Imagination is More Important than Knowledge
By Scott Stulberg
I will never forget those words underneath Einstein’s picture on a huge black and white poster on my bedroom wall. I was about 10 years old and Albert Einstein was my hero. At a young age, inspiration may be in short supply, but those words from his amazing mind have somehow always stayed with me. Imagination IS more important than knowledge. Yes it is!
It was also at that young age when my dad gave me my first camera, a little plastic Anscomatic, that I still have. That camera brought my imagination to life and it was the best gift I have ever had. But it got even better when at the age of 13, my parents built a darkroom for me in our basement. When I look back, I actually think it was the endless hours in the darkroom that made me fall in love with photography.
Watching my images come to life under those safelights while smelling those pungent as hell chemicals was mesmerizing. I was lucky. At a young age, I knew where I was going and there was no turning back. And that is what this article is about. I woke up today thinking about what pushes me with my photography and I think it’s still all about how I originally felt… that my photography let’s my imagination come to life. Imagination is everything!
Inspiration is a powerful word. As I wrote above, it’s quite often in short supply. But I’m always looking. I’m always hoping to be inspired. Even when you think you might be decent at something, there’s always room to be better. In the photo above, I was inspired by a photographer named Lincoln Harrison. I thought after shooting all kinds of star trails for many years that I sort of new what I was doing. But I learned from him to open your mind even more.
The shot above was about a six-hour exposure and an amazing amount of time in Photoshop. But I had been inspired. It is such a powerful feeling to see a work of art and appreciate the mind of someone else. Lincoln’s imagination pushed me to try and be even more creative and tougher on myself. When he emailed me with encouragement, I could feel his imagination and thought process. Keeping that open mind is what gets us to where we want to be. Thanks Lincoln!
Trying New Things
So often, photography is really about trying to capture something new, that you never have shot before. I had seen photos of young girls that have been face painted in India and had always hoped to capture something like that. My love affair with India is never ending and on my last workshop to India, I decided it was time. My best friend in Varinasi helped me with everything, and I have to say, it is incredibly exhilarating when your mind is set to try something new.
We were off with our face paint and brushes, scouting locations with my little buddy Nana who was ready to be transformed to an Indian goddess. My students were as excited as I was but I also told them what Forrest Gump had said… “You never know what you’re gonna get.” We ended up with something pretty close to what I had imagined, and there’s really no better feeling in photography then when you nail a shot. Especially something that has been percolating in your mind and comes to fruition. Trying new things. I cannot wait to show little Nana this photo in person when I am there on my next workshop!
Think Outside the Box
Or as Steve Jobs loved to say: “Think Different!”
New York city is a paradise for photography inside the United States. This crazy and iconic place has endless eye candy for photographers. From high above, the endless amount of skyscrapers to the massive tentacles of the subway system underground, your imagination can get whacked out with ideas in every direction.
But sometimes, your imagination can do its magic after the shot, in post processing. In the shot above from the Top of the Rock, I had a pretty cool image of the Empire State building and powerful architecture as far as I could see. I decided to try something different on this particular image because the Empire State building was centered and the sunset lighting was pretty sweet.
I wondered how I could make it look like a painting but not by using a plug-in or any of the brushes in Photoshop. I decided to use the motion blur filter in Photoshop at different opacities and blend modes and ‘painted’ as if I really was a painter. I can’t draw or paint at all so this was as close as I could ever get. The result was almost exactly what I had envisioned. I wanted something dreamy and ethereal from this iconic view but something totally different from my other images. Whether the camera is in your hand or you’re in front of the computer, I always try to think outside of the box. Think Different!
The Decisive Moment
Quite often, many of us nail the shot at the perfect moment. When we clicked the shutter and know we got it. We got the shot! Along with some good imagination and lots of preparation, sometimes you also get lucky. Sometimes, something can present itself out of nowhere, right in front of you, and can give you an amazing photographic opportunity.
However you get to those moments, it is something that Cartier Bresson called “The Decisive Moment.” When you click the shutter and know you captured something magical. It’s something I love to talk about and strive for often. That decisive moment, when it all came together and what you see in front of you, at that exact moment, has the makings of a great photograph.
This was the case with the image above in the blue city of Jodhpur, India. My wife Holly and I decided to take one of my friends that lives there and shoot her inside the beautiful blue city. I picked out a beautiful red Sari that she was selling at her mothers clothing stand and we all took off for a fun adventure. I found a perfect spot with stairs and thought how cool it could be to have her walk up and down the steps looking down, not seeing her face.
Something just felt right and I thought we were on to something. She walked up and down a couple of times and then all of a sudden, the door above opened and the grandmother, who owned the home, was staring straight at my friend. I am sure she was wondering who in the heck was walking up and down on her steps but it had given me a decisive moment.
A good shot just became a great shot. In her green dress and oblivious to our cameras, the grandmother had taken my idea to a new level. She presented me with a gift. Something I had not even thought of and Holly and I got the shot.
It had started from me imagining how my little buddy, a red Sari and the blue walls would photograph and ended up with an amazing little photo opportunity. When I clicked the shutter, I knew we had it. The Decisive Moment.
Expect the Unexpected
I have photographed the amazing white horses of the Camargue in the south of France for around 13 years and love teaching workshops with these beautiful animals. When you are around them it is more than special. Always different. However, this is serious photography where you are pushing yourself about as much as you can. Settings, exposures, lens choices, shooting in servo while focusing and zooming, exposure compensation and using Auto ISO all while you are working on your fast moving compositions. Not for the timid.
All of this is going through your head while half of the time you are in the mud or water with chest high waders on. It makes for some awesome photography and a lot of great memories. But I tell everyone to be prepared for the unexpected.
A great shot can present itself at any second and you have to be prepared. Often, there are no second chances. Being at the right place at the right time ain’t that easy in a place like this, but when it happens, it can be magical.
That is just what happened in the photo above. My guide and the horse owners had put two stallions together for my group. I love doing this as I never know what I might capture during the bucking, running and fast action shots when stallions get together. My group kept moving to different vantage spots all around the horses but I told them all to keep their eyes glued to their viewfinders. Anything could happen at any time. It paid off big time when out of nowhere, both horses mellowed out and touched their heads together and I knew it was something special. I yelled out, “shoot shoot!!” It was The Decisive Moment. Although lasting about three seconds, a few students and myself were in the right spot and captured this very special moment. A great memory. The right place at the right time. Expect the unexpected. It might pay off!
No Risk No Reward
This is a special topic. No Risk… No Reward.
This is not something I talk about all the time but it’s something I think about quite often. I love thinking about new images that I might want to capture and some of them definitely involve more work than usual. A lot more pre-visualizing. A lot more effort and of course sometimes more risk. Last August, I found myself holding onto a branch at the edge of a cliff, on the coast of Oregon, inches from sure death below. But I got the shot. We photographers can be crazy at times and I push safety over everything but sometimes, a little risk gets the reward.
I’ve always been mesmerized by the cinematography in movies that are shot above cities like New York. It just seems to jar our senses with those images looking straight down from so high above. It pushes my adrenaline just like when I have bungee jumped or sky dived. The view from above is priceless. That has led me to shoot from helicopters many times and my last two helicopter flights over New York City were worth every penny.
I had envisioned the exact shot that I wanted before we took off. With the doors off, I told our super cool pilot of my vision. A powerful, wide angle shot of skyscrapers at dusk with the city lights on all over, while shooting almost straight down. When we got to the exact spot I wanted, he said “Hold on” and we flew in circles with the helicopter at an extreme angle so the feet of the helicopter would not be in the shot. Around and around we went with only my safety belt keeping me from doom below and it was probably one of the scariest moments of my entire life.
When we landed, I couldn’t thank him enough and said those four great words that I live for… “I got the shot!” I got exactly what I wanted, which started months before from my imagination. Wondering if I could get this kind of shot from above. But I knew the risk could be crazy. And it was. Not the kind for risk most people should even contemplate…. But often, taking some risks can give great rewards. It sure did that night!
Never Stop Learning
This is a subject I talk about all the time with my students. I encourage them to learn from everywhere possible. From magazines, to online articles, to the amazing amount of videos that are everywhere, and last, especially from schools. Never stop learning. There is so much invaluable instruction out there from people willing to share their knowledge and their years of experience. It is so easy to learn more and more these days!
I love when I’m meeting new students for the first time in a class or workshop, and can feel their enthusiasm. It really is contagious and spreads throughout the class. Learning new things is the best tool to improve your photography. Pushing yourself, thinking outside of the box and exploring many different aspects of photography. It’s addicting. And when you capture something new after learning new techniques, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences you could ever have. Whether it’s a new tool, or technique in Photoshop, or learning to shoot panoramas for the first time, always push yourself to be open to new things. New ideas. With your imagination and a desire to learn, the sky is the limit!
One last note and hopefully some words of wisdom that I live by. I realized pretty long ago that photography is more than talking about pixels. It’s about vision, ideas and the willingness to allow your imagination to soar.
Scott Stulberg is a world-traveling photographer and instructor and he teaches photography workshops in many of his favorite destinations worldwide. His images are in collections all over the world including 5 star resorts, department stores, major hospitals including the UCLA Medical Center and also on permanent display in the United Nations. You can check out his website and his photography workshops. Words and images ©2020 Scott Stulberg. All rights reserved.