Creativity sometimes eludes us, but that doesn't mean it can't be brought back! Here I compile 10 creativity tips for photographers, just in case it needs a shot in the arm.
First let's define our terms, what I mean by “creativity” is not what most people understand by that. Most people understand creativity as a sort of Off Beat path that no one traveled before. What I call creativity is not that far fetched, it's that “thing” that drives us to shoot and enjoying it. Sometimes we lose that, we just don't want to or we feel bad about ourselves.
The 10 creativity tips
1) Ignore everybody
When I was a kid, I was quite large, plus being the only asian kid in the whole town (the whole population was dark skinned) did not help NOT sticking out. I was picked on and bullied. “Patat Si!” (“Fat Potato!”), “Boulot!” (“Fatso!”), “ChingChengChong” were my nicknames. Everyone else was dark skinned and thin.
I tried fitting in, being part of the gang, but I couldn't. If only I could play soccer, that would have been my redemption but nopes, I was THAT kid, the one always picked last that no one really wanted in their team. Still trying to fit in I tried my hands on drinking, being a “player” and drugs. In that time I pretty much did everything I said I would never do. My breakthrough came years later when I simply gave up on trying to fit in. I would just focus on being myself and ignored everybody. I of course brought that mentality in my photography and by extension Inspired Eye.
Graham Alexander, Luc Pher, have partners who love their images, while my own wife doesn't like my stuff at all! But that's not the beginning of it…..because I put my work out there and because try to do something with this website with my parter Don, I've been called an A**hole, C*nt, piece of Sh*t & other lovelies.
It also never fails when I post in other photography websites, there's always someone who comments anonymously how much I suck. My friends, here's what I've learned: If you try to do something with your life, you will automatically receive negativity. That's just a fact of life.
When you photograph, you should photograph for yourself, to bring pleasure to you and you only. Don't get me wrong, give everyone your best, be selfless, but when it comes to you and your photography, be selfishly selfish. Once you put your stuff out there, there's two things that come into play, the tall wheat syndrome (my term) and polarization.
Tall wheat syndrome: When you try to do something good with your life (say, pursue photography), many will support you, but a few will hate the fact that you are doing something they secretly wish they had the guts to pursue. You'll get heat from that. When the wheat gets tall, people want to cut it down to size in order not to feel bad about themselves. Don't believe me? This is the 3rd biggest regret people have on their death bed, the fact that they were not courageous enough to live the life they wanted to live, but instead live the life that was expected of them.
Polarization: Once you put yourself and your work out there, you have to understand that both you and your photographs are like magnets, they will attract some and repel others. Don't expect everyone to love you and what you do. You will polarize people automatically. There's a good french saying “Qui m'aime me suive”, “Those who love me follow me”, so just focus on that, for those who don't like you, who cares?
Negativity is a vicious cycle so it's just best to ignore (That trick got me through bullies!), or send a positive comment back. To everyone who cursed me out, I replied to them with “Bless you” and “Have a wonderful day”! One guy was so vicious, I left him with my number so that he could vent, judgement-free. He never called >< The thing here is don't let haters get to you, some people only feel good when they make others feel bad, that's why I never engage in their plan.
So wether you are making people uncomfortable because you are making great work, or because they don't like it, ignore them and focus on what you are doing. Of course I am not saying you should completely ignore all criticism (that's being conceited), we all have our blind spots and should be aware of that but constructive criticism is pretty rare…
Now before I make it sound that everything goes, you first have to make sure you know what you are doing. I believe to be a good photographer you must learn the rules, know them cold, and follow them. To be a great photographer, you must learn the rules, know them cold, and break them. Just sayin'.
2) Make it a priority
If you want to be creative, make it a priority. That means you work at it everyday. If you wake up at 6:00 to get ready, wake up at 5:00 or 5:30 to read about photography. Read magazines, look at photographs, go out and shoot, etc. just do something everyday that make you closer to your photography goals. My son wakes me up at 5 am sharp, I can't leave the house and I let my wife sleep till 10am, so that's 5 hours straight sharpening my skills.
Very few people are creative, for the rest of us there is just plain hard work. Michaelangelo said “If only people knew how hard I worked to gain Mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all”. True creative freedom comes from working hard first. You are only free to photograph when you know how to operate the camera completely for example.
3) Creativity is only part of the equation
There's multiple types of energy: Physical energy, Creative energy, Emotional energy, Purpose energy, etc. Creativity thrives when all these buckets are full. You get physical energy by sleeping and eating right, Emotional energy by nurturing your relationship with your family, others and yourself, Purpose energy by making your purpose crystal clear (more below). Creativity is only part of the equation, get your life straight on other levels and your creativity will be nurtured.
Just think about going out for a shooting session, and you only slept for 4 hours, do you think your brain will be primed to see the scene unfolding in front of you? Or will it see that Sleepy's store, reminding you that you need to sleep? While you can probably force creativity, but it's better if you meet the prerequisites first, you'll be more prone to be inspired and creative.
4) Try Limitation creativity
Limitation creativity is the idea that you become more creative as you limit yourself. Most people know “One camera, one lens”, but have no idea how it works. It's because of limitation creativity, and that itself has an underlying principle, Choice paralysis, working for it it.
Choice paralysis is best explained as a restaurant menu: Ever been to those restaurants where you have absolutely no idea what to get because there's to many choices? That's choice paralysis. It hinders creativity because it offers too many options. Imagine you had 10 lenses and 10 places to shoot….Do you go to place A with lens 1, 2, 3, 4? Or place B with lens 1,5,7,8? Versus just having one lens, one camera, one area and making it work? Having too many options is like having too many programs open in your computer.
Limitations removes the choices and allows your brain to fully allocate it's processing powers to one thing. You can stimulate your creativity by limiting your gear, limiting your geographical location, time of day, etc. You can always do one thing at a time and move on if that doesn't work for you.
5) Expand your reach
Other contemporary photographers can provide a good source of inspiration for you own work. But creativity is also cultivated when we venture outside our realm. So read books, look at painting, theater, and all of the arts. Eugene Smith, one of the greatest american photographers is a great example of this, his photography drew heavily on Theater and drama. His work, especially in “country doctor” looks like theater scenes.
Also, if you are a beginner, don't be afraid to explore all the styles of photography first to determine what you like!
6) Never compare
It's good an important to look at other's work, and look at other forms or art. But never forget to always look at yourself and what you are doing. After all, the most important photographer who ever lived is…..*picks up a mirror* YOU. The danger of looking at other's work too much is that judgement may start coming in the picture. If we judge another to have inferior photographs, we can become complacent, if we judge another to be much better than us, we can become depressed.
It's hard not to compare in the age where we put everything into lists and where we rate everything but this is not math, this is art and art by nature is subjective. So if a Jury classifies the top 10 photographs in a contest, it's THEIR opinion of what these photographs are, another jury would chose differently.
8) Revisit your history
We tend to overdramatize things, so it's always important to see the progress in our photography. From time to time go revisit back your catalog of photographs. Not only you will be surprised of seeing some very good shots you have probably missed, you will also see the progress that you've made. It's scientifically proven that people are very bad at estimating (In a tests, people messed up everything from their weight to height, thanks to perception), so this will boost your creativity because it will show you objectively that you are not stagnating, and that you are moving forward.
6) Create a creative corner
Open a onenote account (Free) or an Evernote account (Freemium). I preffer One Note but you chose the one you like. Alternatively you can use a service like Pinterest or Dreamitalive.com for this. Create a new file, folder or board and name it something like “Inspiration”, and put in this every single photograph, quote of photographers you like in there.
Put in the types of photographs that you would like to shoot. Life happens, sometimes we just lose focus of what we like and where we want to be. This creative corner helps refocus ourselves. You should always focus on yourself and what you are doing, but sometimes the spark you need comes from the outside, like a battery that needs a jump.
9) Have a sense of purpose
History is very discriminative, it only remembers a few people out of billions. It only remembers those with purposes. Marthin Luther King fought for Black liberty, Gandhi for the freedom of India, etc. Wether or not they felt like it, their purpose kept them going, it was something bigger then them.
You need to find your sense of purpose as a photographer. Ask yourself why photograph in the first place, what are you trying to do? Once you find it, it's not about you anymore, it's bigger than you and that knowledge helps you move forward even when you don't want to. That's the photographer's drive.
10) Create a fall back list
Imagine with me a moment a young graphic designer sitting down in class, and the teacher tells him “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind you will be a great designer”. Can you imagine how that comment made the student feel? That student was me. But just like many, I am overly dramatic when it comes to anything I do, more than once I tell myself “Woe is me, I am the worst of graphic designers and photographers on earth!” and I need something to get me back on track.
I have a fall-back list where I compile every stimulating comment I ever received about my work. No, it's not a monument to my ego, but a 911 emergency kit when I'm starting feeling bad about myself. It happens very often because I have very very very (that's 3 very's!) low self esteem. It never fails to get me back up because just like revisiting your history in terms of images, it helps get things in perspective. negative feelings about one'self is usually opinion, but it's often treated as fact by ourselves….
The tips above are the ones that got me going more than once, if you have some tips yourself, let me know below!