It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Chris Orwig!

Above photo: © Greg Lawler

My name is Chris Orwig and I am a photographer and a teacher. While this post is about photography, my goal is not to help you take better pictures but to help you become more creative and alive. I hope to stir things up a bit with a few simple ideas, some pictures and quotes. Here’s to breaking out of our routines and to starting something new!

Photographers are an interesting bunch. We are different and diverse yet bound by a common desire to capture and captivate. The best photographers are those who have discovered the key to a full and vibrant life. It is the insight that comes from making photographs. For by doing this we discover that life’s small mysteries and moments can be magnified. Somehow we get more out of life with a camera in hand. When we take pictures, we see more clearly, we remember more deeply, and we live more fully.

Above photos: Jeff Johnson is an accomplished photographer, big wave surfer, mountain climber, skateboarder, and adventurer. He is not one to settle for the ordinary life.

I like things that are hand made—my young daughters’ drawings, pencil-written notes, and the old driftwood gate in our backyard. There is something special about those things that cannot be mass-produced. This interest is one of the reasons I make pictures. As photographers, we aren’t technicians who repeatedly follow the same steps. We create our own path. We are driven to create something that is one of a kind. We want to expresses our unique voice and vision. It is something we have to do. Taking pictures satisfies an internal thirst. It is an essential part of who we are.

Above photo: Fine-art photographer Keith Carter in his darkroom in Texas. Keith is a friend, colleague, and mentor. He is a deep thinker who creates photographs that are full of mystery, poetry, and the passage of time. Keith fully and whole-heartedly lives the photographic life.

When I was a child, my mom told me that there was no such thing as “bad art.” This of course was a complete lie. Yet, it was a lie I needed to hear. It informed me that the goal of art was the creative process of discovery, experimentation, and fun. To this day, I cling to this lie as truth. As photographers, many of us are afraid of art. Who me, an artist? No, I just take pictures and many of them aren’t even very good. The same can be said of creativity. Who me, creative? No way. I like how Paul Arden puts it, “Creativity is imagination and imagination is for everyone.”

Above Photo: Pro Surfer Rob Machado is someone ignited with passion for life and his sport. You can see it in his eyes.

I think it is about time that we reclaimed our identity as creative artists. Who cares if your pictures aren’t perfect. Being an artist is about more than that. Art isn’t about what you make, but it is about how you make it. Art is about who you are. I like how Seth Godin redefines things a bit. He says, “An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.” Creating art is about giving and getting more from life. As Carlos Jurado said, “Art allows us to expand the dimensions of our everyday life.” It expands who we are, how we see, and how we use our time on planet earth. The end result of pursing art is nothing short of a personal revolution.

Robert Henri knew this full well. He said, “When the artist is alive in any person, whatever kind of work it may be, he becomes inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive, and creative. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it and shows that there are more pages possible.”

Above photo: Jared Mason and his wife Noni make music at their flat in New York City. They are both vibrant and full of life.

An artist is someone who doesn’t give up. In fact, giving up isn’t even part of the deal.
The great photographer Walker Evans put it this way, “When I first made photographs people thought those are just snapshots of the backyard. Privately, I knew otherwise and through stubbornness I stayed with it.”

The problem with most of us is that we are too soft. We follow popular opinion and listen to the voices that say one thing is good while another is bad. We defer to the experts and neglect to nurture our nascent ideas. This impedes the growth of what could be some of our best ideas. We forget that while all good art is courageous and goes against the tide, it almost always starts off as small and uncertain. If we yield to the experts, abandon our own ideas, and pursue imitation rather than originality then we give up and this softens our edge. Why not counter this trend and tenaciously stand tall?

Above photo: Martyn with his son Dylan in the sea at Guacamaya, Costa Rica. Martyn lives life with intensity and resolve. He is one of my closest friends. Who he is and how he lives is a constant reminder to me to never give up.

Being a good photographer doesn’t flow from following another’s path. It comes from inner strength and resolve. It comes from your gut. It requires a private tenacity that consistently chants, I will not give up. It comes from the conviction that whatever the outcome, the creativity and growth are worth it. Good photography requires fight and maybe even rage. As Dylan Thomas wrote, “Do not go gentle into the good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” In tribute to those who have gone before us, the least you can do is stand up and make your voice heard.

Above photo: Surfer, sailor, and writer Christian Beamish is a force to be reckoned with. His life is a testament to one who fights.

My most valuable photographic education came from an unlikely source. During graduate school, I was required to volunteer at a hospital. I was assigned to work on the cancer floor. My job was to simply visit and listen. Day in and day out I visited and eventually became friends with people who were dying. By spending time with someone who is dying, you can’t help but learn a lot about life. It was from them that I learned about loss and about how to take pictures.

Above photo: This is a picture of Nick Dekker, a photographer, colleague and friend, who has passed away. He was a kind and talented man. Nick was generous with his art and gifted me two of my all time favorite prints. His generosity reminds me that sometimes the most meaningful art is something we give away.

To this day, I make many of my pictures with them and others in mind. The best way I can describe it is with WS Merwin’s words, “Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.” My photographs are stitched with the hope and loss of their lives. They taught me about the brevity of life and the importance of savoring everything. The camera became a means to actualize this desire, and a passport to go out into the world and to soak up small and otherwise forgotten moments. With the camera I could see and do more and expand my vision. The camera is a powerful tool. And wielded with respect, the camera can open our eyes and change who we are.

Above Photo: Photographer Rodney Smith has taught me a great deal. He approaches the world with wonder and doesn’t impose ideas, asking deep, meaningful, and sometimes humorous questions. His photographs have a poetic cadence that is magnetic and timeless. The simplicity, geometry, proportion and elegance draw you in. If there was one photographic workshop I would take, it would be his.

You’re starting to see that I’ve found photography to be something that is autobiographical. We make pictures because of who we are. Rodney Smith sheds some light on this. He said, “Everyone has a story. Whatever that is, it is the grist of what your pictures should be derived from.” The grist is the good stuff that is left over when separating the wheat from the chaff. It is the grain which is set apart in order to be ground to make bread. That grist might be the most important tool that you carry around in your camera bag.

Above photo: Photographer Rodney Smith perfectly framed by the side kitchen door at his home in New York.

We’ve heard it a million times—being a photographer is much more than carrying a camera in a bag. Creating a good photograph demands more than technique and skill. Good photographs require that we use our mind and our heart. If we want to make pictures that cause change, we must be the first ones changed by the pictures that we make.

Photography is an art and craft that requires an immense amount of passion, precision, and excellence. Photographers have high standards so it’s easy to become critical. When we are changed by the pictures we make, all of those imperfections fade away. Just like in the song written by Leonard Cohen, “Ring the bell that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There are cracks in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” The best photographers, and the best photographs, are those that shine from the inside out.

Above photo: Ten-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater is driven and focused like no one else I have met. Yet, he is calm, humble and down-to-earth. By spending just a few minutes with him, you discover that his strength comes from deep within.

Henry David Thoreau’s words are on the mark. He said, “A truly good book (or a decent blog post) teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”

The action I’m hoping for isn’t just a comment or a tweet. I and the community at large would love to hear your thoughts. My true hope is that this post will be the beginning of something new for you. Perhaps today is your day to set sail and to start making photographs with a reignited passion for your world.

Above photo: Christian Beamish and a friend at the beginning stages of an extended mid-ocean adventure.

Thanks Scott for the opportunity to do the guest blog post and for the privilege to share!


Chris Orwig
“Photography is savoring life at one hundredth of a second.” Marc Riboud – portfolio + blog – Visual Poetry book

Finally, if you enjoyed this post and want more, be sure to check out my newest book, People Pictures – 30 Exercises for Creating Authentic Photographs.

  1. This is more than just good advice for photographers…also for any artist (which is pretty much everybody, right?). There is so much here I will bookmark it to re-re-read. :D

    Thank you for reminding me of my affirmation to take risks and do scary things art-wise

      1. i like how you put it as an affirmation to do “scary things art-wise”. and then risk and creativity…. well said! i do think those two go hand-in-hand.

        it’s fun to read all of these comments as it makes the dialogue come alive! i’m going to keep reading and responding so feel free to write thoughts or questions too!

  2. “Common Sense is Creativities Biggest Enemy”

    Love you work Chris – been watching your photoshop teachings also. Was looking at brooks but it’s just to far away from Denmark and I did not really have the money for it. Would have loved to study there.

      1. Wonderful words Chris, I’ve always enjoyed your teaching through the library. Perhaps The Brooks Institute might start an online teaching facility? I’m sure the experience would be diminished slightly, but would surely still change and inspire lives.

      2. There are online offerings like – and thx for the stuff you have online there.

        Also Chase Jarvis is promoting live teachings with creative live – but it is still far from being there.

        I don’t believe it will ever be the same.

        But still it’s far better than nothing and gives us a chance too look in on some of the best people in the industry. Just wish I could do it in real life :)

  3. Chris,

    I’ve been a big fan of yours since watching your Lightroom training videos. Your teachings and photography never fail to inspire me, as did this blog post.

    BTW, I can’t help but think you must get potential clients calling all the time asking, “Chris, could you please provide me with a quote?” to which you respond, “Sure, how about this one by Seth Godin?” :-)

    All the best,
    Trev J

    1. trevor – thanks for the constant flow of encouraging words. i really appreciate it and it makes all the effort in writing, teaching, blogging, etc. worth it!

  4. Some people are taller than others and make great basketball centers, some are squat and play center on pro football teams. People that are gifted with fast twitch muscle response, a finely tuned ear, deep insight, and great intellect become fine violinists. God did not make us all the same. There is a reason why most people are built to be drones who go to work every day. Someone has to do the dirty work of making our economic and physical infrastructure work so that the gifted few can be free to create.

    As my friend Manny Riviera says, “Das It!!!”

    1. i agree that god did not make us all the same… yet i do think we were all made to be fully creative and alive no matter what our lot in life. its not about what we do but how we do it. i think art is everywhere, its just about knowing how to find it.

  5. Creativity starts when people stop looking for other photographers’ tripod holes and start taking risks. There is so much derivative work in the photographic circles, on the Web, in print, in exhibits, it is a continuous “déjà vu” when viewing them. Experimentation, risk taking, willingness to fail are “must have” ingredients of “creativity”. Also, it is important to realize the relationship between “work” and “creativity”; I don’t work to be creative, my creativity makes me work.

    My two cents!


    1. creativity is indeed an amazing driving force. the more creatively inspired i am the more work i want to do and the less it feels like work….

      thanks for sharing your thoughts! anyone else concur?

  6. Hi Chris, I used to think about how I would love to have found my passion for photography at a younger age. I realize that I was not the same then, as I am now. And who I am now allows me to see things as I do. I struggle against doubt and truly appreciate the reminder. I cannot give up.



    1. i appreciate your honesty. i think we all struggle with doubt. its easy to let those old “if only” statements creep in squelch our ideas. that’s what is so great about creative communities like this one – they are a constant reminder to stay the course!

  7. This is so well timed for me. I have spent the last 3 days arguing with myself over the truly artistic side of using a camera. I get it technically, not great but well enough. What I have been missing is what you are talking about. I won’t go into all the gory details but I will thank you for sharing these thoughts from yourself and from others, they have certainly helped me a great deal.

    1. there is a lot of behind the scenes “gore” with each of us. glad to hear you call it out. one of my students once said to me, “i think photography hurts because we love it so much.” the pain reveals the passion.

      thanks for your thoughts david!

  8. Chris, you are truly an inspiration. Thanks so very much for your integrity and humanity.

    Your post reminds me of an interview of jazz great Bill Evans on Marian Mcpartland’s Piano Jazz. Evans said essentially that you can’t worry about what “they” are doing, you need follow your own inner vision, basically what you just said.

    Bob Ladd

  9. The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

    My goal as a teacher of Photoshop is to light fires, and you showed me how.

    Thank you for inspiring so many including myself.

    Hugs – Sandra

  10. So good to read you again after finishing Visual Poetry last year. i carried that book around with me in my car for months. Also glad to see you have another book out. Your words always inspire me to act, as Thoreau says. You shove me beyond the self-imposed doldrums.

  11. Truely inspiring as always Chris, thank you. This comes in perfect timing for me. I had to sell my camera about a year ago due to financial reasons and after months of saving i managed to buy a DSLR yesterday marking my return to photography after a year of absence. Your blog post is a perfect jump start for me providing inspiration and insight. Kudos to you my friend =D

  12. Hey Chris,
    I haven’t checked in with you for quite a while, great to see you here on Kelby’s blog. As usual a very inspiring and well written post.
    I absolutely love this snippet, “Forget your perfect offering. There are cracks in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
    I’ll make an effort to visit your blog more often. I’m really looking forward to reading your new book, what’s the release date?

    1. Thanks Jeff! I agree. I’ve found those words, “there are cracks in everything….” is especially pertinent to me as a digital photographer. Its so easy to get caught up in the perfect image rather than embracing the beauty and wonder of imperfection.

  13. Chris, I realized last week that I get more creative drive from the first ten minutes of your lab each week than any other source thus far at Brooks. I think it’s because I tend to continue thinking about those exercises and thoughts, many of which are touched on in this blog post, for at least the next couple of days. I’ve been thinking of putting this in a hand-written thank you note after this session ends but this seems a good opportunity to tell you. The significant part of this is that I don’t find myself an overly creative person, but now I very much so wish to be. Thanks!

  14. Wow! What an Inspiring post! I NEEDED to read this today! I literally just got off the phone with a dear friend who was encouraging a discouraged me, in regards to following my photography Passion;) Then I turn on my computer to read some blogs and BAM here you are writing and giving the best words of wisdom I have read in a long time! Thank you a million times over! Now I must in turn share this post because I can never keep something this good to myself! Warmest Regards! MJ

  15. Your passion for photography and living a creative life is contagious. I’ve been on the fence about a project I’ve been formulating that involves an assisted living facility. Now, I am going to act on it! Thanks for the push.

  16. Hey Chris I think you are very inspirational in all that you do, your a really cool guy and it was an honor to be in your class this session during LT, and I hope that I am in another class of yours soon again. Your words and stories make me want to go out and get a better view of the world, and I really appreciate it.

  17. I recently had Chris as a teacher, as time have gone by I can say; Chris your a very inspiring and govern person of craft. Everything you say is truth and love the hard thinking and creativity which you made me think more about.


  18. Thank you for your excellent blog and great book “Visual Poetry”. I join the chorus of people singing your praises in this string of replies. Your writing and photography inpires me.

  19. Ah I love your blog post. You have a way of inspiring me and plenty of other people. I can’t even describe how much I needed to hear this now.

  20. Hey Chris,
    It’s always good to hear your inspirational ideals on photography and life, it’s like I’m back in lab again. Just wanted to say your a great teacher and photographer and I can’t wait to check out your new book.

  21. LOVE it!!!! You are such an inspiration to me! So real and passionate! I started listening to you on before I even picked up a camera. Now I am passionately pursuing photography as a full time business! Anytime I meet someone that has gone to Brooks I always ask if you taught them. :) I can’t wait till your new book comes out. I greatly enjoyed Visual Poetry! Thank you for starting a fire in me! :) I honestly feel like you have something to do with where I am today. :)

  22. Nothing is closer to the essence of being an artist than your statements right through your personal quotes as well as the ones of accomplished people.
    The effort that I will make, inspired by you, is to read them like a creed each morning as you are thankful to be given another day of life.

    Thanks Chris for all the inspiration shared in your post, it is indeed a grea gift to all of us.
    Rui lopes

  23. I just stumbled upon a short inspirational video where someone rewrote the words on a beggar’s cardboard which changed the course of events. All of a sudden more people were willing to give money and the beggar collected significantly more than before … His words were rewritten from “I’m blind please help” into “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it”.

    In the same way as carefully chosen words can change the course of events for the good cause, artistically and poeticically arranged photos will positively impact and touch people’s hearts and minds.

    The video helped me making a bridge to what I wanted to write here in response to your post which I started as follows: Like in every group of people, also amongst us, photographers, there is a big variety. We all know in life it’s hard to meet like-minded people, so I am more than glad Chris that you share your visions and ideas with us. Your words definitely have changed the way I view the world and try to savor life at 1/100th of a second :)

  24. Inspiring and insightful as always Chris. Will there be a table of contents published online for the new book? I’d like to know a bit more detail of what it contains.


  25. “When we take pictures, we see more clearly, we remember more deeply, and we live more fully.” This is really moved me and gave me clarity ~ Chirs thank you for the INSIGHT AND INSPIRATION !

  26. Chris, You have such a story-telling way of approaching lessons that if told by anyone else would be easily forgotten. I feel I am a part of a society of people have a beautiful outlook on life but also possess defiance. I understand that they fight for their style; fight for what they have faith in, because otherwise it will slowly be chipped away by outside opinion.

    Before studying Art History earlier this year I was under the impression that any skilled painter would use common sense and paint everything as realistic as possible. A few days into the class I began to understand talented artists like Edvard Munch and Claude Monet, and why they weren’t realistic, although the artists possessed the skill to do so. These artists had their eyes on a bigger picture.
    As does this society of people.

    Thank you for taking your time to pass on your wisdom.

    “Every child is an artist, the trick is how to remain one when you grow up” -Pablo Picasso (-Chris Orwig)

  27. Hey Chris,

    I am very happy to have had you teach me lab this session and am excited for this upcoming session. You definitely do have a ‘story telling’ way of explaining things as Demi pointed out, it helps a lot. You are good inspiration. :)


  28. Chris,
    Great article. I loved the photos, but also the stories behind your photos. I always learn something from them. I enjoyed Visual Poetry so much, I just ordered your new book, People Pictures, on Amazon…I can’t wait for the September delivery!

  29. Chris was my instructor for Adobe Flash at Brooks Institute of Photography in 2005. However, his instruction and insight proved valuable in so many aspects of my career.

    Chris has such an über-intelligent, metaphorical style of teaching that hits not only on the subject at hand, but entertains and many times holds wisdom for life.

    I feel like all of his’ work from teaching to photography bears his depth and love for life.

    He’s already had so many incredible accomplishments, but I feel like he’s just getting started. His energy is amazing.

    Chris is one of those rare individuals who I look up to.

  30. You seem to be under the misapprehension that “artists” are special people… I disagree. They are the same as you and me. If artists “dont give up ” why do they commit suicide in higher numbers than “ordinairy people” ( whatever that is…) “Artists” are born with talent, it doesnt make them “special” I’m born with big ears. Does that make me special and able to fly? . you cant “teach art” you can only teach the means to express it. I think everyone has some talent for something but, if they never have the opportunity to learn a process (skiing in my case) then its never shown. Painting, sculpture and photography are accessible means to express something. BUT not all paintings, sculpture or photographs are “ART” If it were you would be out of “business” ( sorry, is that a dirty word?)

  31. inspiring post as always chris. i finally bought your book “Visual Poetry” and am enjoying it as much as your online classes. you’ve helped me take my photography to another level.

    scott, please seriously consider having chris do a kelby training class, or bring him out to PSW. you won’t regret it. his passion, energy and excitement for photography flows out of everything he does.

    please please please.

  32. I am inspired to take pictures of my 92 year old dad tending his garden. I’ve been wanting to take a portrait of him for some time, waiting and waiting for the right time. I didn’t realize until reading this article that photographing him, in his garden is the right time and place. Tending his garden is part of who he is in this phase of his life, it is part his “grist”. Thank you!

  33. Wow. This brought a tear to my eye. I know that sounds warped, but you synopsized and beautifully articulated what many aspiring photographers think about every day and hope to accomplish in their work. Love this. Thanks.

  34. Great words! Visual poetry is truly one of my greatest inspirations! Even when I feel down or stuck with my work, I read a couple of chapters to bring me back into focus. Thank you for everything. Looking forward to the next workshop that you may hold.

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