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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Find Your Inspiration

Pull yourself out of the regular day-to-day grind to ignite your creative side

I left photography behind to pursue a more traditional career in my 20s and 30s. When I had my daughter at age 35, I left the workplace and suddenly found myself with time to explore photography again. This was around the time that digital photography and digital printing were becoming available to consumers. I got a Nikon Coolpix 3-megapixel digicam, which was state of the art back then, an Epson printer and a dose of inspiration that I'm still following to this day. I don't think having a baby is required to kickstart your inspiration; however, it's important to give yourself the gift of time to allow exploration and skill development.

Once you've discovered what inspires you about photography, it's important to develop your vision through what I call "inner work." If you can't See (with a capital S to signify not just seeing with your eyes, but seeing with your heart) it, you can't photograph it. How do you See? Nourish your creative self. I find that reading poetry helps me. Readers of my books will know that I'm partial to Richard Wilbur and Octavio Paz, among others. Poetry helps develop a sense of metaphor that enhances your creative eye and opens the heart to inspiration. I also find inspiration in literature from some of the great nature writers such as Annie Dillard and teachers such as Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way series. For some people, a more physical approach works better, such as the pursuit of yoga or distance running. Just about anything that jolts you out of your day-to-day thinking routines is worth exploring.

Immersing yourself in the natural world, either for a day or backpacking for a week, is a way to really start to See again. It's important to regularly remove ourselves from our cars, offices and iPhones to reconnect with the natural world. If you want to photograph the great iconic shots in our national parks while on vacation, by all means do. I take issue with some photography critics who call it cliché to produce yet another beautiful image of a great natural scene. The reason so many people flock to witness these locations is because they inspire us with their grandeur. Just because everyone takes a picture there doesn't minimize the effect these locations have on us. They make us feel part of a larger, more beautiful world. The key is to remove yourself from the viewpoint parking lot and explore so you can find different perspectives to share. Challenge yourself to find something wonderful and unique in these iconic places. My best-selling prints of Yosemite aren't those from Tunnel View. They're the ones taken off the beaten path that came as complete surprises to me.

The picture I've included with this column is an example of this. "Morning Frost" was taken one morning after watching sunrise at Valley View. The image incorporates what I call "gestures in the landscape," something that I can't quite consciously explain but that feels right, like a well-expressed metaphor. Finding and Seeing images like this is what nurturing inspiration is all about.

See more of Elizabeth Carmel's photography at elizabethcarmel.com and thecarmelgallery.com. Workshop information is available at elizabethcarmel.com.


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