Five Lessons I've Learned About Creativity And Photography

Five Lessons I’ve Learned About Creativity And Photography

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Over the years I’ve learned lots of things about creativity and photography. Today I’m going to share five lessons that should benefit any photographer.

1. You need time to get to know a place

Many people lead busy lives. And it’s hard to stop being busy when you’re travelling, especially if your time is limited. Many photographers have a tendency to move from one place to another, without stopping to think much about what they see, what the place is like and getting to know the local people.

One of the important things that I’ve learned is that it’s more satisfying, emotionally and creatively, to slow down and get to know places better.

Every country you visit, every place in your country that is new to you, has a history and a culture that’s different to yours. The buildings and landscapes are different. The people think differently.

What’s more, it takes time to explore, to get away from the iconic locations that everybody makes photos of. What is it about a place that interests you? If you can answer this question you can make photos that are more personal and meaningful to you.

If you’re into landscape photography then you also need the weather to co-operate. If you’re shooting seascapes, you’ll find that you might need to wait for a higher or lower tide to coincide with sunrise or sunset for you to make the photos you want.

That’s why the backpacking approach to travel is so rewarding creatively. You get enough time to immerse yourself in a new country, to slow down and talk to people, to relax and let your creative juices flow.

That’s great if you have the time, but the reality is that busy people may only be able to spend a few days in a new place. If this applies to you then prepare as much as possible. Do your research. Look at photos made by other photographers. Draw up a shortlist of places to explore, and keep your fingers crossed the rest of it falls into place.

For example, when I visited Jaipur in India, we got up early in the morning to visit a large flower market, where I made photos like the ones below. Research means you know where the places that are most likely to yield interesting photos are, and you can make sure you get there.

Creative photography in India

Creative photography Rajasthan

What else can you take from this lesson? Here are a couple of ideas.

First, don’t overlook the photographic potential of your own area. Yes, it’s harder to see familiar places with fresh eyes. On the other hand you have a double advantage – you have the time to get to know it well, and the time to wait for the ideal weather and lighting conditions.

Second, is that photography is much easier if you live somewhere photogenic. If you love landscape photography, for example, then it’s a great help if you live near a photogenic landscape that you love to explore.

Not everybody gets to live somewhere that feeds and nurtures their creativity, but it’s an idea to think about. And if you don’t live somewhere that sparks your creativity, can you free up a month of your year to go travel somewhere interesting? Can you organize your life differently so you get to do a creative thing you love for a few weeks a year?

2. Don’t chase other peoples’ photos

Every location seems to have its iconic locations – those photographed by every photographer. You’ll come across them when you do your research. It’s natural to want to take photos in the same places.

Research is useful. But it can have the unintended effect of making it more difficult for you to see other possibilities.

I call this chasing other people’s photos. The lesson I’ve learned is that if you want to create photos that are more personal and meaningful to you then you need to stop making images like other photographers’. Search for your own photos instead.

There are two difficulties with chasing other people’s photos. The first is that it’s hard to be original when you have other people’s photos in your head. Here’s a question to think about: do you want to make photos that look like everybody else’s? Be honest. You might enjoy the challenge of making a photo that’s as good as one made by a photographer you admire. You might be happy to visit a place you’ve seen in other people’s photos and make photos for yourself. But if you’re not, then you need to take a different approach.

The second difficulty is that you’ll end up comparing your photos to everybody else’s. That includes experienced photographers who have the time and opportunity to wait for the best light. This can lead to feelings of disappointment and inadequacy, where what you really want from a creative hobby is the opposite. It should be boosting your happiness and well-being, not bringing you down.

The lesson I’ve learned is that it’s harder, but more rewarding, to get away from iconic locations. Look elsewhere for photos that are more personal to you. Ask yourself what appeals to you about the place you are in. What do you find interesting, beautiful, or evocative? Maybe there’s something that reminds you of happy childhood memories, or somewhere you’ve been in the past.

Let me give you an example. There’s a well known beach in Spain called Playa de las Catedrales (Cathedral Beach). It gets its name from a series of spectacular rock arches.

Here is a photo I made early one morning. It’s okay, but the murky light meant I couldn’t get the best out of the location.

Black & white landscape photo taken at Playa de las Catedrales, Galicia, Spain.
It’s also the result of chasing other people’s photos. There’s nothing original about it. Go onto Instagram or Google and you’ll find lots of similar images.

After I made that photo I looked over at the sea and saw that the incoming tide was lapping around some rocks in the sand. I realized that the rocks were beautiful subjects, so I decided to make photos of them instead. These photos aren’t iconic. They don’t look like other photos of this beach. But they’re personal to me, and I like them better.

Black & white landscape photo taken in Galicia, Spain

Black & white landscape photo taken at Playa de las Catedrales, Galicia, Spain.

3. Luck favors those who go out exploring with their cameras

Another lesson I’ve learned is that curiosity and patience are two of the most important skills you can have as a photographer. The question “What’s around the next corner?” can take you a long way in life.

I’m a naturally curious person. It seems that most people are not the same. Or maybe they’re too polite or reserved to ask questions. When I travel to somewhere new, I like to talk with local people and find out more about them. I’m genuinely interested in hearing what they think about their country and seeing how they live.

I’m just as curious about places. I like to go for walks and see what there is to be found. I also like to do it at the end of the day, when the light is best for photography.

That’s how you find things that other photographers miss. It’s how you find interesting subjects. It’s a way of immersing yourself in a place, having an experience and making memories as well as photos. It’s how you get lucky in photography.

It’s also important to be open to unplanned events. For example, I was with a group of photographers in the blue city of Jodhpur, in India. The others had gone ahead. I thought the street we were in was interesting and was making photos. A woman came out to see what I was doing. She beckoned me to come inside her house. She didn’t speak English, so we couldn’t communicate using anything other than sign language. I went to find the others and brought them back to her house. We went inside and I made the photos below. We still don’t know whether it was her house, or maybe a shrine or a building that she was looking after. But we did our best to communicate and understand what was going on and had an enriching experience. And it all started with being open to talking with a local person, rather than ignoring her.

You can’t make discoveries like this unless you get out and explore, open to the possibilities.

India portraits

4. You have to take your opportunities when they come

It’s too easy to make an excuse. Maybe you’re short of time, tired, or hungry. Maybe you think you’ll get a better photo when the light is different, or at another time of day. If you’re with family, or looking after kids, you might not be in the state of mind for photography.

But, if the conditions are suitable enough to create a good photo, then do it. You may never get chance to return. The conditions might be better than you think. It might pour with rain for a week. You never know what’s going to happen.

Let your patience and curiosity drive you forward, not your tiredness.

I was reminded of this lesson recently when I took my six year old to visit a nearby mill. The old machines and working spaces were open to the public for the day. It wasn’t easy, but I made the effort to make photos like the ones below. I might never go back to this place. It might look different if I do. These objects caught my eye, so I photographed them.

Creative photography Coldharbour Mill

5. Set themes to evolve as an artist

The last lesson is that setting themes helps you evolve as an artist by focusing on ideas, places or techniques. That’s why I’ve written so much about creative photography assignments over the last couple of years.

On my last trip to Spain I focused on black and white long exposure seascapes. I made other photos as well, but put most of my effort into looking for amazing locations for landscape photography. The more I did it, the better I understood the subtleties of the techniques involved. It also helped me understand light and composition in landscape photography better.

You can see a couple of the photos I made below. Following and exploring themes is the best way I know to develop and evolve as a photographer and artist.

Creative landscape photography Spain

Creative landscape photography Spain

Summing up

It doesn’t matter what type of photography you’re into. There’s something in these lessons for everybody. Take your time. Explore. Be open to the possibilities. Be curious. Set yourself themes. That’s how you learn and get memorable life experiences.

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If you’d like to learn more about these ideas then check out my ebook The Creative Photographer. You can grab it today for just $6 – that’s 50% off! It’s all part of the 50% off in July special. Click here for the details and to make your purchase.

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About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer with a camera. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He lives in south Devon in the UK and is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.

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