How To » Creative walls
During the summer of 2006, while researching The Photographer's Guide to Cape Cod and the Islands, I was faced with a dilemma. The Cape and Islands are among the nation's most revered vacation destinations—over four million people visit every year. The beaches, lighthouses, and harbors have been photographed to death. How was I to make images for this book—images that say "Cape Cod"—while still presenting some unique and fresh imagery?
While there is no simple answer, these are some suggestions for when you feel like you've hit a creative wall.
Look first, shoot second
I'm sure you know the feeling. You show up at an amazing location just before sunset. You jump out of the car, set up the tripod, and start shooting. After the light has faded, while packing up your gear, you notice a nice rock formation about 50 yards away that would have made the perfect foreground. Even though sometimes we can't resist the excitement of getting started right away, the first thing to do is wander around the location, scouting out the best possible vantage point or subject. Next, explore all the possible angles and perspectives, using an imaginary rectangle to frame up compositions. Finally, get out the tripod, set it up exactly where you want, and take the shot.
Change your point of view
The position of your camera in relation to the position of your subject tends to either emphasize its importance (if you're looking up at your subject) or deemphasize it (if you're looking down on your subject). When photographing wildlife or small macro subjects like wildflowers, I often shoot from their eye level. This often involves getting low, sometimes putting the camera directly on the ground.
Experiment and play
Sometimes you need to let your inner child out to play. If you are shooting digitally, it doesn't cost anything to try something truly bizarre. For example, try a multi-second exposure while walking through a forest at the peak of fall foliage. The resulting impressionistic photograph may reveal a totally new way of seeing the world.
For those using digital equipment, use your LCD monitor. It may seem obvious, but the instant gratification of seeing your photo on the LCD screen is the single greatest advantage of a digital camera. I can't tell you how many times I have framed up a perfect shot, then reviewed it on the monitor and found an offending twig or power line peeking into a corner. I review almost every shot I take, and 90% of the time I can find a way to improve my composition as a result.
Now get out there and make some great photographs!