There are, in my opinion, two essential areas that need to be developed in order to truly become a photographer who’s images stand apart from the enormous crowd of photographers that exist today — these are (1) Creativity, and (2) development of the photographic eye.
Almost everyone has a camera these days. And, more than at any time in the past, I’m sure, more people think of themselves as being ‘photographers’ of one sort or another. And, let’s face it, with today’s technology, just about anyone can learn to take at least a half-way decent photo without too much practice, or dedication. And, most can at least pretty much master the technical aspects — proper exposure, focus control, etc. — with not much more practice and dedication than that. Taking an ‘ok’ photo is no longer a skill that requires much study. But, taking a truly great photo still very much is.
So, what sets the real photography pros apart from the rest? Why are they getting paid big bucks for their photos when your hobbyist cousin, who makes good money at his day job, and used a whole whack of cash from the money he made in his 9 to 5, to buy some really killer photography equipment, doesn’t?
Well, there’s a number of reasons, of course. But, honestly, the big ones, in my opinion, are: the level of their creativity, and the level of development of their photographic eye.
In order for your photos to truly stand out from the crowd made up of every Tom, Dick & Harry who has invested in a decent DSLR, your photos need be unique. They need to have an impact that the other’s don’t. They need to really pop. And, the most certain way to get that is for your photos to be really creative.
Once you’ve become proficient in the basics of knowing how to produce a well exposed image, your photos will still be lost in the sea of millions of well-exposed photos being produced by adequate photographers every, single day. The next step — the one that few hobbyist photographers take — is to develop your creativity and your creative eye, in order to really produce photos that stand out.
So, how do you get really creative in your photography? There’s a number of ways, of course — a number of methods one could put to use in developing their creativity. But, I’m going to discuss two simple exercises here that you can take part in. And, if you do them regularly, I can almost guarantee you’ll notice a drastic improvement in your ability to think creatively, and in your ability to produce truly creative photos.
Photography Creativity Exercise #1:
Go for a walk with a friend. Bring your camera. Just walk around your neighborhood, or wherever you’d like. Instruct your friend to, at entirely random intervals, yell out “STOP!” — perhaps once every five to ten minutes, or so. When your friend does so, you must take three pictures without moving more than 10 steps for each one.
So, when your friend signals you to stop and take a photo, you’re allowed to move a maximum of ten steps in any direction, then you MUST take a photo of something. Once you’ve taken the photo, you can move ten more steps in any direction, and then you MUST take another photo, and so on.
Try to look around you and ‘see’ the absolute most interesting photo you could possibly get. You’re allowed ONLY three photos — so, make them count. Try to pre-envision them before you take them. DO NOT take more than three photos before moving on.
If you do this exercise, and keep doing it, at first your images will likely appear boring and pointless — you’ll likely end up with a lot of photos of ordinary, hum-drum objects that nobody will have any sort of interest in seeing. But, if you keep doing this exercise regularly, you’ll begin to notice that you start ‘seeing’ interesting photographs all around you, before you even snap any pictures. Do this exercise a lot and, eventually, you’ll start to just notice interesting photo opportunities begin to jump out at you — no matter where you happen to be at any given time. You’ll begin to see things, in familiar surroundings, that you never noticed before. Or, in ways you never did.
I can assure you that If you do this exercise regularly, eventually, every where and anywhere that you happen to be standing, at any time, you’ll start to see interesting photo opportunities all around you. And, you’ll develop an ‘eye’ for what is likely to work, and what isn’t, as an interesting photograph — all before you even raise your camera to take a photo.
And, once you have that down, the impact and uniqueness of your photographs will absolutely soar. And, THAT is what makes people go ‘Whoah! Awesome!’ when they look at a photograph. The basics of technique have to be there too, of course. But that alone will not make people’s jaws drop when looking at a photo. In order to do that, you need spectacular creativity in a photo that’s built on the solid foundation of basic technique. That’s the real formula for a photo that will truly astound viewers.
Photography Creativity Exercise #2:
Get a few sheets of paper — ordinary printing paper will do. Cut, or tear, the paper into a whole bunch of small squares — you want a lot of them — the more the better. Get yourself a pen or pencil and go around your house, yard, garage, wherever, and look for small, random objects and write one down per square of paper.
Try to make the objects as random and diverse as possible. You might see a pair of scissors in one room. Write down ‘pair of scissors’ on one square. In another room you might see an interesting looking cookie jar. Write that down on another square. In your garage you might notice an old, rusted and bent gardening trowel. Write down ‘gardening trowel.’ Get as many as possible, and try to make them as varied as possible.
When you’ve got perhaps a couple dozen at least, put all of the pieces of paper into box of some sort. Mix them around for a bit, and draw out two of them at random.
These two items are going to be the subject of a photo you will take.
When you’ve got your two items, spend some time really thinking about a third item — this third item can be anything at all. But, really try to think of something that you can get your hands on in order to photograph, that will, in some creative way, tie the two random items together to make a coherent, interesting photograph. Try to think of something that will relate to the two random items in such a way that it may make a photograph of all three humorous, or convey some sort of message.
This last item can be anything you can think of. It doesn’t have to be a small item that you can bring to the where you’re going to take your photograph of the other two items, for instance. Perhaps the third item is a house? Bring your two random items to the house you have in mind and make the photograph.
The only rules for your photograph is that the two random items you drew MUST appear in the photograph, and there has to be at least one other item of your choosing — that’s it. I.e., you must make an interesting photograph, somehow, some way, using the two random items you drew from the box, plus a third item. And, you can do anything you can think of, or incorporate anything you can think of, in order to make a picture of the two items that is as interesting as possible.
As an example, I just quickly did this exercise, and I got ‘desk lamp’ and ‘hand grenade’ (Yes, I have an old hand grenade from World War Two in my house — don’t worry, it’s been completely stripped of all explosive material and rendered entirely non functional.) 🙂
So, what can I do to make an interesting picture using those two elements? Well, just off the top of my head… my Nephew has a collection of those little, green plastic army men that he loves playing with. What if I put the desk lamp on my desk that’s in my home office, placed the hand grenade on the desk, borrowed half a dozen or so of my Nephew’s little army men figures, got a length of string, and tried to arrange the scene so it looks as though these little, green, plastic army men had found this giant hand grenade, had tied a rope around it, and were struggling to drag it back to their base?
That might make a funny, interesting picture, no? Ok, ok… so, it’s not the greatest idea for a photograph. It was just something off the top of my head without putting much thought into it — just to give you an idea of what you’re going for. But, that’s the point, really — it’s an exercise.
And, that’s important to keep in mind — that this is just an exercise — the purpose is to develop your photographic creativity. So, you can’t fail at this. Set something up and take the picture. You succeed merely by trying your best and doing. You wont get a great idea and an interesting photo every time. But, if you keep doing it regularly, your creativity will develop and, pretty soon, unique, creative ideas will flow through you when you’re attempting to dream up an interesting photo, and you’ll find it easier and easier to pre-envision and craft great, unique and interesting photographs.
And, here’s a potentially cool idea: Why don’t you resolve yourself to doing the above exercise once a day, or twice a week, or once a week, or at some other regular interval, and start a blog? Go through the exercise at your pre-determined regular intervals — say, every Friday, for example — and post the image you take to your photo-blog. If you get regular readers, ask them to send in suggestions for the two items you’ll use in your upcoming photos.
Do you have some of your own tips, tricks, exercises, or techniques that you find helpful in developing creativity, or other photography skills? We’d love to hear them! Please feel free to use the comment form provided below and share your knowledge with our other readers!
Have a great day, and happy shooting!