A very experienced photographer once told me that photography is the art of illusion. The only reality which matters is the reality which the final image depicts. What you choose to include or exclude greatly changes the message conveyed to the viewer of the photo.
We all get into creative ruts. As a full-time blogger and photographer, I find myself facing these creativity ruts almost weekly.
About a year ago in the middle of a frigid January in upstate New York, I was trying to brainstorm ideas for a new photography project. I hadn't created a photo in over a week and felt like I was out of ideas. I tend to get cabin fever this time of year, wishing warm weather and spring would arrive soon.
I wanted to create a photo with a summer scene, but with the temperature below freezing outside and several inches of snow on the ground, I needed to create an alternate reality inside.
I Found a Gnome
The first thing I wanted to find was a summer themed item to use in my scene. Maybe if I found it, the ideas would start flowing. I found the usual sand buckets and shovels, beach balls, and sun glasses. But none inspired me, and I still had the problem of not having a summer scene to place these items in.
I had just about given up when I found a statue of a gnome and a toy bicycle on a shelf in our living room. Of course I had seen them before. My wife is always putting out interesting figurines and items on our mantelpiece. But this time the items caught my eye as potential subject matter for a photograph.
Should the gnome be pushing the bicycle along a beautiful summer street with green leaves and trees? I didn't think I could recreate such a scene, and anyhow the idea didn't strike me as interesting.
A Different Path
Tilting the bike and the gnome gave me a different idea. What if the gnome were pushing the bike up a hill? Or better yet, a mountain with rocky terrain.
Now I had a theme which I could sink my teeth into: Overcoming Adversity and Goal Setting.
As soon as I had a clear theme, I knew exactly how I wanted to photograph the scene. It should be a silhouette, with the scene taking place around sunset. This was for artistic reasons. Silhouettes evoke strong emotions and encourage viewers to actively participate and interpret their meaning.
A silhouetted scene has the added advantage of making it easier for me to fake the scene. I didn't need a real mountain. All I needed was a shape which resembled difficult terrain. This was easily formed with a thin blanket and some miscellaneous objects from around the house.
Reality in a photo is whatever the artist chooses it to be, so I didn't need to create an upward slope to the "terrain." Instead, I simply shot the scene on a horizontal table and tilted the camera to create the illusion of an upward slope.
The last task was to create the deep orange and red sky seen at sunset. I took a look at my own sunset photography to zero in on the color scheme, and then placed my scene in front of a white wall. I took two off-camera flashes and attached colored gels to each. One was a deep reddish orange, the other a lighter orange.
I exposed the camera for the flash lit background wall, leaving the subject and foreground as mostly shadow, with just enough light wrapping around the gnome's face to make out some facial features.
The Final Image
The final image is one which I really enjoy looking at. It gives me a feel of summer on the coldest night in winter, and it pervades a strong theme of goal achievement and the importance of persistent effort.
Although I haven't marketed the image as such, I can envision the image being used on a poster or a greeting card dealing with the theme of goal setting. I may create a product in Zazzle or Cafepress eventually. For now I enjoy it for what it is. It was a fun winter exercise in creativity which created an alternate reality which I was looking for at the time.
And it kicked me out of a creative rut.
About the Author
Dan Padavona is an avid photographer, and the founder of Warmpicture Royalty-Free Photography. Dan lives in upstate New York with his wife Terri, and their children Joey and Julia.