Playing Stuck in the Mud – A Creative Exercise for Photography

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Do you remember that game called Stuck in the Mud we used to play as kids? It goes something like this; one kid is elected to be “it” and runs around to tag as many people as possible. When tagged, the other players have to freeze and stand with legs and arms apart, as if they were stuck in some glutinous mud. The only way to get free of the mud is when a non-tagged comrade climbs through the legs of the trapped players. It goes on until everybody inevitably gets stuck in the mud.

I was thinking about this game rather nostalgically over the course of this project.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

Um… What has mud got to do with photography?

Actually, a fair bit sometimes. Fortunately, this project doesn’t involve wading in sticky mud (unless you want to).  This project is about parking your feet for a few minutes to have a good look around – as if you were stuck in the mud yourself.

Even when going for a dedicated photography walk, you are bound to miss the subtle details of a landscape. You can’t help it. The brain prioritizes images that portend to the mission at hand – surviving. Physical activity, self-preservation – it’s all the ingredients a brain focuses on to sustain its host. That’s why the best way to draw more detail out of a location is to slow down.

We know this because often when we see a potential photograph, we stop in our tracks to take the shot. So rather than halting for a brief second, the idea of this project is to and make a little extra time to investigate an environment. The shapes, colors, people, graffiti, or details in a window sill. There are countless moments that are ready for the taking, they just have to be caught.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

How to play stuck in the mud with a camera

It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? The thought of my camera even coming near mud makes me sweat. But playing photographic stuck in the mud is easy.

The first step is to grab your camera and head out the door. Wander around, find a place to take a few shots and hold your position. Keep in mind that your spot doesn’t have to appear instantly enticing. In fact, choosing a boring location would be a quicker way to train yourself onto detail.  Plant your feet on the ground and have a good look around. I would recommend holding your position for a good one to two minutes at first. You’ll notice the time tends to go faster each try. In order to concentrate, set an alarm on your phone and get shooting!

Rules of the game

Apart from taking a few minutes to study the spot you’ve chosen, there aren’t any hard and fast rules to the stuck in the mud project. To advance, add a higher photo count or hang out in one spot for a longer period of time.

Want to stop every 100 steps? Do you want to be able to swivel around in a circle? Want to halt at particular points on a map? It’s totally up to you. You could even go out with a friend and compare shots from the same spot after! But I do recommend staying in the one spot for at least a minute or so – to truly get into that state of mindfulness and awareness. Sometimes it can be hard to get into that creative flow, so slowing down your process can help activate what I like to call “The Photography Zone”.

Also, it’s probably obvious, but don’t stop in the way of others or get yourself in a dangerous situation. This isn’t Pokemon Go, okay?

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

This is an example of a street corner I parked my feet on the other day. I was waiting for a friend and decided to take advantage of the surrounds. It doesn’t look like much, right? A fresh construction zone impeded by scaffolding. But, embracing the challenge I honed in on some of details that really make up the urban landscape.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

This dark blue scaffold retains a sharp contrast in the midday sun.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

A vibrant red scaffolding hanging just close enough to get a detailed shot.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

You never know what you are gonna find! A cute little button.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

And of course, don’t forget the selfie!

Pleasant Surprises

This short collection below surprised me a little because I’ve walked the route many so times before. But that’s what is so great about this project. It slows down your photographic practice, making room for unusual subjects to peek through.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

The black and white conversion was a no-brainer to match tones in this image

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

I’ll often use these manholes to mark where I’ll stand next. This time, I decided to photograph one instead. I really enjoy the light filling out the overall image.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

This tarp has been under construction for weeks but it took me a concerted effort to stop and explore the panorama of the city to capture this picture.

Sometimes the stuck in the mud project yields a cohesive series in itself. This image is the remains of Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station in Australia. But instead of walking around to hunt out the obvious subject matter, I took a few minutes to plant my feet and take a good look at the detail around me.

It’s the act of staying put in the one space that allowed me to capture a different perspective of the old station.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

The site of the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station. Before I set off to scurry around for subjects I deliberately took a minute or two to survey the details of the overall environment.

Playing Stuck in the Mud - A Creative Exercise for Photography

The results of a few minutes stuck in the mud. The detail of the ground around me lit up like an abstract artist’s canvas.

The variation from one tile to the next is a striking contrast. Perfect for focusing on the historical site in a different light.

Over to you

I would love to see the results of your stuck in the mud sessions. By taking a few moments to truly check out a landscape, odd little moments become clearer. You’ll almost definitely leave your spot thinking, “Wow, I never noticed that before!” So have a go! and share your images in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Megan Kennedy is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. A lifelong fascination with flight has inspired her photographic practice in documenting the intricate form of aircraft. Megan is also interested in travel photography and documenting human interaction with the modern landscape, through both intentional and incidental intervention. She is well versed in both digital and film practice. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications.

  • Joaozito Polo

    Your story is very crazy. But I loved that. I will try to stuck in the mud in a next tour.

  • Jack62

    I liked the concept in your story and have sometimes used it without thinking about it as a concept. On a trip with the family to the Bosque del Apache NWR we were watching the Snow Geese in one of the ponds. While waiting for the others to get their shots, I turned around to find these Phragmites staring me in the face. I decided to do a panorama and here’s how it turned out. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/82d23420267e8275bf5463f94c725ca61085178aeeb882ef48acc796fdfca07d.jpg

  • Joe McNamara

    I’ve done this before without even realizing it…While waiting in a line of people to visit the Tall Ships in Boston years ago, I took some beautiful photos of nautical equipment, such as block and tackle, rope, etc. (they are all on slide film, otherwise I would display them here). I will definitely try your approach next time out.

  • soupbone

    Good article. The trick is to always have a camera with you (camera, please, not the thingie glued into your smart phone), even if it’s a simple point-and-shoot. I took this snapshot through a library window – it was one of those “take me, take me” moments……
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e74cfdc7d13a78c0179283f2c53caf6a9500a109a945f3a5af93d276d1db5a20.jpg

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