Awaken The Artist Within
About a year or so ago, I found myself in a deep, creative rut. I felt I had a good understanding of the technical skills, I had put in a lot of hours of hard work, and I had tried my best, but I had arrived to a point where I felt my images didn't have any meaning, no central message, and ultimately, I became flat out bored. I felt like I was just making photographs and not works of art. A pretty picture can be enjoyable to look at, but does it ultimately mean anything? Does it teach the viewer about who I am?
I decided to start looking through dozens of artists' galleries and dissect their images, trying to figure out what it was that moved me about their work, what gave it that artistic quality. After weeks and weeks of investigating, I was able to awaken something inside myself and learn how to express my message with the world through my photographs. It's been a long journey and I constantly continue to find ways to improve, but I have tried to simplify the main things I have learned into these 5 points. I hope that they can help you to make that transition and find more meaning in your pursuit of the images you create.
1. Be Original: I'm sure this one made you roll your eyes, you've already heard it a million times before. Be different, be unique, create new things, but hasn't everything already been done by now? Art is a creation, duplicating that creation is then called mass production. Robots and machines can produce, but only artists can create, which is why they are irreplaceable. The basic definition of any kind of art form is expressing yourself by creating something. Each of us is unique as we all are raised in different places, times, and circumstances. No two of us are alike in every way. As long as your creations reflect what is going on inside you, your work will always be seen as original art, instead of regurgitated ideas and visions that were conceived by others. Show us your unique perspective of the places you visit. Show us your world, how you see through your eyes. A true artist that follows his inner voice doesn't need to travel to never before seen locations to produce never before seen imagery.
2. Have A Central Focus: Artistic imagery tells a story. I'm sure you have heard someone say this before but you probably asked yourself, "how am I supposed to tell a story without words?" Every story needs a main character for it to be about. Only having one character makes a story boring, so we can also include supporting characters to help complement the hero, but if we include too much, the attention gets diluted and our hero will lose the spotlight. When you see a grand scene, and you try to include everything, your image doesn't tell us anything about yourself. Close in on what interests you most about the places you visit. Make it clear what it is you want to share with the world. Every single thing you include in your frame should complement the idea or story you are trying to tell your viewers. If you want us to know what time of the year it is for example, you can include some hints for the viewer such as fall foliage, spring flowers, or snow surrounding the subject. If you want to tell more about what the area is like around the hero you've chosen, you can include other objects like waterfalls, trees, streams or surrounding mountains but make sure none of them are included in a way that will distract the viewer from what is most important. This is what I like to refer to as "conscious shooting."
3. Chase The Light: Ok now you really must think I'm dumb. You're probably saying "of course the light is important in photography. Shoot sunsets, colorful skies, golden hour, etc. We know this Eric, we aren't stupid." But what I mean is don't just shoot pretty light, but make sure the light you are shooting really works for your scene. Let the light dictate what and how you shoot. You can't control the light but you can choose what you do with it. Make sure the light happening in your scene is complementing the story you are trying to tell. Make sure it is helping you draw interest in the subject you have chosen for the composition. If it doesn't, figure out when the light would work best and return then. Allow yourself enough time to be able to wait around for the ideal lighting conditions you know would work best. Be open to the brief, spontaneous events of unique light that can happen at any moment and disappear in the blink of an eye. I often find that some of my most artistic images I've created tend to not be planned beforehand. Always be open to capture what moves you and that it might not necessarily be the comp you are already set up to shoot.
4. Travel To Places You Connect With: The world we live in is unarguably beautiful, but we all have certain seasons, landscapes, and climates that we relate with more than others. Let what you are drawn to most decide where you go. Ignore what's popular, what's been shot, and what is easily accessible. Follow your heart instead and base your choices to go places on what you truly want to see for yourself. You will have much more profound, personal experiences that will transmit through the images you create and touch those that see it.
5. Shoot For Yourself: It's super important to always keep your focus on what you want to shoot and follow your inner voice amongst all the noise and pressure around us. Don't try to cater to the masses by letting popular opinions influence your work. Once something is used as the means to an end it loses its special essence, its magic. Art is a creative process and that process itself should be the reward, not the things that can result because of it. Money, fame, and praise should always remain the results of your artwork and never become the cause. Once these things become your main motivation your heart will no longer be in your work and your images will become bland, mundane, and meaningless. “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in; put second things first and we lose both first and second things." - CS Lewis.
Being an artist isn't like being in some exclusive club. It isn't something that is only achievable by a certain few, or by some elite, privileged group of people. All it takes is figuring out how to effectively express the emotions you have inside you. The truth is, we are all artists, just not all of us create art. We are all equally capable, we just have to figure out how to awaken the artist that is deep down inside of each of us.