5 Ways to Keep Your Photographer's Eye Fresh
It's amazing how quickly we adapt. The ability to get used to things serves us well in the everyday. We build habits that we get better at and grow comfortable with. Habitual actions and places allow our minds to wander in other directions to imagine, think, and reminisce. We've evolved to the top of the food chain because of this ability. In fact, should anything different disrupt our everyday, we have to spend energy to quickly determine if it poses a danger to us. Anything new — no matter how small — can cause the tiny bean in our brain so ask "Do I run or do I fight?"
As a photographer, we should be so lucky to experience that every day. "Do I run? Do I fight? Or do I shoot?" In fact, the problem photographers face is adapting and getting used to our environment so well that we do not see something amazing right before our eyes. Walking the streets of our same neighborhood, we may grow bored, thinking there's nothing to shoot.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking into downtown Honolulu, I came upon the Hawaii State Art Museum in the process of being tented for termites. I thought it was pretty neat and so began taking photos. A worker on the site approached me and asked me what I was doing. I'm sure he was worried I was some inspector collecting evidence of safety violations or something, but after I explained that I was taking photos for myself, he couldn't understand why. I thought it was a little ironic that I was having this discussion about an art museum, but I think that because it was just another everyday job to him, he didn't really see how cool it was. I'm sure if this was his first day on the job, he'd be more understanding of the spectacle.
And so, that's our challenge — your challenge — as a photographer. Don't be the magician who can't see the magic of his own show. As a photographer we need to
- see the spectacle,
- see the story, and
But how do we see with fresh eyes when we visit the same places on a regular basis?
Rotate your haunts. Divide your personal photography territory up and focus within a couple of blocks every so often. Focus on an area for a week then switch it up to another few blocks the next. That's for your Monday through Fridays. If you can, on the weekends, go farther out to explore. Keep your eyes fresh by keeping your surroundings fresh.
Flip the day. Visit your spots at different times of the day. Go at night or go during the day — whichever you're not used to. You'd be surprised at the differences in lighting and character that comes out.
Hobble yourself. Restrictions will bring out your creativity. Head out with one lens you don't favor. Turn off burst mode. Give yourself a disposable camera. Force yourself to use a flash. Play with long exposures. Screw on a filter. Shoot only video. Find ways to make it work. Challenge yourself and you'll also learn more about technique and your camera.
Flatter somebody. Find a photographer you admire and try to shoot just like that person. Alter your eye to see as they do. You might think that they're in a better environment than you for these opportunities. That's no excuse. See the elements that make their photos great, and put those elements in your viewfinder. You can also have fun processing them to look similar too.
Feed your soul with life and regret. Sometimes the best work for your photography is putting the camera down. Eat delicious food, spend time with loved ones, visit the theater, go to concerts, live life! If you're stressing over photography, it's time to take a break. Find other ways to be creative. Then, when you're out in that boring old neighborhood, you'll see the most amazing shot appearing before you, you'll reach for your camera, and you'll realize that you left the damn thing at home. The moment will pass and the shot will be gone forever. That missed shot will be the most memorable photo you never took, and you'll smile like an idiot when thinking about it. Your friends and loved ones will roll their eyes internally as they pretend to understand your excitement and regret over the missed shot, but only you will be able to see it burned in your mind's eye. It's a shame, yes. But that missed photo will forever keep you chasing after similar shots in your viewfinder.
Those are my humble suggestions. Let me know in the comments what you do to keep your eyes fresh.