While creativity will mean different things to different people, I believe there are certain traits that are shared by highly creative people and personalities. Regardless of whether we’re talking about photographers, writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, designers, or poets, the creative process affects us all in similar ways. We may each see the world around us through vastly different lenses, but how we approach those visions can’t help but share certain similarities. Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this stuff. While I’m only speaking for myself here, I’m betting that at least a few of these apply to you.
I Never Know Where or When Lightning Will Strike.
It would be awesome to know when the creative bug is going to bite you in the ass with a big dose of inspiration. Unfortunately, the creative world just doesn’t work that way. While I’m sure I’d get a lot more desperately needed sleep if I could somehow arrange to be inspired between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, as creatives, our minds just aren’t wired that way. That’s one of the reasons so many of us almost always have a camera close at hand. Where does your inspiration strike? In the shower? Sitting at a red light? Staring into a cup of coffee? If you’re anything like I am, it’s just too hard to predict. It’s anywhere and everywhere, so better to let it come when it’s ready. Don’t force it.
I Love What I Shot Today. Tomorrow I’ll Hate It.
It happens all the time. I leave a shoot feeling great about it. I dump the cards, make my selections, do my edits, deliver the shoot to the client. They love it. And that’s good, because at some point in the very near future I’m probably going to hate it. Unfortunately, we all go through it. In a recent article, I said that you should never compare yourself to other photographers. One reason is that it puts undue pressure on you. Another– and perhaps bigger– reason is that my attitudes towards my own work change so often that the only photographer I have time to compare myself to is me.
I Hate What I Shot Today. Tomorrow I’ll Love It.
And, as with so many things in my creative existence, the opposite is true as well. While this one happens less often, it’s still one of the reasons I tell my students to never delete anything. Storage is cheap. Attitudes change. Styles evolve. More importantly, though, the stories you want to tell and the messages you try to get across are going to change over time. If you are growing as a person and as a photographer, you can’t help but experience this whirlwind of emotions about your own work. If you’re not going through these ups and downs, you’re not growing. And sitting still is not where you want to be.
That may be putting it a bit strongly. A more appropriate term might be “creative time management.” Unfortunately, I’ve always been one of those people who thrives with deadlines. It drives me crazy (as I’m sure it does a certain editor I know), but between shooting, writing, running a business, teaching, being a husband/father, and all of the other pesky responsibilities vying for my attention, I eventually get to the point where I just have to trust that it’s all going to get done. Somehow. I think. So, if maintaining a creative lifestyle means that some projects get put off to the last minute in order to accommodate my sanity, so be it. Sometimes it feels like I’m juggling chain saws, just hoping and praying that I don’t drop one.
Thanks for the Suggestion, But This IS a “Real Job.”
How many times have you heard this one? Business is slow and your friend the lawyer/doctor/accountant/hair dresser/bartender/bee keeper suggests you get a “real job.” A job isn’t any less “real” just because it’s creative. Be realistic, though. It’s okay to follow your heart, but don’t completely ignore your head in the process.
I Try to Notice Everything.
When I walk into a room with my wife, for example, she may notice the furniture, accents, and space planning, but I’m checking out the light. I’m looking for the shadows. I’m evaluating the color palette. Are there converging lines? Which direction do the windows face? Where could I hide a speedlight? How would I shoot portraits in this room? What about shooting food? The magic we create with our cameras originates in the details. Noticing the elements around you that can make or break that magic should become second nature.
I Crash. I Burn. I Try Again.
I think it’s important to point out that I classify crashing and burning as growth, rather than failure. If I looked at every unsuccessful project as a failure I’d probably never get out of bed in the morning. You know that old line about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? It’s kind of like that. Show me a photographer who claims to have never failed and I’ll show you a photographer whose lies are far more artistic than their photographs. Everyone falls short from time to time. Everyone. Even that bee-keeping friend who suggested you get a real job. There’s no shame in falling short if I acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on.
I’ll Call You Back. I’m in the Zone.
This one happens all the time. As recently as five minutes ago, actually. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately and had trouble coming up with an idea for a new article. I’ve been sitting at this desk for about four hours and inspiration finally hit about 20 minutes ago. So of course now is the time when it seems EVERYBODY needs to talk to me. Remember that the Zone can be a fickle bitch. If I don’t treat her well, she could easily turn her back on me and leave. For a long time. Unfortunately, the same holds true for clients. Feed the muse, but remember that you also have to feed your family. Strike a balance and come up for air once in a while.
I’m My Own Worst Critic
There is nothing quite like the sinking feeling you get when you realize that the finished product bears little or no resemblance to the vision or concept you had in your head when you started. Hate it today, love it tomorrow? Maybe. But as someone who strives to get it right in the camera, I become my own harshest critic from the moment that image sees the light of day. How many times have you smiled and said “thank you” as someone genuinely complimented your work, the entire time thinking to yourself that it’s absolute garbage? Being hard on yourself is one of the great motivators. Realize, though, that there is a difference between being hard on yourself and punishing yourself. One helps you grow. The other holds you back.
I’m Always Learning.
When I was still practicing law a lifetime or two ago, there was a sense– right or wrong– that I pretty much knew what I needed to know to do a good job for my clients. As a creative professional, though, the sense is that the art can’t grow and evolve if I’m content to rest on my laurels. Regardless of whether it’s lighting, composing, processing, or any of the other entries on a seemingly endless checklist, acknowledging that there will always be something new to learn– something that will elevate and enhance the work– is a key element of the creative mind. Knowing when to shake things up is vital to the journey.
What About You?
What would you add to this list? What would you take off? Has your list changed over time?