Essay

Strengthening the creative muscle

Since 2015, I’ve published here six days a week. People ask me how I do it. Well, here’s how — and you can do it, too.

A portrait of the photographer
Me out working on this blog

I set aside time almost every day to work on the blog. I get up earlier than I otherwise need to every weekday so I have at least one morning hour to brainstorm post ideas, write, and/or process photographs. I often spend my entire Saturday morning working on this blog.

I write about a well-known set of things. They say there’s no greater tyranny than a blank page. I’ve overcome that by narrowing down the kinds of things I write about. Most of my articles are reviews of photo gear and film, road-trip reports, essays, and personal stories. My fallback is to write about photographs I’ve made, whatever comes to mind. Even though my shtick is varied, it’s not overbroad. Truly, to generate an article all I need to do is buy an old camera or a kind of film I’ve never shot before, use it, and write about the experience. Or take a day trip to some Indiana city, photograph it, and write about it. The best part is that these are things I enjoy doing anyway. Sharing the experience with you heightens my pleasure with it.

Through these things, I’ve built a strong creative muscle. The more I publish, the more I publish. Once I start generating and executing on ideas, more and more ideas generally come. Sometimes I have more ideas than I have time for! If I don’t write them down, I lose them. Other times, work or family consume my time and thoughts. When that happens, idea flow slows or even stops. To re-prime the idea pump, all I have to do is pick a kind of article I normally write, and write one. My go-to is to choose a photograph and write whatever comes to mind about it. Then I write another, and another. Very soon, article ideas start flowing in again.

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Photography

The joy of photographing

I’ve started sorting through this year’s photographs to find my ten favorite. I do this every year for a post just before the new year. See my past annual posts here.

I made more images this year than in any year before. But a lower percentage of them were good.

In 2020 I have used photography as a distraction from considerable stress. It hasn’t been only COVID — it’s also been family and work stress, at times intense. Sometimes it’s been too much to cope with all at once. Getting out with a camera let me take my mind off it for a while.

I photographed near home a lot; since I’ve been working from home, I’m here a lot. But I’ve also made some short trips just to make photographs. Whether by car or by bike, the trips themselves fill my bucket. I explore and see new places, or familiar places at different times of year. I especially enjoy the scents — the sweetness of new spring flowers, the freshness of mown grass and hay in the summer, the earthiness of fallen autumn leaves. It’s even been interesting to feel the weather: hot sun, cool overcast, rain.

Holliday Road Bridge

Wherever I stop for a photograph, I spend time with the subject. I get to know it a little by walking around it looking for the best angles. I enjoy it most when I’m in a remote place where others are unlikely to encounter me. I’m so self-conscious with a camera when I’m in public!

Central Indiana Telephone Co.

I photograph what seems interesting to me in the moment. Frequently when I look at the resulting images I see that the subject wasn’t that interesting after all, or that I couldn’t find an interesting way to see it. But it’s fun to try to find that interesting composition.

Maybe it’s just gravy when I nail a composition. I get so much pleasure out of simply using my cameras — the ones I’ve kept, anyway, after thinning the herd. I’ve shot my Yashica-12 a lot this year, and the more I use it the more I love it. Given that it’s a TLR, it’s a big brick in the hands. But its form factor fades away as I work the silken controls to control exposure and make the subject crisp, as I look through the magnifier built in over the focusing screen.

I’ve also shot the Olympus OM-2n often. I only got it this year and am still getting to know it. But that’s fun, too, when something about a new-to-me camera delights me for the first time.

I love it when I get a roll full of beautiful images. But even when I don’t, if I enjoyed everything about all the previous steps, I have no reason to be dissatisfied.

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