I started this month on a high note, having just finished an exciting job for Sony Records. My inbox was steadily chiming with inquiries and leads. And then, COVID-19 came to America.
There’s a lot of uncertainly flying around right now. A lot of people are scared and unsure of what the immediate future may hold with possibly thousands of people being ill, industries are suffering from a lack of workers and customers, and the stock market in an unpredictable state. It’s safe to say photography is not on most people’s list of top priorities right now.
As such, I’ve spent two days in bed. At first, I thought I was relaxing. I had a session that went great a few days ago and I thought “hey, I deserve to take a break!” But when I tried to make plans with a friend and then promptly flaked a few hours later so I could continue laying in bed mindlessly scrolling through social media I realized…this isn’t relaxation. This is depression and anxiety.
I’ve been depressed before, often for very good reason. And the not-so-existential dread about what this pandemic means for my business, my community, and the world counts as a pretty good reason! My depression manifests as losing interest in things that typically fill me with joy. My anxiety keeps me from interacting with other people, even though often that helps alleviate my depression. I have to recognize it when it is happening and take active steps to fight it, otherwise it can spiral beyond my ability to course-correct.
Today’s attempt at fighting my pandemic-induced-depression: nature photography.
So the hard truth is: I am not a nature photographer! I do not like going outside. I am not a fan of getting dirty. I prefer instant results and having control and nature photography involves a lot of waiting around.
If a photo doesn’t have a person or a product in it, I generally don’t “get it” on a technical level. I have never studied nature photography or spent any time learning about it. When I see a pretty location that a nature photographer would see as a perfect photo, I see it as a great backdrop for a model. But, I do love texture and color. So I decided to get off my butt and walk around my neighborhood with just my macro lens and the beautiful golden hour light.
I definitely don’t think I suck a nature photography, but I am certainly not proficient and don’t have a “style” in this genre. One thing I discovered about myself on this walk, however, is that even in nature I am drawn to things that stick out of the ordinary. My first stop on my walk was directly across the street from my house where I noticed some utility workers had accidentally sprayed blue paint on some leaves while marking their work area. That juxtaposition of the shocking blue paint against the green natural tones is giving me LIFE.
We all love our comfort zone. It’s safe, it makes us feel good, and it’s, well, comfy! But it’s also where creativity goes to curl up and die a lonely death.
Part of what scares me about nature photography is a misconception that I taught to myself. When I first picked up a camera and wasn’t ready to take photos of other people yet, I took nature photos. I snapped out of focus pictures on a kit lens of leaves, grass, dog turds, bugs, cement, whatever. I didn’t shoot with intention and somehow I convinced myself that nature photography innately lacks direction. That is not true and it is not fair to the incredible artists that take breathtaking nature photos.
You want to learn composition and exposure? Start taking photos of nature and try to capture something that isn’t obvious. Try getting underneath a flower and capturing it from a bug’s eye view. Create negative space in the frame that brings your viewer’s eyes to your subject: a tiny leaf. Create with intention. And push yourself way outside your comfort zone to do it.
This is where a macro lens really shines for me. I don’t see flowers and plants and instantly want to capture them but when I use my macro lens, I get to see the intricacies of these amazing blossoms. I can’t get my human eye to see this much detail naturally! The magic of a macro lens lets me see how complicated these plants really are, and it makes me almost like them!
Making me almost like something that I normally do not care about at all is a great way to fight my depression. As Cheryl Strayed once said, “Put yourself in the way of beauty.”