Digital photographers at every level have those moments, similar to writer’s block, when they don’t know what to shoot. Beginner photographers have taken seemingly millions of pictures of family members and friends, but are ready to find new subject matter for their cameras. Amateur photographers with intermediate skills have experienced much success, but may have become too focused on technique and have forgotten to let their imaginations run free. Even professional photographers’ vision is often restricted by expectations of clients. Pros occasionally need to forget the demands of deadlines and business and clear their heads.
You may have one or two methods for jolting you from your photography subject matter funk, but if you don’t, then consider escaping to a wild place to find your Muse.
A little background will be helpful here. The Nine Muses of Greek mythology were the daughters of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of Memory. As the ancient Greek writer, Hesiod, wrote, “He is happy whom the Muses love. For though a man has sorrow and grief in his soul, yet when the servant of the Muses sings, at once he forgets his dark thoughts and remembers not his troubles. Such is the holy gift of the Muses to men.”
Heady stuff, but it still rings (or sings) true almost 3,000 years later for the photographer in you who needs creative inspiration. In modern terms, finding your Muse is much like emptying your head of day-to-day tasks, responsibilities and problems and making a stronger connection with the “natural” world to help you find balance. That’s why it’s helpful to schedule some time in a wild place, alone, in an environment that is both calming and dynamic, but far from the noise and fast-paced life we all must live.
You shouldn’t have to drive far from home to find a state park or forest area where you’re able to walk from a path into the woods, across a plain or onto a beach. Look for a comfortable place to sit on the ground; it’s important you are in contact with the natural surface of the Earth. The critical key is to leave your camera at home! Finding your Muse has nothing to do with your camera, but with the mental mechanism in you. One of the excellent outcomes of this exercise is that you will wish you had your camera with you because you’re suddenly unblocked and see dozens of interesting photos to take.
Now that you’re comfortable, open all your senses to the elements that define the place: what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Take a number of deep breaths to stimulate your olfactory sense and learn of this place through your nose. Close your eyes and concentrate on just listening to the natural sounds: wildlife and the wind, and the noises it causes. Then, focus your attention through your eyes. Recognize both the elements of the natural environment around you, but also the shapes, lines and textures the elements create. Look closely at the direction of the light and how it illuminates the elements. Try to remain there for a number of hours or return later, so you can observe the exact same scene from the same position, but with the light shifted to a different angle.
Once you’ve absorbed the totality of your wild place, move closer to individual elements (tree, flower, twig on the ground, etc.) you noticed earlier and focus on the details of that single living organism or inanimate object. Study it carefully and, again, observe how the light strikes it and its shapes, lines and textures. Do this with three or four separate elements. You may find it interesting to return to your original position and look at these elements from that distance again. Now that you know more about each of them, you may perceive them differently than earlier.
One of the Greek Muses from Mt. Olympus may not materialize from the ether to whisper sweet inspiration in your ear, but this exercise will bring you back to the basics of observing and relating to simple objects in a natural environment. With a renewed perspective, you should be able to re-enter your hectic world and discover a new enthusiasm for any type of digital photography at any skill level.
Part of your enthusiasm will be to expand your photography skills, so you can take advantage of whatever the Muse whispered in your ear. A good place to start is to click here.
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