Galapagos - Tumbaco, Ecuador
©Michael G.O'Brien 1989
Re-Discover Forgotten Treasure

This simple photo, I made as a novice in the eighties, popped up on my radar a few days ago - it prompted me to explore it, and the memories it held for me. Right now I have time to look really deeply into an image. There may not be the chance to do this again - this is a special time.

So here I am - a young 'gringo' photographer in the Andes for the first time - naive but full of awe at the beauty that envelops me at every breath. The living room floor of my friends' house is hard but free. I'm sleeping with my camera under my pillow - after all it's the eighties and Freeman Patterson - my photo idol at the time - exhorts us aspiring photographers to "always have your camera with you" - I take him literally.

The morning light of the Andes pierces my soul as it comes flooding into the room through the window above my head. Grateful for another day, I roll over and make this single exposure (above) - thirty years later I'm still glad that I did. Just see and act - it doesn't have to be complicated. After exploring the complexity of photography for years I've come full circle to see how powerful simplicity can be - in life and art.
Appreciate The Now;
Use Limitations To Focus
Living within the limitations we have right now can free us to make do with what we have - to appreciate here and now - it's effective for getting past the blocks of perfectionism and procrastination. Click here to see an article on how limitations can drive creativity and innovation.

A kind reader (thanks Susan) passed on the idea of an exercise she was given in a workshop by Freeman Patterson - it was raining so they were asked to find subject matter in their rooms to make photos of. In that spirit the image left is a window sill in my study, made with iPhone yesterday - try it - take out your phone camera and explore your living space for at least ten minutes. Start with a close look at shapes, shadows, reflections and textures. It's really simple - to work with a camera within confines and limitations frees us to be creative.

Keep It Simple

Angélica Juárez (right) was my most trusted and very able professional translator/guide when I explored San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 1998. A mother of two, her family owned a transport and guide company - now she runs it. She described herself as a simple, ordinary woman - and as I found out, a very honest one as well.

I told Anjélica that Diego Riviera's art and life interested me. With her cousin driving we set out to Riviera's birth home in Guanajuato. Riviera was like a god in Mexico and his childhood house was converted into a small museum dedicated to his development as a young artist.

This portrait was made inside Diego Riviera's house - for me it epitomizes simplicity. The relaxed posture, the straight-on framing, the natural expression and the direct gaze all come together in this photograph of a good person - this was the only take.
Make Use Of Walks:
Look At What's Around You
Photographer Peter Mitchell took morning walks where he photographed his home city, Leeds, England, - the resulting negatives remained undeveloped for 30 years. We now finally get to see these pictures in his book Early Sunday Morning

I find his feel for the places he saw on his walks to be deep and profound. These are masterful compositions held together with real soul and an awesome understanding of how to work with light and colour. The affection he has for these structures and their place in his hometown is obvious. Apparently most of them are now gone. This book hasn't been published yet so I've pre-ordered one from the PHOTOBOOKSTORE in the U.K.
I've bought books from them in the past and they're quite reliable. I also love just looking at all their books online - it's a good way of seeing what's going on in the photobook world.
Assignments And Exercises
I'm going to start including self-assignments in these newsletters. If they call to you, do them. You can share the results with me if you wish. As a service offered during this crisis, for a limited time I'll give (free and private) commentary for you in writing or with a Skype call. If you feel you need an assignment tailored to your needs, write me an email describing what you want to work on.
No. 1 - The 100 Words Later Assignment
Find an older image of yours that speaks to you now, after the passage of time. Print it if you can - if not no worries just drop it into a Word doc - write something about the image; go beyond a caption - start with around 100 words. Where were you when this picture was made? What were you thinking? what was going on in your life? If you have questions about this process email me.
Thank You
Feel welcome to reach out to contact me about what's in this email or to say hello and talk. I just read that over the last month the 'phone call' has become very popular again - call 647 286 1705 or email at

Links below connect to past photo related emails - check them out for review or ideas.
View Previous Newsletters

Click here to see article on Framing in composition.
Click here to look at the Linear Perspective article

Click here for the Dominant Foreground Contributing Background.

Click here to look at the Rule of Thirds article.

Click here for the Controlled Depth of Field article

Click here to see an email from the archive called Good Ideas

Contact Michael 
office 416 778 6521
mobile 647 286 1705