Creative Photography Tips to Move Your Mind (Part One)

By Jackie Ranken | May 26, 2022

Creativity isn’t always something you can just turn on and off like a faucet, and just like a leaky faucet needs a refresh, so does your mind. Start thinking in new and interesting ways with these quick tips.

Over the many years that I have photographed, I have developed a few techniques that help open my mind and introduce me to image making. These are simple techniques that I will use when I arrive in a new place, or something that I will exploit if I am not feeling inspired. I hope they can help you too.

This photograph was taken just after a winter snowstorm crossed the Mackenzie. The best time to photograph snow is right after a storm because the snow will be fresh and clean. Merino sheep are usually the same color as the landscape but this time they were black which stood out against the white. They followed each other in their usual lines in one direction and I wanted to help the sheep do that too. I would have created this “in camera” photo if I could, but instead I used Photoshop and copied a bunch of sheep from one frame, flipped them and copied them to another . I called the picture Covid talk because we talked a lot at the time of vaccination. Some said yes, some said no and some were confused. In my opinion, it has become a much more interesting story. Canon R5, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 IS USM lens at 263mm. 1/500s @ f10, ISO 320.

The 20 photo challenge

The first idea is to stand in a space of five square meters and try to make 20 different photographs from this space. Ideally, the images should be unique and not just recordings of the different views of that location.

What you’ll likely discover is that the first six photographs might be pretty easy, but after that the mind should start to “bend” and give you creative solutions to the challenge. The goal is for you to use your camera in unusual ways and push your skills and settings as far as you can.

If you want a bit of a reminder, you can try these ideas as a starting point: High key (overexposure), low key (underexposure), blur (really blur), slow shutter speed motion (in using your neutral density filters if you have them), close-up, macro, monochrome, color, desaturated color, shot from different perspectives (from high above your head to low on the floor), using filters unique lenses, taking pictures through crumpled plastic, and finding reflections. It’s 13, but I’m sure you can think of a few of yours too.

The practicality of capturing an object suspended in the air, in focus, without movement and with a great depth of field becomes easier with practice.  I manually set the focus and throw the object into that focus area.  I use a single shot for each throw so I can anticipate the best timing and composition.  The settings for these four images vary, but in most cases I'll start with a shutter speed of at least 1/500s @ f16, ISO 400. These settings should work as a starting point on a sunny day with a wide-angle lens.
The practicality of capturing an object suspended in the air, in focus, without movement and with a great depth of field becomes easier with practice. I manually set the focus and throw the object into that focus area. I use a single shot for each throw so I can anticipate the best timing and composition. The settings for these four images vary, but in most cases I’ll start with a shutter speed of at least 1/500s @ f16, ISO 400. These settings should work as a starting point on a sunny day with a wide-angle lens.

Many years ago, knowing that I was going to take on this challenge with a small group of photographers at a workshop, I started looking for something interesting to take with me in my camera bag that I could bring in my space of 5 m to photograph.

I found a spatula in the kitchen. I loved how old it was and how the light reflected off its weathered metal surface. When I was creating my twenty different images, the spatula came out to help me. I started by holding it to visualize its shape in relation to other shapes in the landscape and decided that the best place for it was above the horizon line.

From this simple challenge were born my many years of photographing kitchen utensils in the landscape, and I still have great pleasure in seeing objects juxtaposed in unusual places. I love the process of identifying the aspects of each subject that interest me and then, step by step, choosing the right camera setup and techniques to enhance those characteristics. I like to keep exploring ideas until I run out of them or until (after review) I feel like I have a few images that work.

This humble branch accompanied me on shoots everywhere.  The key is to find a subject that appeals to you visually and also lends itself to different environments.  Organic materials are probably best suited.
This humble branch accompanied me on shoots everywhere. The key is to find a subject that appeals to you visually and also lends itself to different environments. Organic materials are probably best suited.

Photograph the same object in several places…

At the back of the 20 photo challenge is my next challenge: capturing the same subject in multiple locations. This idea came to me while walking in the forest one day when I noticed a branch of a beech on the ground.

As I took the time to really look at it, I realized that I liked the awkward shape of its branches, the inherent flatness of the branch, and the little puffy leaves that cling happily to it. From there, the branch became a focal point for me. I held it up to the light, twirled it around, and started doing what I call portraits of it, in all sorts of places.

Look out for part two next week.

About the Author: Jackie Ranken is a multi-award winning Australian born landscape/fine art photographer who has lived in New Zealand since 2004. She has over thirty five years of experience in the arts visuals and has been a judge of international awards since 2002.

She combines her artistic practice with teaching and is a presenter in workshops and seminars internationally. Her passion is creating multi-leveled narratives through multiple exposures behind closed doors and intentional movements. Allowing playfulness and serendipity into his creative process gives him the personal freedom to break the rules and push the so-called boundaries of traditional image-making processes.

Since 2001, she has won numerous prestigious photography awards which culminated in making her a Grand Master of the Australian and New Zealand Institutes of Professional Photography. She is a Canon Master and an EIZO Ambassador. For more information, visit qccp.co.nz.

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