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Episode #152

How to Cultivate Creativity In Your Photography Practice


UPDATED: September 5, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON September 5, 2023


Rekindle your creative spark in your nature photography with five strategies to boost your skills and elevate your photos from “nice” to “wow, did you take that??”


Simple Strategies to Spark Creativity


It’s one of those things that you know it when you see it, you know it when you feel it, but sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what creativity IS in an image.

Yet, when it’s there it’s what takes our photos from “nice” to “wow, did you take that?” It’s what lets us capture the heart and soul of the wilderness and share it in a way that makes people stop mid-scroll on their feeds.

But let’s be real here, sometimes finding that creative spark feels like trying to spot a snow leopard in the middle of a snowstorm.

One minute it’s there, and the next, it’s vanished into thin air.

But, not only finding creativity, but turning it into a practice so you can conjur it up any time you need it is actually possible. And today, we’re going to dig into some practical strategies that can kickstart your creativity. These tips won’t just add a little zing to your nature photography; they’ll take it to a whole new stratosphere. So, stick around, this is going to be a fun one.

Let’s explore five strategies to ignite your creative spark in photography:

1. Change Your Perspective

We often view the world from a standard, human perspective, standing or sitting. Challenge this routine by altering your viewpoint. Get down low to the ground and discover the intricate details usually unseen, or ascend high to capture an expansive bird’s eye view of your surroundings. The world offers different stories at every level.

2. Play with Light

Light is the lifeblood of photography, establishing the mood, accentuating depth, and evoking colors. Experimenting with various lighting conditions, like the magical glow of the golden hour or the diffused light of an overcast sky, can dramatically transform your images.

3. Experiment with Techniques

Photography, being an art, thrives on innovation. Try out different techniques such as long exposure for capturing motion or macro photography for revealing the minute details of smaller subjects. Intentional camera movement can also create abstract images, bursting with color and dynamism.

4. Embrace the Elements

Mother Nature is a fickle artist, constantly changing her palette. Don’t just wait for ‘perfect’ conditions, harness the power of storms, rain, snowfall, and seasonal changes to add drama, serenity, or life to your photos.

5. Tell a Story

Aim to capture not just the scene but the emotion and essence of the moment. Look for storytelling elements like wildlife interactions, changing moods of the sky, or the interplay of light and shadow.

We challenge you, on your next nature photography outing, to apply one of these tips. Whether you try a new perspective or photograph in challenging weather, push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Remember, creativity is a muscle, one that grows stronger with practice. It’s about risk, experimentation, and above all, enjoyment. So head out with your camera, let your creativity guide you, and above all, have fun. After all, that’s what photography is truly about.

Pop in your earbuds and press play on this episode to dive even deeper into each of these 5 strategies.


Resources Mentioned

Poison dart frog logo for the 6 must-have shots for a photo story training by conservation visual storytellers academy

6 Must-Have Shots for a Photo Story

Learn how to next-level your nature photography in one afternoon. Get the breakthrough training that turns nature photographers into visual storytellers so you can reach a bigger audience and inspire people with your photo stories.

Episode 152: How to Cultivate Creativity In Your Photography Practice

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/152

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
E 152

[00:00:00] Jaymi: Hey there, and welcome to another episode of Impact, the Conservation Photography Podcast. And today we're jumping into a particularly fun, yet frustrating, yet very fulfilling aspect of nature photography, and that is our creativity. Now, it's one of those things that you know it when you see it, you know it when you feel it, but sometimes it's really hard to put your finger on exactly what is creativity in an image.

[00:00:28] Jaymi: What is a creative image yet when it's there, it takes that photo from, oh, that's a nice picture to, wow, did you take that? That's amazing, right? It's what lets us capture the heart and soul of the wilderness that we love so much, and to share it in a way. That makes people stop mid scroll in their Instagram feeds.

[00:00:48] Jaymi: But let's be real. Sometimes finding that creative spark feels so elusive. One minute it's there. The next, it's vanished into thin air. But I promise it is possible to not [00:01:00] only find creativity, but also turn it into a practice so that you can conjure it up. Anytime that you need. And today we're gonna dig into some practical strategies that kickstart that creativity so that you can create those images that are more than just kind of, oh yeah, that's, that's cool.

[00:01:17] Jaymi: Into those images that are, wow, what a unique way of seeing the world. And these tips won't just add a little pizazz to your nature photography. They're really gonna take it to a whole new level. But first, let's talk about why creativity is so important in nature photography. When we think about conservation photography, using our images to make an impact for nature, for wildlife, for the planet, for our communities, we often focus on the subject matter, the technical aspects, the right gear, the right settings, the right timing.

[00:01:50] Jaymi: Creativity is what breathes life into our images. It's what allows us to actually see the world from this unique perspective and to tell compelling stories that [00:02:00] inspire people to care about the planet. Back in episode 13 of this podcast, back when we first got started, we talked with Morgan Heim, an award-winning conservation photographer about.

[00:02:10] Jaymi: Putting soul into our photos. And one thing that she said that has stuck with me ever since is to stop being such a photographer. And it's true, like sometimes creativity is all about backing away from the camera settings, backing away from the buttons and the pixels and whatever, and

[00:02:27] Jaymi: instead start to get into the playfulness of it all. Start to get into like how you feel about being there in the situation. Enjoy it. Have fun with it, right? So how can we boost our creativity in ways that are fun, playful, and that really bring that unique perspective to each image that we create here are five strategies.

[00:02:49] Jaymi: The first strategy is to change your perspective. Now changing your perspective can drastically alter the way that you see and capture the world. And as you start to put this [00:03:00] into play, it's gonna become more muscle memory like, okay, I've seen this scene from one way. How many other ways can I see it from? Right. Our daily experiences are largely viewed from an upright position, whether you're standing or you're seated.

[00:03:14] Jaymi: It's kind of our default setting. But what if we tweak that setting? The results can be amazing. Like consider this, consider that you are in a forest and there's this little mushroom sprouting from the undergrowth. Now, most of us view it from our own height, right? We're looking down at this mushroom, but imagine instead you're getting down on all fours and capturing that mushroom from its level, like suddenly.

[00:03:38] Jaymi: This humble little fungi becomes this towering figure against the backdrop of these giant trees. It's kind of like discovering this hidden character, this hidden protagonist in a story that you didn't even see before. Right. I remember doing this actually not that long ago. A few years ago I discovered a little cat's tongue.

[00:03:58] Jaymi: Fungus, it's, I had never [00:04:00] seen it before. I had to go look it up, what it was when I got home. But it's this tiny little fungus with a really interesting shape, this white, almost translucent kind of color. and when I found it, I got down on all fours and was playing with these different perspectives.

[00:04:13] Jaymi: And what's funny is that when I got home and started playing with the images on my computer, I realized that the sense of scale was so, Different. I had seen this very tiny, like maybe one inch tall cat's tongue fungus. And what I saw on the computer was, like I said, this kind of towering amazing, weird, quirky fungus.

[00:04:35] Jaymi: So you really get to play with, wow, how do I wanna show this? What is this character like in its habitat? Or let's flip the script here. Instead of getting really low, you get really high. Maybe to photograph a scene, you climb up on a hill or you climb up a tree and suddenly you're not just in the landscape, you're above it.

[00:04:55] Jaymi: You're seeing the world like a bird does, or a cloud or the wind. This perspective [00:05:00] allows you to capture this grandeur. It allows you to have this view of the whole space in this way that really lifts us up almost out of the scene and makes us see it in a way that might shift how we're thinking about that habitat You know, in recent years, aerial photography has really revolutionized this viewpoint. Drones have unlocked this access to literally heights previously unimaginable to photographers, unless you were gonna rent an airplane or rent a helicopter or hang glide, I don't know. But now we can use drones to reveal patterns and structures and narratives When you are stuck from the ground level, you just miss. So shifting your perspective is really more than just a physical change laying down on your belly or climbing a tree. It's also about challenging the usual way of viewing the world. So stepping out of your comfort zone, stepping out of how you normally would photograph something and [00:06:00] embracing a new, exciting way of seeing it from a completely different.

[00:06:04] Jaymi: Angle, it's about daring to look from a different angle and discover a whole new story in the process. So remember, every shift in perspective is a step toward this richer, more varied narrative of our planet, and a step toward thinking in a more creative way. Because you'll not only be thinking about how you would usually walk up to a scene and photograph it, but all the different ways that you can possibly show different angles as well.

[00:06:30] Jaymi: Now the second strategy is to play with light. Now light is the lifeblood of our photography. It shapes the mood, it creates depth, it brings out colors, it makes colors disappear. By playing with different lighting conditions, you can actually open up this incredible creativity box of effects and atmospheres, and every one of them offers this unique flavor to your shots.

[00:06:55] Jaymi: So consider golden Hour. It's that magical window just after [00:07:00] sunrise or before sunset, and oh my goodness, it is my favorite time to be out there, especially because I love playing with backlighting so much. And so at this time, this golden light bathes everything in this soft warmth and it kind of wraps your images in this dreamy glow.

[00:07:17] Jaymi: That can really spark so much creativity. 'cause you're thinking, I have all of this opportunity to play with this very dreamy light that it is at this kind of stark angle. What all can I do with that? How can I maybe create silhouettes? How can I create some rim light? How can I make something just look utterly a glow?

[00:07:38] Jaymi: How can I bring out some different colors? There's all kinds of things that you can play with. And then on the flip side of that, let's talk about. Overcast skies and clouds and fog. Well, they can be your secret weapon as well for capturing these really intricate details of a landscape or a subject without harsh shadows.

[00:07:56] Jaymi: Clouds act like this giant diffuser spreading light [00:08:00] really evenly across your scene, so the next time it's cloudy. Grab your camera and go run outside and think about, okay, how are all the different ways that I can embrace this gray, this natural soft box that the, uh, an overcast sky or a cloudy day has given me?

[00:08:16] Jaymi: How can I use this type of light to create a certain mood or a certain vibe, or to be able to capture more detail in a scene and if those clouds are bringing along some rain, don't be too quick to put your camera away when that rain starts to fall. 'cause , hey, that rain might bring a really unique photographic opportunity as well. You know, wet surfaces become these mirrors reflecting light in really interesting, maybe unexpected ways, and raindrops can add extra texture or movement to your shots. Using the way that light interacts with water can be such an interesting addition to your images and such a way to bring out that creativity because you wanna play with it.

[00:08:57] Jaymi: You wanna figure out, how do I capture that reflection? [00:09:00] How do I capture maybe the speed that the rain is coming down, or what kind of mood do I wanna create here? So don't shy away from experimenting with light. No matter what the conditions, often we think we have to have really good light. We're waiting for certain golden hour light.

[00:09:15] Jaymi: That's the best light. It's the only light we're ever gonna use. No, no, no, no, no. All light is good light when you experiment with it, when you play with it, when you play with your camera settings to create moods or to use it in really surprising ways. So embrace the challenge of light in.

[00:09:34] Jaymi: Any situation, and you're gonna be amazed at the results. If you embrace playing with light as a challenge, as a creativity challenge, you're gonna really bust into some interesting realms of your images and create images that are unique and interesting. After all, all photography is about risk and experimentation, and playing around with what is in front of us.

[00:09:57] Jaymi: The third strategy to try [00:10:00] is to actually experiment with some different techniques. Photography is an art, and like any art, it thrives on experimentation. So think of photography like a gourmet meal, and these techniques are your secret ingredients. So just like adding in a little secret ingredient to a recipe can totally transform it from, you know, your back of the chocolate chip wrapper recipe to grandma's favorite chocolate chip recipe. Just like that. Adding in a little bit of interesting technique can really revolutionize your photographic expression, can make it unique to you.

[00:10:37] Jaymi: So play around with different photographic techniques. Let's dig into an example. Let's talk about long exposure. Using long exposure as a technique. Imagine that you're in front of this bubbling, bubbling waterfall.

[00:10:52] Jaymi: You know, it's got all these amazing rushing waters and different little rivulets that are happening, and there's


[00:10:58] Jaymi: all this energy. Now [00:11:00] imagine using long exposure and that. Roaring body of water kind of transforms into this serene, silky stream, as if time slowed down, as if everything got softer. And as you play with different exposure lengths, you can determine just how silky you want that to be.

[00:11:18] Jaymi: Or maybe you wanna speed up that shutter speed a touch so that you get a hint of the amount of water coming off of that waterfall while still having that kind of silky look to it. Or imagine a really busy highway at night and there's all these cars that are zipping past. If you add in long exposure, then those vehicles turn into these trails of light, and that could paint this really interesting story about speed and motion and the number of people that are traveling through a landscape at once.

[00:11:48] Jaymi: There's all these ways that you can use long exposure as a secret ingredient in your photography to transform a snapshot into more of a storytelling photo. And then of course, there's the world of [00:12:00] macro photography, like that's kind of like being Alice in Wonderland, right?

[00:12:03] Jaymi: Where you shrink way down and you explore these intricate details of these very tiny subjects, and all of a sudden you see this. Universe. Within a universe, a simple flower can become this vibrant landscape, and this insect turns into this fascinating character. This whole world that is usually hidden from our naked eye suddenly comes to life.

[00:12:23] Jaymi: So exploring a photographic niche and which utilizes techniques of macro photography, that can be a way to really shake up your creative practice and make you think about all new ways of photographing the world. Make you think about all new stories that you wanna tell. Now another technique that you might try is intentional camera movement. So often we are focused on how do I get the sharpest shot? How do I get my image stabilization or my tripod really sturdy or whatever it is to make sure that that camera's not moving and I get attack sharp shot. But if you actually play around with intentional [00:13:00] camera movement, that can be kind of like.

[00:13:02] Jaymi: Dancing with your camera. You know, you move your camera deliberately with the shutter open, maybe sweeping it from one side to the other or up and down, or moving it around in some sort of a way so that you can create these abstract painterly images that are just. Brimming with color and motion.

[00:13:19] Jaymi: It's sort of like very intentionally creating this beautiful chaos of all these blurred lines and colors. It's a really fun technique to try out, especially when the fall foliage is out maybe if you're in a field of wildflowers, it's sort of that blue hour and you can play with slow shutter speed and moving this around.

[00:13:39] Jaymi: You've got all this color to play with. It's a really fun technique to try out, and you never really know what the results are gonna be. You get to play around a lot with it. I mean, it's a technique that can keep you busy all morning long. And remember, photography isn't just about capturing exactly what's in front of you.

[00:13:55] Jaymi: It's also about interpreting it in your own unique way. So play around with [00:14:00] these techniques and so many more Don't be afraid to make mistakes. because really when you think about it, mistakes are just a springboard into another experiment. If you make a quote unquote mistake, you just learn from it. You analyze what you do and don't like about it, and then you go try again.

[00:14:14] Jaymi: So they're really just a way to learn faster, to experiment faster, to come up with a really amazing result faster. So play around. Don't be afraid to experiment. Now the fourth strategy to breathe more creativity into your photography is to embrace the elements.

[00:14:31] Jaymi: I know that it is so tempting to wait until the weather is just beautiful and the light is just right to get out there, but nature is ever changing, and every element brings this really unique charm to the outdoors. So instead of waiting for what you think are the perfect conditions, embrace the elements as they come.

[00:14:50] Jaymi: I know it can be really hard to get out the door when the weather's not so nice. It's a lot of extra mental work to really get out there and rain or in snow. I know I [00:15:00] definitely have a hard time convincing myself to go out when it's cold. I'm such a wimp when it comes to the cold, but when I do, I'm always so grateful that I made myself get out the door because cold or snow or rain or wind,

[00:15:15] Jaymi: it always brings something interesting with it that you can photograph, and also not only interesting ways of seeing the scene, but also interesting things that you need to do with your camera to be able to capture the scene the way that you want it. It's a lot of fun to. Again, take a challenge and embrace that challenge as a learning experience.

[00:15:34] Jaymi: Now, earlier we talked about how great it can be when the rain starts to fall, and you can play with the way that light and water interact. Storms can be incredible times to be active with a camera. You know, to some, it might seem like the best reason to pack up your gear and go home, but to you as a creative conservation photographer, it can be an invitation to actually capture all this drama, this tension, these.

[00:15:57] Jaymi: Dark clouds that are brooding overhead or these [00:16:00] bolts of lightning that are splitting the sky or rain, that's blurring the landscape. These can create a powerful spectacle. It's like nature putting on this theatrical performance, and you have front row seats. Now, of course, I'm gonna just put in a caveat because I am the anxious type.

[00:16:16] Jaymi: If you're gonna go photograph a storm, safety first. Safety first, safety first. So don't just head out in the middle of a lightning storm with your metal tripod and plunk down. Really think about, okay, I'm gonna head out into some elements. What do I need to do to be safe inside of that? But as long as I know you are being smart and safe, as you head out the door with your camera, then that's all we need to worry about.

[00:16:39] Jaymi: And then it's about really getting creative. Now another element to embrace, of course, taking safety first is snowfall. Snow is kind of nature's way of hitting the reset button on the landscape. It transforms these familiar landscapes into these serene, monochromatic scenes. It's as if the whole world has kind of been dipped in white [00:17:00] paint and there's this fresh canvas for your images.

[00:17:03] Jaymi: It is so fun to go out. In snowfall and capture the snow coming down and maybe using a slower shutter speed to blur that movement or to show how soft the edges of a landscape can get in a snowfall. Maybe you find some really interesting tracks that you can photograph that show the story of wildlife going about its business on a fresh, snowy landscape.

[00:17:26] Jaymi: So really don't shy away from elements and instead, welcome them with open arms. Things like rain and wind and snow aren't necessarily obstacles, but they're opportunities to really get out there and create these dynamic images that tell compelling stories. Again, just because I worry safety first on all of this, make sure you bundle up.

[00:17:46] Jaymi: Make sure you know what the weather's doing, all of that stuff. But remember, the beauty of nature really does lie in its diversity, and these elements can really bring that diversity out. And as conservation photographers, it's [00:18:00] really our job to capture all of that in all of its beauty Now, the fifth strategy to really bring a lot of creativity into your photography is to tell a story Behind every photo is really a story that's. Being told in subtle ways. When you're out there with your camera, remember you're not just documenting exactly what you see as it is.

[00:18:23] Jaymi: You're capturing a slice of life. You're capturing a moment that's frozen in time, a moment that is filled with story. It's part of a story. So why not make that moment really illustrate that story. Look for elements that can add depth and intrigue to your story. And it can be really anything. It can be, uh, two squirrels that are playing and how they're.

[00:18:45] Jaymi: Chasing each other up a tree. It can be the changing mood of the sky as day turns to night, and you do a really long exposure, a time lapse of that. It can be the dramatic play of light and shadow across a landscape. These details [00:19:00] transform a snapshot into a compelling narrative.

[00:19:02] Jaymi: What you wanna do is really lean into the idea of there is a scene in front of me. What. About it. Do I wanna photograph? I don't just wanna take a picture of the scene. What about the scene? Do I wanna craft a photograph about telling a story through your photos is not just about what you see, it's also about how you feel when you're in that moment.

[00:19:24] Jaymi: So try to convey the emotion of the moment. Is it a really serene morning by a lake and the world is still half asleep, and you wanna capture that feeling of calm, that feeling of not quite woken up to the world yet? Or is there maybe a really tense encounter between two wild animals like rutting elk that really gets your heart racing?

[00:19:45] Jaymi: What about that scene is really interesting? What's happening with the characters? What is that emotion that you're feeling or the emotion of the scene? What is that vibe? Or maybe it's just. This awe inspiring site of this mountain range that is bathed in the golden [00:20:00] glow of a sunset. And you really wanna capture the idea of standing in front of this incredible scene and taking in nature.

[00:20:07] Jaymi: I, it's kind of amazing because landscapes I feel like are one of those scenes where there is so much emotion, there's so much. Thought and philosophy. It's the moment that you can be really meditative and have these big, profound thoughts because of the way that a landscape is a glow in light or because of the lines or the mist that is going through valleys.

[00:20:30] Jaymi: As you look down into this valley, there is so much about a landscape that can be so storytelling. It's easy to walk up to a landscape and take a picture. It's a snapshot, so you really have to get into. What is the feeling behind this and how am I gonna craft that feeling? Your images have the power to transport viewers right into these moments to make them feel what you felt.

[00:20:55] Jaymi: So let your photos do the talking. Let them weave these adventure tales, [00:21:00] these big stories, or to tell the story of a quiet moment and everything in between. And if you really do get into the storytelling side of photography, if that's something that really draws you in, and you wanna go beyond not only telling a story in a single image, but with a series of images, check out our mini course. Six must have shots. For photo stories that walks you through different types of photos to create of a scene, to really tell a story and to tell a narrative.

[00:21:29] Jaymi: So if you're interested in going into all the different types of shots that you can be taking at once to tell a story, a complete story, that Minicourse is really gonna help you out. You can find it@conservationvisuals.com slash six shots, the number six, and the word shots. So the number six S H o t ss.

[00:21:50] Jaymi: if you are into the idea of visual storytelling, that's gonna be a great place to dive in. And now here's a challenge for you for the next nature photography [00:22:00] outing that you have. I would love for you to pick one of these five tips and put it into practice.

[00:22:05] Jaymi: One of these strategies that you're gonna test out, maybe you're gonna decide to really change up your perspective and to shoot from a bird's eye view. Maybe you're gonna really embrace the elements and you see that there's kind of a misty, rainy morning, but it's not gonna stop you.

[00:22:19] Jaymi: You're gonna head out and photograph in the rain, whatever you choose. Push yourself outta your comfort zone and see where that creativity takes you. Always ask yourself, okay, this is what's in front of me. How do I wanna craft a photograph about it and play around? So there you have it. Creativity isn't something that you have or don't have.

[00:22:40] Jaymi: It's a muscle that you strengthen with practice. So go out there, experiment, take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and most importantly, have fun. Because at the end of the day, that's really why we pick up our camera anyway, that's what photography is about, is about having fun and creating things that we really care about and [00:23:00] wanna show to other people.

[00:23:01] Jaymi: Alright, now, thank you so much for joining me on this episode. I hope that you found it helpful and that your creative spark is flared up and I will talk to you again next week.


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