The Right Frame of Mind

by Cath and Ian Humes

If you aren’t feeling creative and the muse isn’t whispering to you, what do you do?  Sometimes you just don’t feel like creating images.  If I’m feeling uninspired I do a bag check.  I take everything out of the bag, check that it’s working, batteries are OK, lenses focus etc.  I give the bag a vacuum as dust and junk will get blown in there when it’s open and I am using it outside.  I then clean the gear off, de-dust the lenses, body and lens caps.  I just make sure it’s all good to go and then repack the bag knowing that I am ready.  This gets me into a peaceful frame of mind.

I am not a tidy freak by any stretch of the imagination but I like to be prepared.  I never know when a job will need me to be somewhere else in the country for dawn tomorrow; it’s not an uncommon call for me to get.  Doing a bag check also gets me thinking about old shots and ones that I would like to take, or ones that I missed and need to do again.  Before I know it I am planning out how to shoot that missed opportunity or a new image and am raring to go.


Canon 1DS Mk3, 45mm TSE f2.8 at f8 at 1/500, ISO 200, RAW, 12:55 October 5th (stitched panorama)

However, sometimes it’s a proper funk, to quote Bette Midler, “You just want to curl up under a blanket made of blue, with a nice black trim around the edge”.  If checking and cleaning your gear doesn’t inspire you then it’s time to get some professional help.  Make yourself a drink, this will take some time.  Assam tea for me, white, two sugars please.

Now fire up Google and do a search for “best photographers of the 20th century”.  You will get several hits (1.7 million currently), with the early ones being lists of photographers.  Pick one of the lists and choose a photographer, possibly one you aren’t familiar with.  Open another tab in your browser, do a Google search on their name and then change the type of search from web to images at the top of the page.

It’s time to look at their back catalogue, find a picture you like and work out the following:

  • Composition.  Why have they stood where they are, what alignments does it cause within the picture, how do objects within the picture relate to each other, what have they chosen to leave out or include?
  • Lighting.  Where is the light coming from, how many sources, what time of day, shadow depth and length?
  • Settings.  What camera settings did they use, how fast was the shutter speed, how big a depth of field, what did they need to do to achieve it, handheld or tripod?
  • Your Version.  If you were using this image as inspiration, how would you go about it?  What technical things (make a list) don’t you know that would help you create this image?  Basically try and break down the image as much as possible so that you understand how it was put together.  Creating the list is relatively easy; the harder (but hugely more rewarding) part is crossing items off.

If you are anything like me you are probably going to have to make another drink as this one has gone cold.

On a personal note, Cath and I were on the way back from Shilasdair up near Dunvegan Castle on a grey cloudy day.  It had been raining but had just stopped.  It was still windy with heavy cloud and Cath parked the car on the verge and jumped out to take a “dull” shot across the loch with clouds and mist.  She put on her hat, scarf and gloves as she got out, we were going to be a while.  I just wasn’t up for it and sat in the car watching.  There was no light to speak of, no texture, it was just flat.

I was in a proper funk because of the weather.  Why was she even bothering?  She got the shot set up, framed, took a few pictures, looked around and was what all good landscape photographers need to be, patient.  I sat reading something in the warm car when I heard her shout as she squeezed off the first real frame, shnick.  The clouds had opened and were rim lit, a few beams shone down onto the now silver loch sparkling off soft waves.

I swore unimaginatively, popped my seat belt as she took the second frame, the third happened as my feet hit the grass, I was dragging my bag from the back seat as she took the fourth and fifth.  By the time I was across the windy road shivering, coatless and hatless, bag and tripod in hand, the clouds had closed and it was over.  Both the Isle of Skye and photography in general reward the patient.  Let that be a lesson to me (grumble grumble grumble).


Canon 1DS Mk1, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 at 210mm and f11 at 1/1000, ISO 200, Raw, 11:17 October 8th

All Images Copyright © 2015 Cath and Ian Humes. All rights reserved.

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