Brainstorming New Ideas for Personal Work

I’m missing everyday life and regular interactions—like everyone else. Right around this time, I should be brainstorming new ideas and getting ready for ASMP* Oregon’s annual event, Portland Squared.

If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a two-day photography challenge, open to professionals and amateurs alike. There’s a cool overarching theme to this event: every photographer gets a randomly assigned square somewhere in Portland. That’s where you go to either find or create your images.

I take this as an opportunity to challenge myself to be creative quickly, with a small footprint (small for me anyway, as opposed to a big crew and a truck of gear) and working intuitively.

Collaborating and choreographing with Noel Plemmons and Rachael Lembo of POV Dance

I always reach out to my contacts in the modern dance or ballet world for subjects. We do some light brainstorming about what kind of choreography to work with, whether it’s site-specific contemporary dance or a more classical ballet pose, and decide on some loose wardrobe ideas.

On a late May Friday afternoon, I’d be getting my assignment, driving out with my assistant to scout the location, and doing some on-the-fly brainstorming. With a very rough idea in mind, the call goes out to the dancer(s) about the site and any last-minute wardrobe options.

Working with the space, with Katherin Evans and Sarita Hoke of the PDX Contemporary Ballet

Brainstorming new ideas with contemporary dancers Samuel Hobbs and Raven Jones at the base of the St. John's Bridge

My goal is always to photograph during “sweet light”

My goal is always to photograph during “sweet light” and work through several variations, each one building on the last until either I run out of light or I feel like we nailed something great. At that point, we all head home with a “dawn patrol” plan to reconvene somewhere to do shot two in the earliest light of Saturday morning (which is really damn early up here in Portland!).

Getting up early on Saturday is always challenging, but it’s worth rolling the dice on getting beautiful beams of sunrise to work with. Of course, sometimes the sun comes up behind a thick bank of clouds, and the light is the same from 5am till 10am. Still, it’s nice to be up creating and photographing.

Looking back at my work

Looking back at my work, it seems to break down into:

  • Choreography - what can we capture as a frozen moment that creates interest or reveals something hidden in the movement?

  • Location - how does the area enhance or support the choreography?

  • Light - how does the light, both strobe and available, influence and alter the storytelling?

  • Wardrobe - how does the clothing interact with all the other factors?

Prima ballerina Candace Bouchard of Oregon Ballet Theatre is perfection in this eerie and dramatic dance pose. Candace and I frequently brainstorm new ideas together.

Sometimes my work has “won,” but honestly, the competition aspect has always been secondary. Primary is that it gives me a framework to build on, a reason to go out and do work that is just about the art of creation. There’s no time to overthink or to make big plans. Instead, it’s trusting in twenty years of intuition and knowledge and getting out of my own way.

It’s time to go do some work. I have a dancer in mind. Let’s see what happens.

*American Society of Media Photographers — a national trade group representing the interests and rights of commercial photographers of all kinds. I’ve presented to the membership a number of times regarding ©registration and am currently on the board as the events chair.

Andy is the artist-in-residence, owner, technologist, cook, brewer, and cocktail maker in chief at Andy Batt Studio. He loves to work with a good crew on complex projects and a good cup of coffee. No, a good cup of coffee— there's a difference. On the side, he teaches lighting workshops because he likes giving back to his community.