“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”
- Ralph Hattersley
These days, most people have access to a camera in their pocket in the form of a mobile phone. A lot of phones cameras are now of high enough quality and are advanced enough in technological capabilities to make any one, with the commitment, capable of learning to take extraordinary photographs (do a Google image search for “iPhone photography examples” to see the capabilities).
But how often do you look at the world around you (particularly the world you know well), in a different way?
Have you ever seen it an inch above the ground? How often have you noticed the texture of paint on your garden fence? Have you ever seen the rooms you live in from above?
The problem is, is that you can get so used to your surroundings that everything eventually becomes familiar, and so you fail to notice the extraordinary and the beautiful that surrounds you. Think of the curiosity of children, who often notice and are drawn to things that would completely bypass us. It’s because the world is new to them, everything is interesting.
Look closely enough and you’ll begin to find things that you’ve never noticed before.
Look closer at the world around you and you’ll find a beauty that you didn’t know existed before.
Creative photography can help us to see the world differently, from a different perspective.
Take a camera (the one on your phone, tablet, etc., will do just fine), and spend some time photographing things you never really noticed before. Look beyond that which you usually see.
So, instead of standing on top of a mountain and taking a photo of the landscape that sprawls before you, notice the ground beneath you. Look at the textures of the path.
Rather than take a photo of a building, focus on that which you wouldn’t normally focus on. Maybe it’s the lock on the door or the spaces between the bricks.
Looking beyond the bigger picture and looking at the smaller details is an important lesson in developing your creativity.
“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
- Albert Einstein
The 30 Circles Test was developed by Stanford Creativity Researcher Bob McKim. It is an excellent way to exercise your imagination, practise working within restrictions, and sharpen your mind.
You can try this exercise every time you hit a creative or productive block as it will help to get your brain and ideas flowing again.
You may find this exercise difficult because, as adults we tend to criticise and self edit ourselves as we go along, whereas a child is more open to exploring possibilities. Children are used to looking at objects for what they can be, instead of what they are, because they haven’t yet learned the specific purpose of specific items.
Take a few blank pieces of paper and draw thirty circles on them. They don’t need to be any particular size, but big enough to doodle within.
In as quick as time as you can (two to five minutes is ideal), adapt or fill as many circles as you can into objects or ideas.
Patterns, shapes, objects, words are all acceptable — there is no write or wrong way. The key to this exercise is quantity over quality.
Fill as many circles as you can into recognisable objects.
For example, one circle could be the sun, another could be a logo.
Don’t worry about them being perfect pictures — part of being creative means not always being perfect.
“The covers of this book are too far apart.”
- Ambrose Bierce
Critiquing is a useful skill to possess as it can help you to learn to think critically as a creative. After all, a large part of being a creative involves assessing, evaluating and improving upon the work of the others as well as your own, and trying to make a different and better version of something that came before you.
Critical thinking about the works we both like and dislike opens us up to more creative possibilities than merely focusing on those we enjoy.
When we find the good (that which we like), in something we can apply it (the design, the form, etc.) into our own work, and when we find the bad (that which we dislike), we can avoid it.
Ryan Holiday in his book Perennial Seller described genius as; ”small moments of brilliance with the boring bits edited out.”
Pick an item in your home or workplace. You could also consider a book, film, song, photograph, etc.
Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper creating two columns with one marked Strengths and the other Weaknesses.
State why your chosen subject is successful on the one hand, and unsuccessful on the other.
If you find it hard to critique, begin by asking yourself some questions about the product.
What is it for?
What does this feature do?
Is it effective, does it serve its purpose efficiently and effectively, etc.?
What can you say about its style?
Is it geared toward a specific audience?
Is it aesthetically pleasing?
"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
- Thomas Edison
Often, when you find yourself at creative standstill and struggle with what to draw, write or make, you may need regular inspiration and ideas to help you along.
The internet is a great place to explore ideas, to be motivated and inspired, and there are many excellent blogs that can be an excellent source of inspiration. The best of them are regularly updated with hints and tips and examples of the blogger’s (or other’s), work.
A blog post doesn’t usually require a long reading time (unlike a book), and they are also usually accompanied by pictures and links to other places of use and interest.
Do a Google search for ‘Creativity Blogs’.
BlogSearchEngine.org is also another excellent resource. It is, as the title suggests, a search engine that searches only for blogs.
Look for a few blogs that take your interest (three to five is ideal - any more and you might become overwhelmed).
Bookmark them in their own separate folder in your browser where you can visit them regularly for a fresh dose of inspiration.
Read them every time you feel you need a creative boost.
“To be realistic one must always admit the influence of those who have gone before.”
- Charles Eames
All art builds upon or subtracts from that which came before it.
For example, Beethoven’s early works were inspired by Mozart, Dali was influenced by the works of Raphael and Vermeer, and the filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky has had such an influence on the work of Dutch filmmaker Lars von Trier that a large amount of scenes in the latter’s films are almost identical in composition to those of his predecessor, as can be seen in the following video:
Part of being a creative involves finding the parts of others’ work that inspire you and filling in the rest with your own work and vision.
7-7-7 is a simple writing exercise in which you explicitly takes someone else’s work and use it as a starting point for your own work to see where it leads you.
Find the seventh book on your bookshelf, open it to page seven and look at the seventh sentence on the page.* Try and begin a poem that begins with that sentence.
If you like, you could even limit the amount of lines in your poem to seven.
For a variation on this exercise, you could use the sentence as the first line to a new story (you don’t need to write it out, just try and continue the story in your head as much as you can).
There are other variations that you can come up with if you don’t have a book at hand. Try using the Random Article link on Wikipedia and see where it leads you. In this case you’d use the seventh sentence of the article.
For yet another variation, if the page opens to a photograph, try creating a series of photographs based on the one you see, trying to recreate that photograph as closely as possible.
*If you don’t have seven books on your bookshelf, just pick up the first book you can find.