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.
… commitment and purpose meets with an emptiness inside. Try as we might, on some days it is a struggle to conjure up any creative vision or energy to inject into our photography.
Now, I have learnt to slow down and even stop, with out guilt. For me, it is the “without guilt” thing which makes a huge difference in how quickly I can bounce back with creative vigour.
I spent a few days wondering the sand hills north of Sydney a few months back. I lacked any real motivation so I just decided I would enjoy walking and if I made no pictures that would be ok.
I relaxed and took the pressure off myself.
I walked and just enjoyed the warm sun; must have walked for an hour or more without even thinking of my camera.
I have this habit of framing and arranging what I see as I walk. I look at everything I see and break it down into compositions. It can be exhausting at times. But this day I did none of that.
I just let my mind zone out. It was so relaxing… then I saw something that just grabbed my attention. It was nothing too remarkable, just light on the sand, but just relaxing had put me back into the zone. I was ready to make photographs again. I spent the next few days capturing so many wonderful photographs on film. Had I tried too hard I think I would have missed many of these images. I would probably have gone home early.
My learning for myself: don’t try so hard.
Some more photographs from this sand dune series can be found here.
Strange as it may sound, one of the limitations we have as photographers, are our eyes.
Our eyes are highly functional. They simply see what is in front of us. Therefore, the temptation to photograph only what we can physically seeis very powerful. In fact, this is what most new photographers assume they need to do; you see something nice, so you photograph it. Simple.
The results as I discovered, are often sterile photocopier images; nice pretty pictures, well exposed, but nothing more.
My early attempts at photography were frustrating in this regard, but it lead directly to the most significant step I took in learning how to become a photographer; a realisation that I was not seeing things in the same way that experienced photographers saw them.
I remember being disappointed at my early attempts at photography. I would look at my work, and my heart would sink.
Now, looking back, I can understand.
In those early days, what I was producing was a functional record of my day out with a camera. It was as if a photocopier had just copied what was in front of my eyes. I saw something nice, so I would take a picture of it. Simple.
The result was nice pretty pictures, well exposed, but there was not a lot more. I felt uncomfortable because I sensed that something was missing.
What I know now is that a ‘photocopier’ had taken those shots. I had been, not much more than a courier, transporting a camera to a location and then letting my camera do all the work. I had thought I was a Photographer! In reality, I had no idea what that meant.