Shutter speeds, f-stops and lenses are important, but to become more creative,

we need to think beyond them.

 –Michael Orton, Photographing Creative Landscapes

In this digital world we photograph, it is easy to get caught up with the latest piece of equipment and new editing software. There are many, many ways to creatively interpret your images in post processing. However, we must be careful not to rely on what we can do “later” when we’re photographing. This has the potential to take us away from the moments and subjects and cause us to miss out. We become absent to the creative process in the field and miss out on possible opportunities to experiment and play.

All images need to be processed on some level. And, all my images are. I use of Photoshop, Nik software, Topaz Labs software collection and others to bring the image to where I want it to be. When shooting, my goals are to use work the camera to match my vision. Creating artistic images with your camera to go beyond the documentary include techniques that are both simple and complex. Doing this requires an open mind and a level of intention. Some techniques can be done completely in camera, others require a partnership of camera and computer. The final results depend on you learning and doing whatever it takes to get there. Let your imagination run … and create something different.

Falling in love with the soft color, folds and ripples of the ranunculus bloom.

Just about the softness of color with a sliver of focus on bottom bowl of tulip.


Know Your Camera and Necessary Tools – Too often I see photographers struggling to navigate buttons on their cameras with limited knowledge of what it is, what it can do and how to make use of its capabilities. THIS is a big barrier to being creatively inspired. One of the best things you can do is spend time with your camera and, yes, the manual, and get to know what you have. Be able to close your eyes and find the important buttons so you can develop muscle memory and become more fluid in your shooting and decision making.

Recognize that all camera systems are different in terms of what you can do with them. Learn and understand the limitations so that you can find ways to work with or around them to get where you want to go. This can also help you when it comes time to upgrade your camera. My need to upgrade is clear when I cannot do what I want to do because my camera or lens limits (or blocks) my ability to get where I want to go.

Learn the Basics of Exposure – By developing an understanding of the Trinity of Exposure (Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO), you will remove one more barrier to creativity and be able to think through choices to capture your vision in camera and not feel the need to “fix it in Photoshop.” Getting it right in the field saves you all sorts of time and frustration on the computer.

Learn about Basic Composition Tools – Give yourself a head start on moving into the creative zone by learning what makes compositions work and how to make them more emotionally impactful. An awareness of the elements will give you things to look for in your subjects and scenes. Consider design elements such as line, shape, color, texture, perspective, angles and such when composing. Think about how you arrange your subject within the frame to create a “feel” such as calmness or tension and more.

What’s not to love about a curious pelican waiting and hoping for a handout on the docks?

Lovely columbine at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden with Lensbaby soft focus optic.


We are all creative, even if we don’t believe it. Our photographic vision evolves as we grow in our skills and life experience. We move in the direction of recognizing our unique visual voice. This happens when we realize that it’s okay to be different from all other photographers – that it’s okay to be YOU. While documentary images have their place, the artist at heart can use tools and techniques that are less traditional to express his or her vision.  This means abandoning the “shoulds” and embracing the “what if.” It means shifting visual focus, perspective and stepping out of familiar patterns of shooting.

Some things to consider and remember as you push yourself out of the documentary box in the field:

Spend the Time – Do the Work – You miss the mark (and the party) when you take a few shots and move on. Nancy Rotenberg always said, “Go beyond the handshake.” I find myself asking, “Is there more?” Almost always, there is. Don’t leave before the party starts. Stay longer than you think you need to, and don’t dismiss a subject at first glance. You will be glad you spent the time and made the effort.

Trust Your Vision. I know for some folks it is difficult – nearly impossible – to photograph without wondering if what they are doing is “good” or if anyone will like what they do. It takes work to find and own your unique way of seeing the world and translating that in your photography. Turn off the voices that say, “Is this a contest winner?” You will sell yourself short often if that is your approach. Turn ON the voices that say, “I wonder,” and “What if I do this?” Try those things with abandon. Do it for YOU. I have never met another photographer who spent the money for camera gear so that someone else would like what they do. Learn from others. Be inspired. Be encouraged. Learn from those whose work you admire.

Finding beauty in the angles and rust of an old car with Lensbaby Sweet 80.

Working the wings and color with a Lensbaby Velvet 56 for impact and isolation.

Practice and Play. If you’ve ever watched a child with a box of crayons and paper, you’ve seen the “rule-less” artist picking the “wrong” colors, going outside the lines and sharing the end result with pride and excitement. The child does not consider what their artwork “should” look like. They just do their thing. They are not afraid of what others think of it. Rediscover your inner child, and consider the words of Erin Hanson … There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?

Playing with the zoom and spin on the sunflower. Never know what you’ll get until you try it. Different results everytime as you change the direction and speed of the motion.


There are many different ways to use your camera in the field to create images that express your vision without relying on post-processing. Bring your creativity into the field, and the computer work becomes a tool to REFINE your vision rather than RECONSTRUCTION to get there.

Among the techniques I use in the field include:

Beyond the Thing – Going back to expanding your creative vision, work a subject to the point that what it is has no bearing. Rather, make the image about how it feels by working with patterns, curves, lines, edges, color, and so on. Think about graphic elements, but also look for things like hearts, faces and other things beyond the subject. I find things like this in trees, flower petals, rust patterns, clouds and other common objects.

In-Camera Multiple Exposure. I am able to take up to ten images in one frame. Every camera system and model is different. I often use this with flowers and forests. How many exposures depends on the subject and the look I want. I experiment with number of exposures and direction of movement of each frame. If you can only shoot two-frame multiples, see what you can do with sets of “twosies” in the image overlay feature that many cameras have.

Motion Blurs. With this technique, I can create washes of color. How the image looks depends