Freeing Your Creative Mind

by Kyle McDougall | January 30, 2013

© Kyle McDougallThere is a good chance that we all became interested in landscape photography for similar reasons. I know for myself, the bold, dramatic images that I saw online and in books were what first caught my attention. Heavy contrast/saturated pictures that jump off the page do a good job of giving people a quick dose of visual satisfaction. When I started shooting, it was only natural that these images, or what I refer to as the “award winners,” were what I tried to emulate.

Everyone likes to hear compliments about their work; it’s only natural. I mean, we are visual artists, and obviously we want to create work that catches people’s attention. We pour so much time and effort into our images that it’s only natural for us to fuel our motivation with positive comments from others. I can guarantee that all of us have experienced the feeling of dissatisfaction when we release a new image that doesn’t strike our audience on the level we had hoped for. It’s easy to get discouraged when situations like this arise. Unfortunately, this can lead beginners to develop a mentality where the sole purpose of every photograph created is to “wow” the audience visually, even if only for a second.

Now, I have to be honest, I certainly had this mindset when I started. It wasn’t until later in my career that I began to realize my true intentions and the importance of making images, first off, for myself. After adopting this new way of thinking, I immediately felt as though a giant set of constraints had been lifted, and for the first time realized my freedom to create.

Morning frost © Kyle McDougall

Morning Frost – Torrance Barrens, Muskoka

The pressure to create images that “wow” can severely limit us to a preconceived set of guidelines and conditions that are almost impossible to adhere to. Often, what happens is that these conditions don’t surface and we end up discouraged and disappointed. Dramatic light, epic locations, bold and colourful skies… as photographers we all chase these same things, and for good reasons, but learning to see the world beyond the obvious is equally important… if not more. The beautiful thing about photography is our freedom to create, so why limit ourselves only to certain locations and specific times of day. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that morning/evening light isn’t extremely pleasing, or that “epic” locations need never be visited; some of my most memorable moments come from these. It’s just important to realize that they are only a small piece of the puzzle and that there’s a whole other world waiting to be explored.

“I remember walking along the beach hoping I would find something amazing. But then, what is amazing? One person’s castle in the sky can be another person’s boring old pile of rock. Being a photographer depends greatly on our natural curiosity and sense of wonder; cultivating our willingness to, literally, stand amazed. The camera is a tool for recreating what we see. But it is less what we see and more how we see things that make them amazing.” –Joe Cornish

The quote above resonates with me deeply for many reasons. Our natural curiosity is what attracts us to the land in the first place, so why not exploit that curiosity and dig deep into both mind and matter. As it states, everyone’s tastes are different; therefore our decisions during the image making process should be unique. The ability to approach a situation, regardless of what weather or light conditions exist, and create meaningful photos, is something that takes practice and patience; but in doing so, will open your eyes to a whole new world.

Winter in the barrens © Kyle McDougall

Winter In the Barrens – Torrance Barrens, Muskoka

Now, it’s important to note that I’m by no means bashing bold, colourful photos of dramatic locations. Take one look at my portfolios and you will see a large collection of such. These types of images certainly have just as much depth to them. The truth, is that some viewers simply don’t take the time to look into an image, a quick glance usually satisfies. Colourful, dramatic pictures that grab people’s attention will naturally garner more comments, likes and shares; but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are superior. I feel it’s important for others to realize the different possibilities out there when it comes to image making. Exploring the land and creating unique compositions, all while using different qualities of light will not only leave you with some extremely meaningful photos, but it will also help develop your creative vision. The traits that you pick up from this style of photography can also be applied to the other subjects that you shoot, helping you create work with an overall deeper message ingrained.

The key factor behind growth, as a person and as an artist is “change.” Change in our beliefs, approach and mindset. This is something that occurs naturally with life experience, and if studied properly can have a profound effect on your work. While subtle images of the land may not have as much initial “pop” to some viewers, you and your audience will grow to find just as much beauty in them. The more time you spend creating these images, the quicker you will develop as a photographer.

The Great Divide, Torrance Barrens, Muskoka © Kyle McDougall

The Great Divide – Torrance Barrens, Muskoka

My advice for others is to pick a location close to home and take the time to photograph it frequently. Visit the same area at different times of the day, in different lighting and weather conditions. Take the time to explore its surroundings in depth. While images may not instantly jump out at you, they are there, waiting to be discovered. Give it a shot; I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I promise that it will help you grow as a photographer exponentially!

About the Author

Kyle McDougall is a professional landscape photographer based out of Ontario, Canada. He strives to showcase the spirit of the land in hopes that others can both re-connect and grow a deeper appreciation for the wilderness. With training in both still photography and motion picture film Kyle has had the opportunity to develop his skills through both mediums. His career has taken him across North America from the wilds of Alaska to the shores of the East Coast working as both a cinematographer and photographer for television and print media. His goal is to inspire and educate others artistically, creatively and emotionally through images, workshops and writing. To view more of his work please visit his website: www.kylemcdougallphoto.com.

4 thoughts on “Freeing Your Creative Mind

  1. Thank you Kyle for the tips. I try to do what you wrote. I also think,sometimes, it’s good to become a bit’visionary’, to imagine the same image blurred or with a different B.G.

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