Half-week homework: Use art modes to exercise your eye

How do you stimulate creativity? By definition, new ideas ought not be direct copies, but as any creator working on yet another fizzling project understands, brilliant ideas rarely emerge, self-generated, from the ether of your own genius.

Seeking the novel, pondering art you yourself enjoy, placing restrictions on yourself, or coming up with a specific goal to work for—a piece of “homework,” in the scholastic sense, if you will—these are all great options, and you can easily see these concepts at work in challenges throughout the HWH series. For this particular installment, the source of inspiration will be an obligation to use a particular tool in your digital photographic toolset, one which is easily-forgotten… especially by anyone with a decent amount of experience in the field of digital photography. Your mission, should you choose to accept it—and I hope you do—is to explore the processing filters built into your camera and see how you can use them to make something more than a snapshot.

Image filters have actually undergone something of a renaissance since Instagram took off, especially as the last few years’ improvements in smartphone processors have enabled complex, animated alterations in real-time, but are almost exclusively confined to phone photography. Even when the art modes on ILCs are remembered, they’re often put in the same category as preset modes—Portrait, Landscape, Sports, etc.—and dismissed by people as “for beginners,” never to be used again. The amateur, “wacky” uses popular across a variety of social media apps serve only to reinforce that perception. A related impulse is to think, ‘Why ruin the original photo? I can do that in Photoshop.’ Do you ever really do it, though? I know I’ve been guilty of both of these thought processes, and lack artistically-processed photos to prove it. I’ve also cured myself recently.

On a whim, noticing the “Art” mode on the dial of my OM-D EM-10 II, I decided to give it a whirl. I doubt I had used these filters at all short of the initial “tour every mode and menu” I completed when I first got the camera—and boy, had I been missing out! Running through effects based on toy cameras (defined here), dioramas, old soft-focus lenses, and so on, I would describe the feeling as rekindling a childlike joy. (I guess that makes sense—one of the first moments I can remember being gut-wrenchingly enthusiastic about a camera was upon discovering that the Canon SD950 I was interested in was capable of shooting selectively-colored pictures.)

The classic soft-focus portraiture look…
…makes anyone a glamor model!

Am I likely to use any of the results for a book, or to win a national contest? Probably not. But by changing up the rules of the game—by setting different standards of photographic quality than the same sharpness/exposure scale I use day in, day out—I experienced a burst of freedom. Shooting the same subjects I normally would, in the same way, produced totally different results, and inspired me to discover them again through these new eyes… even better, through half a dozen different new eyes!

A selection of the options on the Sony α6000; click to view larger.

So, get out there, give your creative vision a bit of a shock treatment, and see what has been hiding in your camera and in the world around you all along.

You can even combine multiple effects in post-processing for maximum creativity.

Be sure to share your favorites with us, either on our Facebook page or on Instagram, tagged #mymikescamera #halfweekhomework!

PS—have you reached your 20 great photos for the month? I know I’ve got a few to upload…

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