How to Stay Creative

“How do you stay creative?” my friend Lance says to me in the middle of a shoot. We are setting up the lights for a set called “Frost,” a makeup and light intensive set portraying the concept of ice and cold.

When makeup artist, designer and stylist Hilde Marie Johansen and I meet to discuss the concepts for this shoot, she and I brainstorm everything, from the clothes to accessories to the lighting and the materials to use for each set. We sketch and write notes. As our ideas takes shape in that meeting, our enthusiasm and excitement for another creative day grows.

Hilde has created an illusion of frozen lips on the model using sugar granules. Her dress is white and light blue fabric. My goal for the shot is to set the

"Frost" by Aloha Lavina.

camera so that the photo comes out cold, with some blue tinge, and have the light just pop out of the softbox white and even, making shadows light and not overpowering. The photo comes out the way I had dreamed it would, and showing it to Lance, who is assisting me, he asks me the question.

Staying creative is a challenge every photographer sets him or herself. Whether photographing families or fashion, it helps to exercise creativity to stay fresh, design dramatic work, and maintain enthusiasm and excitement for each and every job.

How do you stay fresh as a photographer? Here are some tips on how to stay creative.

1. Find your passion.

Discovering what makes you excited as you create an image is key to staying creative. Many people with cameras learn technique by trying a lot of things. It’s great to take risks and give yourself plenty of opportunities to discover your favorites. Whether you are creating still life shots or macro, portraits or panorama landscapes, notice the elements of the shots you consider your favorites. Is it content—what you take photos of? Is it the quality of light? Is it genre? Finding out what you enjoy photographing is key to enjoying a long and happy relationship with your craft.

2. Shoot a lot.

When you’re first starting out, you want to find your niche, that particular brand of photography that helps define you. To help yourself find this corner of your creative happiness, take a lot of photos. Anything that interests you: capture it. When I first started carrying my DSLR every day, I took walks in the evenings. What I found was that I loved capturing vignettes, little stories told by things and light around me. Digital images are cheap – you don’t need to spend money developing them in a shop, and you can set up a “negative” contact sheet electronically in your computer, easily weeding out what doesn’t work and what you liked. The growing portfolio you develop as you shoot will help you to define your creative drive.

3. Surround yourself with people who are passionate and learn from them.

Not just photographers, but musicians, painters, and others have to find their wellspring of inspiration in order to stay creative. Hanging out with creative people gives you a support system for your creativity, and it also helps you tap into the enthusiasm and love that creative people have for their art. This support system is not essential but it helps you keep fresh. I once wrote a poem after hearing a musician play an Indonesian drumming song, giving the

Pamela. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

poem the cadence and tone of the drum (“Bangkok Street Stall”, published in The Chariton Review). Another time, I shot a sequence of images based on someone’s interpretation of anomie. Both times I was inspired by something that was different from the medium I used to express ideas, and the source of inspiration added resonance to what I created. Hanging out with artists not only is fun, but being in a creative atmosphere can spark imagination.

4. Pay attention to moments, and stay in the present.

When I first started with portraiture, I would be so future oriented that I messed up my shots. What happened was, I would be thinking of the next shot I wanted to do while shooting the current shot. The photos often came out blurry from my impatience expressing itself in quick movements. Reflecting on my impatience later, I found out that I have to stay in the present to make each image count.

Besides being patient, paying attention to moments ensures that you are ready to press the shutter release when an expressive moment happens. Taking a series of shots, hoping to get a good one, is wasteful and unnecessary. Waiting patiently for all the elements to fall into place is a creative trait. Yes, art can happen by accident, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if art happens as you act deliberately, making you an active and engaged creator?

5. Don’t be afraid to fail, and stay persistent.

Like in other things we do in life, fear of failure paralyzes us. The part of the brain that deals with stress takes over, and the part of the brain that controls our creative, associative skills freezes. We over-analyze. What results is stilted performance because we have frozen our minds and shut it from flow.

Flow is “optimum performance” given a challenge and some skills (Cszikszentmihalyi). We express flow as effortlessness, when we allow it to happen. Because we already have a

"Somewhere You've Never Been" by Aloha Lavina.

set of skills, given a challenge, we are able to engage in meeting the challenge using all our skills and perhaps be pushed into learning new ones in the process. The key word here is engage. Fear disallows engagement because it creates inside us a stress response (run away or fight). Openness, on the other hand, allows engagement—it is an attitude that helps us to use our perceptions, concentration and skills to perform the necessary actions to meet a challenge.

There is nothing more joyful in photography (and other learning) than the aha moment. Yesterday I assisted my student Soofia in her first conceptual shoot. At one of the sets, lighting was very difficult, but I pushed her to persist in trying different settings or lighting positions.  It took almost half an hour before the lighting worked, but that moment we found the perfect setting and lighting was a moment delicious, full of accomplishment.

This moment should be our goal as creative people. When you stay fearless and persistent, the aha moments you meet along the way will fuel your creativity and enthusiasm, and inspire you to shoot again.


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7 Responses to How to Stay Creative

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  2. […] might also enjoy: Shooting Winter Coats in a Tropical Country. Outdoors. The Man at the Window How to Stay Creative Posted in Photography | Tags: cameras, commercial and editorial photographer, DSLR, freelance […]

  3. […] Man at the Window 11 Ways to Build a Better Photo 10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts How to Stay Creative Posted in Photography, travel | Tags: beautiful, composition, howto, photo technique, […]

  4. […] is flow, a state when a person is so engaged in something that time and space seem to […]

  5. […] team that weekend: my friend Hilde Marie Johansen was the makeup and hair stylist. The models were Angie Stoneking and Vaughn Newman, two of my favorites and with whom I have collaborated many times. Vaughn Newman […]

  6. […] a moment of creativity, the creative person is drawn into flow, a state of seemingly effortless innovation. Trusting this process, for many, have produced great leaps in executing a vision. Interrupting it […]

  7. […] it could be a great advantage. You’re open-minded to what is out there, and you will experiment. Experimentation fuels creativity and inspiration, and in the best-case scenario, you might discover something that makes your work even more […]

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