It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Vincent Versace!

First I would once again like to thank Scott Kelby for allowing me this forum to express and share ideas in. I am both honored and humbled every time I am given the privilege to contribute.

This year’s blog is an excerpt from the opening of my next book “From Oz to Kansas 2.0. Almost Every Black and White Conversion Technique Known to Man.” God willing, coming out this fall.


A Recipe for Creating

If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.
-Vincent Van Gough

Most of us can look at the artistic work of others and decide whether or not we like a particular piece. Why then, when we view an image of our own, are we frequently fraught with ambivalent feelings? I do not understand why we tend to be our own worst critics. Certainly there are enough people in the world who will find fault with anything that we do. We must learn not to assist them.

But why pursue anything creative if we are doomed to torture ourselves about what we did and approach being creative as if there is some cosmic score keeper that decides if we are ahead or behind? The truth is that nobody but you is keeping score. We spend too much time concerning ourselves with the notion that for our creative work to be valid, others have to like it.

All artists hear a call to express themselves creatively, but too often, that voice fades with time and is replaced by one that says, “You can’t do that.” or “If it was such a brilliant idea someone else would have thought of it first.” The quickest way to silence that voice is to do exactly the thing that you think you cannot.

Hardening of the Categories

Hardening of the categories causes art disease.
– W. Eugene Smith

If you want to take more interesting pictures, stand in front of more interesting stuff.
-Joe McNally

Every image you create is an expression of the artistic inspiration that moves you. You express your creative voice by developing the ability to show what moves you without screaming for the attention of others. It means getting out of your own way and, in the moments when your creative spirit is moved, trusting that what comes from those moments will be good. Your goal should be to trust what you feel and constantly strive toward personal excellence and elegant performance. When your effectiveness becomes effortless, your images will move the viewer solely by the power that caused you to be moved.

Because you are reading this blog, I assume that most of you have chosen photography to express how you feel to the outside world. However, regardless of the path you have chosen, it is you who drives the art form bus, not the other way around. Technique exists to better help you express yourself. If there is a battle between voice and technique, voice should always win. Emotionally full and technically imperfect trumps technically perfect and emotionally vacant every time.

I believe that there is no drug as addictive or as alluring as being successful creatively. To make a living from the fruits of one’s imagination is truly a blessed way to live. But herein lies the rub. With practice, and perhaps success, we find our groove. But grooves frequently become ruts, and ruts can become trenches, and trenches can become graves in which our creativity becomes buried.

So how do you become more creative and create diverse, emotionally moving images? If you want to have more creative work, find creative moments in your everyday life. If you want to have more emotionally captivating work, let your everyday life captivate you emotionally. If you want your work to be more diverse and interesting, lead a more diverse and interesting life. In simpler terms, your work is only as good as the inspiration that you find in the life you lead.

If You Have a Minute, Tell Me Everything You Know

I would say to any artist: ‘Don’t be repressed in your work, dare to experiment, consider any urge, if in a new direction all the better.’
-Edward Weston

A discussion about photography should be about why we are moved to create the images we do, and how to best practice the things that will help our voices be heard in the clearest, truest way. A discussion about technique that excludes one about why particular techniques are chosen is like having a conversation about a repair manual.

All creativity comes from a wellspring within us, and the more frequently and diversely we exercise our creative muscles, the stronger and clearer our emotional voice becomes. Feeling that you will never do something well, is no reason not do it. Let that something become your new best friend, because it is from doing that things never before seen are born.

For me, great photographic lessons were learned from shooting both portraits and landscapes. What I learned is to shoot my landscapes like portraits and my portraits like landscapes. When I photograph a flower, am I not taking the flower’s portrait? When I photograph a person, is it not the objective, with one frame, to lay bare the essence of that person in that instant? My most successful portraits and landscapes are the ones in which those things happen.

What makes images even more successful is bringing life experiences and a knowledge base of techniques to the table. This allows you to create an image that reflects what you felt when you were taken by the moment.

I would like to tell you a story. I love to cook and, even though I know it is unlikely that I will ever be as great a cook as one of the great chefs that I know, I keep trying to learn more about cooking creatively. I had the honor of spending a week in the kitchen of John Fraser, the chef at Restaurant Dovetail in New York City. By mid-week, I had finally graduated to “preparing ingredient,” specifically – the task of chopping carrots into the equivalent of pixel-sized cubes. About half way through my second bunch of carrots, Chef Fraser walked by and told me that my efforts were not acceptable. My first thought was “.. but they are just carrots.” Apparently, my face belied that thought, and Chef Fraser said, “I see you don’t understand.” Again, I must admit I was still thinking “.. but they are just carrots.” What I said was, “No, I do not.”

“Okay,” he said, “let’s talk about something I know you understand. These carrots are not visually acceptable. You need to be cutting cubes and you have cut rectangles and diamonds. The visual composition I want to create is squares in a circle. So compositionally what you have done does not work.” I did get that! “But the bigger issue is that because they are irregularly shaped and different sizes, they will cook differently. Some parts of the carrot will be over-cooked and some will be under-cooked. My goal is to create a dish that is so visually appealing that you almost don’t want to eat it because of how pretty it looks, and when you do, you will find that it tastes even better than it looks. By not cutting the carrots uniformly, you have disrupted the pleasure of the person eating this dish. Everything matters. Everything dovetails into everything else. It’s why the restaurant is named Dovetail.” That was one of the most important lessons I have ever learned. Everything matters, and everything dovetails into everything else.

Home Run Hitting 101

Don’t let the fear of striking out ever get in your way.
-Babe Ruth

Be careful of the artist who boasts of 35 years of experience. Such a person may have one year of creativity experienced thirty-five times. To me, a true artist practices by acting; by putting truth into his or her creations so that they have an elegant simplicity. Great art is created when the artist discovers that being an artist is about understanding themselves and expressing that. Knowing more about techniques helps that expression happen.

So why should you know every black-and-white conversion technique known to man and how to use all of them? Because the more you know about how to bring forth your vision, the clearer your voice will be heard. So what if you swing and miss? If you do not swing at all, you will never have the chance to knock it out of the ballpark.

The underlying goal is a simple one: to make a print of a picture that moves you, just like it moved you the first time you saw it. The joy of creation is in knowing that your photograph moves others.

The bigger and fuller you experience life, the bigger and fuller your creative expressions of life will be. It is on that note, that you should begin all your creative symphonies. It is on that note, that you should begin every breath you take.

You can see more of Vincent’s work at, and catch one of his upcoming workshops:
June 13 – 15
Pixel Boot Camp – San Francisco

July 3 – 9
Maine Media Workshops

  1. Awesomness. I love this guest post. Marvelous and inspiring. I went through the write up 2 times to understand and literally taken in each word.

    Great photographs.

    Very inspiring.

  2. It’s amazing how one person can have so many abstract images. LOVE IT! I have been trying to get a couple B&W abstracts, but they always come out rather boring. I will keep going.

    I really like the rainy pictures. Great Job carry on!

  3. Vincent, it was a blessing to wake up and read such inspirational words and being presented with GREAT visuals. I always admired the strength of your B&W work.
    My personal “groove” is bold colour but, it’s about time I start to explore B&W with the same passion. Looking forward to your next book.
    Thanks again

  4. One of the best guest blogs this year. Thanks for your inspiring words, Vincent. Love your words about not worrying about what others think of your work. I agree that this deserves a couple of reads. I’ll be forwarding off the link to this to a couple of friends.

    Thanks for sharing,


  5. Wow. Each week a few members of my photo club congregate for lunch at my studio to discuss Scott’s guest blogger. We usually distill a few nuggets that we each thought worthwhile, and then move on to some technique we are wondering about. I have a feeling that today we will spend more than the lunch hour, and then pick it back up Thursday night, and in classes, and start quoting this to each other on outings. Thank you very much. I’m making a shortcut on my iPad directly here for continued reference.

  6. Very inspiring article Vincent. I’ve been struggling with the voice versus technique for a long time, as well as many of the other situations you describe in your post. Your thoughts really moved me to work harder at becoming more creative in my photography. If you’re ever in Arizona, I wouldn’t mind taking one of your classes. Thank you so much for a great post!

  7. Nice piece Vin!
    You get even better with a great glass of Cabernet, your jokes/impressions, and a lot of laughter.
    “Always be intoxicated. Never be sober. Never, ever, be sober. Use poetry, virtue, or wine as you please.” – Baudelaire
    (Or creativity …)

  8. Vince, great tidbits of accumulated wisdom in your blog. Sometimes, we may act as our own impediment to artistic progress by telling ourselves that we have to wait for that one great scene, that one great moment before we take a picture. Those moments, however, are actually all around us even in the flow and ebb of everyday life. We just have to let our instincts guide us. American artist Edward Hopper illustrated this point as all his works portray people and scenes that capture the mundane and pedestrian and transform it into memorable art. Two words from your article describe it best: elegant simplicity.

  9. Wow! Great post, truly wonderful images and two really great quotes:

    “Emotionally full and technically imperfect trumps technically perfect and emotionally vacant every time.”

    “Everything matters, and everything dovetails into everything else.”

    Thanks so much for sharing it all with us.

  10. I met Vincent some years ago when we both were teaching a workshop out west. I still remember it as an infinitely memorable experience! I thought then and was reminded today
    What an incredibly talented man he is, and I’m honored to count him as a friend. Your stuff just gets better and better…..

    My best, my friend,


  11. You explore so many great points here, Vincent! I particularly relate to your idea about not letting the critical voice inside be the blocker to your creativity. I believe creativity has to be fearless – whether photography, painting or any other art medium, you do have to learn to remove yourself and let your hands act independent of your critical thinking. You need to trust that your mind will work on the art without having to think about it too much. This really makes me think of when I am contracted to paint a mural. It is my job to assure my client that I can paint anything – usually something I have never painted before. Some people might think it takes extra thought and consideration to prepare, but I think about it just enough to come up with the concept and to know what colors of paint I will need to have on hand at the time I will show up for work. Then, I set it aside, and I don’t think about it again until I begin to paint. I know that all along in the background my mind has been at work, but if I over-think the process, then I am limiting the freedom of my mind’s creativity. (I really believe this is the secret to creativity.) When I begin to paint, I trust that my hand is skilled and my mind is capable of painting anything I am asked to paint. Sure, I could succumb to doubt. I could think, “Well, I HOPE I can paint it, afterall, I’ve never done it before.” No. I have to BELIEVE I can paint it… blindly believe. To be creative is to believe anything is possible! If you allow your mind to be free by not encumbering it with negativity or criticism, if you remove yourself and don’t try to control the outcome, rather let it come out instinctively, then your heart can take hold and create something new, something beautiful, something true.

    Your vision and insight is both impassioned and eloquent, Vincent. I have been inspired by you for many, many years now. … Very thankful there is a Vincent Versace in the world.

    : )

  12. Wow! I am sitting here trying to take my mind off of the fact that my wife is in surgery at the moment and I am struck at the wisdom of this writing. I will be referring back to it often. Thank You!

  13. Great post Vincent. I’ve admired your work for a long time and have had the pleasure of attending one of your classes at Photoshop World and listening to you speak at the Thursday night Photoshop World “Art of Digital Photography.” You’re a captivating speaker.

  14. First off and long overdue; Thank You Scott!! and the team for creating this amazing source of knowledge and inspiration to the photo world, I love 2 features of the blog, 1) the continuous feature of the blog, a quick load before my daily mta commute to work and voila. 2) Wednesday’s : )

    Vincent, this was not inspiring, it made a difference!!! Inspiration has a one minute shelf life, once a difference is made it is simply different and doing that in a post online, that in itself is off the hook inspiring. Cheers to you!!

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