Why You Should Take a Ton of Photos

We’ve been talking a lot about copyright, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’m guessing some people are grumbling to themselves, “Move on, already.” So this isn’t really about that, but it was sparked by that conversation, that whole “what’s yours and what’s not” idea.

Someone in my online art journal group (go here; everyone is welcome) mentioned touring the missions in California and seeing an image of one of the buildings for sale in a gift shop. She took a photograph from the same angle and had an image she could use however she wanted. This reminded me of my first trip to New Orleans, when I bought a bunch of postcards with images I liked. You know, those ubiquitous images of musicians at a jazz funeral and Royal Street in the rain. When I got home, I realized I couldn’t use them for anything, of course. Not if I wanted to show it or sell it or feel like it was my own. So the next year I had a list of all the images I wanted: the St. Louis Cathedral, a table in the Cafe du Monde with a coffee cup, rainy streets at dusk, musicians. Lots of old buildings. And my photographer husband happily went about collecting those for me, shooting everything from multiple angles and at various times of day. As I posted to the art journal group, a little tweaking with almost any image adjustment software will allow you to turn a rainy French Quarter street from this summer’s vacation into a rainy French Quarter street from half a century ago. And that’s true of anything if you’re taking just basic reference-style photos of things instead of going for perfect, styled shots. So if your photo of the table in the cafe has a baby stroller in the background, you can cut it out, blur it out, paint it out.

Something I think we often forget in the digital age is that you can still print out photos and alter them the old fashioned way, with paint and gesso, scissors and glue. In  fact, I had so much fun doing that several years ago that I made a really simple video showing a really simple way to start playing with photos you print out on your computer. And, honeys, let me just say this: if I can do this and get results I like, you’re going to be able to do really amazingly cool stuff, because I am a total novice. It’s so simple it feels silly, but it’s also a ton of fun.

When I caught myself looking for an image of a certain kind of coffee cup to use on a journal quilt, I mentally smacked my forehead and dug through the shelves of cups and mugs until I found the cup I wanted, set it up on a piece of fabric in front of the window, and took a bunch of photos. I do not like taking photographs–I am perhaps the world’s least patient person–and I’m not good at it. But in less than 10 minutes I had a photo I could use (plus a bunch that had to be deleted, but that’s the best part of digital photography: it doesn’t cost anything to take bad photos).

So start an image file, adding photos of things you might want to use someday. I’ve got a folder full of grackles and crows, if I ever need a mean-looking black bird. Cats. Trees. Flowers. Sunsets. Hands. Rainbows. Buddhas. Old cars. Shoes. Hats.

If you want things from the past, you’ll have to get creative. Old cars? We stumbled on an old car show set up in a parking lot, and the car owners were more than happy not only to allow photographs of their vintage babies but to give us the history of the car and all the specifications. Photos of people in period dress? You may have to rent a costume (check with your local theater group) and get a friend to model for you. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, take some photos, even if you can’t think of how you might use an image of a rusted-out station wagon with no tires or a snake shedding its skin. Once you’ve got them safely filed (and backed up, because you are backing up all your photos, right?), they’re there for you to use whenever you say, “Oh, wow. I need an image of a hot-air balloon and a monkey and pink peony!” There they are, and you can use them however you want.


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