Jul 24 2015

Criticism, Praise and Advice

2015-7-10 Spiral Jetty 1g 1000

Spiral Jetty

Sometimes it seems that everyone is either an expert or a critic! Show your work to 10 people and you may well end up with 10 different opinions about your image. Why? Because everyone has an opinion.

So who should you listen to when it comes to your images? Family, friends, art experts, gallery owners, curators, MFA’s, other successful photographers? Who?

My suggestion is that you ignore all criticism, praise and advice and listen only to yourself. Why? Because other people’s comments about your image reflects their tastes, their ideas and their Vision. So no matter how well intentioned or how much of an “expert” they are, their advice is going to miss the mark when it comes to your Vision.

We all know how damaging harsh criticism can be; it can discourage, demotivate and cause you to doubt your potential. But even constructive criticism delivered in a kind and gentle way can mislead you and take you off track. That’s because others don’t know your Vision of the image, only you know that.

I was once told that I should not center “The Angel Gabriel.” At first this advice caused me to doubt my Vision and I actually tried to re-crop the image off center. It was a disaster because that was not how I saw the image. Right or wrong, for better or for worse, centered was the way I see Gabriel.

2006-5-20 The Angel Gabriel - Final 12-4-2011 1000

Strangely enough, I also find that praise can be disruptive to Vision. Praise sounds so sweet and we so want to believe it, but it can take us off track. There are many images that I’ve pursued but did not love simply because they generated praise. Praise is addictive and hard to ignore, but you must for the same reasons you should ignore criticism. 

There was a time in my photographic life that I would ask people what they thought about my work. Why? Because I didn’t know where I was going and I mistakenly thought I could find the answers by asking others. I could not.

There’s an infinite number of voices out there and even if you had the time to listen to all of them, that would not help you find your Vision. That can only come from a great deal of hard work and solitary introspection. There is no other way.

So how do I view criticism, praise and advice? I try to be appreciative of the person’s sincere intentions but take their advice with a grain of salt and do my best to not let it sway my own opinion of my work (for good or for bad). Only I know my Vision and how closely I hit or miss the mark, and for that reason I believe that my opinion is the only one that matters.

When I see people asking for advice on their images, it suggests to me that they may not have found their Vision. And when you have not found your Vision, you are uncertain and need advice and reassurance from others.

Find your Vision and ignore criticism, praise and advice. 

Cole

P.S. If you need help finding your Vision, here is the story of how I went about finding mine.

 


May 28 2015

Look Inward

2015-5-26 Storm Cloud 1a

Storm Cloud, 2015

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I have been accused of being arrogant for suggesting that the source of my Vision lies within myself and is not dependent upon the outside world or those who have gone before me.

I don’t believe this to be an arrogant idea. But here are some additional thoughts that may convince the unconvinced that I am in fact, arrogant.

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Look inward.

Everything you need is already there.

Discover your Vision.

See for yourself.

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We are all creative as children.

But then we learn how to seek approval.

And something atrophies and almost dies.

We forget how to please ourselves.

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There is a difference between Vision and Inspiration.

Inspiration comes from without, Vision comes from within.

A person can only do so much with Inspiration.

Inspiration without Vision is an unproductive effort.

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Look inward.

Ignore what others are doing.

Do what you feel inspired to do.

Create work that you love.

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Art is very selfish.

Or at least it should be.

If you are creating for others,

then you are not creating your best work.

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Do not compare your work to other’s.

Judge your art only by how you feel about it.

Create art that you are proud of.

Create art that you love.

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Look inward.

You harbor that secret ingredient.

The secret to success.

Your Vision.

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May 8 2015

Different Is Not My Goal

2015-1-1 Ahu Tahai 2d

When I photograph, I do not seek to create images that are “different” from everyone else’s, I don’t calculate how to create unique images and I don’t research what others are doing and then react.

Different is not my goal.

Instead, my objective is to produce work that comes from my Vision and that is honest and original to me.

2015-1-1 Moai at Rano Raraku No 2 - Final 2-20-2015 1000

My work is all that I focus on and have control over. As my mother used to say: what others are doing is none of your business!

When I went to Easter Island the only photographs that I had ever seen were the 1950’s documentary images contained in Thor Heyerdahl’s book “Aku Aku.” I never looked at anyone else’s images for two reasons; first I didn’t want to subconsciously copy someone else and secondly I didn’t want to consciously try to be different from someone else.

My goal, as much as it was humanly possible, was to work in a creative vacuum. I wanted to see the Moai through my Vision and find my own Passion.  

2015-1-1 Moai Sitting for Portrait No 7 - Final 3-5-2015 1000

Are my Easter Island images unique? I may never know the answer to that as long as I practice Photographic Celibacy and do not look at other photographer’s work.

And to tell you the truth, I don’t want to know. I love my images and am content with the knowledge that they were created honestly through my Vision.

Cole


Apr 24 2015

Is Imitation the Sincerest Form of Flattery?

2009-6-25 Lone Man No 20 - Final 4-21-2014 1000

Last week someone asked if I was flattered when people copied my work.  I said no, but that I wasn’t offended either.

What I actually feel is a bit of sadness. I’d rather see that person putting their energies into finding and following their Vision rather than walking where I have already walked.

Now these are friends and well-wishers who send me these imitations and so I am sincerely touched by the kind gesture. Sometimes they send a Lone Man or a Harbinger and sometimes it’s an Old Car Interior.

But honestly, I’d prefer they sent me something that they had created from their own Vision.

2008-7-26 Harbinger No 1 - Final 1-17-2009 1000

I very well understand imitation because I’ve copied other artists too, sometimes unconsciously and unfortunately sometimes consciously.  For years I tried to copy Ansel’s work, and not just his look.  Once I went to Yosemite and tried to recreate specific images of his!

I look back now and see how silly that was. Was my goal in life to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams copycat?

Someone once wisely said to me: “Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better.” It’s true.

I know that many believe that imitation is a part of the learning process. I have many photography students contact me to say that their assignment is to copy one of my images.

I must say that I strongly disagree with this approach. I believe that their time would be much better spent finding their own Vision, and that imitation actually retards their personal Vision progress.  

2004-12-20 Old Car Interior -  Final 2-27-2006 1000

Colefucius says: They who walk in another’s footsteps, never finds their own path.

Is imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? I don’t think so.

Cole

 


Mar 20 2015

If You Don’t Have Vision and Passion For A Project…CHOOSE A NEW PROJECT

2015-1-1 Tongariki No 6 - Final 2-13-2015 1000

 People write to me about their projects and say such things as:

I just cannot get motivated…

I’m in a slump…

My project is on hold…

I haven’t shot anything in a while…

I don’t know what’s wrong…

I need to get back to it…

I just can’t seem to finish it…

My rule of thumb is: If I am not energized and excited about my project, then it’s time for me to:

CHOOSE A NEW PROJECT

For me, a successful project must have two ingredients: Vision and Passion. If I don’t feel these I know the project is doomed, it will be a chore to work on and that lack of passion will be felt by the viewer.

Many feel that the key to a successful project is to have a unique subject, an exotic location or an interesting technique. And while those qualities may help, only Vision and Passion can ensure success.

When you have the right project, you cannot wait to get home to work on it. The right project has you getting up early and skipping meals. When you have the right project you find yourself working long hours and wishing there were more. 

And most importantly; when you have a Vision and Passion for your project, that energy and conviction will be felt through your images. 

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 4 - Final 7-5-2008 750

After I created the Auschwitz images many people suggested I apply the ghost theme to other locations. The idea sounded logical: the Auschwitz series had been well received and so why not leverage that popularity by using the same approach at other locations?

So I started to work on “The Ghosts of Great Britain” where I created ghosts at English castles. But the project fell flat because the images were not compelling and it all felt gimmicky.

2009-5-6 Old Wardour Castle No 1 - Final 6-1-2009 750

So what went wrong? The project lacked Passion.  

At Auschwitz I felt inspired to create those images and I had a Vision for the project. I gave no thought as to how the series would be received and in fact I didn’t care!

But “The Ghosts of Great Britain” was completely contrived and calculated to be popular. I did not feel that same Vision or Passion for the project and it failed. I scrapped the series and only kept the one image above.

This was a great lesson for me and a mistake that I will never make again. 

Many people ask where I get my ideas from and I tell them that every time that I have an idea, I write it down. And then I reveal that I’ve never once used any of those ideas! Every successful project that I’ve pursued has come to me spontaneously, unexpectedly and as a sudden burst of inspiration.

And then they ask: But what happens if you don’t have a project that excites and inspires you?

And I reply: Then I wait until I do.

Cole

P.S. I’ve mentioned “successful project” a few times now and I want to explain what I mean by that. I do not consider a project successful because it wins awards, is published, is exhibited or sells. 

Success for me is creating a series that I love and am proud of, and that is the only kind of success that matters.


Nov 29 2014

Oregon – Five Before and After Images

Monolith No 78 BEFORE 1000Monolith No. 78 – Before

I’ve had a number of people ask if I’d do some more “before and after” shots. So here are five from my recent Oregon trip.

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I had my eye on this Monolith by Cape Blanco for several years, but I had never found an easy way to get down to the beach. On this trip I found one.

At the hour I get there (never early!) the monolith is backlit and so it’s a difficult shot. I was fortunate to have these great delicate clouds that streak well with a long exposure and I envisioned them becoming an important part of the image, if I could deal with the backlight.

The sun was in the upper left corner and it was washing out the clouds and giving me a big flare. I used my hand as a sunshade for the 30 second exposure, properly placing it by watching where my hand’s shadow fell on the lens. I knew that later in Photoshop I’d have to even out the sky, because it was bright on the left and darker on the right.

Then there was the debris on the beach from the last few days of big storms and high tides, but I knew that I could deal with that in post processing. 

2014-10-13 Monolith No 78 - Final 11-19-2014 AFTER 1000
Monolith No. 78 – After

To deal with the debris I cloned out the tree stump and burned down the foreground to remove the rest. I don’t like anything that distracts from the main subject.

For the sky I burned down the upper left corner to bring out detail in the clouds, then I dodged up the right to balance the sky out.  I also used a very small dodging brush to follow the cloud streaks to bring them out more. Adding contrast also helped the clouds stand out against the sky.

The backlighting didn’t hurt me as much as I feared it would. There’s not much shadow detail in the Monolith, but I generally don’t prefer a lot anyway.

Monolith No 77 BEFORE 1000Monolith No. 77 – Before

This is one of my favorite images from this trip. I envisioned this Monolith framed by the very dark hills on the sides, the rocks below and the clouds above.

This was a pretty simple image and an easy one…I thought…until I got home and found out that my Vari-ND was doing the dark pattern thing on me. It’s one of the quirks of all variable ND filters, sometimes at wide angles and when the sun angle is just right, you get these weird dark patterns across the image. And here’s a heads up: the cheaper the variable ND filter the more it will do this. That’s why I use the Singh-Ray Vari-ND, it happens much less frequently and when it does, there are a couple of workarounds. 

If I had noticed the patterning in the field I could have switched lens and probably have avoided it.  This was shot with my 24-105 at 24 mm, which is where the problem can happen, when you’re shooting at the wide end of your lens. If I had switched to the 16-35 and used 24 mm the pattern probably would have gone away, because 24 mm is mid focal length for that lens. And of course another option would have been to simply switch to a fixed ND filter for this shot.

This image also had some vignetting in the corners and I didn’t like how the clouds were thin on the right side of the image.

You might notice that I underexpose my images, usually by about 1 stop. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, I like the look of a dark image with pronounced highlights.  Second, it makes it easier to deal with the wide dynamic range in these types of scenes where the sky is important to the image.  If I had opened up another stop, that sky would have easily washed out and I’d have lost the cloud detail. Shadow detail is not very important to my images, so underexposing works for me.

2014-10-13 Monolith No 77 - Final 11-13-2014 1000
Monolith No. 77 – After

I fixed the dark pattern in the sky with vey some careful and slow dodging (it’s easy for a sky to look blotchy if you use a small or hard brush or you work too quickly) I’m typically dodging and burning between 1-3% strength and for skies I’m generally using 1%. I used the clone tool to fix the vignetting and I also cloned in some clouds from the left to the right for a more balanced look.

I also used dodging and burning to bring out the water detail. I call it local contrast enhancement when I go back and forth between burning and dodging to increase the contrast in just one area.

I was happy with how this image turned out, especially after finding out about the dark pattern in the sky.

Something I noticed in the image above: there’s a thin highlight separating the sky from the monolith. I went back to the original TIFF and it’s not there, but it appears when I convert it to a JPEG for the web. I’ll have to do some work to figure out what that is and how to fix it.

Lighthouse, Cape Blanco BEFORE 1000Cape Blanco – Before

People are naturally drawn to lighthouses, as are photographers. But the lighthouse shot is soooooo overdone that I almost didn’t create this one. But I thought I’d see if I could put my twist on it.  I love to put the subject small in a large frame and then added a long exposure for a bit of movement.  I underexposed and used a polarizer because I wanted black skies.

2014-10-13 Lighthouse, Cape Blanco - Final 11-13-2014 1000Cape Blanco – After

In the final image, I further isolated the lighthouse by burning down the foreground and the sky.  Looking at this image now, a few weeks after I last worked on it, I think I’ll remove those trees on the far right because I find them distracting.

2014-10-13 Lighthouse, Cape Blanco - Final 11-29-2014

This illustrates how I work to refine an image.  I’ll let it sit for a few weeks and then look at it with fresher eyes.  I’ll then perhaps modify it again and then put it to bed for a few weeks more before I look at it again.

Now that I’ve removed those trees, I’ll come back in a week to see if I want to keep this change or not.

 Isolated No 7 Before 1000Isolated No. 7 – Before

I was driving on the road to Cape Blanco when this tree just jumped out at me! I love centered images and struggled if I should center the tree where it hits the ground or the upright of the tree.  Centering the upright portion of the tree looked more centered and that’s what I went with.

It was a windy and hazy day which made the shot a little challenging.  I took about 20 long exposures trying to get the clouds just right and ended up using this one. I didn’t underexpose as I usually do, because I didn’t want to lose the tree detail. It was still a processing challenge and I started over 4 times before I got it right.

2014-10-13 Isolated No 7 - Final 11-13-2014 1000Isolated No. 7 – After

Again, I did a lot of dodging and burning on this image. Many people feel that they can do this with a mouse, but I certain cannot! I use a pen and tablet and the control is so much better than with a mouse. I never like to be adamant, but you cannot do what I do with a mouse.  Period.

I got rid of the shadow of the tree, that bothered me for some reason, and left a highlight around the tree.  I darkened the sky and left it bright behind the tree. As I look at the image today, I think that I may go back and open up the trees a bit on the right side.

As I make decisions about my images, it reminds me of how I’ve seen some others make those decisions. They will show the image to someone and say: What do you think I should do to this image? I am very opposed to that approach, I think one should have a Vision and not adulterate it with someone else’s opinion. 

Isolated No 6 BEFOREIsolated No. 6 – After

I was lucky on this trip to have constantly changing weather conditions. Some days it was raining hard, others were sunny and others were constantly changing as on this day. The sun was coming and going and what I was trying to get was the sun hitting the island and the land left and right bits of land in shadow.

I was here for several hours trying to get the clouds and lighting just right. Sometimes the clouds were perfect, but not the foreground. At other times I’d get the shadowing how I wanted it but the clouds were no good.

I didn’t get exactly what I wanted in the shot, but I was confident that I’d be able to create the effect I was looking for in post processing.

2014-10-13 Isolated No 6 - Final 11-13-2014 1000Isolated No. 6 – After

I burned the land down on the left and right to put the focus on the island. Then I dodged up the island to make it brighter. Then I went to work on the clouds, lightening the upper ones and darkening the smaller ones just above the island. Then I darkened the foreground to hide the detail and to bring the eye to the island.

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So after seeing these “before and after” shots, I hope that you’ll not conclude that you need to learn more about Photoshop. It is not my intent to focus on post processing as the key to an image because that is exactly what I don’t believe.

Instead my approach is to have a Vision of the image and then let that drive the processing. When you have Vision, your processing then has purpose: to bring the image into compliance with your Vision.

And armed with that Vision, you don’t need to ask others what to do with your image, you already know how it’s going to look in your head!

Cole


Oct 31 2014

Extraordinary Vision Magazine – “How I Found My Vision” by Cole Thompson

image1

I’m so happy to learn there’s a new magazine out about Vision! It’s great that more and more people are focusing on Vision and less and less about equipment.

I know about this publication because they asked to publish my blog post on “How I Found My Vision.” They did a wonderful job with the article and even gave me a full page ad!

It’s a free publication and here’s where you can find it for Apple and Android:

Apple

Android

 

Also, here is another new image from my Oregon Coast trip, one I created just for fun:

2014-10-13 See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil and Photograph No Evil dSee No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil…and Photograph No Evil


Aug 22 2014

Five Things Photography Has Given Me

1970 Mary at Corona Fina 750Mary, 1971 – This is my friend from school, Mary Doyle, at Corona Del Mar in California. I created this image with one of my favorite cameras from my youth, a mini-Speed Graphic with a 220 roll back. 

1. A wonderful childhood. Beginning at age 14 and for the next several years, photography became my life and I spent every moment either photographing, working in my darkroom or reading about photography.

I have such wonderful memories of those long days working in the darkroom, experimenting and the thrill of discovery.

1971 Two Hippies - Final 4-12-2009 550Two Hippies, 1970 – This was created at my high school, Loara in Anaheim, CA.  This was created at the height of the hippy movement, which along with the drug scene was very much alive at my high school.

2. Balance.  I chose not to pursue a career in photography for fear I would lose my passion for it, and instead went into business. Unfortunately, due to the demands of family and job I did not pick up the camera for the next 30 years.

My business life was all about numbers, logic and rational decision making, and with no creative outlets my life became lopsided. It was not until I returned to photography in 2004 that I realized how out of balance my life had become.

Photography and the creative process helped bring balance back into my life.

1970 Indian Statue - Final 7-26.2006 550Wooden Indian, 1971 – I worked at Disneyland and this image was created on Main Street. This statue is still standing there today and every time I see it, it conjures up great memories of my youth, photography and working at Disneyland. Ironically I now work in downtown Fort Collins, the downtown that inspired Disney’s Main Street.

3. The Ability to see. Photography has helped me to see beauty in the ordinary and find uniqueness in the common. That makes every location, exotic or not, exciting.

1970 Shoes - Final 4-30-2005 550
Old Shoes, 1971 – This is a shoe locker at my High School.  I had just moved to Anaheim from Rochester, NY and being new, my eyes were fresh and saw everything for the first time. It was a very productive two years because of the encouragement of a dear friend and mentor, John Holland.

4. Vision. Through photography I found my Vision, or my unique way of seeing the world. What I see through my Vision is much different than what I see with my eyes.

My Vision is what fuels my creative process.

1970 Gull and Moon - Final 9-28-2010 750Gull and Moon, 1971 – This was created in two parts: the seagull was shot during the day in my high school parking lot and the moon was an infrared night shot.  These two images were sandwiched in the enlarger and printed.  My negatives from those days were lost and this image was recovered from a single print I found. This is my favorite image from my youth.

5. Confidence. Finding my Vision and learning to follow it taught me that I didn’t need another persons approval to feel good about my work or myself as an artist.

I’ve learned that if I love my work, that is enough.

1971 Headlamp - Final 4-14-2009 750Headlamp, 1970 – This old truck sat in a field across from my High School in Anaheim. I consider this my Edward Weston period, a time when I was mesmerized with his work and tried to copy it.

 

I thought about adding a sixth item: Purpose.  But as I thought about it, I realized that photography is not my purpose in life.

Rather, photography makes my life better and that helps me to fulfill my real purpose in life.

Cole

P.S.  The images in this post were created when I was 14-17 years old.  These images are like a time machine, transporting me back to those wonderful days when I was young and always had a camera around my neck.

1971 Clay Figure Final 4-12-2009 550Clay Figure, 1971 – Student projects at my high school.
 
1970 Artist - Final 8-11-2005 550Artist, 1970 – This portrait artist worked at the Disneyland Hotel shops.
 
1971 Old Building - Final 4-12-2009 550Old Building, 1971 – An old farm shed in Anaheim.
 
1968 Egg in Glass - Final - 10-6-2005 550Egg in Glass, 1968 – I was 14 and I had purchased a used Pony 828 camera. I removed the lens mount so that I could focus more closely, and using a ground glass on the film plane, composed this image. I tell people that this was my first “fine art” photograph!
 
1971 Spraying Water and Bird - Final 4-12-2009 750Spraying Water and Bird, 1971 – This was photographed at 1000 steps in Laguna Beach, CA. Many, many fond memories were made here.

Jun 14 2014

Visualize versus Previsualize

2004-11-1 Skeleton Final 4-24-2009 750

I have been thinking about two words lately: visualize and previsualize.  What do they mean and how are they different?

I’ve used both words to describe my creative process and yet I’m not really sure if I’m visualizing or previsualizing?

So I looked them up in the dictionary:

Visualize: form a mental image of; imagine.

Previsualize: The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.

Hmmmm…so previsualize is not a “real” word?

I then turned to the ultimate authority of the universe (Wikipedia) to see what I could learn about previsualization.  Here is what I found:

Visualization is a central topic in Ansel Adams‘ writings about photography, where he defines it as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”. 

The term previsualization has been attributed to Minor White who divided visualization into previsualization, referring to visualization while studying the subject; and postvisualization, referring to remembering the visualized image at printing time.

However, White himself said that he learned the idea, which he called a “psychological concept” from Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

According to Adams and White, visualization and previsualization are the same and this process takes place before the exposure.

2005-5-20 Rushing Waters - Final 5-28-2005 750

This has been my experience, that visualization takes place before the exposure. When I’m looking at the subject I can literally see the final image in my “mind’s eye.”

This Vision typically comes quickly and definitively and it guides me during the shot and the processing, helping me transform the captured image into to that visualized image. There is no question as to what the final image will look like, it is burned into my memory.

2010-9-17 Monotlith No 10 - Final 9-26-2010 750

Inspiration may come after the exposure and during processing, but that would not be visualization according to Adams or previsualization according to White’s thinking.

I’m grateful for the inspiration whenever it may come, but I do find it most useful when it comes before the exposure.

What has your experience been with visualization or previsualization?

Cole

 


May 9 2014

How I Found My Vision

2006-5-20 The Angel Gabriel - Final 10-15-2007 750The Angel Gabriel

 

Why do I focus on Vision so much? It’s because I believe that Vision is what makes an image great. It’s what makes the difference between a technically perfect image and one with feeling. It’s what makes your images unique.

Great images do not come about because of equipment and processes, but rather from Vision that drives these tools to do wonderful things. What good are great technical skills if you don’t have an idea worthy of them?  

If I had to choose between the best equipment in the world and no Vision or having a Kodak Brownie and my Vision…

Brownie

I’d take the Brownie.

A lot of people ask: “How do I go about finding my Vision?” I’m not sure I can answer that for everyone, but here is how I discovered mine:

 

The Wake-Up Call

Several years ago I was attending Review Santa Fe where over the course of a day my work was evaluated by a number of gallery owners, curators, publishers and “experts” in the field. 

Review Santa Fe

During the last review of a very long day, the reviewer quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back to me and said “It looks like you’re trying to copy Ansel Adams.”  I replied that I was, because I loved his work! He then said something that would change my life:

“Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better.  What can you create that shows your unique vision?”

Those words really stung, but over the next two years the message did sink in: Was it my life’s ambition to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Had I no higher aspirations than that?

I desperately wanted to know if I had a Vision, but there was a huge problem: what exactly was Vision and how did I develop it?  

What is Vision

I researched Vision but I couldn’t relate to the definitions and explanations that I found. Was it a look, a style or a technique? Was it something you were born with or something you developed?

And then there was the nagging doubt: what if I didn’t have a Vision? I feared that it was something you either “had” or you “didn’t have”  and perhaps I did not?

And how was I to go about finding my Vision?

With so many unanswered questions and with no idea on how to proceed, I simply forged ahead with what made sense to me.  Here is what I did:

1. Sort Your Portfolio

I took 100 of my best images, printed them out and then divided them into two groups: the ones I REALLY loved…and all the rest. I decided that the ones that went in the “loved” pile had to be images that “I” loved, and not just ones that I was attached to because they had received a lot praise, won awards or sold the best. And if I loved an image and nobody else did, I still picked it. 

2. Make the Commitment

I committed that from that point on, I would only pursue those kinds of images, the ones that I really loved. Too often I had been sidetracked when I chose to pursue images simply because others liked them.

3. Practice Photographic Celibacy

I started practicing Photographic Celibacy and stopped looking at other photographer’s work. I reasoned that to find my Vision, I had to stop immersing myself in the Vision and images of others.

I used to spend hours and hours looking at other photographer’s work and would find myself copying their style or even their specific images. I knew that I couldn’t wipe the blackboard of my mind clean of those images, but I could certainly stop focusing on their Vision and instead focus on mine.

When I looked at a scene I didn’t want to see it through another photographer’s eyes, I wanted to see it through mine!

4. Simplify Your Processes

I embarked on a mission to simplify my photography.  In the past I had focused on the technical and now I was going to focus on the creative. I disposed of everything that was not necessary: extra equipment, gadgets, plug-ins, programs, processes and all of those toys we technophiles love. I went back to the basics which simplified my photography, gave me more time and it reminded me that I wanted to put more focus on my creative abilities.

5. Ignore Other’s Advice

I ignored the advice that well intentioned friends and experts gave me. So much of this advice had never felt right for me and I was torn between following their recommendations or my own intuition. In the end I decided that only by pleasing myself could I create my best work, and that no matter how expert someone was, they were not an expert about my Vision or what I wanted.

6. Change Your Mindset

I worked to change my mindset from photographer to artist. I had always thought of myself as a photographer who documented, but I could see that this role was limiting and the truth was that I wanted to be an artist that created.  

To help me make this mental shift I started calling myself an artist (I felt like such a fraud at first)  figuring that I must play the part to become the part. I also stopped using certain words and phrases, for example instead of saying “take a picture” I would say “create an image.”  

That may seem like small and inconsequential thing, but it helped to continually remind me that I wanted to be an artist who created, and not a photographer who documented.

7. Question Your Motives

I questioned my motives and honestly answered some hard question such as: why am I creating? Who am I trying to please? What do I want from my photography? How do I define success?

It seemed to me that Vision was something honest and that if I were going to find my Vision, I had to be honest about the reasons I was pursuing it.

8. Stop Comparing

I stopped comparing my work to other photographers. I noticed that when I compared, it led to doubts about my abilities and it left me deflated. All I could see were their strengths and my weaknesses, which was an unfair comparison.  

I decided that if my goal was to produce the best work that I could, then it did not matter what others were doing. I had to remind myself that this was not a race or a contest, I was not competing against others…I was competing with myself.

9. Stop Caring What Others Think

I made a conscious decision to stop caring what others thought of my work. I recognized that in trying to please others, I was left feeling insecure and empty.

At the end of the day, it was just me, my work and what I thought of it. As long as I cared what others thought, I was a slave and could never be free.

10. Get Inspired

I re-read Ayn Rand’s novel “The Fountainhead” which I had first read at age 17. It has been one of the most influential books of my life because it gave me hope that I could become truly independent, that I could think for myself and define my own future. I know this book can cause strong reactions in people, both for good and ill, but it was a tremendous help in finding my Vision. 

 

I really was proceeding blindly, but I believed that if I listened to my own desires, pursued what I loved and eliminated all other voices, I would learn something about my Vision.

I did this for two years and there were many times that I became discouraged and didn’t feel like I was making any progress. I didn’t really know what I expected to happen, perhaps I thought I’d have a revelatory experience where my Vision would suddenly appear in a moment of inspiration!

But that didn’t happen.

And then one day it just occurred to me: I understood…I understood what my Vision was. 

It came in an anticlimatical and quiet moment of understanding, and after all of that worrying and angst…it now seemed so incredibly simple. Vision was not something I needed to acquire or develop, it had been there all along and all that I needed to do was to “discover” it.

Vision was simply the sum total of my life experiences that caused me to see the world in a unique way. When I looked at a scene and imagined it a certain way…that was my vision.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 14 - Final 2-1-2009 750

My Vision had always been there but over the years it had been buried by layers of “junk.” Each layer obscured my vision until it was lost and I doubted my creative abilities.  Some of those layers were valuing other’s opinions over my own, fear of failing, imitating others and creating for recognition.

Each time I created for external rewards, each time I put accolades before personal satisfaction, each time I cared what others would think…I buried my natural creativity under another layer until it was buried and forgotten.

Interestingly I came to conclude that Vision had little to do with photography or art and had more to do with being a well-adjusted, confident and independent human being. Once I had the confidence to pursue my art on my terms, and define success for myself, I was free to pursue my Vision without fear of rejection or need for acceptance.

Something else I learned about Vision: it is not a look or a style. It is not focusing on one subject or genre and following your Vision will not make your work look all the same. Vision gives you the freedom to pursue any subject, create in any style and do anything that you want.


2007-7-24 Swimming Towards the Light - Final 6-30-2009 750

But finding my Vision was not the end of the journey, because now I had to follow it which was equally as hard. I am still tempted to create for recognition, to care what others think and to want to be acknowledged. It takes constant discipline to stay centered, to remember why I’m creating and to follow my definition of success.

If you could have known me before I found my Vision, you would have found a technician that doubted his creative abilities, a photographer who felt that it was wrong to “manipulate” the image, a person who sought the generally accepted definition of success: money, fame and accolades, and you would have found an insecure person who needed others to like his images in order to feel good about his work.

Thankfully, that person is gone.

While my initial search was for my Vision, what I really found was myself which allowed my natural Vision to flourish once again.  

Cole