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Finding Inspiration in the Limitation


As a professional outdoor photographer, my mind had been in a place of backcountry skiing, snow photography and ramping up for spring commercial projects—the same place it has been every March for years. I like this time of year, it feels like my fitness, my vision and my bandwidth all line up to result in outdoor missions and photography that really feed the soul, and the bank account.

Then we were told to stay home…

Even before the official directive came out, I was already self-quarantining as a result of a nasty cold or flu bug. I didn’t want to spread it, and I certainly didn’t want to be exposing myself to Covid-19 while my immune system was already in pitched battle. So, as of this writing, I’ve already been locked down at my house for three weeks. Four more weeks are on the books, at very least.

First, despair and fear. The things, people, places and projects that have defined this time of year and part of my annual business cycle were being uprooted. There go my plans, my dreams, my fitness, my income. We’ll be broke before this is all over.

Then, some breathing. Some problem solving. First, stay safe. Keep the family safe. Batten down the hatches and stay home. Second, staunch the bleeding of the bank account. Pare down expenses, cancel subscriptions, eliminate discretionary spending. These are the reactive steps. Things happened too quickly to proactively deal with the fallout. But, once our minds were settled that we were doing the best we could with the available information, it was time to explore the new landscape.

Water droplets on a Pacific Bleeding Heart – 1/320sec, f/4.0, ISO 3200

It’s easy to think in terms of what you don’t have. You know what’s even easier? To think in terms of what you do have. Instead of a limitless list of hypotheticals, you have a finite list of tangible things. A roof over your head, food in the pantry, toilet paper in the bathroom. And beyond the bare necessities, what do you have that you find inspiring? What have you always wanted to look at more closely, or understand more completely?

How much room do you actually need to be creative? Turns out, not very much at all. What you need is the will to be creative.

Struggling to stay positive? Having a hard time finding motivation? Good! Use that struggle. Rage against it. Prove to yourself that you’re not a victim of your circumstances. That you’re not defined by the limitations that you’re currently under. Discomfort is the ultimate catalyst. Turn your confines into a classroom where you can do a deep dive on something novel to you.

Lady Fern fiddlehead – 1/125 sec, f/2.8, ISO 3200

I waged this battle in my head, then set some new ground rules. Every day I have assigned myself the project of walking through my yard with a camera. I’ve been rained on almost every day, yesterday my hands were peppered with an intense hailstorm as I gritted my teeth and kept shooting.

It’s crazy to say this, but the same instinct that tells me that it’s time to run for shelter when I’m getting stormed on in the mountains (which I’ve generally trained myself to ignore unless it’s actually dire), that instinct told me to get inside during the hailstorm yesterday. And, it felt SO good to ignore that impulse and to continue to create photography.

Each afternoon I wander the yard, trying not to ignore any part of the world around me. The timing of this project was such that the very first new plants of spring were just surfacing when I started shooting. Now, two weeks later, the landscape has changed dramatically. It changes daily. I’ve never felt so in-tune with the ground under my feet.

Backlit Western Sword Fern frond – 1/3200 sec, f/4.5, ISO 400
Deer Fern fronds – 1/1000 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200
Suspended raindrops on Pacific Bleeding Heart – 1/320 sec, f/9.0, ISO 3200
Red Belted Polypore after heavy rain – 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 3200
Skunk Cabbage bloom – 1/1250 sec, f/4.0, ISO 3200
Water droplets on Wild Lily of the Valley – 1/400 sec, f/5.0, ISO 800
Usnea Lichen on a bed of Pacific Bleeding Heart – 1/250 sec, f/4.0, ISO 800
Two leaf Wild Lily of the Valley – 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500

Some of the shots I’ve captured feel great. There are other subjects that I find fascinating, but haven’t yet managed to photograph well. But I have the time to keep trying. It feels amazing.

The work I’m creating may not be your cup of tea. I’m not even sure that it’s my cup of tea. But I do know that I’m finding that my creative needs are being met with this work, and that my commitment to this practice gives me faith that, regardless of external circumstances, I will continue to create art and find inspiration where I can.

We’ve all created lives built on certain circumstances and assumptions. Many of those are, at very least, temporarily in upheaval. But what an amazing time to create something new. What will you do?

About the author: Scott Rinckenberger is a Seattle-based outdoor photographer and storyteller seeking Art Through Adventure. This and other projects are ongoing. Feel free to follow along at @scottrinck on Instagram, Scott Rinckenberger on Facebook or at www.scottrinck.com