Five things to do under lockdown
Right now isn’t the easiest time to follow a creative path, not for most of us at least. With the double whammy of a lockdown and social distances imposed as the country does it’s utmost to fight a pandemic it may appear that we don’t have many options open to us as photographers, especially if our focus is the great outdoors.
Yet despite this, I believe we can come out of this as stronger, more capable creatives if we are willing to view this situation from a different perspective. I know how simply by limiting my choice of lenses I can explore different corners of my creative photography. It’s as if the self imposed boundary gives my creativity something to bounce off!
In this article I suggest five things we can do during this time of extreme limitations, any one of which will help you come out of this a stronger, creative, more resilient photographer than you are right now. And if you follow all five who knows what heights you may reach! Look through these ideas and see which ones might aid you to emerge with something to show for all of this.
1. Tidy up your archive.
This is a big one, and probably applies to you in some way. It’s always my intention to keep my image collection clean, to delete the dross as I go and make sure every single image file is findable should I want to use it in future. As we gather images into our archives our focus probably isn’t on the future, maybe years down the line, however I know just how time wasting it is to have to scroll through thousands of images doing a visual search every time you need to consider one of your old photos for inclusion in a new project.
So do your best to commit to doing something about it right now, perhaps you’ll never have a better opportunity.
It will probably be best to take a structured, phased approach to this rather than to implement the steps in one massive swoop and to this end I advise an initial trawl through your archive to get rid of any images which you’ll never ever need again. You know the many times you bracket a shot, try different apertures, or compositions with the plan to leave it ’til later to select and save only the best one. I did this process recently and deleted a huge fifty thousand files from my hard drive effectively cutting my collection down by a third. And I do usually delete immediately after import so these images were from shoots when I was just plain lazy!
As you do this process you’ll no doubt find hidden gems amongst the thicket of files and will perhaps be inspired to revisit places, topics and subjects when the situation opens up for us.
After your initial cull go through what’s left again, this time flagging your best work. If you use Lightroom or similar you’ll be able to set up a flagging or labelling system which will enable you to quickly and easily filter your collection by grades in future. But you do have to do the hard yards of sorting first!
Next, after you’ve collated your best work, it’s time to go one level deeper and caption or keyword the images. How you keyword is your choice but I suggest keeping it simple and maybe including the location, subject, primary colour, any specific technique used (contre jour, shallow focus etc) or indeed the overarching concept of the shot. This will enable you to gather images together in groups (collections in Lightroom) which will spark other ideas and projects for future.
Ideally you’ll do this for all of your images but if that’s too mammoth a task just do it for your top layer of winning images. Once you’ve done these three steps you’ll have an archive of photos that’s lean, carrying as little excess weight as possible and you’ll be able to find particular shots or groups of images quickly and easily. You can also put in place a plan to maintain this methodology as you import future shoots onto your system.
2. Backup your files!
This is a tetchy topic. Many times when I mention this to photographers I’m met with a roll of the eyes or an irritated ‘I know, I know’. I’ve had a hard drive fail and nothing good came of it! Don’t wait too long if you haven’t got a system in place. Unlike tidying up your archive it doesn’t need to take long. Simply set an evening aside to research your options and while you’re online purchase yourself a new hard drive and acquire your chosen software. Ideally you’ll back up to two drives and keep one off site so that you’re covered in case of calamity. However I know that’s perhaps a step too far for most of us to consider.
A single backup is a million times better than none at all if you keep it up to date. With that in mind either invest in a system that will automatically back up the image files from your main archive onto your new drive or put an entry in your calendar and commit to doing it on a regular basis. I suggest weekly, or every time you add new work.
When your main drive fails you’ll be so very glad that you have the option to just click the ‘restore’ button and get everything back to it’s previous fine and dandy state!
3. Master a process.
It’s so easy to just rest on our laurels and stick with the same old processing technique. You may have regular steps that you follow to optimise your images - curves, saturation, crop… that kind of thing, and now could be a great opportunity to invest a little time in playing around a bit more.
It doesn’t take long to deep dive into a new to you style of image creation. A few minutes a day multiplied over a few weeks can really pay dividends and lead to total mastery of a technique if applied with consistency.
When you see images online that appeal to you do some research into how they were created and then do your best to follow the steps. Split toning is one process that can alter the overall feel of an image either subtly or dramatically. Trust me, it’s one panel in Lightroom that’s worth exploring in some depth. What about monochrome? You could take a process you currently know and go further with it. Do you know how to apply layer masks in Photoshop? What about selective colour processing? Would you like to learn how to emulate some of the older wet processes such as cyanotypes? A quick search online will show you how.
Once you’ve chosen a process you’d like to become familiar with stick with it until you become very familiar and can easily apply it to your work. Eventually you may begin to shoot with this process in mind and your new knowledge will really begin to inform your creative photography.
But don’t stop there. See what you can learn that goes beyond the current use of the process. Play it your own way. Ask what will happen if… By doing this you’ll come out of the lockdown with a renewed skillset, ready to rocket your photography to the next level.
4. Make ‘things’ of your photography.
You know all those images you kept on your hard drive earlier? Maybe it’s time to make something of them. For years I let my shots languish on my Lacies and it’s only in the past two or three years that I’ve begun to make more than the occasional print from them. There’s something about real, hard, organic ‘things’ that bytes on a drive just can’t touch.
My current passion is handmade books. It takes me a while but I love the process of sequencing images either as small prints on a tabletop or in Lightroom, aligning them on pages ready to be printed out on my Epsom before assembling the pages into a hardbound book of my own making and design.
In addition to handmade bespoke books we can use print on demand services like Blurb or Lulu to create beautiful books of our work which can take pride of place on our bookshelf, or as gifts to friends. What better way to showcase your photography when a pal asks what you’ve been up to.
There’s all kinds of things you can make of your photography - chap books, gift boxes of prints, book marks, fridge magnets, albums, triptychs… the list goes on. Give it a go, get creative and see where it leads you.
5. Explore a new avenue of creativity.
Now you’ll need to be quite creative as you explore this aspect of your creativity. Limited as we are to photographing in our own locale, home or garden this need not stop us teaching ourselves a new technique or two. Part of the process will involve study in any case and you can do that easily from home. Would you like to become proficient at long exposure photography, creating panoramas, nailing depth of field and hyperfocal distance, shooting star trails, learning macro, mastering flash photography? Most all of these can be done without the need to travel.
As we master a new technique the subject, or even the results, don’t matter too much. The main thing is that we can learn the technical bits so that when we can get out into the landscape again we have a new set of skills ready to go. So, don’t let the fact that you can only practice your night photography in your back yard, after all darkness is the same wherever you are, even in your candle lit living room!
Get creative and see where it takes you.
There you are.
Five things you can do to ramp up your creativity skills even during this lockdown. As the weeks roll into months these current restrictions will no doubt change, our access and freedoms will ebb and flow. Be exemplary in your community as you work within the spirit of the lockdown, but make sure you find ways to explore your creativity and connect with your inner Muse.
Become a master not only of your creativity but of your own doorstep too. Get to know what’s possible, find the edges and create wonder and beauty from this challenging time. Make it your goal to come out of this situation a better, wiser, more knowledgeable photographer and share your work to encourage others to do the same. After all, art can save the world.
Thanks very much Jason for these helpful recommendations during times when the energy is a little low, at least for myself. The burgeoning image collection certainly will appreciate some attention!
I've just realised this was published in 2020 – still so relevant today. Thanks again.
Oh Jason, how did I miss this first time around?! Love this…..I am confined to my garden for the most part, but I am going to start straight away in cleaning up the rubbish shots, which will mean I shall revisit older work and perhaps pull out a few I did not rate at the time. Plus revisiting some gorgeous locations I can no longer get to…..😊 I do back up, onto 2 other externals….but paranoid 😂…..but am wondering about a cloud thingy…could you advise? I use old windows PC not MAC…
I will certainly try some new techniques in my ancient photoshop Elements again…..
And of course, I make greetings cards……love the idea of a book though…
Bless you for so much inspiration Michelle x
All very wise words Jason, I’ve been trying to improve my photography skills during lockdown and do feel I am improving, probably due to having more time due to not spending a lot of time going out and about to take photographs🤣! The thing I’m falling down on though is editing my collection, what do you do when you have several images which are virtually the same, any advice on hoe to choose the best one or two would be very welcome? Kind regards, Amanda
Thank you Amanda. Yes this can be a problem can’t it. In Lightroom it’s possible to choose a set of images and display them together which makes comparison easier. I will then allow myself to keep half of them if I’m very attached. It can help too if I step away for a few days with a reminder to myself to return to them in a few days for another viewing. Occasionally I’ll even print the set of images, lay them out on a table and then play with them that way. All rather intensive I know, but it can be quite therapeutic to spend time with our images in this way.
Thanks for some good tips here Jason. I am not a photographer., but I began a painting course in my local community college in January.
I’m a complete novice painter. I’m enjoying learning how to use the different mediums. I can see my skills slowly improve.
During this lockdown we now have an online class. On Mondays we receive a project using a certain medium to be completed by the Friday of that week.. we share our paintings on a WhatsApp group. Its a lovely way to continue & share our learnings.
With the sharing I now have a hard copy collection of my artwork. Some of your tips will be useful to catalogue these drawings into the different mediums of Watercolour, charcoal etc with comments & captions. Thanks Jason x
Thank you for your comment here Barbara. Long ago when I conceived this site it was my quiet hope that creatives who followed paths other than photography would find it helpful and inspirational. Your thoughts here are very encouraging. Also, what a good idea to have weekly online art classes with assignments too. I’m doing a similar thing monthly for the photographers who are members of my Creativity Beyond the Camera membership. It does prove really useful. Best wishes Barbara. x
All really valid ideas Jason, thank you. I know I lean towards the creative but it is good to have that reminder to be a bit more organised.
Me too Anne! That’s why I have a massive backlog. But, bit by bit, I’m chomping my way through it all and finding new ideas blossoming from long forgotten shoots, so there is that benefit. 🙂
Thanks again Jason for all the good advice, it’s all very helpful and useful
Thank you Sandy. I’m pleased you find it helpful.