Sunday, 25 June 2017

HOW TO MAKE INSPIRED PHOTOGRAPHS

High Park - Spring, Toronto
©Michael O'Brien


Four ways to find good ideas

Good photographs are usually based on good ideas, concepts or viewpoints. The methods we employ to craft these photographs are called techniques. Much is written about technique and too little about concepts. Quite often the ideas find us. Although there's no single way to do this, I'm offering four steps to get started.
Once in motion, a good idea will keep us engaged with our photography. Of all the skills that keep highly creative people producing works, the ability to find inspiration and then act on it ranks very high.


1.) Open yourself to the possibility of creating something 

Something a bit different than you have done in the past; or to go deeper. Acknowledge your desire to do so. Put the intention out there. Read things like the book 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' by Betty Edwards -  it's a classic on the inner workings of the creative process.

2.) Figure out what you love to photograph 

It doesn't have to be forever, but what interests you right now? Is it people, bugs, mountains, or cats? What are you drawn to photograph? Some people say 'everything' - it's worth the effort to reduce that huge list down to a few things. Many aren't sure. That’s okay - just look at earlier photographs you've made or images by others that you like. Is there something that keeps showing up? Ask someone who knows you. Ask an expert to help you see the hidden themes and threads woven through your photographs – this is what my pathfinder sessions are for. 
Some people find writing helps to bring out ideas. You are in the exploratory phase – there is no such thing as a mistake. Start planning, organising, researching, and inspiring yourself. Try looking at images you see in magazines or onlineon sites like 500px. You may say 'I'm drawn to Bali' - then put off working on your idea right now because you have neither time nor money to get to Bali. Remember, you are trying to find something you can work on now, not when you have the right equipment, the planets are in alignment etc. etc. To do that, ask what it is about Bali that draws you. Is it the ocean, the lifestyle, or is it the creative spirit that flourishes there. Is it the fact it is far from your daily grind? Whatever it is try to find those qualities in subjects near to you now so you can start working right away. Start planning, organising, researching, and inspiring yourself with examples of photos you love. Find and study the masters. Some people find movies to be a wellspring of ideas for their still photography – allow yourself to be moved.

3.)  Immerse yourself in your subject

If you are truly called to go to half way around the world to create, then make a plan and get going on it. In the meantime find something close to home that you can work on. Keep using your camera all the time so that, in this instance, you aren’t rusty when you get to Bali. Keep the juices flowing; research books, online resources etc and immerse yourself in your subject. Research possible locations, events, people or landmarks that are a must for you to work on. If traveling, why not try to be more than a tourist? Volunteering to help in your host country deepens the experience and your pictures….all of a sudden, doors open. “At first you carry the idea, then the idea carries you…” Give yourself permission to start and to make whatever it is you’d like to create. Give yourself the green light. Commit to action and keeping moving ahead so you gain momentum. At first you carry the idea, then the idea carries you. If you have to start by making straight imitations of images that inspire you, just do it with passion – don’t worry no one does anything completely original. Just keep making pictures without being too critical of them – do your best. At first, only share the resulting images with people who encourage you to make more photos. No ‘helpful critics’. 

4.)  Display and share your photos

Finally, enjoy the images you've made, print the images, hang them on your walls, make a Blurb or iBook, then share them online with whoever you wish. Now that you are finished go ahead and evaluate the work. Interestingly enough, at this point you may be flooded with many fresh ideas and inspirations – write then down and act on the one’s that feel right to you.





Saturday, 20 May 2017

"ARTISTIC WORK IS SPIRITUAL: A PERSONAL MEDITATION..."

“Artistic work is spiritual; a personal meditation that provides food for the soul of others. Creative work connects us to what is fundamental, enduring, and eternal.”

Carol Eikleberry
author of ‘The Career Guide 

for Creative and Unconventional People’

Workshop inside the 
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
©Michael O'Brien
The Royal Ontario Museum (aka: the ROM), here in Toronto, has been the location of many field trips and workshops that I've led over the last ten years. Through rain, snow, and sunshine it's provides a place where photographers can explore light and form with a huge variety of subject matter. 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

THE 'ONE PLANET: HARNESSING HOPE' PROJECT: A VIDEO BY IRENE BORINS-ASH







The “One Planet: Harnessing Hope” project contains an exhibit, a thirteen minute stand alone video and a three minute trailer video about the exhibit, all regarding what some multicultural and multi-faith individuals and organizations are doing to help the environmental situation we are all experiencing.

I partnered with the “Faith and the Common Good Greening Sacred Spaces program” in this endeavour. The entire project is educational, inspirational and hopeful providing what many diverse groups are doing in a difficult time.

There will be an exhibit at the Toronto City Hall Rotunda, date TBA with a large launch attended by people that reflect the diversity of Toronto and there will be dignitaries and politicians in attendance. The exhibit is being proposed to be hung at “The Parliament of World Religions” in Toronto, 2018 and there will be around 10,000 people of all faiths there.



Irene Borins Ash


www.ireneborinsash.com

Thursday, 9 February 2017

THE POWER OF DEDICATION TO ELEVATE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY

Two Worlds
Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, B.C.
This image, from near Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, was made on a special trip to honour the memory of a dear friend who lived in that community. It reminds me that some of our best work comes when we dedicate it to someone or something else. It can be an entirely internal and personal act, or it can be more public. The choice is ours.

To feel the power of dedication, try this exercise the next time you're a bit stuck or bored with your photography (or anything else) and want to go deeper. Before going out, take a minute to hold your camera and start thinking about to whom or what you might like to dedicate your photos. It can be a friend, a mentor, a hero, a value, or an idea such as 'freedom' or 'joy....it can be your pet. 

Set the intention to dedicate to them the photos from that day, week or month. The results are not always immediate; however, if you stay with this practice for awhile you may be led to make some of your deepest, most heart-felt work.

Friday, 20 January 2017

WHY PHOTOGRAPHING WHAT YOU LOVE IS SO IMPORTANT

Click here to see more of the 'CLOUDS' series by Michael O'Brien


Click here to go to the January 2016 Edition of my monthly Newsletter where you can download your free copy of 'The Creative Gift' desktop/screensaver or read about recent findings that illustrate the importance of personal work for our growth as photographers; I got goosebumps reading this research which shows that what we knew all along in our guts is true;  acting on what we are deeply interested in and curious about is really important.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

USING NIK SOFTWARE ANALOG EFEX TO MAKE BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHS


Nature provides endless opportunities to 'see' the world around us in black and white. This cloud image is finished in NIK software Analog Efex which is one of the approaches that I'll share during the Black and White Digital Photography Workshop in 10 days. Its being held at the Centre for Social Innovation near the vibrant Kensington Market/ Spadina neighborhood on Sept. 24 - 25. CLICK HERE for workshop information.

Summer Clouds
©Michael G.O'Brien

Sunday, 11 September 2016

INSIDE NEW YORK CITY - DETAIL OF DOOR HANDLE AT THE NYC PUBLIC LIBRARY


The way B&W accentuates shapes, form and texture makes it perfect for exploring architectural detail like this handle found on one of the the front doors of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, at 42nd St and Fifth Ave. It's one of the four research branches of the NYC Public Library system.
Although there was directional light coming in from camera right, also present was enough light bouncing off the surrounding white marble walls to provide the perfect amount of fill light that softened the shadows slightly. 


Thursday, 1 September 2016

ABOUT

My passion for photography is fueled by a thirst for

exploration and a curiosity to discover the world around me. It's an inner quest that can unfold in my back yard or half-way around the world. This quest helps me to steadily develop new narratives and subject matter. 

That being said, there are themes woven through my photography. For instance, nature based work has been my main focus over the last ten years, as seen in my DISTANT HORIZONS sequence which explores the elemental forces of Nature that are at work even at the edges of a big city like Toronto. Prior to that people were my main subject.

Teaching and mentoring others is equally important to me. It helps bring my creative process full circle and allows me to give something back for all the richness and meaning photography has given me; all my life I've trained and led people, in one form or another, and I love it. 

I teach privately and at a local college in downtown Toronto. My passion for teaching initially came as a surprise to me given that I'm completely self taught. But really it comes down to this; it's taken me years to learn things that could've been acquired in months with the right guidance. My goal is to help others move along the learning curve as quickly as possible. 

Whether it's delivering one-to-one training or working with groups, my approach emphasizes the ‘art of seeing’, perceptual skills, and the creative use of digital technology in pursuit of photographic expression.

      Services:

  • Portraits (with digital and/or film) 
  • My photoworks as inkjet, silver or platinum prints  click here
  • Workshops (e.g. The Art of Black and White, The Photo Project)
  • Private Camera Training on any subject or technique read more
  • Private Lightroom® Training - for refining vision
  • Private Portfolio building/review sessions see more
  • Individual Creative Direction and Coaching Sessions
  • Custom Individual Mentoring Programs click here 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

WHAT IS PRIVATE CAMERA TRAINING?



Private camera training lessons vary from session to session but, usually combine explanations and exercises to help deepen one's mastery of camera controls and photographic concepts thus helping you become a better photographer. This is sometimes done along with guided, focused, hands-on practice in the field and often combined with coaching on approaches, styles and individual problem spots.

Here is a few words from Mary (last name with held by request) describing her private session.

"I have known Michael over several years, having taken two photography courses with him, and recently reconnecting when I signed up for one of his private camera training sessions in preparation for a wedding shoot. In fact my first wedding shoot.

"Michael is patient teacher; knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, he clearly approaches it on a deep level that comes from experience. I have always been impressed with the way he pursues his craft, searching it out broadly through exposure to art, film and through his clear love of interacting, teaching, and sharing with others.

"On the wedding prep outing he introduced me to the concept of location portraiture in open shade. He also pointed out that, no, you don't always want the sun behind you, you want it behind your subject (when shooting in bright sunlight). His attention to the particulars of my shoot was marked and I was, again, impressed with the urgency he clearly felt about me nailing down several issues before the shoot.


"After watching Michael, I can see that in addition to helping others he is committed to steadily improving his own understanding of photography. This dedication translates to and permeates his teaching and lends itself to an environment that is truly conducive to learning. It has been a pleasure having the chance to look at photography together with Michael." 

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

THE POWER OF BLACK AND WHITE

Composing black and white photos is different than working in colour. Certainly lines, perspective and content are still important, however, even more so is the tonal range, and the use of light in the image as well as the distribution of 'weight' throughout the composition. A balance of the various visual building blocks helps the viewer find their way through and sit with the image.
These and many other factors will be covered in the upcoming Digital Black and White Photography Workshop


Inside the New York Public Library  ©Michael G.O'Brien

Sunday, 28 August 2016

THE POWER OF BLACK AND WHITE - A WORKSHOP



Making Black and White (B&W) photographs is not just a bunch of techniques. It's a way of seeing and a tradition reaching back to the beginnings of photography 177 years ago. CLICK HERE to find out more about the Black and White Digital Photography Workshop that I'm leading this September 24 - 25.

Friday, 19 August 2016

STORIES

I am often asked what led me to become a photographer. The short answer is that it gives me a way to seek, see, and make meaning. While growing up my family traveled and lived in more than a dozen places by the time I was nine, so my world became largely defined by the people, places, cultures, and histories of these communities, seen through the lens of my own imagination. So arose in me the desire to document the singular moments particular to a place, its landscape and its people - its way of continuity. Not only to remember and preserve them for posterity, but more so to reflect how it has made me feel, how it changed or moved something inside of me, how it gave me meaning. As I've learned and grown as a photographer, it has become my way to cherish and preserve precious moments; it has also become my way of honouring and paying homage to the sacred and the sublime in this world.

This calling has taken me, beginning in my early twenties with my first camera, on several excursions to Latin America. Places in Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Cuba. Westward to Ireland, my ancestral homeland, the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. Transversely from coast to coast in Canada, my home country. There are places I've returned to over and over, just as there are faces I've photographed time and time again, and those I've seen only once, yet somehow each time and each image manages to put something new into my experience of it, like the re-telling of a story.

It is the narrative power of documentary work from masters such as Sebastiao Salgado and Manuel Alvarez Bravo, that has inspired and compelled me to tap into photography as story telling. Partly because of these influences, I prefer to tell a story through direct images of people and I think that black and white photographs are beautiful and honest; they constantly step forward to present a timeless and unvarnished truth. In fact, my more formal portrait work has developed at the same time, from the same source and runs parallel to this.

More recently my pursuits brought me to the First Nations communities in Ontario and British Columbia, as well as events that gather elders and spiritual leaders from other reaches of the world. Some are well-known, some are yet unsung heroes and heroines, ambassadors of the Spirit, but all have led me to a new series of photographs in which I intend to document the diversity and unity of the many wisdom traditions in the world.
Relocating, in 2010, to live near the waters of Lake Ontario, in my home province, has rekindled a long time passion of mine to photograph water, in many of its moods and countenances; a story woven with light and dark, width and depth, stillness and unrest, and what it's capable of awakening in us.

All of these have been immeasurable gifts to me as a photographer. These gifts are what I share, as a teacher, with my students in my College classes in Toronto, as well as my independently held workshops and coaching sessions. 

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