and myself and the final image will definitely be influenced by my experiences on the field, adding a personal and original touch to it. Depending on the scene and location, I will also rely on landscape photography best friends, light and composition, to achieve the image I have envisioned. In this way, the final shot has definitely something more meaningful than other pictures and it feels authentic.
(2) The final goal of my photography is to inspire people to explore, appreciate and protect our planet. In this frantic world of ours, we sometimes forget that Nature is our biggest resource and that it should be protected and taken care of. I also love to emphasise the raw power of wild and remote locations, which is a rare sight in this ever-expanding world. I try to convey these feelings through different post-processing techniques; from a dark and moody workflow to a more detail-oriented processing for those intimate scenes. I really hope that people could realise a bit more the value of our natural world through my images. I know it's a bold statement, but it's worth a shot (pun intended).
(3) I truly believe that cameras, lenses and software are not that important, but they are just a mean to achieve your final photographs and to unleash your creativity. The technology side of photography has to be second nature and cannot hinder your creative flow once in the field. Therefore, it doesn't matter what camera or lens you're using, the important thing is that you know how to use them well, so they won't hurt your vision and creativity. Having said that, I think the most important tool for my photography is definitely filters such as CPL and GNDs (which I rely on constantly in the field) and both Photoshop and Lightroom for my post-processing side.
My name is Thomas alias Germanadventurer. I am 25 years old and a photographer with a passion for the outdoors and an everlasting desire to explore new corners of the globe. My wanderlust often takes me off the beaten trek to capture unique moments of adventure. I am always ready to go the extra mile for an amazing view or a new experience.
(1) One of my favorite types of motives is a dramatic landscape in the mountains with a passive or active person in the middle ground, giving the viewer a scale of the scenery. It is not easy to get a great perspective and image composition, especially because the terrain is often difficult. The photographer and the subject person have to be in contact and both have to move around to eventually find a good composition. I try to take the photo from various standpoints and instruct the person to take multiple positions as well, because it is often easier to decide what the best composition is, once you see the images on a bigger screen back home. I like to follow the rule of thirds and when it is possible I let lines (for example of a mountain, river or path) run into a corner of the picture.
(2) I want to convey a sense of raw adventure and I strive to evoke a desire in others to explore and experience the portrayed places themselves. I love taking the viewer on a journey, telling a story that has not been told before and motivating people to go where not many have gone. For that I go to remote places with a unique scenery and try to capture them in great light and in an angle that shows the wildness and the vastness of a place. What helps me to get the feeling of adventure across to the viewer is that I don't just go to the places for the sake of a picture, but that I usually capture a moment of our own genuine adventure. I take my pictures in RAW and try to be on the dark side of the spectrum to avoid burnt highlights in the sky. In post-processing I have over time dialed back a little the amount of vibrance and clarity I add and now slightly desaturate and darken pictures while increasing contrast selectively with the tone curve. I also frequently use graduated filters and moderate split toning to slightly adjust the warmth or mood of a picture.
(3) For my photos in the mountains and other difficult terrain I need to be flexible and at the same time handle difficult lighting conditions. At the moment I use the compact camera Sony RX100 III and a lightweight foldable tripod for this. I like to use exposure bracketing to have the option to create an HDR image, if the lighting requires it. I also love to experiment with long-exposures and depth of field. For scenes on less difficult terrain I am on the lookout for a new DSLR at the moment.For post-processing generally I use Lightroom 6 and for HDR images various programs like Photomatix Pro and SNS-HDR.
Nature and Landscape Photographer from California capturing the beauty of the world.
(1) I focus mostly on landscape photography so capturing what I want can take time, patience and a lot of work mostly because you need to find the best composition, the right exposure and if you want to get all the dynamic range sometimes you need to take different exposures of the same scene. Finding the best composition is sometimes the hardest part, you need to explore different angles, position your subject in different places until you find what you want, so you need a lot of patience. Then once you have your shot or shots it is time to post-process them, it is time to bring your RAW images back to life, this process can take several rounds, after I post-process one image I try to leave alone for a few days and come back to it to see with fresh eyes and see if there is anything I want to do differently.
(2) What I want to show in my photos is the beauty the places I visit, I want to help transport people to these places hoping they can see the beauty of nature and maybe make them want to protect it. I try to capture these places with the best light possible when they are looking their best, getting as much as I can of the final photo in camera and when I post-process them put what I have in mind of that moment in the photo.
(3) I have reduced my number of lenses to 3, an ultra wide angle lens, a wide angle and a telephoto, this is all I need in term of lenses to capture all the different compositions I want from my landscapes, my tripod and my filters are very important as well. My tripod helps get sharper images and it is incredibly helpful when taking several exposures of the different scene. I use filters ND filters for long exposures, graduated and polarizer filters to manage light better. In terms of Software I use PhotoPills and The Photographers Ephemeris apps to plan my shots along with weather apps, www.cleardarksky.com to check on how the clouds are going to be and sometimes webcams if available.
In 2013 I have decided to change my life – pack a backpack and travel the world. I have purchased my first digital camera and started to publish small trip reports about the beautiful experiences I have made on my travels around South East Asia, Australia and South America. 4 years later I am using different lenses, filters, tripods and post processing software. I am currently based in Germany, working as a primary school teacher. With my photography I want to inspire people to go out and explore.
(1) First of all I try to picture the image inside my inner eye without looking through the viewfinder of my camera. In that way I can already see whether it is worth setting up the camera or not. If everything comes together perfectly (light; compositional elements; foreground, middle ground and background) I look through the viewfinder of my camera and try to find the perfect position for my tripod. The last bit is just setting up the perfect exposure and determine the style I want the photo to look like. If I want a long exposure effect I use ND filters, if I want to take reflections off the surface of something I use a circular polarizer. It always depends on the scene.
(2) I want to take the viewer into the scene and evoke a feeling. My style is a mix between realistic post processing and capturing a beautiful scene in it's best condition.
(3) I am using the first model of the Sony A7R-series which is a top camera with an unbelievable dynamic range. I use the Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar 16-35mm F4.0 lens. It is a perfect setup for shooting landscapes and travel. I also have a Tamron 70-200mm in my camera bag.
For more articles on image editing technique, please check out the editing technique resource page!