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Pushing Yourself – Visually

Tuesday 2 November 2010

This past Saturday morning I led my Landscape Photography class on a morning field session down in the hamilton Beach area. We started off right under the Skyway Bridge at the canal leading from Burlington Bay to Lake Ontario – not the prettiest place at the best of times and this was October 30th: grey skies with the temperature at about 3°C, and few leaves left on the few trees in the area which was mostly aged cement and steel.

“Why are we here?” was the first and often-repeated question.

I believe that if you want to stretch your vision, you must work in visually challenging places. Once you have the technique down, it is relatively easy to make great landscapes in beautiful places. But are they visually dynamic images? Perhaps, if you have learned to create visually dynamic images. That only happens when you have truly challenged yourself.

What do I mean by “visually dynamic images”. These are images that visually “pop”. Images that show a different perspective, a different way of seeing. Images that make use of visual elements in the landscape and portray them in a creative way.

You can do all this in pretty places, but often we don’t because we are not forced to. There are plenty of beautiful photos that you can take just by standing there. Visually dynamic images often require a different perspective, a perspective that we may not consider if we are busy capturing the obvious.

I try to get photographers to think in terms of good, better and best. In a beautiful place, you can take good to better photos without working very hard, but what about the best photos – they are the ones that require a new and different perspective.

Going to a location that is visually challenging to begin with forces you to go beyond the obvious because the obvious is not very photogenic. Consider it a “sketching” outing: you may not come away with a photo contest winner, but what you are doing is exercising your brain, forcing it to see beyond the obvious. I tell my students that this is the practice that allows you to hone your visual skills so that when you get to that grand location, your images will be well beyond the snapshots everyone else is taking.

While I generally prefer to photograph alone, in this case it helps to go in a group so that you can feed off the different ideas and perspectives that others think of.

So, find a nearby location that is not visually stimulating and see what you come up with. Try going back more than once at different times of day and throughout the seasons.After a couple of years of this I will bet that you have more than few images worthy of showing.

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