Create for Yourself

ImageMaker photography tip number 2
You cannot create photography (or any other form of art) for a fictional, ideal customer or buyer. You can only create for yourself.

Now obviously if you are shooting commercial photography for a client you must please the client. That is a different situation and shooting to please the client is a core part of the job.  And a job it is in that situation.

But when you are creating images with no single, definite customer in mind, you need to concentrate on only pleasing yourself. This is especially true of the fine art photographer and the hobbyist.

Why is this? Because one of the keys to creating strong work is maintaining the integrity of your images. You can’t do this if you are second guessing yourself and trying to please someone else who may or may not even exist. By the same token, don’t create for your spouse, camera club judge, parents, friends or instructor.

You must be true to yourself.

Strong Emotion Is Powerful

ImageMaker photography tip number 1
Shoot what you love and what you hate.
Anything you are ambivalent
about, leave.

Emotions are powerful and two of the strongest are love and hate. When you are passionate about something your emotions will be strong. The strong emotion you have (either way, love or hate) will eventually lead you to stronger images. When we have wishy-washy feelings about a subject we risk creating wishy-washy images.

We also want our viewers to have a strong reaction to our images. Love the images is great. Hate the images with a passion is also great, because we have made a lasting impression. If you are building a reputation in your photography, effectively branding yourself, awareness of your name is important. All the people who hates Andre Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ’ did nothing to hurt his career and in fact greatly advanced it.

Strong emotional response is your aim, both yours when coming to the subject and your viewers when they see the result of your imagemaking.

Depression and Creativity

Being creative is supposed to be one of the greatest things in the world. But it is my observation that there is a down side that is often there, under the surface, depression.
(Usual warning – this article contains personal experience and is no substitute for professional advice).

If you are a photographer or digital artist you probably think of yourself as creative. Creativity is a great joy, being able to pull something wonderful, beautiful or even disturbing out of stimulation that others do not see. The classic stereotypes of creative people include being ‘different’, sometimes self-centered, a bit ‘floaty or not nailed down, etc. But what can also go with creativity is a tendency to depression.

Dictionary definitions of depression define it as severe sadness and feeling dejected. It covers a broad range from being flat or sad for an extended period of time through to deep depression where people can’t get out of bed, feel no enthusiasm at all for pretty much anything and can lead to suicidal thoughts, etc.

Depression manifests itself in many ways for creative people. Beyond the severe end, which is completely debilitating to all aspects of their lives, it is my observation that creative people are prone to many ‘low level’ forms. This can be a general sadness when the person is not working on a creative process. I know my wife, a painter, is generally a much happier person when she is working on a series than when she is not. It can also work the other way around. It is inevitable that a creative person will have creative low periods, either where they are ready to change a form they have been doing for some time but have not yet worked out the new approach or perhaps they are working through technical problems. These normal problems can become quite a heavy weight for a creative person, driving them to deeper negative feelings than are warranted from a cool look at the situation. So a natural flat period can lead to thoughts of having ‘lost it’, of the work being no good and then the spiral has begun.

The spiral of depression is a real phenomenon, where a small issue becomes bigger and bigger, in the mind of the creative person. So computer problems come to dominate your thinking, stopping you from doing, or enjoying, anything else until it is resolved. Or a rejection from a gallery puts you in a bad mood for a whole week, affecting your relationships with those around you. I think you get the idea.

Now no two creative people are alike, not only in the degree to which they tend to get depressed but also in what triggers it. I, for example, am badly affected by computer issues and anything that hits on the finances, such as yet another disappointment from some organization I am working with, such as my art and photography teaching, when it impacts on the bottom line, dollars. These things don’t hit my wife so hard (well she avoids the computer entirely for art to avoid frustration :). She, on the other hand, can get very down when a technical issue, such as getting hold of the right materials or figuring out how to use them, holds her up from creating. This does not bother me, seeing it as a puzzle to solve (maybe it is a guy thing :).

How we behave when depressed also differs enormously. Some get very short fused. I tend to do several things: dive for comfort food, hide from the world (not answering emails, the phone, etc) and want to sleep a lot. It usually doesn’t stop me getting some things done, but my productivity is far less than when I am ok. Others shut up shop entirely. And of course there are those who are severely hit, feeling suicidal, or wanting to self-harm. Thankfully I do not have anyone in my circle of creative friends and loved ones who does that.

Depression in creative types is far more common in those who have not yet found their creative outlet. I see this in the creativity counseling I do. Such people have all this creative energy in them but no effective outlet. We often think of depression as a lack of energy, but in such people the problem is too much energy and no outlet, so it bubbles away, triggering negative thinking, self-sabotaging behaviors thought overload, etc.

One needs not to be scared to seek professional advice. If you have a good general practitioner you can talk to (if not, change), talk it out with them. Go see a counselor or psychologist. In extreme cases a psychiatrist can be a great idea. Medication can sometimes help. I’ve taken anti-depressants once in my life, following the death of my second wife. For about two weeks they really helped me through a tough time and then I found I worked better off them. I then substituted exercise (the natural endorphins you can get with heavy exercise are a great remedy). It is, I believe, important to get to the bottom of what is going on, especially if depression is a recurring issue in your life. Sometimes there can be a chemical imbalance, sometimes it is an accumulation of life experiences, a reaction to past stress, abuse or trauma or a whole range of other things. Even just having someone to talk to who is not emotionally involved can be a huge benefit. Sharing with friends or family can also be great.

Sometimes the most important thing with depression (and many other things) is to realize that you are not alone. Various studies that have been in the local press here in Australia mention that anywhere from one in eight up to 30% of people will experience depression at some time in their lives. Personally I think it is higher than that, it is just that some people have better skills at dealing with it internally (or denying or hiding it) and so no one else ever knows.

Beyond the knowledge that you are not alone, if you are prone to recurrent depression, you need to find ways to live with it or fix it. Professional advice is a key here, as they can offer strategies or medication. Everyone will be different and so your solution may be very different to anyone else’s. I find it useful to have several different creative projects on the go at once, so if I am blocked in one I still have something else to do that I can feel positive about. Likewise I also have several non-photographic or art projects that I can do if I need a complete break. There are also always books, magazines and journals around so that if I just want to chill out for awhile I can do so in a way that is uplifting rather than pulling me down. Also being me, I have a range of spiritual practices that I undertake, such as meditation, that greatly help me to stay positive. Sometimes I will channel what I would call negative energy that is building up into an art piece, exorcising it from me into the paper. A big assist is having a partner to keep you grounded and to pull you up when you need it.

And, of course, it can also be ok to feel blue. We are often convinced we have to be upbeat and happy all the time. Yet sometimes life can be a real shit. Bad things happen. Unfair things happen. Things go wrong. People can be horrible, selfish and uncaring. Sometimes it is, in fact, healthy to acknowledge this, feel the feelings for a while and then move on. I know I appreciate the great times better for occasionally knowing the not so great and rather than brushing it away, actually feeling it. And sometimes, great art comes out of being depressed.

Like everything to do with people, nothing is black and white. It is rich and complex and all part of being human. Know thyself, and find ways to work with yourself.

Foto Tips – Cod Liver Oil and Photography

Mark Alberhasky looks at life and other distractions, and how to motivate ourselves to get out with our camera and shoot
The mere words, “cod liver oil”, bring a grimace to the face of anyone who has firsthand experience with a spoonful.  For those of you without this fond memory, just understand that it’s about doing something you know you should, even though you’d rather not.  How could that relate to taking photographs, something we all enjoy, you’re asking?  Read on and get your spoon ready…
Most of us (and I include myself in this group because I’m not pushing a shutter button 365 days a year to earn a living) have the luxury of doing photography on a whim, because it’s fun.  Even if some of you want to imagine me as a hard core photo addict, the truth is I have days where I know I should be shooting, but either are too distracted by other life events, or simply want to kick back and be lazy.  The problems with this are (a) life is shorter than you think, (b) you’re going to miss some great photo ops, and (c) life is shorter than you think.
All kidding aside, it’s human nature to get waylaid now and then.  Life happens and we all prioritize.  But the take home message of today’s tip is not about those days when there really is something important commanding your attention.  Instead I’m sharing an insight that every one of us was smart enough to understand when we were about 8 years old.  As we’ve “grown up” and become responsible adults, we don’t pay much attention to this feeling any more.  What is it I’m referring to?
It’s the “I know this is good for me and I should do it, but I really don’t want to” feeling.  It comes in different flavors, from the lame, “Yeah I should, but I’ll just do it tomorrow” version, to the autopilot, “Holy    c*#p, the idea of doing that scares the hell out of me, NO WAY”.  The physical sensations that go with these states range from the little nagging  sensation that makes you rub the back of your neck and say “nahhhhh, not right now”, to a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when faced with a real challenge.  But remember, right now we’re just talking about doing things related to a leisure activity that brings us pleasure.  So I won’t try to convince you today to overpower the “NO WAY” urge, and agree to photograph a wedding, or volunteer to speak in front of 500 people.  Perhaps I can shed some light on the other end of the spectrum though, and get someone to think the next time, “I AM going to get my camera, make a little time and take advantage of this opportunity.”
Even as I write about it, I still fight the same battle you do.  Last week I got a call from one of my favorite clients, asking me to submit new work.  Some times this is an easy request to fill, but on this occasion I hadn’t been using the particular camera they were seeking images from, so I came up short.  There was a window of several days to go out and shoot, but I had other things on my mind (my wife and I are planning a move, putting our house up for sale, juggling issues with our two sons, and getting ready to leave town for three weeks).  I KNEW I should make time, take several hours and shoot some new work, but it was just too easy to say, “I’m really busy.”  I let the situation fester until there was but one day left.  I actually sort of ignored a suggestion my wife made (OK, there I said it), about shooting an antique car show, not subject matter I’d normally be excited about.  But as I drove by the display of old cars one more time, I realized I had been suppressing that little voice saying, “Here’s the opportunity right in front you; you ought to be doing this.”  So I decided to invest one hour wandering around the show.  If nothing happened, so be it.  I also asked my wife to touch base with a neighbor about shooting her grandchildren (make that photographing some children).  Once I got out the door and had a little momentum, the worst was over.  I found a few interesting things to try with the old cars, and nailed a great portrait of a young boy later in the afternoon.  But it was a real coin toss as to whether I was going to try this shoot or not.  Now I’m very happy I did (and I hope the attached photos make you agree it was worth the effort).
Mark Alberhasky photography

So, now do you see how this is like taking your cod liver oil?
The next time you “really know you should”, but are trying your best to find excuses to put it off, think again.  The hardest part is just making it out the front door.

Mark Alberhasky photography

Be well.

Mark Alberhasky Photography
270-779-6838 c
615-234-2513 f

Planes, Trains and Infrared Photography

A recent plan trip had me shooting infrared the whole trip
Recently I had to fly from Melbourne to Sydney to deliver some workshops at the Sydney Hilton.

I caught a flight up on the Thursday afternoon. Luckily I got a window seat, so I decided to try shooting IR with my converted 350D camera. Basically I shot through the whole flight of about and hour and a half. Some of the results are below.

The destination, Sydney Australia
Infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

Infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

Infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

Along the way I shot clouds:
Infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

Infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

The destination workshop location as we were setting up:
Infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

The flight home was the Friday night after the workshops. It was the night bad weather hot Sydney and I didn’t know if I was going to get out or not. So while we were stuck in the plane awaiting takeoff I shot what I could out the window:
Infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

The next morning we were off to run some workshops over the weekend up in the country at the Daylesford Foto Biennale:
Infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

Foto Tips – Bringing It All Together

Mark Alberhasky offers up a great piece of advice for those trying for that little extra something in their photography.
I just returned from teaching a photo workshop in San Francisco for the American PHOTO / PopPhoto Mentor Series.  As usual, the process of teaching others is an opportunity to revisit basic principles and renew enthusiasm for the foundations of good photo technique.
One tenet I truly believe is that by, “looking into, not through, the viewfinder” we can greatly improve the content of what we place in our images.  Another principle I stress is the importance of working a scene, so when a special moment presents itself, you are either ready or capture the moment during a series which portrays the unfolding drama.
Imagine what can happen when good fortune finds the shutter button depressed as both these approaches are at work.  When this kind of magic happens,
a picture can literally define itself inside your camera.
The story unfolds in a progression, so the accompanying images should be viewed in order.  Don’t cheat and look ahead!
We were visiting Arizona, spending a few days in Sedona, an absolutely stunning photo destination which is not the location for this story.  My wife had never seen the Grand Canyon, and when she heard others talking about a day trip during breakfast, our plans changed in an instant.  My honest reaction was to think, “We’ll only actually have about two hours there. That will be little more than torture since to do justice to the Grand Canyon would take days if not weeks.”  But she was excited at the prospect, so I shared her enthusiasm.
As you drive the south rim there are multiple scenic overlooks, where guard rails and safe tourist walk ways present millions of visitors each year with basically the same canyon views.  Glorious, yes.  Photographically novel, no.  But when faced with a compelling landscape that one may see firsthand only a few times in a life, one has to shoot.  So I did.
Now something as huge and sweeping as the Grand Canyon can actually be quite difficult to capture.  A wide angle view shows so much that the grandeur can be diluted.  Telephoto views can become such detailed studies that the scale is lost.  It can be a real quandary.  But from the perch at Lipan Point, I found an interesting promontory in the afternoon sunlight which I decided to capture against distant shaded canyon wall, with the Colorado River in the receding distance.  I carefully defined content in my viewfinder and began a short series of images, first with a wide horizontal view, then with a narrower vertical composition to study canyon wall detail.

Mark Alberhasky photography

Mark Alberhasky photography
(frames MTA_3861 and MTA_3863.
While holding the camera vertical, capturing several frames to ensure sharpness, I noticed movement at the top of the frame within an otherwise static landscape.  My breath caught and I could not believe my eyes.  A figure walked right to the edge of a sheer drop off and casually sat down.  I literally watched this happen in my viewfinder and managed to calmly continue shooting, capturing several frames until he stood back up and walked away, his companion no doubt having taken his picture from nearby.

Mark Alberhasky photography

(frame MTA_3864-1)
This momentary addition of human scale within an otherwise almost incomprehensible vista defined the image which started with this shot.
I now knew that to complete this moment I needed several additional vertical images progressing out into the canyon view for a sweeping panorama. 

Mark Alberhasky photography

(frame MTA_3864-2)
I won’t argue the element of luck involved in being there at the exact moment this young man “went for a walk”, but the sequence bears out the inherent value in studying the content of the viewfinder while continuing to work the subject within a given scene.  The proof is in the pudding!
(If I’d been shooting film I can guarantee I’d have been changing the roll as this happened!  Three cheers for digital and high capacity memory cards!)
If any of you can’t see the images within the email, you can download them from this webpage, looking for the corresponding file names:



Comet McNaught Photographs on a 400D and in Infrared with a 350D

Here are some of the shots I got of Comet McNaught while away at the beach.
Comet McNaught with a 400D
22/01/07 9:35PM AEDT, Canon 400D and Canon 17-35mm F2.8L at 17mm, f2.8 and 30 seconds at 1600ISO

I’ve just returned from five days away at the beach. While there I got the following shots of Comet McNaught over several nights. All were taken from Sorrento in Victoria, Australia.

Comet McNaught with 400D
23/01/07 9:04PM AEDT, Canon 400D and Canon 17-35mm F2.8L at 17mm, f2.8 and 30 seconds at 400ISO

Comet McNaught with a 400D
22/01/07 9:25PM AEDT, Canon 400D and Canon 17-35mm F2.8L at 17mm, f2.8 and 30 seconds at 800ISO

Comet McNaught with a 350D in IR
23/01/07 10:15PM AEDT, IR converted Canon 350D and Canon 28mm f1.8 at f1.8 and 30 seconds at 400ISO

Comet McNaught with a 400D
23/01/07 9:01PM AEDT, Canon 400D and Canon 17-35mm F2.8L at 35mm, f2.8 and 30 seconds at 400ISO

Comet McNaught with a 400D
22/01/07 9:24PM AEDT, Canon 400D and Canon 17-35mm F2.8L at 27mm, f2.8 and 30 seconds at 800ISO

DIMW Column รข

In this DIMW column, Wayne looks at how dyslexia can be a hidden problem for many creative people.
Why am I going to talk about dyslexia on a website that is mainly about digital art, photography and technology? Because despite many advances, dyslexia can still be an undiagnosed issue for many people in creative areas. Plus, since a lot of us teach in the creative areas, you are very likely to have one or more people with dyslexia in your class, even if they do not know it themselves.

About six weeks ago we discovered that my wife, who is 47 and an artist, suffers from dyslexia. For her entire life she had thought of herself as stupid, dumb and just not able to do certain things. It was only through us doing work on removing these negative self-image ideas and replacing them with a more positive self-view that we figured out what was going on. As a result we also got a clue as to what might be causing our eight-year old daughter to have some reading issues, since dyslexia can be hereditary. We are now getting testing done.

The author and his daughter
Wayne and his daughter

The above is unfortunately such a common story for people with dyslexia. Hard to diagnose when very young, and often missed, as a child grows older because they learn ways to hide, avoid and compensate, it sits in the background and affects their whole life. So just what is dyslexia? Dyslexia is not fully understood but it can be viewed as a learning disability that affects people in many different ways. People with dyslexia seem to have parts of their brain wired in a different way that causes both some disadvantages and advantages. Yes, that’s right, there are advantages.

At its core, dyslexia is a trouble with words. This can manifest as issues with reading, writing or spelling. Writing can be illegible or certain letters can be written backwards. There can be issues with phonics, understanding the sounding of works. Spelling may continue to be phonically based beyond when the rules of spelling should have been grasped. People with dyslexia may get very tired when reading, complain of headaches or eye strain. There can be memory issues, with things like remembering more than a certain number of steps. Issues with math can surface, from seeing the wrong numbers to issues with counting accurately or remembering math facts and principles. In reality it is a complex and multifaceted disorder. Another very important aspect of dyslexia is that the symptoms can vary constantly. People can have good and bad days, symptoms seem to get worse with tiredness and what can be done one moment may be hard the next.

Now of course dyslexia is only seen as a disorder compared to what is considered the norm in a literate and numerate society. Estimates vary but it has been stated that up to one in seven people have some aspect of dyslexia. Of course there are also varying degrees of dyslexia, from the very mild to the severe.

The positive sides of dyslexia are that people with dyslexia tend to be quite smart (even though they have often thought of themselves as dumb), are very creative, have strong visual skills, are great at art, have vivid imaginations, strong practical skills and, because they think differently, can be great at inventing. Many famous and high achieving people have dyslexia. Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Charles Schwab, Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso, John Lennon and Steven Spielberg and even writers like Lewis Carroll and Ernest Hemingway. Many university professors and researchers have dyslexia, they have just developed ways to compensate.

So if any of the above, both the negatives and the positives, sound like you then you may have dyslexia to some degree. Knowing this can be a very important thing. It can help to neutralize a feeling of being dumb, it helps you to understand yourself and may lead to strategies that can help. For example, my wife has always found reading and retaining information hard and gets tired quickly when reading. So I have taught her what I call active reading, which involves physically interacting with the book by underlining words, writing notes in the margins and sounding parts of it, so that it becomes multi-sensory. This has helped enormously. Also, since dyslexia can run in families, it may allow you to watch for it in younger family members and warn parents what to look for. Plus of course more awareness of dyslexia, what it is and what it is not aids all those with dyslexia and those who are parents of such children.

There are many ways to compensate for the day-to-day issues that dyslexia can cause. Things like using lists and checklists in particular, active reading, using colored glasses to aid with reading (many dyslexics benefit from changing the contrast between the white page and text), using computers and OCR (optical character recognition) software to read books to you and buying talking books rather than the printed kind.

So where to if you need more information? Well, a Google search will turn up dyslexia associations and organizations in your local area. From there you can find out more about diagnostic services, support groups, coaching services and teacher assistance.

There are also some great books around. A few of the ones I have found very helpful are:

Overcoming Dyslexia for Dummies by Tracy Wood
This book gives a great coverage of what dyslexia is and is not, testing approach choices, handling things with teachers and strategies and teaching methods for self-help and to help someone else, such as your child, with reading issues, etc. A great book.

The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis
Another great book that covers both what dyslexia is and also a full program of assistance. I am still working through this one but it is looking like it will be a great help.

Wayne J. Cosshall