Getting Inspired – How Assignments Can Stretch Your Imagination

by Kari Post | August 26, 2011

© Kari PostIn my early teens, I decided I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer. I really had very little idea of what that entailed, but it sounded to me the way it does to most people: exotic, romantic, and filled with adventure. Now that I’ve grown up a bit, I have a slightly better idea of how unluxurious the job might actually be, and yet, I still want to go on assignment for National Geographic, perhaps even more than I did ten years ago.

Today I’m working on assignments for a slightly less notorious organization. In fact, the New England Forestry Foundation is so little known that you’ve probably never heard of it before. That doesn’t really matter though, because believe it or not, shooting natural history subjects on assignment can challenge and inspire a photographer regardless of who the pictures are for. Even on a small scale, I’ve found that assignment shooting is helping me develop my creative and technical skills as a photographer and motivating me in a new way.

Outdoor photography © Kari Post

In March, I ended up photographing a project on habitat conservation for U.S. Fish and Wildlife down in Texas as part of the North American Nature Photography Association College Program. We only had a day to shoot the story, so I was forced to experiment with flash in order to keep shooting in the harsh midday light. Now flash is a tool I feel much more comfortable with.

For example, recently I found myself arriving at my assignment not quite sure if I was in the right place. The forest I was visiting was inadequately signed, with no parking area, and the trails were so overgrown that they were impossible to locate from the road. I bushwhacked into the woods a bit, getting scratched and whipped by overgrown grasses and unruly shrubs, until I found myself at the edge of a rather generic looking field and uninteresting woodlands.

If you are a nature lover like me, you know there is beauty everywhere. You know that beauty exists in the dandelion sprouting from a crack in the sidewalk, or that under a rotting log lies a little world full of busy and interesting creatures, each so tiny and wonderful it can be impossible to see just how lovely they really are without a magnifying lens. Yet, if you are also a photographer, you know how difficult it can be to capture the wonder of nature in a photograph.

Here I was, faced with a scene that was unapologetically unphotogenic, but of course, filled with beauty. Ancient towering maple trees stood impressively at the edge of the field. The white sun rose higher from its bed in the cloudless sky while a gentle breeze flittered through the woodland, rustling the grasses and ferns covering the forest floor. These were fragmented pieces of beauty that didn’t add up to a whole photograph, and yet my job was to take accurate, beautiful photographs of the landscape before me.

Sunshine through trees © Kari Post

While this may not be the prettiest photograph I’ve ever taken, it sure does a nice job of glorifying the location where this was shot. Sometimes creativity is born out of necessity, as was the case here, with this “unapologetically unphotogenic” landscape assignment.

I’ve found that rarely do I force myself to photograph a subject. Usually, I explore until something speaks to me. I walk along until I find something appealing and if I can’t find anything I just keep walking. When I travel someplace far for the purpose of photography, I’m aware of its potential because countless other photographers have flocked there before me and taken the photographs to prove it. Not here. Not this time.

That’s the way assignment photography goes. You get assigned a subject and you find a way to get results. When your standard techniques don’t work, you are challenged to try new ones. You invent creative strategies to work with the less than ideal and discover methods that push the threshold of your existing knowledge. Giving up and going home is no longer an option.

So that’s exactly what I did. I worked the scene until I got something I could use. Sure, the end result wasn’t my best shot ever, but it was a heck of a lot better than one I would have taken if I hadn’t needed to produce an image at the time.

Pond © Kari Post

I probably never would have discovered this pond if I hadn’t been sent there on assignment. As it turns out, this spot is quite easy to access and has public boat launch and a few resident loons, so now I have a new location where I can paddle and photograph some of my favorite subjects.

My advice to you? Go get a job! Find a photography project and tackle it, regardless of how ordinary it might seem. Maybe it’s as simple as agreeing to photograph your neighbor’s new puppy or as involved as teaming up with a local conservation group to document the work they do. Whatever it may be, if you challenge yourself to produce images with set goals and a deadline in mind you’ll be forced to stretch your photographer muscles: developing your strengths, practicing new skills, and maybe even finding inspiration on the way.

About the Author

Kari is a self-described adventurer, photographer, outdoor enthusiast, conservationist, and nature lover. She loves being outside in nature, exploring the world around her, and doing just about anything that keeps her on the move. Kari picked up photography as a young girl and developed a serious passion for the still picture in high school. In college, she combined her photography hobby and love of nature and began photographing wildlife and outdoor subjects, which now make up the bulk of her work. Kari views photography as a way to share the beauty she sees in the natural world with others. She hopes her images can be used help educate and inspire others to appreciate, preserve, and protect wild places and creatures, and aspires to one day work as a photojournalist for National Geographic documenting conservation issues. Visit Kari's website at: www.karipost.com and her blog at: www.karipost.com/blog.

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