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9 Ideas To Make YOU More Creative and Your Photographs Unique
One of the questions that I hear frequently from photographers is: “Where do you come up with your ideas?” That question is usually followed by one of these statements: “I’m just not that creative.” or “I guess I’m not creative.” or my personal favorite, “I just don’t know how to find new ideas”.
If you are a photographer who thinks like this, I have some bad news for you. If you think you aren’t creative — you aren’t creative. There, I said it. And I mean it.
I know that some of you are wondering what happened to that supportive, nurturing Joe. Well he is still here, and I am being supporting and nurturing — but sometimes that means giving a swift kick in the butt — right?
The fact is that thinking you are not creative or not good at coming up with new ideas is just lazy and it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So many people think that creative folks are just born creative, and they don’t have to work at it — and then they give up because they figure since they weren’t born with the creative gene — there is no point in even trying to be creative. Thinking that you are not creative is just an excuse for not trying.
There are three simple facts that I can share with you about creativity. Number 1. Every human being is creative.
Number 2. Every human being can become more creative because creativity is a habit or skill that can be practiced and developed.
Number 3. Different people are creative and use creativity in different ways — that’s part of what makes them creative. They aren’t zombies. They choose not to follow the crowd.
There are many more things that I could dig into to support my argument, but let’s get to the point… my 9 ideas or recommendations to make you more creative and to make your photographs more unique:
Number 1. Stop thinking you aren’t creative. Start realizing you are creative but you are going to need to work at it. This is probably the most important tip of ANY tip about improving your creativity. That’s because being creative — even if you are one of those seemingly gifted people — being creative is a mindset — it’s a discipline. You could be the most gifted person in the world and if you don’t put that gift to use — you will not be a very creative person.
Number 2. Stop being a zombie and following the crowd. There are thousands of YouTube videos, and as many thousands of TikTok video clips and Instagram posts with photographers overpowering the sun with high speed sync while their subject does a poor impersonation of a fashion model posing on train tracks or using colored smoke bombs or having a sexy girl pose with angel wings, or covering a half naked woman in gold foil, or putting that same naked woman in a bathtub full of milk or flowers — and that list goes on. How many times do we see awful versions of those pictures and how many of you actually know where the idea came from in the first place? When it comes to photography, you need to understand that visual trends are not good. They are boring. They are copies. Just like a Xerox — a copy is never as good as the original.
Copying a trend does not make you look good. In fact, it makes you look lazy and definitely not creative.
If you follow me you know that if something is a trend — no matter how cool I may think it is, I am going to go as far in the opposite direction as possible. Even if my work sucks — I want to suck on my own terms — not as a cheap copy of something that somebody else did.
Number 3. Put your camera down! Yes, the guy who constantly tells you to practice is telling you to put the camera down and take a walk — or watch some great visual movies or television series like the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. Look at images taken by photographers 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and even 70 or more years ago. Surround yourself with creativity.
I am not suggesting that you do these things to look for ideas — I am suggesting that you do it to teach yourself to be aware, to be aware that great ideas are all around you — all day — every day. But you have to learn to connect the dots.
Ansel Adams routinely took hikes through Yosemite and other national parks without a camera. The purpose of the hikes was to find great locations and ideas. He would take a notebook, and a pencil and a #90 yellow filter. In the black and white film days — a #90 Wratten filter would darken the blue sky and make the clouds stand out in black and white photos. If you wanted an almost black sky and bright white clouds you would use a #25 red filter. In addition to the notebook, pencil and filters — he would take a piece of mat board with a cutout to reference the film format that he was intending to use — 4×5 which also worked for 8×10 film or 5×7 which of course is more of a rectangle. He would take copious notes about the interesting locations and time of day for great light, and then he would go back with a camera when he had the best weather and sky to make the image that he imagined.
In order to be more creative you have to learn to see — see the details of things around you every day. As humans — the more experiences we have and the more things we see — we begin to take things for granted, and we pay less attention. It is a lazy human habit that makes it harder to be creative. To help achieve this — we have idea number 4.
Idea Number 4. Find the beauty in everything. This is also a mindset. Just because you don’t immediately see something as beautiful — that doesn’t mean it isn’t. It just means that you aren’t seeing the beauty. We always enjoy photographing things that we find to be beautiful. An incredible landscape, an intense fiery red sunset or a gorgeous young woman. When we see and appreciate the beauty in a subject — we find it easier to photograph and to be creative. The more you learn to find beauty around you, the more ideas that beauty will inspire. That brings me to number 5…
Idea Number 5. Never stop learning. Not just about photography, but about life, the world around us — anything and everything. I am a news junky — real news — not fake news. I am a science geek and computer nerd. I am fascinated by psychology and what makes people tick. I am all those things not because of photography — but because of me. Because learning is fun. I always assume that I am not the smartest person in the room and that there is much that I have yet to learn. Every new piece of information that I add to my brain becomes a dot that I might connect to another piece of information that sparks a new idea.
Idea Number 6. Take all of that information that you digest and mix things up. Many of my best ideas come from combining parts of two or three different ideas. In most of the world, school tends to kill creativity. Most questions in school have an answer that is wrong or right and gets you an A or an F. Much of the learning that we do is based on memorization instead of understanding. This is where the rules come from. Screw the rules! For me, if the rule says that I can’t or shouldn’t — then that is the perfect reason for me to break the rule and find a way to do it that proves that rule is pointless. By doing that alone, I am able to make my work look different and more creative.
When I learned about color, I was also taught about colors that should never be put together — like red and purple or pink and green or gray and brown. There are tons of articles on the internet that tell you to NEVER use these color combinations. Clearly the people who write these articles are not very creative, and have never watched cable TV series like the Queen’s Gambit or the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Two shows that use those color combinations routinely in visually stunning ways.
Number 7. Don’t be afraid to reuse ideas. Frequently when you see me post an image — I have shot that same concept or part of that concept before and I ultimately wasn’t happy with the outcome, or I was happy but still thought I might be able to improve on it. It could be for any number of reason’s but it means that I liked the idea — or part of the idea — so I reused it in a later shot.
Now, this is not permission to do the same things over and over again — that would definitely be boring and not creative. I am just talking about a practical use of ideas both old and new. If there is going to be any copying in my photographs — it will be my own work that is being copied.
Idea number 8. Remember your WHY. You have probably heard me say this before. WHY is the greatest question ever. When answered it yields the most information and insight and clarity. When you ask why you picked up a camera in the first place — your answer holds you accountable. I am pretty sure that none of you listening to me picked up your first camera so that you could copy other peoples pictures or ideas. If I am right. Do a little soul-searching and ask yourself WHY you started copying peoples pictures and see if that doesn’t lead you right to the things I have said in this podcast.
Number 9. Have fun but put in the work. Just make sure that you have fun while you are putting in the work. Accept that failure is part of the process. In fact — embrace failure — because there are great lessons to be learned there.
And one bonus tip: You actually don’t need this checklist if you simply remember to stop thinking that you aren’t creative and then go and pick up your camera and shoot and fail and shoot more and fail more and remember why you picked up the camera in the first place. Enjoy yourself — have faith in yourself, think for yourself, stop comparing yourself and you will be surprised and what you will create.
As I was writing my script, I asked the members of my Facebook group if there were any over done photography trends that I had overlooked and boy did they deliver. Not only did they deliver — the list of was just too good not to share. So remember — I started my list with photographers overpowering the sun with high speed sync while their subject does a poor impersonation of a fashion model posing on train tracks or using colored smoke bombs or having a sexy girl pose with angel wings, or covering a half naked woman in gold foil, or putting that same naked woman in a bathtub full of milk or flowers.
Well the folks in my group added to my list of over done trends which are usually done poorly:
Body Painting as superhero
Hot girl posed on the hood of a sports car
Instagram Skin — you know the heavy orange and teal filter
Instagram filter — anything
The pretty girl leading the photographer by the hand photos
Powder and flower photography
Skin being processed with a plastic texture — probably because the photographer just purchased a frequency separation action.
Steel Wool being spun for time exposures
Over done HDR on every kind of image imaginable
For the photographers who have heeded the warning about train tracks — they have the model lay down in the middle of the road instead — because what could possibly go wrong there?
And the list goes on….
Spot Color — so 2002 and it hasn’t been long enough for that trend to become retro — thank god.
Living room furniture in the middle of a field
Pretty girl in an abandoned run-down definitely not safe building.
A naked model wrapped in yellow caution tape
The more current version is the naked model wearing an outfit made from black electrical tape.
I am sure that you could help me add to this list.
I hope to see you at 1:00PM ET on 12/3 for my exclusive livestream on the Olympus Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/getolympus/videos/136366801341494
ONE SHOT: PHOTOGRAPHING THE OLYMPIC GAMES