Posted In Inspiration

Freeing Your Creative Mind

Kyle McDougall | October 6, 2016

There 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. Contrasty 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 those 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 we obviously 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 that arise. Unfortunately, they 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.



It fascinates me that there can be so many amazing details scattered throughout the wilderness, and yet they often go unnoticed.


Avoid Expectations

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—many people 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 would we limit ourselves only to certain locations and specific times of day. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that morning and evening light aren’t extremely pleasing, or that “epic” locations need never be visited; some of my most memorable moments have come from those situations. It’s just important to realize that they are only a small piece of the puzzle and that there’s a whole other world out there 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 type of 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.



A river bank beside a small waterfall frosts over during the winter months providing a world of details to be explored.


Take Advantage Of The Possibilities

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. Those types of images can 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 beliefs, approaches, and mindset. That 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 those types of images, the quicker you will develop as a photographer.



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!



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