The nature of creativity – Part Two

In my last article I talked about creativity – what it is and whether we can all be creative. I also described 3 of 10 strategies that we can employ to develop our creativity. This article concludes with the final 7.

4 – Experiment  & Play With Different Equipment

Trying out new pieces of equipment can also be a stimulus to our creativity. I’m not advocating that our photography should be equipment led because cameras and lenses are simply tools to record our vision. But working with a new or different piece of gear can stimulate us to see & think in a fresh way about a familiar subject.

I love to play with a variety of lenses and adaptors that can be bought at a very reasonable price for my Olympus OMDs; pinhole & zone plate adaptors. These are all relatively cheap so playing with new ‘toys’ needn’t cost the earth. If your natural preference is for shooting wide vistas fit a longer lens and look for small ‘vignettes’ in the landscape – sometimes these can say as much about a location as the wider view.

Just using a different camera or format for a while can be a positive experience. If you normally produce photographs in a rectangular format then try shooting panoramic or square images.

If you normally work with sophisticated DLRS or CSCs with interchangeable lenses try shooting film with a toy camera like the Holga or using a small digital compact with a fixed lens and minimal controls (the proverbial ‘point and shoot’).

The variety helps to maintain the momentum of our creative journey.

5 – Break The Rules

Photography is full of so called rules and these can be the biggest barrier to the development of our creativity.

Take composition for example. There are so many rules that in theory should influence the design of our images – we are told that we should always compose using the rule of thirds, horizons should never be in the centre of the frame or we should never include even numbers of subjects in our compositions.

But if we blindly follow the rules we’ll get boring, formulaic photographs. My advice is treat rules as guidelines – but no more than that. We should abandon our (and other peoples pre-conceptions) of how things should be. For there are no ‘shoulds’ for the creative photographer.

If we learn to accept that there is no right way then it’ll become fun to explore as many different ways as we can to take photographs of any given subject. If we accept that there is no one way to do something we can remove the shackles & set our creativity free.

6 – Don’t Concern Yourself With Popularity

Which brings me to my sixth strategy – we shouldn’t worry about how others will react to our photographs. Photography is not objective – a photograph says as much about the photographer as about the subject. Any image will always be a personal statement about the world and reflect a viewpoint that may or may not be shared by others.

In any event the viewer will make their own interpretation of our photographs and their judgement is something we have little if any control over. So why let it bother us?
To be constantly worrying about pleasing others prevents us from developing our own artistic voice with the danger that our photographs stay ‘safe’ and ‘acceptable’. Our images then end up as clones of photographs that the world has seen before.

Which is boring, boring, boring!!!

As creative photographers we should value our individuality and be true to ourselves and not worry about whether anyone else will like the photographs we are taking. In the world of artistic photography there is no correlation between creativity and popularity.

Sometimes, for our creative vision to flourish, we have to try and learn to love & enjoy uncertainty – the significance or value of an image may not be immediately apparent to us or anyone else.

We have to learn to trust our instincts. If our intuition is telling us that a particular subject is worth exploring then we should explore it and do so without thought or concern about whether it will be popular or where it might take us artistically.

This requires that we learn to value ambiguity – become comfortable with the vague, the unknown or the unanswered question.

7 – Photograph Your Passions

I believe that it’s essential to concentrate on the subjects we feel passionately about. For if we feel strongly about a subject then we are more likely to devote the time, energy, patience and persistence required to photograph it successfully and creatively.

And in this context passion could mean love or hate – which one doesn’t matter – because either way, our photographs are more likely to reflect that emotion and therefore have more impact.

I firmly believe that creative photography comes as much from the heart as from the head. We have to feel intensely about our subject – we’ve got to react to it at a level beyond ‘oh that looks nice’!!

And photographing the things we love is always inspiring and motivating. When we are in the creative doldrums that we all experience from time to time then returning to the subjects, situations and locations that enthuse us is always a great way of getting back onto our creative path.

8 – Create Time AND Mental Space For Photography

Any artistic endeavour requires time and dedication as well as a good helping of concerted effort. Photography (and no more so than landscape photography) can be an incredibly unsociable activity. It requires a commitment of time and sometimes a degree of isolation from other people to produce our best work.

And personally I find it almost impossible to produce great photographs when I’m out & about or on holiday with family & friends. I cannot make the creative process work for me when I’m trying to squeeze picture making in between other demands and priorities. Experience has taught me that it’s essential to set aside dedicated & protected time for photography.

Allocating dedicated time will also help to ensure that we are in the right frame of mind to access the sources of our creativity and to fully concentrate on our subject. I know that to be my most productive not only my body but importantly my head needs to be in the right place. My mind needs to be clear of other pressures & worries and fully focused on the task in hand.

Which is why I believe the key issue to be about finding time and mental energy for the creative process. For one without the other leads to frustration and disappointment.

9 – Draw Inspiration From A Variety Of Sources

Creativity and inspiration rarely come from within – unprompted and unprovoked. Inspiration has to be drawn from a variety of sources. I draw on a well of material – sometimes sub-consciously – that have over the years informed, shaped and moulded my approach to photography and my way of responding to my environment.

The work of other photographers is an obvious source of material. I’d recommend looking at the images produced by photographers you admire and:

  • analyse what it is about their work that appeals;
  • imagine how they took some of their photographs and what thought processes they may have gone through;
  • think about how you might tackle the same subject or scene to come up with a different interpretation.

But we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to just photographers – painters and other artists can be a valuable source of inspiration. Although I can’t paint to save my life I’ve drawn inspiration from artists such as Monet, Renoir and Mark Rothko considering how I can apply their approach (e.g. the style of work, the use of colour, shape and tone) to my photography.

Novels can be another source of ideas and reading them exercises the brain, forcing us to imagine worlds and scenes that we’ve never experienced personally.

Listening to music – particularly music that generates an emotional response from us – can transport us to other places and times. I frequently shut myself away to listen to music, close my eyes, reflect on what it makes me feel like and how I could capture that feeling in a photograph.

10 – Work On Projects

And finally one of the best ways of developing our creativity in photography is to set ourselves a project ; a challenge that will help to give our work a focus and a purpose (see my previous article on this topic for more details –https://www.manfrottoschoolofxcellence.com/2017/03/working-on-projects/ ).

It could be to:

  •  fully explore a particular technique; or to
  • photograph one subject in as many different ways as possible; or
  • to produce a body of work on a topic or theme for an exhibition.

Working on a project forces us out of our armchair (when sometimes it’d be easier to stay in front of the TV) and it gives us an opportunity or excuse to explore a subject in depth. This can force us to push boundaries, to think tangentially & look harder at a subject.

Anything that motivates us to take photographs is valuable because practice is the most essential element in our creative journey. Eliot Porter said that in photography “you learn to see things by practice. The more you look around at things, the more you see”.

Steve GoslingOther articles by author

Steve is a professional photographer who specialises in producing creative & contemporary landscape and travel images. His photographs have been published internationally illustrating posters, cards, books, magazines, newspapers & calendars. His fine art prints have been widely exhibited and have also appeared on sets for both theatre & film productions.

His work has also won many awards - for example, his landscape images have been successful in the UK’s ‘Black & White Photographer of the Year’ competition and for the last 3 years he has had images shortlisted in the prestigious international 'B&W Spider Awards', achieving an Honourable Mention in 2016.

He enjoys writing & teaching about photography and frequently gives talks on landscape photography to photographic groups in the UK and abroad. He is also a regular contributor to many of the major photography magazines in the UK as well as a growing number of overseas titles. He has run a successful workshop programme for several years in locations across the world from Iceland to Antarctica, encouraging and inspiring photographers of all levels.

As well as working closely with Phase One (for whom he is a Fieldwork Professor) and Lee Filters Steve is an Ambassador for Olympus, Manfrotto/Gitzo tripods & Permajet inkjet papers.

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