I’m fascinated by the creative process. I want to understand it so that I can be creative myself and share my knowledge with others.
During our photography workshop at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, we talked a lot about photo composition—something that will definitely help to improve your work.
But I also encouraged attendees to go beyond the “rules” of composition and bring something creative to the process, too.
This freedom can be both exciting and scary. To help me stay on track, I read all I can about how to be creative, where to find inspiration, and I keep a file of article clippings (unimaginatively labelled “Creativity and Inspiration”) to refer back to.
My file is filled with articles discussing the creative process of musicians, comedians, fashion designers, architects, bakers, and more.
And although every artist and craft is different, I always find threads of commonality between them. Here are the top four habits of creative people:
1. Don’t wait for inspiration, just get to work. All the great artists I’ve studied are hard workers. They don’t sit around waiting to feel inspired, they just take action and start creating.
Painter Robert E. Colvin says: “…forget about whether or not you have focus, energy, or inspiration. Let those old guides go so you are not dependent on them. …just continue making work without being too critical of what it is you are making.”
Photographer Chuck Close put it more bluntly: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
What would happen if you just showed up one day with your camera and got to work?
2. Being creative is messy and non-linear. If this is how you feel, you’re likely doing it right. Wallpaper designer Neisha Crossland collects fabric scraps, ribbons, postcards, candy wrappers, and other materials, which she then pins on a large board she calls “the bush.” These are the source of ideas for her work.
As a photographer, I do the same. I’m constantly looking critically at picture books and magazines, thinking about composition, lighting, etc. Sometimes I get ideas I can apply to my own work. Sometimes I think of an even better way to approach a subject. And sometimes I come up with bupkis.
3. It’s not one and done. You’re building, not snapping. Novelist Helen Schulman’s workflow is as follows: Write. Rewrite. Obsess. Repeat.
Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes, using a woodworking metaphor, says “all craft…proceeds in stages: conception, material selection, rough shaping, detailed shaping, sanding and finishing.”
As photographers, we need to take our time, if possible, in carefully composing an image, making sure the exposure and all settings are where we want them to be before pressing the shutter.
4. You need to practice. You knew this was coming. Creativity assumes a certain degree of technical expertise, and this can only be achieved through practice.
Baker Alice Medrich once spent six months testing various recipes of tuile cookies for a recipe book. In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that you need about 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at anything. Whether this estimate is accurate or not, the point is the same: you need to get out and take photos. Creativity will (hopefully, maybe?) follow.
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