We hear that all the time. Everyone wants to be creative. But how do you do it? It’s not like you can save up some money, phone B&H and say, “Give me $50 worth of creative please.”
It’s not like buying gear. It’s not simply a matter of craft. It’s a state of mind.
I’ve been struggling for a long time to figure out how to teach it or at least to get people thinking about it. I have no idea if I’m on the right track or not. But here are some thoughts on how to at least think about getting creative…
Magic happens when you pick up a camera. Believe it or not – that’s part of the answer. You have to be out there shooting – often. If you shoot often enough, you will find photos inside you that you didn’t even know were there.
Certainly, the creative process starts with the camera – but some would say it ends with the editing. The essence of creative photography may indeed be in the editing process. I’m not talking about exposure or color corrections or a Layers mask or a plug-in. I am talking about the seeing of it. The choosing of one picture over another. The crop that you make in post. That’s where the basic pieces and parts of the thing we call creativity start to show themselves.
Editing in photography is like editing for writers. They start with nothing – just like we do. Then they put words on paper as we put images on paper. They edit and refine. We edit and refine. Think about it. It’s easy.
But if it’s easy, why don’t we see more of it? The thing that stops this process dead in its tracks is — fear. We all have a fear of failure. We think we have to get it just right the first time. And that’s a good goal. But it’s better to shoot – shoot some more – and then shoot some more, with a goal of experimentation and exploration – with the decisions on what does and doesn’t work to come via the edit.
This process of just shooting – just doing it – makes you braver. You discover that you can’t hurt anything by trying. You eventually get someplace you hoped you could go and you get confidence.
Some photographers contact me with questions or problems that boil down to one simple thing. They are waiting for permission to go shoot. They are waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Guess what? You don’t need permission. Just go do it. Do it now. Remember magic happens once you pick up your camera. So go get it. Make a photograph.
Don’t worry if your work will be good enough. At first, it probably won’t be. Who cares? This is just part of the creative process. You should see some of the rough first drafts of a Ron Howard script or a Stephen King novel. They aren’t close to good enough. But through edits, patience, practice and doing more – the projects mature and flourish.
Creativity isn’t about overthrowing reason. It’s about seeing the light. It’s about bringing things from your sub-conscious to your conscious mind via experimentation. Looking for something creative doesn’t give you the excuse to go crazy, but it does give you permission to try new things.
Now – just to make this even harder – try mixing the concept of creative photography and that lofty goal of storytelling with a single image.
This is the Holy Grail. This is the thing I aim for (and often miss) in my own work. But it starts with the understanding that you must do SOMETHING. You must photograph SOMETHING to get to that creative place.
When I mix the concept of storytelling and creativity – I often try to do it by assigning myself the job of narrator. If I am alone (and there’s nobody near me to hear how crazy I sound) I’ll often talk to my subjects or about them – sometimes in my radio announcer’s voice.
“The heron is stalking breakfast. The small fish swims upstream not realizing that the great shadow above it is not a cloud, rather, it’s the wing of the great beautiful bird who is about to bring the fish’s existence to an end. But the fish will live on in the bird as sustenance.”
Yeah I know – it probably sounds like hooey. But I’m trying to get you thinking about some extremely ethereal concepts here. The picture at the top of this post came from just such an encounter. It shows the bird shading the sun so it can see better into the stream where the fish live. The bird wants a meal. The fish wants to swim. There is conflict, there is a protagonist. There is an antagonist. There is a story line.
This sort of thinking may or may not lead you to a more significant photographic place. What it will do is improve your photography even if it doesn’t help you become more creative.
NOTE: If you’re serious about storytelling in photography, read some of the great writers. Look at how they develop characters, plots and movement in their stories. A great place to start is Truman Capote’s work, “A Christmas Memory” Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories. Random House, 1994. This will show you everything you need to know about storytelling if you read closely enough and open up your mind.