How are you feeling about your picture-taking right now? Thanks to COVID-19, many of us have not ventured far from home for the last few months, meaning that both our “scenery” and our experiences have been limited. These limitations, as well as the uncertainties about what life going forward will be like has affected our everyday photos. Some people are readily embracing this challenge and documenting the daily details of life amidst a pandemic and others of us are struggling to find our creative voice. Pandemic or not, there will always be periods where, for each of us, creativity wanes. This post is for those times.
First of all, what is creativity? As a point of departure, I offer the following; Creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations.” What does this means to us as photographers? At the most basic level, it means that we want to take pictures that show something in an interesting or new way. In our attempt to do this, we often turn to new equipment, new techniques, or post-processing magic. These avenues may indeed help to elevate the creativity in our photos. I’m going to suggest, however, that if you want to take more creative photos, the first thing to do is to put down your camera and look inward rather than outward. It is not your camera or your surroundings that creates a beautiful and meaningful photograph; It is you! Creativity comes from what you, the living, breathing, beautiful person brings to the mix. This is why even when we have “the best” technical skills and equipment our photos may still lack creativity.
Very simply, our creativity is rooted in our feelings. So, if we want to express that creativity, we need to be in touch with our own emotions. Unfortunately, it is also our emotions that facilitate resistance to creative expression. How often have you had a bad day and thought, I am just not feeling the photo thing today? In instances like this, what is likely happening is that you don’t want to photograph your “real” emotions of frustration or sadness or disappointment, etc. We have this unrealistic expectation that all of our photos should elicit beauty and happiness. That is not the way art or life works. For our work to be genuine, it has to come from within, whatever that looks like. The more honest we are with the way we feel, the more freely our creativity will flow.
So, how do we tap into this creative superpower? As I said, this work happens without our cameras in our hands.
Take some quiet time each day to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Does your daily photo reflect honestly those feelings?
Using words, describe how your emotions. What might they look like. What color are they? What shape? How small or how big? Does a specific place or object represent them? How would you describe lonely? Or frustrated? Or surprised? Or joyful? Once you have done this, you will have a better sense of what you are looking to capture in such photos. Keep in mind, that joyful to you may look very different than joyful to someone else. Your unique perspective is how you express YOUR creativity and make YOUR photos genuine. This is where the notion of transcending traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and creating meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations happens. No one sees life exactly the same way that you do.
I suspect that for some, you take photos because expressing yourself with photos comes more easily than it does when using words. Journeying beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone also helps to free our creative spirits. “If I can express myself using means in which I really am not comfortable, just think what I can do in the realm that is my comfort zone!” Comfort creates safety. Safety, however, limits our capacity to grow.
If using words doesn’t push you far enough outside of your comfort zone, pick up a pencil or some paint or some crayons and draw what you are feeling. The key to success with these experiences is to not invite your inner critic along. It is not the product here that is important; it is the journey. We are concerned with the process that leads us from where we are currently to finding our most true, authentic, and unique creative voice.