I USED TO THINK CREATIVITY HAPPENED SPONTANEOUSLY.
This was my creative life – I waited for creativity to strike...and then in those moments I absolutely flourished. I'd get crazy creative...and I'd make some amazing work. Problem is, those moments fade. And when I wasn't feeling it...creativity died.
Of course I had excuses for why I wasn't creating good work in those moments. I blamed everything. I didn't live in the right location, obviously. I just didn't have the right clients yet so how could I expect to craft the kind of work I wanted to create? I didn't have the right gear to get the right shot – the list went on.
But over the past couple of years I realized I was approaching the creative process completely wrong and what I learned helped me change everything about how I approach my work.
NOT ONLY CAN CREATIVITY BE LEARNED, BUT THROUGH INTENTIONALITY AND REPETITION YOU CAN ACTUALLY BECOME MORE CREATIVE.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that practice makes permanent – that the actions and motivations you routinely choose will eventually become your default actions/attitudes.
Mental muscle-memory, to put it in simple terms.
If you consistently wait for creativity to strike...that will become your default mentality. But if you continually challenge yourself to expand your creative thinking and actively seek out new ways to grow, guess what? Creativity starts happening naturally.
"Okay, Josh, that's great" you might be saying. "But you're just telling us to be creative and creativity will happen. That doesn't help at all."
Yeah yeah, I know – it may sound counterintuitive but I'm going to hold to it – challenging and forcing yourself to be creative actually builds and grows your natural creativity. Is it simple? Not a chance. Just like with music lessons or with sports, it starts slowly. You painstakingly experiment with things. You fail. You grow. You succeed. And you fail again. But over time you start building mental patterns and habits that eventually become second nature.
The same is true with creativity.
It takes work. Intentionality. And a lot of repetition. But over time forcing yourself to flex your creative muscles will grow those muscles so you can use them on demand.
Here are three ways I routinely challenge myself.
1. THINK SMALL/BIG
I recently had a client tell me it was fun watching my eyes on a session because I was continually looking at everywhere while we walked from location to location. That's because I learned early on that the perfect location usually doesn't exist. There will almost always be something you have to work around, something that prevents you from simply capturing the perfect photo instantly.
Solution? If a big area won't photograph well, go small. Instead of waiting for the light everywhere to be perfect, find a small patch that you can work with. Instead of ditching a location because it doesn't all look amazing, find a little space that looks great now and photograph the heck out of it. Similarly, sometimes getting close isn't the answer either. Maybe there's just too much chaos to really focus in on any one thing – solution? Think wide. By pulling back you'll effectively minimize everything (including the chaos) and maybe capture some beauty you couldn't have if you were in close.
Quick case in point – can you guess where I took the photo above? In some forest around sunset, right? Nope. It was actually midday, less than a block from Michigan Avenue in Chicago, one of the busiest streets in one of the biggest cities in the U.S. I just kept my eyes open, found a little space in the midst of the crazy, and made it work.
2. CHALLENGE YOURSELF
It's easy to walk into a location and think "I have no idea how I'm going to make this work." I live for those moments. I love finding spaces where I'd not naturally think to take photos, and then find a way to capture beauty. I've photographed clients in alleyways, bathrooms, elevators, parking lots, cemeteries, the list goes on.
My point is this. When you see something that you don't think will work – try it anyway. In the end, it may not actually work. But guess what, it just might. Regardless, the attitude of continually pushing yourself will instill in you that experimental mindset...and, who knows! You might be surprised at what you can pull from a imperfect situation.
3. REINVENT, THEN REPEAT
If you work as a photographer for any decent length of time, you'll eventually have to photograph the same location multiple times. And it's easy to let that mentally block you from thinking creatively about the location.
Here's the challenge – walk into the location as if you've never seen it before, and then view it through the eyes of the story you're trying to tell of the unique clients you're photographing.
Did you get that? Every client tells a unique story – even if the location is the same, the clients have something new to tell. View the location through that lens and you'll find endless new ways to photograph the same location time and time again. I always tell people that there isn't such a thing as a repeat location – every session is unique in some way, so seek out the chance to reinvent yourself and force the creativity to flourish.
What are some ways you've challenged yourself creatively? Do you have some methods you go to when you're suffering a mental block? I'd love to hear so leave them in the comments!!