Make it a Creative New Year

Mountains and Pack Ice, Port Lockroy area, Antarctica

We have all heard the argument:  that all the pictures out there have already been taken, that we are so inundated with images of icons and familiar locations that it is impossible to remain creative in this age of image ubiquity. Yes, I also get tired of seeing visual retreads, copies of Galen Rowell shots, or images of vistas so achingly familiar as to be immediately irrelevant. But does that mean creativity is dead?  Hardly. But true creativity has less to do with subject matter than approach. I have been a photographer for all my adult life - I just turned 60 - but  I never feel that I have exhausted the world of visual possibilities. Yes, I can get into a rut, but I can also be deeply inspired by other people's work and ideas.

Case in point: on my recent voyage to Antarctica, I was the National Geographic lecturer, a position I shared with iconic underwater NG photographer David Doubilet.  Seeing him at work, and seeing his marvelous underwater work refreshed me, and my visual thinking. But then again, I was also inspired by  images taken by many of the guests - amateurs all. You might think that 100 people with cameras in a single location would all come away with more or less the same pictures. Not so. People were trying all sorts of things - different lenses, different angles, different approaches. On the last night of the trip, in fact, when we showcased a selection of everyone's work on-screen, I saw dozens of forehead-slapping, wish-I-had-done-that shots. (NOTE: some of these were taken with pocket cameras)

That, in turn, inspired me to try new things, to shake off old habits and be more experimental. So, do you want to make a New Year's Photo Resolution? Resolve to make your photography more creative, more risky, more unpredictable in 2012. How?  Here are some quick thoughts:

1. Mix things up:  Don't shoot all your landscapes in the classic "calendar style" - with a nice foreground leading into a sunlit background. Force yourself to go out of your comfort zone for an entire day by shooting landscapes ONLY with a telephoto. You will be amazed by what you get.

2. Experiment: Don't like the light? Try shooting a scene anyhow, and see what it looks like in black and white. (The picture above worked MUCH better in B&W than it did in rather drab color.)  Want to get really crazy with color?  Keep your image in color, but try playing with it in CURVES in Photoshop: make the line look like an oscilloscope (full of up and down loops) and you will get some amazing color effects.

3. Learn Something New: Yes, take out your camera manual and read a section you've never seen before!  There are buttons, shortcuts and tools that can help stretch your technique and accomplish things you didn't know you could. Trust me, I'm still finding treasures in those sub-menus.

4. Skip the Postcard shots: This may be the hardest of all photo-habits to shake. Photography is an oddly possessive art form: we all want to take pictures of the icons we have seen before, whether it is the tunnel view at Yosemite or dawn in the Bryce Canyon amphitheater. Yes, these places are beautiful, but resolve in 2012 to find a place, somewhere near you,  which you've NEVER seen photographed. Go out and make it yours. If you do, I suspect you will feel a startling sense of freedom, and a new birth of creativity.

Have a wonderful New Year

Nikon D3, 24-70mm lens, B&W Conversion


    Kevin, a very Happy and Successful New year to you and yours! I like your advice and will try to accept the challanges that you are proposing. To me photography has always been trying to get the viewer look at something in a different way than they have in the past. Even an oft photographed iconic landscape can be imaged from a different perspective to bring out some detail that a casual observer may overlook. Your telephoto lens advice hits home on that one. In regard to the Postcard shots, those kind of landscapes are everywhere and new icons are just waiting to be found. So one of my resolutions is to find some of them!

    Excellent tips, Kevin, especially tip #1. I recall someone saying there are two kinds of photographers – those who always reach for a wide angle first, and those who reach first for a telephoto. I’m a telephoto guy, but this coming year I’m going to try to reach for the wide angle more often. In the past I’ve spent an entire day shooting with a single prime lens, and I appreciate the way it forces me to slow down and work hard to find interesting compositions. I imagine working more often with a wide angle will do the same. Thanks to you, and to all the photographers on the OP blog for the invaluable insights and amazing images you offer. Happy New Year!

    Nice piece! Thanks for reminding me that the head and heart behind the lens are just as important as the scene in front of it.

    I’m a new subscriber to OP, and I look forward to reading your blog in 2012.

    Best Wishes,



    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas. I have been yearning to break out of the postcard mode and have been experimenting a bit. When you mentioned viewing those ametuers photos it really makes you realize that there are infinite ways to photograph a scene. With my postcard photos I have really strived for originality yet I have overlaped on some of Galens works in the Eastern Sierra only because I live there and have been shooting and visiting these places even before he captured some of those images. I will be taking some of your advice that you mention here and try to create some new images. I have some of my work posted in the O.P. 4th annual natures colors contest and the my favorite places gallerys ( If you were interested. ) Thanks again,

    Rob Henderson

    First of all, lucky you for living in the eastern Sierra! Yes, it’s hard not to tread in Galen’s footprints out there, but there are still thousands of pictures that he never got to take. (and we’re the poorer for it) Try new things, keep experimenting..and have fun. Thanks for commenting, Rob.

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