A Matter of Perspective

by Doug Johnson


If you photograph long enough, eventually the technical aspects of the art form become comfortable and easy. Many folks who reach this plateau become complacent and maybe even uninterested in taking the camera out for a stroll. This may be even more likely during this time of “sheltering” when our photo world is limited to locations near us. The truth of the matter is, this point of technical proficiency is where real photography begins.

I’ve presented lectures on how to keep your photography fresh and I often ask the participants why they chose to attend the class. The overwhelming response has been either, “I’m bored with my photos,” or “I don’t know what to shoot." Many of these folks are accomplished photographers who have reached that point of proficiency I referred to above. If you’re feeling this now while stuck at home or limited to closer locations, you’re not alone. During my lectures, a whole range of ideas are explored on ways to spice things up and the consensus could be wrapped up by saying “Just think outside the box.” It really is just that easy.

So, if your camera hasn’t seen the light of day for a while and, keeping in mind the current state of things, go on a little mindful adventure from your own home town!

Word concepts are one of the easiest ways to get things rolling. Come up with a word or phrase like blue, mysterious or how about “childish expression” to photograph. How the word or phrase is interpreted, visually is up to you… think outside the box, literally! You can download this list I came up with to get you started.

Projects can keep your photography fresh for a long time, maybe even a lifetime. I’m still fascinated by great street art. The project began twenty some odd years ago while I was shooting the concept word “evidence” in my hometown of Denver, CO.


Try a new perspective. Get a hold of a new piece of equipment (you can rent one if you don't want to buy!). A macro lens or maybe a tilt-shift lens opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities.


Go beyond one image. Explore a series of images that communicate a single concept like in a triptych. It gets you thinking and shooting more and helps to create a richer story for the viewer as well. This sequence highlights the classic shape of a dune and beautiful morning light in Death Valley National Park. These apples were shot at home exploring three perspectives; environmental, intimate and abstraction.



If you Ying, then Yang. Trying a different approach to exposure or processing allows creativity from your literal interpretation of the subject. Remember when you were a kid. There were no boundaries… Experimenting is the inspiration for all creativity!

Low Key & High Key exposures:


Go grayscale. Black and white interpretations of previous work allow creativity without even picking up your camera or having to go anywhere. These two images were captured on a trip to Cuba, just before sheltering at home was in place.



Shake it up. I love my tripod and crisp images, but it’s also really exciting to leave that all behind. Moving the camera with longer exposures blurs subjects and creates a unique expression you probably never have imagined.



Share your work with the world. Sharing photographs allows us think about the ways we express ourselves and brighten someone’s day, including ours! Its nearly limitless the number of ways to do it: Instagram, Facebook, photo books, galleries, email… the list goes on and on and on and since I’ve had a lot of “shelter” time on my hands, I’m already done with a series of upcoming Instagram posts and a couple options for next year’s holiday cards.

A few upcoming Instagram posts:




Next year's holiday cards:



Break compositional rules. Like allowing a dominant line to exit or enter smack dab out of the corner of the frame or putting your subject smack dab in the center of the frame.



Write about it. Choose one of your favorite images and write something about that subject. It might even spawn creativity you never knew existed!


"In the image above, everything ebbs and flows with weather and tide. The dock resembles bone beneath my feet. A small harbor skiff, well-used and unclean white, rests, moored to the dock. The gentle tug of tide keeps the boat moving. The knot and rope keep it here. The tide flows out and evening settles in. Quietly I wonder, how far out has this little boat been?"

Be safe, be well and allow yourself to be creative.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Johnson

Doug Johnson is a Colorado native now living in Missoula, Montana. Before a life-changing pursuit of photographic art, he was an outdoor educator for more than 20 years, passionately teaching people backcountry skills in navigation, mountaineering, avalanche awareness and wilderness first aid. Since graduating from RMSP’s Summer Intensive program in 1996, Doug’s work has covered many diverse projects in the documentary, commercial, fine art and educational fields. Assignments have taken him from coyote shooting in Wyoming to the last stages of a woman’s life to the graffiti-covered alleys and abandoned buildings of Denver. He is currently involved in an ongoing project called Art Music, which fuses the art of photography with live musical performance. His educational philosophy is fun, intuitive and full of creative persistence. No matter where you are in your photographic journey, Doug’s balance of the aesthetic with the technical can help you further express your unique vision.

Doug teaches workshops all over the U.S. and abroad. Find out more at dougjohnsonphotography.com!