Today, we discuss the creative process with naturalist, computer scientist and outdoor photographer Steve Berardi, creator of the visually sumptuous PhotoNaturalist blog. Steve’s blog isn’t just a place to share his exquisite nature photos – it’s packed with tips about how to take better pictures with digital equipment in outdoor settings. He also includes examples of so-called “bad” photos and takes the sting out of creative failure by using them as springboards for learning how to take better photos.
His interview with Creative Liberty gives a nice summary of his approach to creating and learning and gives us a bit of insight into how he picks his projects.
Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.
Right now, I’m in the middle of revamping my e-book on wildflower photography. I learned a lot of new stuff in the last year, so I’m adding a lot more content (as well as re-writing a few sections to make them more readable). I think the most important topic I’m adding this year is color theory. I spent a lot of time last year researching color theory, and I think it’s really improved my photography (especially when photographing wildflowers).
Other than that, I’m continuing to photograph the deserts of Southern California. A lot of the desert wilderness is being threatened by big solar companies, so I want to help capture the land in images before it’s all gone.
Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?
I don’t have any formal training with photography, but I do feel my computer science background has really helped me with some parts of digital photography (especially post-processing stuff).
I think training and learning is essential to creative development, but I don’t think you need “formal” training. Some of the best photographers (including Ansel Adams) never went to any kind of photography school. With digital photography, it’s so easy to just try things out for yourself and get immediate feedback that the need for formal training is diminishing.
What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?
I constantly look at other people’s photographs, not to copy them, but to see the world through their eyes. I’ve found that this helps inspire new ideas of my own. I also frequently review my old photos that I thought were “bad” and try to explain in my head why they’re bad. I think this helps prevent me from making mistakes twice and it gets me closer to that image I’m really looking for.
What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?
I think one of the best things you can do is just look at a ton of photos (good and bad), and just take more photos (even if you think they’ll be bad compositions). I think just going through a ton of photos (both your own photos and others), and then thinking about why exactly you like them or don’t like them really helps spark your creativity and helps you see as the camera sees.
Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?
One of my longer term projects right now is to write a book on digital exposure, which is very different than film exposure. I think a lot of photographers are still treating digital photography like film, so I’m planning to write a clear guide that explains how to get the highest quality digital exposure.
How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?
I like projects that involve a lot of research and planning, and with nature photography, those types of projects are always easy to find. For example, I’ve always wanted to photograph a hummingbird in the wild, sucking nectar from a wildflower, and it took me a lot of practice, research, and exploring to finally bring everything together and get that photograph.
Any other advice to artists to help them make their creative activity more satisfying?
Get outside your “comfort zone” once in awhile. For example, when I first got into photography I was only interested in photographing nature, but I’ve recently started other little projects with photographing things like Legos and food. And, these little side projects have actually taught me stuff that I can then apply to photographing nature. For example, the Lego photography has really taught me the importance of controlling light (on a micro level).