The Creative Photography Series: What Is Creativity? Part 1

October 07, 2013

The topic of creativity in photography is discussed on many photography blogs and forums as new photographers seek a deeper understanding of how to ignite creativity in their photography.  I am often told by people who view my work that they do not possess the creativity needed to take their photography to a new level.  As a result, they give up on their pursuit, which is the opposite of what I hope for them.  While this series focuses on creativity in photography, the concepts can be applied to other pursuits as well.

What Is Creativity?

"Of course creativity is a mystery.  We don't know what drives it or what constitutes it. It's one of those things, like genius, you know it when you see it but it's impossible to define." -- Daniel Tammett

Have you ever tried to define creativity?  Most people recognize it when they see it, but not all people see creativity in the same way.  This seems to imply that creativity is a matter of personal taste, and, therefore, globally indefinable.  The problem with this viewpoint, though, is that the definition of the term is based upon the individual perception of a product, the end result, rather than the word itself.  Taking this a step further, if you cannot define creativity, how can you believe that you are not creative?

Creativity Is Seeing Things In A New Way

According to Webster's, creativity is a noun that is derived from the word creative, which means inventive: imaginative.  I find this definition to be too abstract and prefer the insight of some of the world's most respected creative minds.  One of the best descriptions of creativity that I have found is a quote from Steve Jobs.

"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.  That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." -- Steve Jobs

This quote begins to unravel the mystery of the creative process.  The first stage of the creative process is noticing what already exists.  The tree in my Symbiosis image is a great example.  The location is a favorite among locals because of the sunset views.  Those who have been to the spot many times comment that they have never noticed the tree.  This is because their attention is directed toward the horizon and their energy is channeled toward getting the best possible vantage point.  They have on perceptual blinders.  To begin tapping into your creativity, first slow down and take notice of what others miss.  By doing this, you are setting in motion a chain of events that lead to a unique perspective.

The second part of the creative process is to connect things.  At this stage, you begin to see other elements that you never noticed before.  In Symbiosis, once I focused on the tree, I also noticed the path and shadow.  These secondary elements contribute to how the subject fits into the surroundings -- they provide context.  Be cautious about dismissing any elements, such as the sunburst that I felt would distract from the tree.  Had I succeeded at eliminating the sunburst from the image, the image would be much less powerful.

"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in different ways." -- Edward de Bono

Be cognizant of the reason you choose or dismiss elements or a composition.  Do not follow rules too rigidly.  Think of the rules of photography as guidelines more than laws to be strictly followed.  Use them to frame creative expression.  Do not mold your creative expression around the rules.

"Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you're a human being, you feel, you suffer." -- Marilyn Monroe

The third part of the creative process is internal and has little to do with the physical elements around you.  Many believe that this last part is primarily applied in the later stages, but without taking note of your experience in the moment, you will not have an emotional reference with which to draw upon and inject into the image.

If you do not allow yourself to experience a personal connection with the moment, you have missed the opportunity to create a powerful image that emotionally engages people.  You may succeed at documenting the physical moment, but you will be challenged to give people the experience of being in the human moment.  Your experience becomes a root system from which a global experience grows and flourishes.  So how do begin to experience the moment?  Give yourself permission to let go of every thing that holds you hostage to your daily life and schedule.  Every worry, distracting thought and fear that does not stem from what is in front of you.  Practice this enough and soon the ability to immerse yourself in your surroundings happens without conscious effort.

Awesomely Simple

"Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity." -- Charles Mingles

Creativity is simplicity, but creativity is not easy.  One of the most common misperceptions about the creative process is that it has to be complicated.  We only experience complexity in the creative process when we find ourselves in the midst of an internal battle where we are in the no man's land between our comfort zone and the other side.  The discomfort alone is enough to ignite analysis paralysis, which ultimately destroys creativity.  When people choose to avoid the discomfort, they only end up building themselves back into the boxes from which they are trying to escape, and their creative momentum stalls.

This brings to light once again the pitfalls of rigidly following rules, of what we believe is expected and acceptable -- implied or written.  Ignore the rules.  Rules are the norm and stand in contrast to the creative process.  Creativity builds a new vision that rises from stretching the boundaries of the norm.

By taking notice of the unnoticed, connecting things in a unique way, immersing yourself in the experience and keeping it simple, you begin the journey toward creative photography.



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