Creativity and the Photographer

Some thoughts…

I am wondering, what is creativity? And, what can we do to become more creative photographers?

Of course, there are no easy formulas. And this short post can not even start to answer such profound questions. However, I think there are a few ideas which can help us. Let me share two. But first, some context.

Over the last few years I have been on a journey into photography. Like many people, I have been trying to discover and develop my creative side. I have always enjoyed building, crafting and making things, particularly photographs.  And while these are often seen as ‘creative’ activities, the simple act of making something, does not, by default, mean we have been or are creative. Making things can be very functional, lacking in any creativity.

Many people speak of creativity using nice woolly words like soul, mood, passion, feeling and spark. And yes, these are all great words to wrap around the concept of creativity,  however they are not particularly helpful in giving us some real goalposts to aim at.

For me, creativity implies that we have created or added ‘something extra’. It is that bit of ‘magic’ which will occasionally take what we make and transport it to a special place.

Here are two things I have learnt which have help me to understand what creativity is and how to find it.

Mamiya 7II / 80mm / Velvia 50 Film
Mamiya 7II / 80mm / Velvia 50 Film

First, at its core, I think creativity involves a sense of newness. A new idea. A new form or a new concept. A new way of doing things. A change to existing norms and rules. A fresh interpretation. A progression on our current thinking. A next step, such as building on the work done by others.  A new story, message or statement of purpose. And here in lies our most significant clue as to where to work at finding and developing our creativity. Creativity involves searching for, acting on and creating, some sense of newness to our work and vision.

I see photographs all the time which at best, are nice pretty pictures, but they are full of sameness and predictability. They are ‘formulamatic’ or robotic in their capture. Often they are just following a trend. Above all they are uninspiring or I have seen them before.  For a photograph to be creative, I need to be surprised or I need to be moved forward.  I need newness in some form. Show me something I have not seen before. 

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes and having fun.” ~ Mary Lou Cook

Of course, to be fair, we are all at different stages in our journeys. And we can’t all work at the leading edge of newness. So more often than not, for most of us newness will be more personal. Newness to a less experienced photographer will involve a different set of goalposts to another who might have more experience. The less experience photographer might be trying a technique which is well know to others but which is new to them, while an experienced photographer is trying to do something that may never have been done before and which is new to the world.  ( Although, “never” is a big call.)

The second thing i have learnt is that ‘newness’ requires something of us. It requires action. It involves putting old ideas aside while we try something different. It involves risk of failure and stepping into the unknown. It involves experimentation, learning and discovery. It necessitates feeding our minds with fresh stimulus; reading a book, going to a gallery, watching a movie, being open and observant to everything around you no matter how big, small, relevant or not. Newness might require us to abandon our current values and the context around which we judge things. It might require us to be open to ridicule and scorn, to be uncomfortable and unsettled in going down unfamiliar paths. Creativity has a price you might need to pay.

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” ~ Jack London

Mamiya 7II / 80mm / Velvia 50 Film
Mamiya 7II / 80mm / Velvia 50 Film

To discover and develop your creative side, I would encourage you to try new things and look in new places.  So, be outward looking in your mindset. Feed your mind with new things and let them rattle around in your head for a while. In your unconsciousness, your mind will start making new connections between all this new stuff. From time to time, out will pop new ideas and influences. These will help feed your photography. That is how you can put creativity into action. Over time newness will become a more natural part of who you are and how you think. You will become more creative in everything you do.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” ~ Steve Jobs

It is not my intention to go into too much detail here. Others have written books. I just wanted to share two ideas; Creativity involves newness and it requires action.

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people” – Leo Burnett

Mamiya 7II / 80mm / Velvia 50 Film
Mamiya 7II / 80mm / Velvia 50 Film

This post is part 1. In part 2,  I’d like to share with you ten photographs I made. Each represents significant milestones in my own personal journey into photography. You may or may not consider them to be creative, however for me, at particular stages in my journey, they represented new steps and learning, new things I tried. For me they were creative and they strengthened my own ability to think and act creatively.

As always if you have enjoyed this post or think others might find it of interest, please share it via the links below. Thank you for sharing. Cheers, Steve.

 “Rules are a great way to get ideas. All you have to do is break them.” ~ Jack Foster, How to Get Ideas


“Say Hello” ~ If like me you are passionate about photography, say hello on Facebook, here

Here are some other posts I have written which may be of interest to you here:

  • What makes a photograph great?: here
  • Why photography?  here
  • Becoming a photographer ~ the struggle to see part 1:  here


© Copyright 2010 – 2013 Steve Coleman. All rights retained. All images and writings are registered with the United States Copyright Office. Unauthorised reproduction or use of these images is strictly forbidden without the written permission of Steve Coleman. Sharing of this link in social media and blogs is granted if you have a link back to this blog

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One thought

  1. […] Creativity for me is a continuous process from the capture, to the post production, printing and then the presentation  it only ends when its hanging on the wall in my Gallery. Then comes the part of self critique always wondering what could I have done to improved my creative process. […]

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