The Creativity Feedback Loop





If this blog post had a subtitle it would be ‘The Cross Post Experiment’, because in a surprise move I’m posting this not only on this blog, but on my other blog.  Hmmmmm….wait.  I don’t know which blog you are reading this on, so I don’t know of which audience you may be a member.  We just got started, and I’m already confused.

In any event, I’ve managed to post/publish my 6th podcast episode.  If you’ve hear, or better yet subscribed, to my audio ramblings about photography then I thank you.  If you’ve listened to more than one, or if you have listened to them all, then I applaud you and your kindness.  I’m not sure they are worth listening to but I have found them productive to compose.  In the latest episode I talk a bit about my roleplaying, a bit about my photography, and some of the places at which these two creative outlets have recently intersected.  Thus the reason for this blog post and the two places where it appears.

Specifically, this post is about my own, very personal, sense of creativity.  Some or none of the podcast or this post may click for you.  I get that.  This is my own weird head-space and lucky for you I’m the only one that need inhabit it.  My two primary creative outlets are very different in many ways.  Photography has little to do with playing Dungeons & Dragons, and the reverse is true as well, but they do share some commonality in that both are forcing me to create something.  OK, not forcing.  Perhaps they cajole me into it...but whatever the case the result is the same.  I make a photo, and thus I have created.  I play or run a game, and thus I have created.


                                   The same winding road goes to many places...

                                  The same winding road goes to many places...

What I realized this week is that although at first they seem like standalone activities, internally they seem to come from the same, internal source. They feed one another, nourish one another, and also they seem to prod one another from any complacency.  In other words, I have one big pool of creativity, and both of my hobbies tap that well in order to manifest.  Once manifested, they seem to create a sort of feedback loop that refills that well. Initially I had thought that my newfound passion for photography was eeking out my lifelong relationship with Roleplaying Games like D&D. It wasn't. In fact, the opposite was happening with greater frequency.

 It was a bit of a revelation for me.

Perhaps you have already discovered this.

I think that were I a gifted artist (in the sense of drawing or illustration), those two hobbies would have been a natural fit and quite nicely complimented one another.  I see this in my social media friends who engage in both activities.  It’s a gift I don’t have, drawing, and I haven’t got the patience to try to learn.  I think as children we try all of the creative opportunities we are given, but when we discover no natural talent or passion for a particular type of creativity we simply move along to the next.  Perhaps it’s just me, and my laziness.  I know that I was always a bit jealous of my gaming friends who were talented artists and illustrators.  It seemed to me to be a great gift to bring those characters and their stories to life beyond the spoken or written word and into a picture.


My introduction to photography came rather recently in my life, and I don’t really know if I have any actual talent but I do have passion for the making of photographs and that is enough to keep me working at it most days.  Part of me realizes that if I want to create an image, this is going to be my medium.  It likely won’t allow me to produce an image of my latest D&D character, or a monster I have an idea for, or a magic item and such but I derive a great deal of satisfaction in having captured an image I find pleasing or interesting in some way.

Last week during an online game (using Roll20) there was a real feeling of excitement and fun.  The DM (Dungeon Master, for those on the photography blog) ran a great session, there was a bit of roleplay and a whole lot of dungeon crawling and when it was over it left me with a great sense of having participated in creative play.  It had gotten my inner-well flowing, and almost immediately I felt the desire to keep it going by working on some images I had made during last weeks snowstorm here in Philly.  The feedback loop was in effect and strong.  Is the ‘The Force’ all those Jedi keep rambling on about?


My friend Dennis is both an avid gamer and an amateur photographer.  I consider myself lucky to have a close friend with whom I can share both interests, even though we live in different parts of the country.  He’s had both hobbies for a long time, and we’ve never discussed this topic of a creative feedback loop but I would be interested to hear his thoughts, and yours as well.

My buddy and his camera.  Sadly we did not play D&D that trip...

If you are a Photographer, does your creative well spill over into other creative pursuits in your life?

If you are a D&D (etc.) enthusiast does your time with the game make its way into you other creative outlets?

My Week in Photography

Like many people, I have a pretty tight schedule which means I don't get to drop off the radar and go shooting in interesting or unusual locales all that often.  I have a few moments each day for my photography if I'm lucky, and some days I've got no time at all.  In order to combat this, I've set up a process and acquired the sort of gear I can use in my day to day.

During the week my schedule looks mostly the same, with me going to work, to the gym, to spend time with my son, eating, sleeping, and then getting up to do some combination of those things again.  I’ve learned to keep my eyes open, and to keep a camera with me most of the time.  I live in an ‘ok’ neighborhood in the city, and I work in a bit of a dangerous one, so my EDC is a Sony NEX6.  It’s not high end, but it has a reasonably good sensor and with inexpensive adapters I can throw my Nikon lenses on the body.  Currently I’m shooting it with a 50mm Nikon series e manual lens, which has been crisp and fun to shoot.  The two images at the top of this post were captured with that camera/lens combo.

I try to take a few minutes each day to step outside the pawnshop and take some photos of folks passing by.  We’re located on a major street near to public transportation hubs, so I get alot of nice foot traffic.  I stand out like a sore thumb there, and the camera doesn’t help, so I take advantage of the articulating screen to shoot low quite a bit.  I feel better framing in the EVF, so I do take chances bringing the camera up to my eye to get comfortable, but I know that action makes me conspicuous.

The weekends offer me other opportunities, and I take them when I can.  There is a reasonably large flea market close to my place on Sunday mornings, so many of my images come from early walks I take there.  For this I usually bring my x100f.  It too is not as conspicuous as my Nikon dslr, and with a fixed lens it makes me think about images differently than if I had access to a zoom.  With no articulating screen, shooting from the hip is more of a challenge, but it’s a skill worth learning and practicing as some of my favorite images have been captured that way.

I love my Nikon, but unless I’m heading to a destination unusual, unfamiliar, and worth the effort, I don’t often get to use it.  Sure, I could take it to the flea market, but it’s so big and obvious that I wouldn’t be able to walk the place in relative obscurity and many opportunities would be missed, not to mention I’m much more likely to be both spotted (ruining the photo) or worse yet, accosted (which I can handle, but don’t enjoy).

There are moments of free time where I just step outside behind my apartment and can find several interesting subjects, like these odd buds on the tree/bush/weed thing growing madly out of control in the patch of green behind my place.


                              taken with Sony NEX6 w/ 50mm Nikon Series e lens

Bottom line, you may have the same boring schedule each day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make good photos each week.  There are plenty of opportunities to engage in your passion even during the daily grind...even if your only convenient camera is your phone (which has sometimes been my situation as well).  It’s like they told me in the Boyscouts...Be Prepared.

I made some of my most interesting images this week, and I didn’t roam anywhere unusual at all.  There’s wonder and magic just outside your door, on your walk to the bus, while you take your lunch break, and everywhere in-between.  


I Haven't A Clue What I'm Doing

To prove how accurate the post title is, this is the second time I’ve written this post. The first time I lost about five paragraphs. Maybe I’m a better photographer than I am blogger.

Last year I watched a documentary film called Finding Vivian Maier. If someone asked me today what sparked my interest in photography, that movie and Vivian herself would be my reply. She was prolific, mysterious, private, and somewhat invisible as she moved through the world capturing moment after fascinating moment. To be discovered by accident, and only after her death, was something that I found both poignant and motivating.

After watching the movie and a few restless nights, I was compelled to grab my camera and snap a few pictures, but that felt unsatisfying. Why? Because what Vivian (and so many others) do with a camera is make pictures, they don’t take them, and rarely snap them. My Nikon D5200 was on AUTO, and I had no clue how to move beyond that setting.

I guess I could have read a book (maybe one for dummies), but that seemed uninteresting. I wanted to learn how to use  my camera, so I did what any sensible person in 2017 would do. I watched Youtube videos. I leaned about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  It was, and still is, confusing. I moved on to focal length and depth of field, and became even more befuddled. The more videos I watched the less knowledge I felt I was gaining, with just more questions and seemingly endless permutations on using my camera.

Prior to my Nikon I owned several point-n-shoot digital cameras. Before those, I had little interest in taking pictures save for the occasional Polaroid or leftover roll of Kodak Gold my dad left in his Minolta. My son was born in 2005, and the bulk of my photography up until recently has been random images of him, and on important days like birthdays, holidays, and other similar life landmarks.

All of the videos I watched from creators I enjoyed had something in common. No matter what the topic at hand, in the end they had the same piece of advice, go out and shoot. At first what I ended up with was alot of photos of my feet.  ALOT. What I wanted to do was go out into the world and take pictures like Vivian, certainly not expecting to replicate her work but to be among people, in public, capturing candid moments. 

So, I started going on walks. I would go to the flea market with my camera hanging at my shoulder and I would bring it up to take a photo now and again. Some people would look, most would ignore me.  Other days I would go the park after work so I could catch the best light. The same thing happened, people looked or didn’t but rarely said anything. Those that did talk to me were generally nice, curious people. They asked about my camera, or why I was taking pictures. I answered honestly, that I didn’t know what I was doing and I was learning. 

I had no clue what I was doing. I just did it. The truth is that I still feel that way, but now I’ve come to accept that it’s just a part of a normal process.  Even if I get my aperture and shutter speed bang-on, I may pooch the ISO. Sometimes I forget to check my white balance before I start shooting. I miss alot of good shots while I focus my attention on something silly.  I don’t frame my shots correctly, or I haven’t thought my composition through well enough.

Still, sometimes I’m happy with my results.  Mostly, I get lucky.  Once in a while, a plan comes together.  Overall the results are random, but every time I go out with my camera a feel a bit more confident about my abilities.  The images above are from a walk I took yesterday in the park.  I liked them, and hope you do as well.

Go Play. Have fun.