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Inspiration

Inspiration Through Reflection

· 10.April.2019

We recently celebrated eight years since Fujifilm launched the FinePix X100, the little camera that changed the game.  I moved to the X Series shortly after the release of that camera, maybe seven years ago, and have been on a remarkable journey ever since.  I was already working as a photographer when I got the X100 of course, but that little camera unleashed something in me that I wasn’t aware of… some change that has driven my career for the last seven years.  

It started with subtle changes in my photography, changes in the way that I saw and made my images.  I was inspired all the time, shooting as often as I could, which led to working as a full time creative.  Shortly thereafter Fujifilm asked me to be one of their Official Fujifilm X Photographers, bringing new opportunities to test gear, create images, speak at events and write. Perhaps most importantly, I met wonderful people that I wouldn’t otherwise know. People that I respect, people who inspire me. Suffice it to say that it has been a wonderful seven years, and I am full of gratitude.

(Camera: X-T1.    Focal Length: 14mm.    Aperture: f/8.    Shutter Speed: 1/150.    ISO: 400)

Any successful journey, however, reaches a point where something dangerous can happen if you aren’t careful: you become complacent. It is never a purposeful thing, complacency just creeps up on you sometimes.

Success tends to bring us comfort and stability.  These are wonderful things to have in life, but they can be death to us as artists because we risk losing the passion that drove us in our early years when everything was new and exciting. Psychologists even have a name for this as it relates to happiness and satisfaction: the seven year itch. This is exactly where I found myself recently, producing work that my clients were happy with but not shooting for myself very often. I was in the proverbial photographic “slump”.

(Camera: X100F.    Focal Length: 23mm.    Aperture: f/8.    Shutter Speed: 1/420.    ISO: 200)

There are many approaches you can take to rekindle your passion if you ever find yourself feeling like this. One is to take a break; just put the camera down and focus on other pursuits. This approach, which I use often in my guitar playing, gives you time to clear your head and come back fresh. I often find, when I am struggling with a piece of music for example, that leaving it alone for a week or two is the best thing I can do. For some unexplained reason I can almost always play that piece of music properly when I come back to it. 

Another approach is to shoot more, to purposefully put yourself into new photographic situations and push through the slump. This approach might involve shooting new client work, starting a new personal project, or perhaps using restriction to promote creativity (such as shooting with only one focal length or only shooting one colour).  

(Camera: X100F.    Focal Length: 23mm.    Aperture: f/2.8.    Shutter Speed: 1/320.    ISO: 320)

Inspiration can also be found when viewing the work of others of course, and we don’t have to look far in the Fujifilm community to be inspired either, do we? From Patrick Laroque’s amazing visual storytelling, to Jonas Rask’s incredible diversity, from Kevin Mullins’s wonderful black and white wedding images to Elia Locardi’s breathtaking landscapes… we are blessed to be part of a community of stellar artists.  

When I feel like I need a kick in the ass, however, one thing I also do is to go back through my own past work. I go back to those photographs that stand out in my mind, not because they are perfect images by any means but because I have a strong memory of making them. I go back to those images and look at them with fresh eyes and a mind full of questions:

What is my memory of making the image? What caught my eye in the first place? What gear did I use? What was my thought process? What struggles did I encounter? What did I love about the image? What do I wish I had done differently? What story was I trying to tell? What can this image teach me?

(Camera: X100F.    Focal Length: 23mm.    Aperture: f/3.2.    Shutter Speed: 1/140.    ISO: 200)

There is so much to learn from one single photograph and I always rediscover something when I do this. I consider a lens that I haven’t used in a while, a technique that I had forgotten about, a long forgotten shooting location that I should return to, a favourite photo subject or, perhaps, I just recall a wonderful memory of making the image that I had forgotten. I find that “thing” that used to drive me again and, before I know it, I am back in love with the process of making images.

There are other reasons to periodically reflect on our work of course, not the least of which is to identify gaps or trends in our own photography. Perhaps we realize that we aren’t lighting our portrait subjects as well as we would like to be, that all of our 5 star images over the last two years are dog photos, or that we never shoot between vacations and trips. In addition to hopefully re-kindling our love of photography there is also significant educational value in this process.

Put simply:  

Reflecting on our work, with honesty and intention, is incredibly important to our growth as artists. It reminds us of where we came from but can also serve as a compass point looking forward.

(Camera: X-Pro2.    Focal Length: 23mm.    Aperture: f/11.    Shutter Speed: 1/180.    ISO: 200)

Right when I was about to embark on this reflective process, my friend Tomash asked me if I was interested in writing a monthly series for this website. I have written for the magazine many times in the past, guested on the podcast several times, and I love the community of artists that exists here. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to get inspired again than to talk about photography here, with this wonderful community of artists. For me, the timing was perfect.

So, over the next few months, let’s look at a lot of images together. Let’s re-visit places like Paris and New York, San Francisco and Toronto. Let’s talk about using Fujifilm cameras for travel, for weddings, for portraits and for personal work. Let’s have a conversation together while I reflect on past work and re-focus for future creative endeavours.

Let’s tell stories and talk about photography.

I’ll end this article with the image below, one that entered my mind right way when I started this process of reflecting on my work.

(Camera: X100F.    Focal Length: 23mm.    Aperture: f/16.    Shutter Speed: 1/400.    ISO: 200)

I took this image in Hawaii during my daughter’s first trip there a few years ago. It was the final night of the vacation, so we ventured out for a picnic dinner and to watch our final sunset of the week. The evening was beautiful; so while my daughter swam, I wandered the park and beach area looking for interesting visuals.

I stopped in my tracks when I saw this gentleman, the way he was sitting capturing my eye immediately. I am always a sucker for a beautifully backlit silhouette photograph, but there was something more here. The scene felt…. lonely. Sad. There were people all around us: kids swimming, friends throwing a football, families barbecuing and men fishing off of the break. Yet, for all that activity, this gentleman sat alone, unmoving.

The photograph itself was simple to make: I switched to Acros+R in camera, removing colour to place more emphasis on the strong elements in the frame. I set my Aperture to f/16, to try to starburst the sun a little (it was still a bit too bright for that). And, finally, I settled on a composition that made more effective use of the negative space surrounding the subject. I tend to take a thoughtful approach when I am crafting my images (as opposed to an instinctual or reactive one), and my goal here was to try to capture the sadness and the loneliness that I felt when I viewed the scene. I was trying to make an image that was visually appealing, but also one that told a story.

The whole shot, from initial discovery to final capture, was only a minute or two. I remember putting my camera down, unable to walk away, and watched as the gentleman continued looking down, so deep in thought.

Now, somebody once told me that all photography is a lie. The importance of that statement finally clicked for me on this day when I ended up speaking with this gentleman a few minutes later. I was standing near him, photographing the ocean, and asked him how his day was going.  I wasn’t sure what he would say, especially after watching him sit so forlornly for so long.  

I almost burst out laughing when he said:

“I dropped my phone in the rocks a few minutes ago, and now I can’t find it.”

🙂

On a serious note though, reviewing this photo reminded me of a wonderful night spent with my family and my camera, as well as giving me an idea for a new personal series.  

The power of reflection.

I look forward to sharing many more stories with you in the months to come.

Until next time,

Ian

Ian MacDonald

Ian MacDonald

Ian MacDonald is an Official Fujifilm X Photographer based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His work is candid and documentary in nature, with a focus on street, travel and wedding photography. A university trained educator, with over twenty years of teaching experience, Ian currently offers group street photography workshops, private one on one workshops and photography education online with students from around the world. Collaborating with others and building relationships within the photography community are central themes for Ian. He loves the process of photography as much as he does the work that he creates.

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