Finding Your Inspiration

“You can not depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” ~ Mark Twain

How are you inspired? Just what is inspiration anyway? Well, to get a little technical about the subject we could examine one definition to start. The description I find most appealing is,”Inspiration refers to an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical or other artistic endeavor”. Literately the word means ‘breathed upon.’ That seems to fit the bill well when it comes to photography. Is there something that causes a burst of creativity as if you were ‘breathed upon’ by some outside force? Some food for thought if nothing else.

I think most who have turned their photography into a passion to create  (whether the beauty of nature or document a scene) feels this outside force from time to time. I can recall one of my first springtime predawn trips to Konza Prairie, I had hiked into a new area that had fresh tallgrasses just beginning to spout up from a burn a couple of weeks previous. While hiking down an old roadbed  I could see the dark rich soil between the bunches of sprouting greens and the rock laden lands that has so rightly helped to name this part of the world. The sky was beginning to lighten up as the clouds were somewhat strong but not overpowering in coverage. I found excitement growing in anticipation of the burst of sunlight that was just moments away from peaking over hills that had been bathing me in the mornings shadow. I didn’t know what to do other than stand there and try to take it all in, the sights, sounds, smells and feeling of life simply overpowered my senses.  I was not prepared for what took place and therefore was not prepared to do it justice with a photograph. Oh I attempted to, the fleeting moments of perfect light when the land and sky seem to both expose properly in a single shot, but in my opinion I failed. But having said that the morning was one of the most inspiring I can recall, to this day there are permanent emotions burned into my soul from that morning, great pictures taken or not, inspiration had taken place.

We all must have times in our lives that have caused profound inspiration. Those times when surrounded by nature that made our mind and body burst with inner excitement. I feel this willingness to allow nature to become part of us may be fleeting as well. Not much time is given to the process of inspiration to the personal nature of letting ones self become inspired by what moves us. It’s necessary to break out of the stereotype and to intentionally not conform with the status quo in order to allow those feelings to manifest and become part of who you are. Instead young people in educational institutions are driven to ‘fit in’ in hopes of becoming part of the ‘norm,’ and if you want to be successful just work harder. Hey there’s nothing wrong with working hard I hope that goes without saying, without hard work your goals are nothing more than dreams but what is going to make you work hard if nothing inspires you? Here’s a little personal admission on my part, I don’t want to be ‘normal,’ to me normal equals boring. Are you going to satisfied with a successful, normal, boring life?

Photography has give me much to be inspired about, the act of creating is a loosing battle without it. Once you have found what inspires you, you must develop your vision, a so called ‘inner voice’ and let that inner voice scream with passion and excitement, don’t ever hold it back keep feeding it those things that allows it to grow. I hope I get a chance to replay that springtime morning in the flint hills but one things for sure, just dreaming about it won’t make it happen I must put myself in the position to allow it to happen. The things we can control are surrounded by the things we can not control and the more we put them in close proximity the more chance they will meet with inspiring results.

I have shared some of the images of that inspiring morning from time to time over the last few year but I have also held back some of my thoughts about them. I wrote recently about my need to create more personal imagery when presented with inspiring moments and specifically when surrounded by the lands I have grown to love and cherish, the prairies and flint hills. Like anyone if given the chance to replay that morning there would be some things I would do differently as far as simply photographing the morning but, I have no regrets of what took place and even feel blessed to have had the experience and the inspiration given to me by nature. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

I have processed these images on many different occasions in an attempt to end up with a result I am satisfied with, that has been one of my biggest frustrations that I haven’t mentioned much about before. Today I sat down and again worked each to these final results. With the help of some new tools most notably Lightroom 4 and Nik software I have as of today ended with a more satisfactory result. But actually I think the biggest difference is the memories that I have been able to recapture and once again become inspired by.

© Brad Mangas

© Brad Mangas

© Brad Mangas

© Brad Mangas

© Brad Mangas

 

 

Solitude

I probably should begin this with a well known fact about myself, I am definitely an introvert and must say glad of it. What exactly is an introvert you might wonder? Well, I watched this video from TED and it described my take on it very well and hope you can take 20 minutes to watch it.

This isn’t a 50 year synopsis of my life but simply my view on what I do and why. From the begging of my photography being taken seriously by myself about 5 years ago I found something that meant more to me then the mere action of trying to capture a landscape, that something was solitude within the presence of nature. It made no difference to me if it was a warm spring morning or a stormy summer afternoon the important thing was that I was experiencing it, by myself.

I have made the comment to others, almost subconsciously that truth be known, I don’t consider myself to have many friends and even made the comment that friends “can” be a pain in the you know what, that may sound cold hearted but it is viewed as more an opportunity not an obstacle and very much don’t mean it in a bad way if that is possible. It seems to have been a choice I have made over my life thus far. I prefer the lonely walk in the woods to being surrounded by others. That isn’t to say there aren’t those that I care for deeply and will never pass up the opportunities to be with them, but I know what makes me tick and that is solitude. Within the realm of solitude I believe there must be another force interwoven to help complete the journey and that is humility. To be humble could very well be the trait I find most attractive.

What does this have to do with photography you may ask? To me it has everything to do with it. I don’t take pictures to merely capture a scene, that is simply the by product of what I am doing. If I am so lucky to make an image that can portray a personal emotions than that is the icing on the cake so to speak. I am literately drawn to places that are remote, out of the way with influence given to me by Mother Nature herself. That force that we can not see or touch but instills the very essence of life. It is within these places I begin to understand not only myself but what are truly the important things in my life.

Kansas Flint Hills

© Brad Mangas

Kansas Flint Hills

© Brad Mangas

 

Favorites From 2011

Time again to cull through my images of 2011 and choose 10 top favorites. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, when I began to do this I didn’t spend a whole lot of time picking and choosing mainly because like most photographers, I can pick way more than 10 that have special meaning to me. I did ponder over several more that deserve to be in this list but it would have just been like changing 4 quarters for a dollar bill, not much difference in the end.

© Brad Mangas

This exercise of going through images I find not only enjoyable but beneficial as well. Already I have come upon a half dozen or so that need to be processed and added to my website, this will happen very soon so I hope you will look for some new offerings there. I have no regrets in the 10 that have been chosen here and need to keep in mind how lucky I am to be able to get out into nature on a regular basis to enjoy all it’s glory, with camera or not. There are times when I happen upon a scene that I would love to photograph but for one reason or another am not able too. As the years pass by like drops of rain from the spring clouds I have begun to realize the importance of the experiences and memories of specific times and places. I would always love to be able to photograph all that I see but as long as I stand true to my believes I will always hold the memories much more closer than the photographs. So with that, in no particular order I present you with my favorite 10 images from 2011.

Prairie burns in the flinthills of Kansas

© Brad Mangas

Guarding The Flames – The experience I had the evening of April 16th is one I will not forget and plan on experiencing again every year I can. Living among the prairies of Kansas one knows about the annual ritual of the spring burns. Not only fascinating to see but of vital important to the continued health of such lands. Seeing from a distance can be exciting enough but being able participate directly amongst the fire is exhilarating to say the least. I was fortunate the weather was great as the excitement filled the air in anticipation of seeing thousands of acres of flint hill prairie lite up with fire as the sun set. Many images were taken that afternoon and evening and it wasn’t until back at the computer I looked at this image closely. There is no doubt in my mind from my experience, this image belongs here.

Kansas Meadowlark

© Brad Mangas

Juvenile Meadowlark – My photography focus has always been on landscapes and wild places, I am a wildlife photographer by opportunity. If the opportunity is there I will not pass it up, such was the case one morning while hiking the Bottomland Trail on the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The grasses were in all their splendor along with the blooming wildflowers. A short distance up the trail that I was meandering at an opossums pace I could hear the singing of a meadowlark. Stopping to hone in on the source it didn’t take long to spot, 20 yards off the trail this juvenile was making their presence very well known. A quick change to a longer lens (which when wanting a bird to stay put is risky) 3 images where quickly taken trying to capture the boastful singing of this beautiful young bird, which still had a few pin feathers showing on it’s back. It was by far the best image of the hike and one I felt lucky to not only have captured but witnessed as well.

South Carolina Photography

© Brad Mangas

Evening Shrimp Boat – A week in South Carolina with my beautiful young bride produced more that just quality time together. We had the great opportunity to take  2 quite lengthy boat rides in the Georgetown area. One being a private excursion with Captain Rod in his personal boat and the other on one of his tour boats. After a late afternoon exploring of Shell Island the trip back to the mainland was slow, quiet and peaceful. Heading north I had the good fortune of being seated on the west side of the boat to witness what was arguably one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. As if choreographed by the fisherman that evening this shrimp boat had slowed down to a crawl seemingly to let us go by. 5 minutes either direction would not have produced this image with the same results. It could be chalked up to luck but you know what they say, when opportunity meets preparation. Obviously my camera was glued to my hand the whole time.

 

Konza Prairie, Kansas

© Brad Mangas

Butterfly Milkweed On Konza – Even though I am not a vast world traveler I have no doubt whatsoever that Konza Prairie will always be at the top of my list of favorite places in the world. There are many reasons for this, it is the place I developed a deep loving appreciation for nature. A place where I could feel like the only person left on earth, and a place I began to learn through their docent training program the true importance of nature conservation. If you want to see nature in all her glory, spring, summer, fall or winter you need look no further than this 8,600-acre native tallgrass prairie preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University and operated as a field research station by the K-State Division of Biology.

Konza Prairie, Kansas

© Brad Mangas

Stepping Stone Sunset – Not only is this an image from Konza Prairie as well, it was taken the same evening the previous Butterfly Milkweed image was. As I hiked my way back along one of the main trials I noticed the wonderful colors beginning to form on the western horizon. The trail you see here looking west, tops along a high ridge where great views of the prairie can be seen. I quickly hurried to this high vantage point as the sun slipped below the horizon. This is when knowing the controls of your camera by memory comes in handy, I knew I had to setup and make a few images quickly without fumbling around in the low light. I was very pleased with this final result of the last image of the day from one of my favorite places.

Kansas Prairie Photography

© Brad Mangas

Prairie Goldenrod – Driving another of my favorite stretches of country road that winds through the flint hills I stopped when spotting this stretch of goldenrod last fall. I walked the fence line looking for a composition that would take advantage of the wonderful autumn prairie scene. It was early afternoon and for the most part the light was strong almost on the harsh side. As I walked down the sloping fence line I soon spotted this composition which to me seemed perfect, slightly slopping land and this small tree standing out amongst the wild flora. This shot is looking north and for the most part the southern skies still did not have much cloud cover. I remember when taking this shot the glare was so strong on my lcd screen I couldn’t see what I had just taken a picture of. Relying on the exposure meter and histogram the few shots I took looked like they should turn out OK. Not until viewing this back on the computer did I realize the brightness of the land exposed perfectly with the bright cloudy skies to the north. What made me chose this particular image was not the land or the sky but the detail that came through in both. Who says you can’t make a good picture in bright light!

Kansas Wheat Field & Barn

© Brad Mangas

Wheat Field & Barn – Chase County Kansas nestled in the rolling flint hills, there is almost no bad place to go in search of typical Kansas scenery. I was coming back from a specific trip to a very small town to photograph an old mill along the Cottonwood river. There was no need to hurry my trip back as I had planned to explore some new back road areas. Heading back along a paved county road that had train tracks paralleling it I spotted this wheat field that may have been 100 yards from the road. It looked to be a good opportunity to get something of this nature with the flint hills in the background. I slowed when spotting a pull off where I could safely park and walk to the edges of the field. When I pulled in and looked directly across the golden wheat to my surprise the top of this red barn came into view. Needless to say I spent some quality time here making sure I didn’t miss this great opportunity to capture a rural Kansas scene at this specific time of year.

© Brad Mangas

Looking Up The Mighty Oak – I had a plan, I typically don’t make such specific plans when heading out with the camera, it’s just to hard to estimate what you may encounter so I try to approach most outings with a very open mind. But this particular late fall afternoon I knew I wanted to try something. That something was to put to use the swivel lcd screen on the Canon 60D I purchased recently. I played around with shots like this last year but couldn’t come away with what I wanted. The problem is putting the camera on a tripod and setting it as close to the ground as possible looking up, almost straight up. A little hard to focus through the view finder when your camera is 6 inches off the ground looking up. Walking a local park full of beautiful oaks didn’t take me long to find this specimen with branches starting 15-20 feet up. The swivel view finder with live view is really the only way I could have made this image. The unique prospective along with it’s beautiful colors and stark trunk features is what allowed it make this list.

© Brad Mangas

Beauty In The Green Light – As I have mentioned most of my photography happens when I allow myself to be open to my surroundings and this is a perfect example. I had been hiking the grassland areas one afternoon without much in the way of capturing my eye. The light was bright and the landscape seemed rather uneventful. Many times like this I will simply just stop and stand in one spot telling myself there has to be a picture here somewhere and if I am worth my weight in salt I can find it. Peering over the vast open landscape I was struggling to do that. If I could give anyone in such a similar situation one piece of advice it would be, stop looking at the big picture and instead look at what is the closes to you. In this case I was surrounded by native grasses, big and little bluestem, Indian grass and this particular specie gamagrass starting to go to seed. I knew the light was very bright and honestly wasn’t sure doing something like this was even worth the time but my love of our grasslands forced me to try something. This image is a direct result of bright light and the willingness to be open to new ideas. Not only did the beauty of the dominant green light come through but the unique play of lines and form capture my attention still.

Outdoors Photography

© Brad Mangas

The Campsite – I intentionally saved this image for the last, unlike the previous 9 it doesn’t pose some of the attributes that allowed the others to make this list. It poses much more, a memory of a time when I felt lucky to be alive, healthy and have loved ones in my life. It represents my commitment to nature and to be willing to live among the life that makes this world great. I can not control nature, man can not control nature the best we can hope for is to except that we are part of a bigger picture and must not attempt to change forces beyond our control but learn to live within them without harm and destruction so all future generations may have the same opportunities as us. OK, I won’t climb on a soapbox here but when we as people allow ourselves to be part of nature we learn from it, we learn that we are only a small part of the big picture. It was those feelings I came away with one October day while living and sleeping among the life that makes this planet great. If those feelings can be captured in a photograph we have accomplished something wonderful. It is in viewing this image my mind goes back to those days of humble feelings, appreciation of what I have and respect for all life around me that I knew, I could very well be the luckiest person on earth.

All the images presented here are available as fine art prints at my website. Please take some time and enjoy browsing the varieties of nature photography galleries. You can also search for each image using the image ID#. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and feelings with you over the years, I look forward to more wonderful adventures.

Happy New Years!

Brad

Why You Shouldn’t Judge Your Own Work – To Much

That’s a rather odd statement I know for the title of this and of course there is no way to completely not judge one’s own work but I can explain in a way hopefully you can relate to.

This thought crossed my mind recently after initial comments and print request of a recent shot taken while attending the annual Huff & Puff Hot Air Balloon Rally in Topeka, Kansas. I had made it out to the early morning lift off Saturday and to my liking the crowd was rather small at 7am, I guess in the hundreds. I spent a good amount of time walking the grounds looking for interesting photo opportunities and had good time playing with a recent purchase of a Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 OS lens, seems to be a nice lens, light weight for a 2.8 and the first lens I’ve owned with image stabilization or optical stabilization as Sigma calls it. A couple hundred images where made before most balloons where gone up up and away. I had already planned on heading back to the rally that evening to enjoy the balloon glow where they fire the burners in the evening hours to light up the wonderful colors and designs of each balloon.

Upon arriving around 6pm I was greeted with a mass of spectators possibly around 5,000 which is a significant amount in what is not an overly large area around the lake. It’s amazing how many folks now own dslr cameras now all wanting that great shot when things are just right. Well, after about an hour of hanging out I had enough, large crowds all gathering around balloons trying to squeeze in for a shot was just more than I am willing to deal with, after all this is supposed to be fun right? Back to my truck I headed with a new plan in mind, head to the other side of the lake, the east side find a decent location to watch the balloons from and hope for good sunset light and clouds in which to capture the event, so off I went. Within 15 minutes I was standing at waters edge with a good view across the lake to where the balloons were and the best part, only a few people had thought of doing the same.

OK, now to the point of this post. As I began taking some shots of the balloons some luck played into the situation, calm winds some clouds in the sky and right choice of lenses on the camera. All should be great, right? For the most part all was pretty good and many images where made, but I knew at the time of most captures single exposures where going to be an issue. The sky behind the rising balloons were bright and the time to experiment with exposures was limited. Sure balloons don’t move fast but they do move so composition was changing every few seconds. My dilemma wasn’t necessarily the exposure of the sky but the exposure of the balloons against the sky. The 60D I was shooting with does a decent job of capturing a range of at least 6 stops but I was dealing with a greater range than that.

I was comfortable for the most part with the composition I was able to get and did vary up the exposures of some of these shots, the issue was spots of brightness in the skies and small dark spots of balloons against these. As I worked selected images up first in Lightroom than taking them into Photoshop I had predetermined what I wanted these image to look like, my critiques hat was on and I started picking the images apart finding everything I didn’t like about them. That was a mistake, I obviously chose to overlook other aesthetics of the images. I know this from others feedback of the images, ranging from nice, to “one of my favorites” and then an immediate request for a print, which typically never happens so fast.

Could this just be a fluke, or could I have initially not seen what others with less judgmental eyes had seen. There is no real way of knowing such a thing but I did use it as a learning experience on judging some of my own work. Typically when an image is posted on a photography forum others spend time nitpicking the image apart from those who aren’t well known, if you are somewhat known in the photography world well that’s a different story no matter what you post, but that’s a completely different subject for later. We as photographers have an emotional connection to every shot we take there is no getting around that and for the most part we should. Our images that we present open and honestly are a reflection of how we see our world and they always should be, our heart , mind and soul should be part of each image. Like our experiences through life our thoughts can change and what might be excepted today may not be tomorrow, it’s how we keep our thoughts and creations fresh and new instead of old and predictable.

So next time your thinking of hitting the delete button before you do, step back, take a break and try to refresh your mind with all that is good instead of all that is bad, you may just be surprised to see more than initially realized.

I came up with a list of five reasons “Why You Shouldn’t Judge Your Own Work – To Much”.

  • 1. You worked hard at finding just the right shot so there is an emotional tie to the image before it is made, others don’t know or even care how hard you worked.
  • 2. You have specific criteria for making your images, others don’t have any idea what that is.
  • 3. You tend to repeat and duplicate what you like, though this is what all photographers do, it can lead to the same old look and feel.
  • 4. You feel comfortable in what you do and produce, others just want a nice picture.
  • 5. Trying something different can open new doors that you may like as well or better than what you have done in the past, but you will never know if you are to critical on everything you do, or to scared to move forward and experiment.

 

© Brad Mangas

 

 

The Perfect Moment

Have you ever been out in search of that perfect picture? Do you always find it? More times than not the answer is probably no, maybe you don’t even come close to finding what you had envisioned in your mind. I believe most photographers have had this happen if not a few times more than likely most of the time.

Visualizing what you are in search of is part of the process, an essential part of the result but when that doesn’t happen do you get discouraged and stop or begin allowing the environment to help with the process. Photographers are always in search of that perfect shot it’s what keeps us directly involved and moving forward as we should be. I would even garner to say we have been standing in front of that perfect shot and may not have recognized it. I have no doubt it has happened to myself more than once but that is no reason to give up and go home.

Appreciation of the moment can lead to many “perfect” moments, it has nothing to do with the place you are in or the scene that is in front of you but everything to do with appreciation towards what you have been given. We all should except there is no “perfect” shot but many “perfect” moments, the difference, we control the moment ourselves through attitude, acceptance and a willingness to appreciate all that this journey is about.

Next time your out in nature with our without a camera in hand stop and take that moment to realize what all has taken place before you to create what we see today. Appreciate the grasses blowing in the gentle breeze, the bird singing it’s song as ancestors before or filtered sunlight casting down on the lands these are the true perfect moments, lets not miss any of them.

Kansas flint hills photography

© Brad Mangas