Last week I had a realization. We become so focused on our personal style that we limit our creative vision. Recently I had the pleasure of photographing in the Texas Hill Country alongside Mary Ann Melton. As I was carefully composing a series of dull landscape images, I looked over to see Mary Ann firing away at random. Not only did the sound of her camera remind me of a machine gun attack, but she was twisting her zoom lens like she couldn’t decide on the best focal length. As if that wasn’t enough, she was doing all of this with a big grin on her face and having the time of her life!
Mary Ann had decided to get creative. Instead of being contained by photo realism, she decided to experiment with slow shutter speed and blur effects. I admit, this technique is not completely new to me. Stretching my memory back, I remember a presentation about eight years ago where a photographer shared some abstract images. The result? I spent the following week playing with slow shutter speeds and different blur effects. It was great fun and I was amazed at the results of this creative foray. Unfortunately, I quickly stepped experimenting and fell back into my traditional shooting style. Thankfully, Mary Ann’s obvious enjoyment of the creative process encouraged my to think outside of my self imposed box and jump start the creative process.
So, how did it go? Lets take a look at the evolution of abstract masterpiece. Ok, that wording might be a little strong. How about the creation of an abstract image? Yea, that sounds better. Feel free, however, to use the work masterpiece when you describe the images . To begin with, I started with a tree. I used a tripod to ensure a sharp, realistic image. I like the dark lines that the trunk creates and the greenery, but the image is really nothing more then a simple record of a tree in the Texas Hill Country.
Enter the blur. Still using the tripod, I lowered the cameras shutter speed to 1/5 of a second. Since the tree was not moving, changing the shutter speed does not have any noticeable effect. At least none until I added the final component, a zoom lens. As I pressed the shutter button, I zoomed in using my 70-200mm lens. The slow shutter speed emphasizes the zoom effect, producing an image that reminds me of the jump to light speed. The combination of the shutter speed and the zoom speed determines the amount of blur so it is important to try different combinations. Fortunately, digital cameras let you see the results immediately.
The next effect involves rotating the lens during the exposure. Still using the tripod (though hand holding the lens can work too), I loosened the lens collar and twisted the camera counter clockwise during the exposure. Again, a shutter speed of 1/5 of a second produced a pleasing result.
Not being satisfied with a single effect, I decided to combine zooming and twisting in a single image. Photographing at 1/5 of a second (that shutters peed just seemed to work for me that day) I zoomed the len as I turned the camera counterclockwise. The result is a whirlpool effect.
Stepping outside of our comfort zone is a excellent way to create original photographs. So the next time you feel uninspired, break the rules. You never know what you might create.