Creativity in Photography

The Creativity Buzz

Creativity has become a bit of a buzz word in the photo world lately. Many are advocating that ANYONE can be creative in their photo workshops, classes, and advice columns. While I am guilty of the same statement and I do believe there is actually truth to it, the process is a bit more involved than how most think of the word creativity. With this in mind, I have decided to write about the process of how I feel one becomes creative within photography. Because yes, like most creative avenues, there is a process one can follow to become better at any given craft.

There are basically five steps used in the process of creating or being creative. It is actually called the creative process. It doesn’t matter what your field or background, if you truly want to explore creativity, you can follow this process to literally build a better mousetrap. My goal here is to better illustrate how a photographer can use this process to not only create better photographs, but also create anything photography related.

Preparation >

The preparation phase is all about throwing logs onto the creativity fire. This is where you want to study the work of your favorite photographers. You want to know their history. You want to know the history of photography itself.

Don’t forget to branch out. Look to photographers from other genres of photography than yours. If you shoot nature, look towards war photographers, if you shoot portraits look at automobile photographers. You may think that I am crazy, but you learn much more when you look outside the parameters you have instilled in your own mind.

Don’t stop looking at just photographers though. Think about what else grabs your attention. Is it music, graphic design, architecture or something less obvious. Can you incorporate this other inspiration into your photographic studies?

Now grab some books, follow some of those inspirations on Instagram, or signup for a newsletter or two. While I feel many email newsletters have become about the hard sell, there are still many out there which look to inspire first and sell you something second.

Once you have all of this inspiration in hand it is time to figure out just what you are going to create.

Incubation >

During the Incubation Stage you will take all of this inspiration and create your idea. Think about pre-visualizing a photo composition, planning a trip to an inspiring location, or a building a photography project or product. Once you have your photo related element defined and written down, you wait.

Your mind then kicks the idea around. It in turn spirals up other ideas. These ideas could be related to your initial idea or they may spark spinoff concepts.

This process could take hours, days, weeks, or even years. During that time frame you may adjust your idea or you may even walk away from it altogether.

Illumination >

Illumination is what most consider to be that “AHA” moment. It could be the exact moment where the crowd believes your concept started. When in fact, that moment was potentially years ago when you initially wrote it down during the Incubation Stage.

Here is an example of incubation to illumination that recently happened to me. There is a location in Yellowstone National Park that I photographed almost 20 years ago. At the time, I only owned two lenses, no accessories, and had a tripod that would fall over if I took my hands off of it.

My composition was limited back then by equipment for sure, but I had yet to acquire enough experience in photography to actually accomplish the photograph as well. I had some insight to know this was the case, so I put the potential composition in the back of my mind for 20 years. A few weeks ago I was in this specific location at the perfect time of day.

The incubation period was now complete and the idea came directly into a period of enlightenment as I saw the scene unfolding. That photo is the header to this post.

Verification >

While it may take you years of incubation to walk into the Illumination Stage, the Verification Stage is probably the hardest stage to move beyond. This is when you have to ask yourself, “Is this a great idea?”

While huge corporations build a testing and trial phase into their next greatest releases, a lone photographer probably isn’t going to have the funding or time to accomplish this. So you have to be your own worst enemy.

Do you keep all of your photographs just “in case” someday you realize that one of them is worthy? If so, this is going to be the phase that truly hampers your creative process. In addition, this “hangup” situation can happen if you don’t really have enough knowledge because you never completed the Preparation Phase of the creativity process.

Again, is your idea valid? Think about your pre-visualized composition, or destination you are planning on traveling to…are you going to be bettering the photographs you have seen during the Preparation Phase? Is your angle better? Is your product better? Will you shed this location in a better light?

Do you have honest friends who can give you the straight talk? Sometimes reality sucks, but if those you trust have valid points for or against your argument, then you may want to listen and adjust accordingly.

Remember – there is always a better angle and to get it, you may only have to move your camera six inches.

Now Do >

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda.

Well? What are you waiting for? Go outside and get that photo you have been thinking about. Make that fine art book. Build that new slideshow. Send that new photo product to market.

Now you need to send your idea out into the world. This is when you take the photo you thought about 20 years ago. Or you buy the plane ticket to Kashmir. This is when you sweat, cry, and work relentlessly for hours, days, weeks, and years to produce that tiny piece of something. This is when all of the work happens.

“Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.” – Thomas Edison.

Don’t worry, the process begins again. Time for more preparation…


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