Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (2022)

Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (1)

Now and then I see photographers complaining that they’re not as creative as their peers. Today I’m going to talk about how creativity is a tool available to everyone even if you’re more obsessed with the gear than the art.

When we first pick up a camera we’re drawn to it as a tool for creative expression. I find it hard to believe that anyone is drawn to photography because they just love twiddling dials. And yet I regularly see people complaining that they’re not creative. Which begs the question, if you don’t think you’re creative why were you drawn to pick up a camera?

There’s a good chance you were attracted to photography because you enjoy using it to express yourself. Which means you are creative. But here’s the thing.

Why you don't feel creative

When you first start out with photography you’re thinking about framing and composition and reducing the world down into a perfect rectangle, your camera is on auto so you’re not worrying about dials, you’re just snapping whatever captures your eye. Without delving into the science behind this, let’s just go with the simplistic explanation that you’re operating from your right brain. And right brain is creative. It’s fun.

But as you get better at composition your camera begins to make a mess of your photos. There’s too much motion blur, or the focus is off. So then you want to learn to control it better so that your well composed shots are technical keepers too and you start to explore manual mode. Now manual mode is all about equations and balancing variables and this is left brained stuff. And left brain stuff is technical and can be hard for creative types. And this is why so many photographers find manual mode so jarring. Because it’s technical and they signed up to be creative.

So you’ve just jumped from fun creative times to technical confusing times. When you’re not yet fully confident with your camera then your concentration is on trying to get your exposure right which means you’re operating from left brain. And it’s at this point that you might start to feel frustrated that they’re not creative enough because everyone else is taking more interesting photos than you. But that’s because they’re in right brain mode.

While you are learning to use your camera you need to understand that it’s really hard to be operating from left and right brain at the same time. So you need to keep practicing until operating your camera is entirely second nature. THEN you’ll be free to be creative returning to composition and story and experimenting with the settings that your camera offers you. But until that point it’s completely understandable that you don’t feel creative because you’re not operating out of conditions that are right for creativity. So many photographers put the cart before the horse when they really just need to slow down and focus on whatever stage they are at in learning photography.

What is creativity anyway?

Creativity is a bit of an abstract concept anyway. It doesn’t really mean anything. What creativity is in a practical sense is curiosity and curiosity leads to experimentation. We use curiosity to solve problems every day. What if I did this? Or what could I do to make this better or more efficient? And so a creative photographer is merely a curious one. They photograph something and think – well why don’t I try this angle now? Or what if I used a wider aperture? Or could I crop this to make it more impactful? Creativity is nothing more than asking ‘what if’ and then trying something different. So even if you feel like you’re not a creative photographer everyone is capable of asking the question ‘what if’ and seeing where it leads them. Again this can be a bit jarring if you’ve previously been a passive photographer, pointing your camera at existing subjects without actively trying to improve the scene. But good photographers are not passive ones. They make, not take, which I talk more about in episode7.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t left brained dominant photographers out there. Because there are. Lots of them. They’re the ones that love the gear. They’re the ones that can explain every single function your camera is capable of. They read the reviews. They know the latest and greatest equipment. And often their photographs aren’t that creative. But you know what? They don’t seem to mind either. They know they’re in photography for the love of the gear. So you don’t often see them complaining that they’re not creative enough because that was never their goal. It’s like people who restore cars. It’s more about the process than it is the end goal, although that is still an important aspect of it, just like people who love camera gear also appreciate its ability to take photos.

Then there’s people who straddle both worlds. I love what my camera is capable of and how it’s designed to make that possible. But I couldn’t care less HOW it does it. That’s a sure fire way to make my brain switch off real quick. People ask me to recommend them cameras quite often and I never know what to say. One that takes pictures is good. It’s never been about the equipment for me but what it’s capable of. But I do LOVE to experiment and try new things and ask what if over and over and over. It’s why creative photography is perfect for me because it’s such a beautiful blend of both worlds, exploiting the technical aspects of your gear to photograph in unique ways.

How to be more creative

Now seeing as though photography is both a creative and technical hobby and getting the exposure right can sometimes take preference – I decided to put together a free creativity checklist for photographers to print off and stick in their camera bags as a little reference while shooting until asking ‘what if’ questions becomes second nature. You can grab it by signing up to our email list below.

The absolute two most important questions on this list that you need to nail before anything else are these:

What is the subject I’m photographing.
The second is, what story am I telling about this subject.

Photographers, especially those on the newer end of the spectrum often just photograph whatever seems interesting. Sometimes they even spray and pray and hope that by some miracle one of those minutely different images will be amazing. But you will always take better, more stronger photos and save on a bunch of hard drive space by asking these two questions. If you are really mindful about why something is interesting to you and think about how best to convey that to others then you’re already well on your way to better, more creative photography.

So let me give you an example. There’s this famous tree in New Zealand called ‘That Wanaka tree’. You might know it. And by itself it’s a pretty interesting tree. It stands on its own little island in the middle of a large expanse of water surrounded by snow-capped mountains. And because of that it’s the most photographed tree in the world and many of those photos are really beautiful. Google it. You’ll see. So when you find yourself holding a camera at the most photographed tree in the world how are you going to take a photo that stands out? But like a good many photographers you’re probably going to try and replicate another shot you’ve seen. I don’t know why but photographers have this weird ‘gotta catch em all’ mentality. If they see a beautiful shot they have this urge to replicate and then wonder why their photography doesn’t stand out.

So when I shot the Wanaka tree I did exactly what other photographers do. Tried to capture that shot.
Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (2)

But then I looked around and thought, what can I do differently? So I put my camera on the ground for a new perspective and used a long exposure to slow the water.
Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (3)
Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (4)

Then I watched what other people were doing. And I saw a man skipping stones. So I shot that.Then I thought, what if I framed the scene using this branch for interest?
Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (5)

Then I shot it with ducks.
Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (6)
Then I shot it with brides (on two separate trips obviously).
Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (7)
Then I shot it with teenagers climbing on it which is not allowed so I won’t share that photo and they got yelled until they left. There’s a hundred different stories to tell about every subject. So what are you doing differently?
Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (8)
Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (9)
Why you feel like your photography is not creative enough (10)

The other thing every photographer should do is learn a handful of creative techniques to try in any situation. If you’ve mastered just a few techniques you won’t stand there blankly staring at a scene but will put into action each of the tricks up your sleeve for more unique photos. I used to work in a photography studio that ran creative workshops and if one photographer had a good idea the other photographers would copy it, because otherwise they wouldn’t know what to do. That’s not the way to stand out. Be the leader, not the follower. Which is easy if you have even a couple of creative techniques to draw on.

Ultimately that is why I designed Creative Photo Folk. It really just started out as a project for me so I had a bunch of creative ideas and techniques on hand I could reference at any time. Creativity has never come naturally to me. It’s something I’ve learnt and massaged by consuming lots of art and surrounding myself with beautiful and inspiring things. That’s why I can say with complete certainty, that you can learn it too.

So if you’re in need of little extra creative juice join our mailing list and we’ll send you our free creativity checklist after a couple of days. There’s 17 questions on the list which may seem overwhelming at first but even asking just a couple of these questions of each photo you take will have you well on your way to more creative results.

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