Growing Creatively during a Global Pandemic

Here is some local beauty across the street from my home on a north facing hillside leading down to the Cedar River. Walking to through this ravine I had the feeling of total immersion is a transparent wall of ferns.

The recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has effected all of our lives in significant ways.  The immediate effect was quite stark: schools closed, non essential businesses closed, and State and National Parks also closed.  We could still go to the grocery stores, but we limited our visits, wore masks, and maintained at least 6 feet of social distance.  The crisis also hit professional nature and landscape photographers very hard.  Workshops were canceled along with trips that were meticulously planned long ago.  Sales of products such as prints and tutorials also declined during a very challenging economic environment.  Many people lost their jobs and few wanted to make a non-essential purchase such as a print during these uncertain times.  But this is just the business side of photography.  The crisis also has had a major impact on the creative lives of all nature and landscape photographers.   We received a wake up call that one our primary sources of our inspiration, access to state and national parks, was now cut off. 

Fawn Lilies
Rare Fawn Lilies at the top of a small peak within walking distance of my home

My Experience during the Outbreak

During the first couple of weeks of the lock down I struggled to process many changes impacting me and my family.  My daughter Caroline was suddenly out of school and her preparations and dreams of a successful track season came to an abrupt end.  Suddenly we were all trying to live our lives as best we could only occasionally leaving our home-my wife Julia working out of the upstairs office, and Caroline logging into online school. Julia dusted off our old sewing machine and began creating face masks for our family and circle of friends using some of my old Boeing dress shirts that I hardly wear any more!  I could no longer make frequent visits to my aging parents, and not at all to my 92 year old father who is in a long term care home.  I stated to communicate with him through FaceTime, not at all easy with someone of his generation.  I learned of two friends and colleagues who actually contracted the corona virus which was a wake up call that this thing was real and not some abstraction we just hear about through the news media.  Clearly my family needed to take the necessary precautions of social distancing, wearing masks, and keeping travel to a minimum.  

Blue Heart Forget-Me-Nots
In honor of the the scores of people on the front lines during this crisis: nurses, doctors, and other people in the medical field. 

Prior to the shut down, I had just gotten my business to the point where it was beginning to grow rapidly and I was well on my way fulfilling my vision of having a successful side gig after taking an early retirement from the Boeing Company almost five years ago.  Wow, how time flies!.  Although I receive immense satisfaction helping others grow in the art and craft of photography and when someone cares enough about my work they would venture to purchase a print, I can easily deal with the loss of business.  There are far more people who have suffered true economic hardship during this crisis, along with people in the medical community who are putting their lives on the line who deserve our support.  A far more serious situation for me was being cutoff from one of the major sources of my mental and emotional well being, nature itself.

Cedar River Sunset

This river is a about a three mile walk down the hill from home in east Renton.  Anytime I venture out with car I pass the river but seldom venture down to its shores and never to this particular spot.  The beauty of the Cedar River can be subtle and you will almost never see photographers photographing this site.  But its beauty on this early spring day, with the leaves of the cotton wood trees just starting to come out, seemed as awe inspiring and wonderful as anything I could possibly imagine.  Is it possible that my own attitude can change the appearance of a place?  

With the passing of a few weeks I began to realize that the pandemic could not possibly cut me off from the source of my well being and creativity.  Nature was still there for me to discover.  Nature was within myself, and in all places including my own yard, the woods I can access right out my front door, and places within walking distance of my home.  Creating images that I would find personally fulfilling and that would also inspire others would clearly, however, require a different focus.  I needed to be receptive to the beauty in places many people would consider quite ordinary and mundane.   It was time once again to find beauty in small scenes and places that previously I overlooked.   It was also the time to explore processing these images somewhat differently incorporating some new skills I picked up watching video tutorials while staying at home.  My fresh vision required an approach consistent with where my head and heart was at this time, during this time period of the 2020 Corona Virus Pandemic.  How could one possibly just carry on as business as usual?  Clearly this was a time for seizing upon new a different ways of experiencing a now suddenly changed world.  It was also a time to channel this experience into a fresh approach to photography concentrating on the world immediately around me rather than far off in distant places.  Here are a few recommended ways for growing creatively during this pandemic that grew out of my own personal experience.

Bleeding Hearts in an Enchanted Forest
Here is a beautiful clump of bleeding hearts I stumbled across while temporarily  moving off the trail close to my home in order to practice social distancing. 

1.  Explore areas within walking distance of your home.

Even during the stay at home order and shutdown, Washington’s Governor Inslee encouraged people to get out and experience the outdoors in areas within walking distance of their homes while practicing social distancing.  I heeded this advice and am glad that I did.  Getting out into nature is so important for our sense of well being and the strength of our immune system.  I would bring along a camera and a small tripod but mostly took my images quickly so as not to interrupt the flow of foot traffic.  We need to keep things moving!  Occasionally in places where I would arrive early and no one was present, usually before and at sunrise, I would setup my tripod for a series of shots.  It is possible to live next to nature for years and take her beauty for granted, or worse still not even notice that her beauty is there.  Sometimes it takes something like the COVID-19  crisis to alter our perspective and see the familiar and mundane with fresh and open eyes.  There is beauty, both subtle and bold,  behind the veil of the familiar and the ordinary.

Sunrise at Big Cedar
I pass this big Cedar Tree, largest in this forest that is close to my home almost every day, but it sure took on a new look this morning with the sun rising and bursting upwards into the canopy.
Wild Current Blossoms in the Forest

This image is from one of my many recent sunrise walks in the woods across the street from my home.

Beauty in my Backyard
This image of Mt. Rainier was taken on a hike right from my home through the forest and up to an overlook with a view of Mt. Rainier. A long 200mm telephoto perspective compressed the layers in this scene sufficiently to capture the same emotional impact this scene has on a person when he/she stands at this site for the first time.

2.  Explore the Macro World
One can explore the macro world of small things just about everywhere including our own back yards.  Although it helps to have a dedicated macro lens, this is not necessary.  Even a kit lens can get fairly close to a small subject and one can always crop in post processing to get closer still.  I have witnessed in others some of the biggest strides in creativity when they enter the world of macro photography.  In some ways it may be easier to hone in on developing ones compositional skills through photographing small things.  “It is a a small world after all”  It is easier to identify the primary  subject, and the need to minimize distractions is more obvious.  Most of the rest of the guidelines for composition of grand scenes still apply, including the use of leading lines, repeating patterns, transitions, maintaining image balance, etc.  But you may find that working the macro scene helps sharpen your eye for composition,  growing your skill set so when you later go out and photograph the grand scene once again you will be seeing it with fresh eyes.

Snowdrop Lilly
Lilac Blossom Tears of Joy

(3)  Explore the world of small scenes. 
Exploring the world of small scenes is similar to the macro world except here we are talking about small vignettes or pieces of a much larger scene.  The vignette could be the size of a small room, it is just a piece of a much larger landscape.  Even in areas that seem devoid of any kind of distinctive landmark such as a mountain, lake or river there will be a multitude of small area scenes.  There are literally thousands of them even in a relatively small area of a couple of blocks.  Picking out the small scene or vignette that is meaningful to you will go a long way toward developing your eye for what works in any image.  As in the macro world most of the guidelines for composition of grand  scene will apply here as well.  You will still look for leading lines, transitions from cool to warm, along with patterns of light, texture and color, etc.    The more you practice taking these small area images the better photographer you will become and this will have a huge impact on your skill-set when you go back out and photograph the grand landscape. 

Dream of Dogwood Blossoms
Yellow Angel Butterflies of the Forest

A small colony of Oregon Grapes in bloom deep in the hear of the forest close to my home

7 thoughts on “Growing Creatively during a Global Pandemic

  1. I always take the time to read what you have to say. I live on an island, and quite often “make do” with what is near me. I have been lazy about getting out early , though. Shame on me! Thank you for helping me grow my creativity!


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