Many moons ago, I taught an Essay and Research class. One of the things I taught my students was to narrow their focus.
Every time a student was stuck, it was because they were overwhelmed by a big subject and didn’t know where to go with it. Creating a more current, hypothetical example, a student writing about the economic crisis of 2008 would get as far as “it was awful” and then not know what else to say. If they wrote about what caused the economic crisis, they would have something to go research. But, since none of them were interested in writing a dissertation, that would also lead to writer’s block. If they wrote about one cause, they would get further, but were usually bored. But if they wrote about one family and what happened to them, suddenly, they would not be able to stop writing. As you narrow the scope of what you write about, you often find a nugget of inspiration.
Taking a lesson from my own class (although, I shouldn’t take credit–there was probably a teacher I’ve forgotten who shared this wisdom with me), as I look for photographic inspiration, I switch from thinking about every possibility in the world to giving myself a highly constrained assignment: shoot one bowl in one place as many ways as possible in about an hour.
As I clear off the largest surface I have available to work on, creating a space about 2 feet by 2 feet (how I miss having a big table), and place a weathered copper bowl under a light, my husband watches me.
“Do you know what you’re going to write about?” He asks.
I ignore him because I, in fact, have not a clue what I’m going to write about. I am only worried about what I’m going to shoot; the story will come.
He watches me spend my hour on about 40 shots of this poor, beaten bowl. I start with my 24-70mm lens on a tripod with a simple light bulb behind the bowl. Then, I try it with my flash with an 1/8” grid strapped on top. Not satisfied with the spread of the light, I try it with a softbox attachment. This ruins the contrasting shadows. I try with a snoot (I still love that word!) and hold the snoot in various positions to create a spotlight effect on different parts of the bowl.
Finally, I ditch my flash and switch to my 100mm macro lens. I get up close and try to get as much depth of field as possible (not much) across the gleaming rim of the bowl.
“Have you decided what you’re going to write about?” my husband asks again.
I give him a look.
He says, “Well, you’re over there taking all these pictures of that bowl, I assume you know what you’re going to write about.”
I still haven’t told him.