Wherever Inspiration May Lay

Throughout the last few years, I have come across several artists whose work and philosophies inspired me and sent me in a direction I needed to go. Hopefully as you browse through their works, you will find the same motivation that I continue to get from them. Enjoy.

Straight 8 Photography – http://www.straight8photography.com
Straight 8 Photography has truly been an inspiration since coming across them last year. For starters, the work is awesome and the way they process images is fascinating. What really impressed me is how much fun their entire crew seems to have while working on their projects. At one point I became stuck in my work and could not figure out how to get to the next step towards the style I wanted to do. I sent an email to their Facebook page and Jason Swarr was kind enough to respond. He gave me the information and the push I needed to get to where I wanted to be, or at least a lot closer to it. Check out their website to see the complete awesomeness of their photography

La Esmeralda – http://modellaesmeralda.blogspot.de
There doesn’t seem to be a style that this very talented model cannot envelope and succeed at. Not only does she bring a classic and timeless beauty, but she injects the very essence of the concept into every project she has posted. Her work, as well as the work of those she collaborates with, are inspiring and will push models and photographers alike to strive to a new level.

Brooke Shaden – http://www.brookeshaden.com
Her outlook on life and photography is beyond inspiring. I first saw her on the “Framed” show and have been hooked ever since. The passion that she shows, not only for her image, but for those around her, is amazing. This is one artist who knows how to connect with those thoughts deep down inside and bring them out into haunting and beautiful pieces of work.

Jeremy Cowart – http://jeremycowart.com
Aside from being very personable and humble, Jeremy Cowart is one of the best photographers I have come across, but it doesn’t stop there. After the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, Mr. Cowart brought his skills to bear with the essay “Voices of Haiti”. He uses his art as a true humanitarian and should inspire all photographers to use their art in ways that matter.

Anisa Nin – http://anisanin.tumblr.com
An expert at bringing other worlds to life in haunting and beautiful ways. She definitely sees a world beyond that which we live in and knows how to show the rest of us. Her work is inspiring in its concepts and the finished imagery.

Mara D’Eleán – http://maradelean.deviantart.com
The images that are brought to life through this artist’s collaborations are nothing short of stunning. The concepts, the use of color, and the wonderfully creative people involved really set the images apart. She is truly an inspiration to those of us who delve into the fantasy and concept genres of our chosen art.

This is by far not a complete list of where my inspirations are found. Perhaps I will do another post soon with additional artists that have helped or inspired me in my creative journey.

Do you have a favorite artist that inspires the work you do? Use the comments to let us know and maybe we’ll discover new inspirations. Use the comments to post a link to your site and who knows where that next spark of creativity will come from.

Independent Models: Be Safe

Unfortunately, there are a lot of predators that use photography as a guise for their nefarious purposes. They sully the name of photography by preying on the inexperienced and sometimes experienced models. However, there are some things you can do to approach photo-shoots more safely.

1. ALWAYS verify any information given by the photographer. Ask for references from other models, MUAs, or anyone else they have worked with in a professional capacity.

2. Look at their work. If you are not comfortable with their style of shooting or the examples they show, then don’t do it. You can get your name out there without doing what you do not wish to do.

3. Take an escort to meetings and photo-shoots.

4. Use common sense. If something seems off or you just get a creepy feeling, then listen to it. Better to be wrong and be safe than to ignore it and end up in a horrible situation.

Photography and modeling should be fun, but in today’s world we all need to take the precautions. Be safe.

While on this journey, I have often sought out professional photographers in order to learn how to improve my skills with a camera. More often than not, that was detrimental to my experience. For several years it seemed as though the “professionals” weren’t very professional. The infamous “constructive” critique seemed like nothing more than a chance to tear down those who only sought to learn. It grew to a point where I just put my camera in the closet for long periods of time.

The Magic of Youth

The Magic of Youth

The thought of putting my camera down and giving up has never appealed to me. There is something I truly love about photography and garner great enjoyment from it. I stood by and watched as images of bus tail lights and plastic clothespins rounded up pages of compliments while it was a struggle to get any notice on my images. I knew, at the time, that my skills were not very good, but I did was seek out others to learn from their experience. It was met one time by a well-known professional telling me that I should just sell my gear and find another hobby. Needless to say, I felt devastated. At that point I closed any accounts I had with photography sites and gave up any hope of going any further, but the desire to learn more would not die so easily.

Woman in White Dress

Over the years that followed, there were many discouraging experiences that kept the doubt and disappointment alive and well. Companies that stiffed on payment or breaking deals, which I could do nothing about because I didn’t know much about contracts. The lack of a business plan or a legal standing lead to a situation where I swore of working for one place I would have loved to work with. The quality I had been so desperately seeking continued to elude me. Still, there was a smoldering fire that kept my desire alive.

I think I have fallen in every trap a struggling photographer could. Advertising free shoots on Craigslist and investing far more than I was making with it. In the end, the result was all it could have been…a failure. My first photography business lasted three years and when I had to close it, the debt was burying us. It was to a point where we could not give a session away. Again, I knew the quality I wanted was simply not there. I wasn’t really interested in the types of shoots I was doing and believe it showed in the finished work. In addition, my Photoshop skills left a lot to be desired. Truth is, I was in over my head.

Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood

After that failed experience, it took over a year before I picked up a camera again. It took another year before I ventured back to working with people as subjects, but I was determined. Though I have met several people over the past two years that have helped me with ideas and working on skills, there was one photographer in particular that gave me the one nudge I needed. I was hesitant to even contact him due to being burned so many times, but was surprised when he answered right back with the answer that gave me the direction that was desperately needed.

Now Cross & Clove Photography has become the culmination of all I ever worked for and toiled for. Now, I can offer the quality and the style I sought for so many years. I must also admit, I enjoy the attention my work has been getting. It is a vindication for all of the disappointment and destructive comments that were endured to get to this point. There has been one side effect though, I am hesitant to approach other photographers. This year, however, I reached out and introduced myself to a few I had been following their work, and am hoping to work on collaborative projects with some of them and learning more from others.

Verdant Lady

Verdant Lady

That is how Cross & Clove Photography has come to be, albeit the short version. Doors are beginning to open now and all of the trials have become worth the turmoil of before. I have also realized that all of the negativity forced me to be more critical of my work before posting or sharing it. To all those that said I could not do it and should give up, guess what? I’m doing it, and I am doing it my way.

Critiques: Constructive or Not?

When I was first learning about my camera, beyond the auto mode, I made the mistake of asking for a critique by a group of so-called ‘professionals’. They’re images were as perfect as they could be, but their comments were anything but professional. One even told me that I should just quit and sell my camera to someone that knows how to use it. All because I asked what I need to do to reach a desired skill level.

To be honest, there have been a few times that I just wanted to hang it up, sell everything, and just be done with it. Mostly because of how someone else viewed my work. When people who do this for a living are completely tearing you down in a personal way, it can have severe effects on a person. It can destroy your self-confidence, it can teach you not to reach out for help, and it can cause a complete disinterest with continuing photography. Of the whole group, there was one that actually gave some good guidance which permitted me to grow a little more as a photographer.

Unfortunately, most of what you find are arrogant photographers that either feel threatened by you, simply lack any class, or are only in it to tear people down. It is almost obscene at what they will tell people about their work. An art that is as subjective as photography really cannot be corralled into a small frame that fits everyone’s ideas. Sure, technical stuff can be critiqued, and personal opinions can be offered, but it doesn’t have to be done harshly.

I know there is a belief held by some that harsh is the only way to make new photographers learn, but that is delusional at best. In fact, it can cause them to give up and never even pursue it anymore. Someone out there could be the next Ansel Adams, but because of some rude or harsh words chose to give up. In my opinion that is robbing the world of a potentially great artist.

It took many years and even more rude peoples before I realized something. I shoot what I see, not them. Anything that I put in a picture is because that is what I saw. It doesn’t have to match someone whose skills may be better. I shoot my ideas based on how I see them. I don’t ask for critiques because most of the time, those people were not there. They don’t know what I saw or even what I was trying to achieve. Now, I shoot for myself. I do not open myself up to negative people that seek only to destroy their perceived competition.

One site I am a member of has a very good policy for critiquing. One positive comment, one constructive comment to improve something, followed by another positive comment. That is a good way to teach someone how to do it better next time, not humiliate them and make them doubt their vision. After all, no one is born a professional, everyone has to learn to be the kind of artist and person they want to be. I refuse to let those bad seeds in the photography community tear me down. I shoot for me. I shoot what I see, and that is good enough for me.

Where Inspiration Is

Everyone’s life is a pool of inspiration, whether it is for light or dark themed creative work. I am no different. In my work, I explore the traits that I see in the characters that are created or an antithesis of an idea. Sometimes, deep within my dreams, an idea will burn its way into my mind. Then, and only for the briefest of moments, a window opens. The dream is alive and for that fleeting few seconds, it is there, as real as you or I.

My life is one lived in fear because of the anxieties that plague my days. When I create a character, I want to show the strength and courage that I myself no longer possess. They should embody the traits that make real warriors and heroes who they are. Courage, honor, and integrity are at the forefront of all of my projects. Each model is carefully selected to encompass the entire character, otherwise it just would not work in the end result.

Inspiration is found in many places. When I am out hiking, there is always the chance of finding that one unique location, or maybe several pieces from different places that can be brought together to create an environment that doesn’t exist on this world. Artwork of heroes and warriors that exist only in the creator’s mind and on their canvas open the doors to a plethora of ideas. It can make the impossible now possible.

Sometimes the passion that exudes from another artist is enough to light the fire of creativity. To watch as their idea forms right in front of you can inspire anyone to create. Sometimes, as you watch, the idea can take on a life of its own and become so much more than was envisioned, and that’s ok. Being stuck to an idea that has no room to grow is limiting. Limits placed on idea can quell the fires that had burned so brightly.

Inspiration can be found at any time, from anyone, and in anything. Seeing it and transforming that idea into a tangible reality is the challenge of the artist. That is what makes it rewarding to create. My inspiration comes from the values that become increasingly difficult to live by, the fear and anxiety that rule my life, and the world I so much want to be a part of, yet always seem to be on the outside looking in. Of course, if my life had not taken the course it has, would my ideas still be what they are? Each of us has our own creative urges and ideas to explore with multitudes of avenues to do it. There is always something to inspire, even if you may not realize it yet.

Fun With A Camera: Teaching Kids Photography

In today’s world, our kids are preoccupied with television and video games, finding things that can hold their interest may be a challenge. Something as complicated as the art of photography seems like a daunting task to begin teaching them, but there are ways to make it fun and entertaining. Forget explaining the technical aspects otherwise they will get bored and not pursue it further. It must be fun for them, so here are a few ideas to get started with it.

Break out some of their toys and work with some forced perspective ideas. This will show them how to use angles and focusing to achieve various effects and illusions. It will make them slow down and think more in depth about each shot they take in addition to showing them what the aperture part of exposure is for.

My daughter learning about Depth of Field

Taken by my wife

A photo scavenger hunt is a great way to teach creative thinking and seeing things more like a camera does. Pick a color or a letter of the alphabet for them, then send them out to find items that match the color or letter you chose for them. There are a lot of possibilities with this and it can be done in a park or in your own home.

A trip to the zoo could be the perfect foundation to start teaching how to hold the camera, composition, and subject matter. Ask them to write a short article about their trip to the zoo and add the images they took to it. Kids will be more observant of more details if it is for a purpose they can understand and enjoy.

Open a dictionary and pick out several words for them to build a visual. This can be fun as well as educational, teaching creative thinking and to use their imagination to see things in different ways. Kids will learn to look at things around them in ways they never have before.

While doing all of the above, you can use different settings on the camera and give them a simplified explanation on what they do. No kid cares or wants to listen to a bunch of technical jargon, so keep it simple for now. There is plenty of time for that once they have a good foundation to build on.

If you know of more ideas, please share them in the comments.