By Melissa Whitaker

Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

Finding Inspiration

The herringbone brick walkway that is lined with cypress trees at Rowan Oak.  The home of William Faulkner.
The front walkway of Rowan Oak Photo by Melissa Whitaker

“Wonder. Go on and wonder.”

The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner

According to Oxford Dictionary: inspiration(to do something)inspiration(for something) the process that takes place when someone sees or hears something that causes them to have exciting new ideas or makes them want to create something, especially in art, music, or literature

Most artists at one time or another are asked; where do you get your inspiration? Where does this piece of artwork come from? How do you get inspired?


Life. Life is where inspiration comes from. It is not something that can be grabbed off the shelf at the local convenience store. Inspiration often happens spontaneously when we least expect it and it is the recognizing and applying that inspiration that makes it come to life. Sometimes it’s standing in the shower and watching a water drop slide down the wall, a phrase in a book being read, a song being played on Spotify, or a painting hanging in a museum. Too often we are so preoccupied with our lives that we fail to see what truly inspires us, but it is in the small things that help innovate and create something new.

Personally, I find inspiration in almost everything from interactions with other people to taking a hike in the woods. Observing my environment or the events occurring in my life is what helps the creative process. Every now and then, I get caught up in the stress of things that I have no control over and I fail to see what is happening around me and this is when I must go look for inspiration. I find it is the inspiration that calms my soul.

The past few months have been highly stressful with many life-altering changes happening, so this past weekend I took a road trip. Road trips have a way of wiping off the stress of everyday life. I turn the music up and head on down the highway singing at the top of my lungs. It is a 4+ hour concert that would have most music critics cringing for their earplugs. This trip I went to New Orleans, Louisiana. I filled up on Louisiana cooking and people watching in the French Quarter. It was adventurous and fun, but still lacking in inspiration, so on the way home I took a detour to Oxford, Mississippi. I was on a quest to find my inspiration and what better place than Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner, one of America’s greatest authors.

The front of the house at Rowan Oak.
Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi. Photo by Melissa Whitaker
Magnolia branch reaching to the ground.
Magnolia Tree. Photo by Melissa Whitaker

I could feel the excitement stirring inside of me as I walked up to the home. The uneven paths of bricks, covered in the moss from ages ago, were laid out in concentric circles around the magnolia trees. Whose branches swept the ground and created its own treehouse that invoked my childhood memories of chasing fairies. I sat down in the crevice of the roots in the tree and watched the sun’s rays piercing through the leaves and I thought, “This is it. I found it.” I was anxious to explore more and to soak up all the inspiration that I could. I ventured into the house to discover a bit of the life of Faulkner. What inspired him? What made this creative soul tick?

One of the first things I noticed was the number of books that he had. Not just the books that he wrote, but the books by authors he admired. Inspiration often comes from studying the work of others.

William Faulkners' bookshelf with Charles Dickens's Works in the center.
William Faulkners’ library shelf. Photo by Melissa Whitaker

The house was filled with things to inspire. The litany of phone numbers written on the wall tells a story of friends, family, and acquaintances in the Faulkners’ home. The outline of A Fable written on William Faulkners’ office wall shows an impulse to make that moment of inspiration permanent so that he does not lose sight of it.

Then I took a walk around the property and noticed the shadows making paintings on the walls and ground.

This is just a part of where inspiration comes from. It is all around us even when you may lose sight of it. Road trips are nice, but they are not for everyone. Take the time to get lost in a book. Take a stroll down to the local art gallery and see what the local artists are doing. Go to the grocery store and pick up that unusual looking fruit that you were afraid to try because it’s different. Sit down at a coffee shop and watch the other people or simply take a look at the swirling cream in your latte. Take a bubble bath and observe the swirling colors in the bubbles.

Inspiration is a lot like the elusive fairies that I hunted for when I was a child. It hides in the crevices of the mind and it is when the mind is quiet that it can be recognized.

The Art of Photo…….shop?

“I believe in someway that Photoshop is the contemporary darkroom, the creative area that all photographers have available.” ~ Douglas Kirkland

A man who had the privilege of photographing Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot.

It has been almost a year since I wrote a post about photography as Art and I find myself having to argue the point again, except this time it is the Photoshop is art and not photography debate. Is using Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom to process photos really any different from the chemical processing in Darkrooms of the past? I don’t think so. It is the evolution of photography in the 21st century.

The basics of taking a photograph have not changed much over the years. It is mostly digital instead of film, but the overall shooting of a picture has stayed the same. A photographer must still set aperture, ISO, and shutter speed in order to capture the vision of what they see. They still have to adjust for lighting, frame the shot and seek out the best composition. That in it self is an art form. Photoshop is only another tool in the photographer/artists toolbox. It has replaced the darkroom.

I missed out on learning how to develop photos in a darkroom. (My basic design instructor in college cornered me in the darkroom during my second lesson and I never went back). However, I did learn the basic instruction and purposes of development of film. With the use of time, chemicals and light exposure a person could manipulate a photo. With the use of a paint brush, airbrush, or pen they could retouch photos to enhance or diminish areas of the picture. Truly not much difference from todays digital processing, just a longer turn over time.

Girl holding thistles.
“Bravery” Digital Photo by Melissa Whitaker © 2019

The photo “Bravery” is one that I took this week of my niece for her Senior pictures. Before I met with her, I went out and picked the thistles specifically for this shot. It was planned out the same way that an artist sets up a model or a still life for a composition. The camera settings were 1/200 sec., f 3.5, ISO 100 on a 85 mm lens with no filter or flash.

I shoot everything in RAW, because once you go RAW there is no going back. A RAW file is basically the digital equivalent of a film negative. It captures all the image data taken by the camera and allows for the photographer to post process the image in order to achieve their vision/interpretation of their view. It also allows for a higher quality image after processing.

Screenshot of "Bravery" Before and After Lightroom/Photoshop processing
“Bravery” Before and After Lightroom/Photoshop Processing

As you can tell from the Before and After image, the RAW file is dull and flat. This is because the camera has not processed the image yet. Shooting in JPEG format compresses the image and the camera processes it for you based on what it has interpreted the captured view to be. I personally do not like objects or people deciding on what I see or think, so I will continue to shoot RAW.

I post most of my images on Facebook and I continuously have people asking me what kind of camera do I use and why is it that their pictures of the sunset or people do not have the same intensity. It’s not the camera folks. It’s the way the camera is used and the way the image is processed.

Now back to the original argument. Is Photoshop Art and NOT Photography? Photoshop is both. It’s all in how you use it. If a person is using it Photoshop/Lightroom for post processing of images it is photography. It’s the same as developing film in a darkroom (only the room is not dark and there are less hands involved 😏). Retouching blemishes on a beautiful teenagers face in Photoshop, it’s the same as airbrushing a photo in the 1890’s. There is an art to it, but times really haven’t changed that much. Vanity is still alive and thriving. One of the advantages of Photoshop is it does allow for imagination to run wild and creativeness to explode. An artist can take a photograph and manipulate it to create a fantasy world, or to enhance an already existing one. Marketers can use it to manipulate the public to believe in their ideas of beauty. Photoshop is just a tool in an Artists/Photographers toolbox.

As an artist I use photography to help with my artwork. It often inspires me and gets my creative energy flowing. It helps me create my interpretation of the world I see around me.

This illustration is what I had pictured in my mind when I pricked my fingers while picking thistles for the photo.

False Truth

“Each person does see the world in a different way. There is not a single, unifying, objective truth. We’re all limited by our perspective.” ~ Siri Hustvedt

The last few years has had me examining the question, “What is true?” That question has taken over my life in the last month. Not just in the political atmosphere, but in business and personal as well. When long held beliefs turn out to be false there is a foundational shift that occurs. An earthquake of the conscience that makes one re-examine everything that they have been taught. What we perceive as truth is based on what we have been taught to believe. Our perception of the world is based on our life experiences, what we consume in media, and who we socialize with. Each one of these will bend the truth to fit into what we perceive to be accurate, if it does not fit in to our preconceived notions, then it is often ruled to be false.

I am not a degreed scholar, and I do not sit around and drink coffee with philosophical individuals (although that would be nice). I am an artist who examines everything from different perspectives. I have learned to examine things and life from all angles, because I will always notice something that I did not see before. Recently I discovered that my perception had been a bit skewed by folks who I believe meant well, but ultimately caused a tilt shift in my view.

Let me explain.

When photographing architecture with a wide angle lens a distortion will appear in the photo. Straight lines will look curved and there may even be some vignetting at the corners due to light bending on the lens. With an adjustment in Photoshop or Lightroom this can be corrected, or a person can invest in a tilt shift lens that adjusts enough to obtain the correct perspective when the image is captured. Much like the distortion that happens from a camera lens, what one learns from another person has been distorted by their preconceived notions. On closer examination and independent research I discovered that a serious correction was needed in what I thought was the truth. I had to look at things from all angles. Some may call this overthinking, but I prefer to call it getting the right perspective.

In this crazy, mixed up world we live in where we are told that everything is FAKE news and that, “The truth is not the truth,” it is becoming more and more difficult to correct the distortion.

“Perception” by Melissa Whitaker

Of Course Photography is Art

I have heard the critics say many times that photography is NOT art and I seriously can not comprehend what they mean.  I’ve seen some pretty bad photos, some of them in an art gallery hanging next to a painting of dogs playing poker.  Matter of fact, I have even produced some pretty bad photos, paintings and drawings myself, but they are ALL art.

I’m not here to tell you what is good or bad art, because you know it when you see it.  Art is subjective.  An artist interprets what they see and through different mediums they are able to convey an emotion in order to elicit a response to their work.  That response may not always be what the artist was hoping for, but it is a response none the less.  That is what makes it art.

Photography is not simply pointing the camera at something and pushing the button (although, to a 5 year old with a camera, it might just be the pushing the button).  The photographer has planned the shot, waited for the light to be just right, adjusted the aperture to produce the exact depth of field, set the shutter speed to capture that one fleeting moment in time.  It is the same way an artist applies paints to the palette, sketches a composition on the canvas, smudges the charcoal to create a shadow and depth.  It is all art.  Whether or not it is good or bad art?  Well, that is up to the observer.

For me, photography is a quick escape for my creative mind.  When life starts to get busy and it is hard for me to have studio time, I can get creative with my camera.  I do not consider myself a professional photographer, but I use photography as an outlet that helps me charge up my batteries to illustrate or paint.  So don’t let anyone tell you that photography is not art.  If it inspires……….it is art, no matter the tools used.

All by Myself-

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