Being More Creative

In Creativity and Inspiration, The Life Creative, Thoughts & Theory by David28 Comments

For a craft that is, at its heart, a creative effort, it amazes me that you’d have to read 100 books about making better photographs before you read anything on the creative process. And it’s not that it’s the job of these educators to teach creativity, but still. I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now, two photographers beside me. They’ve been here for an hour talking about making better photographs and the conversation hasn’t yet moved past a discussion of Tamron lenses. I’ll wait all day before they talk about the important stuff.

The truth is, I don’t want to be first a photographer. I want to be a creator. If that means I use a camera, great. If it means I use words, instead, just as good. I want to point at beauty and make experiences. Not everyone’s like that. But if creating is what you want, if you to BE more creative, here’s 5 things I’ve noticed about truly creative people. And by creative I don’t mean they’re artsy or original, just that they consistently create.

They See Possibilities.
Creative people are constantly asking What If? They work with challenges constantly and don’t focus on them, they focus on the potential outcomes. They’re positive and not easily put off by failure. They resonate with the words of Buckminster Fuller: “There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.” They understand that creation is a process, not a product, and that mistakes are some of the best tools for learning lessons and finding new directions.

Want to be more creative? Make more mistakes and see them as part of the process, not a failure of the process. You can not create without risk.

They Ingest Everything.
Steve Jobs said creativity was really just a matter of connecting dots that haven’t been connected before. Truly creative people know that the brain will only connect dots that it is aware of. So they collect a lot of dots, from a lot of different places. They read deeply, and as widely as possible. They’re curious, knowing that the most original, and unexpected solutions to problems, will come from connections that brain makes between unexpected sources. So they collect those sources. Einstein was quoted as saying he had no special genius only passionate curiosity. Part of this is spending time with other creative people outside our usual circles. Photographers would be better artists if they spent less time with other photographers, and more time talking to painters and poets and authors.

Want to be more creative? Read up on topics other than photography, go see a play, take a life drawing class, do something that increases your inputs in an area seemingly unrelated to photography.

They Incubate.
Ideas don’t come out of the blue. They come as result of collecting a great many inputs, and letting them stew together. Inputs + Time. You have to give things a chance, and that means thinking about other things. Go play guitar. Go for a walk. Learn something new. Write a poem. Fingerpaint. Get a massage.

Corner a comedian and tell him to “say something funny,” and he’ll get really quiet and awkward. Your brain will do the same when you demand it just come up with a great idea out of the blue. Creative people know that time napping is not time wasted.

Want to be more creative? Make sure you get down-time. Hang the hammock and take a nap. Don’t rush the process.

They Ship.  
You can come up with a million great ideas, but unless you make them happen, you miss the chance to put them into the real world and see them evolve and become their truest potential. Ideators are not the same as creators. The brain’s a great place for initiating an idea, but it can’t stay there. Scott Belsky, using words I’ve taken as a personal mantra, calls it living a life with a “strong bias toward action.” Creative people hear as many, if not more, voices telling them their ideas won’t work. They see as many, if not more, distractions as others do. They know if they don’t act, and make it happen, it never will. They don’t fool themselves into thinking their work is done once “they’ve had a great idea.” Having ideas is not the work of creative people, it’s just the to-do list.

Want to be more creative? Take action on ideas immediately. You don’t have to pull it all off today, but take the first step. Make work prints for that exhibit you’re dreaming of. Book the models or the studio for that shoot. Take your first steps the same day you decide to you want to play with this idea.

They Know Quantity Matters.
I’ve read of a couple studies now that directly link quantity with quality in the lives of creative people. Not that quantity is the point, nor that a lot of ideas is the same as good ideas, but people that consistently create have the luxury of getting the bad ideas out of the way, moving more quickly past the projects that don’t work, and into those rarer projects that do work much more often. In Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, there’s a great story about a teacher who told half his ceramics class to make one great piece, and the other half to make as many pieces as they could. The half of the class that created quantity was also the half of the class in which was found the best of the work. The best writers write often, usually every day. The strongest photographers have their first 10,000 frames long behind them. The path to mastery, and greater creativity, doesn’t come without volume anymore than learning a language comes without using the same words over and over again, getting mistakes out of the way, until they become natural. Quantity is not quality, but it heads in that direction.

Want to be more creative? Make more photographs. Stop talking about photography and go make photographs. Creation lies in the doing, not the talking.

Want more? Try these:
Brain Pickings  – A great website about creativity. – Insights on making ideas happen.

Zig Zag, The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, Keith Sawyer – I’m reading this book now and it’s full of great insights and practical exercises.

How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci, Michael J. Gelb. My thanks to my friend Jeff Kennedy for giving this book to me. Highly recommended.

The Inspired Eye Series – I wrote these, so I’m partial to them, but these three eBooks, available in a bundle for only $12, talk about the creative process, specific to photographers, and will give you some strong direction as you hone your own creativity.

TED Talks  – Great stuff in here. Pick one a day, at random and see what you can’t learn.


  1. Now I’m in a class equivalent to A-level & 1 year is remaining to start engineering.I’m curious how to be a good in engineering & even I know not which field to select.I only want to invent things,discover them.It’s my wish but don’t how to deal.Tell me what should I do so that I can be successful in attaining my goal.Thank you!

  2. Pingback: 6 months old ! and some blog love. | Snails see the benefits, the beauty in every inch

  3. *****Please pardon me to post it here but it is the response for “The Magic Wand”*****


    No, no you are perfectly right. Even I sometime feel to have a Leica camera when I don’t get shots I
    need with my Nikon. But I think my orientation towards Leica is also because it seems very light-
    weighted compared with todays DSLRs and it’s bulky Lenses. I mean the less weight we carry with
    ourselves the more we are free to feel and click environment we are in. Sometimes I even consider
    these zoom-lenes an impediment to get good shots. I mean if Cartier-Bresson could have shot
    during his entire career with 50 mm why not me? I also believe that zoom lenses also make us
    lethargic to move and use our feet to compose a shot and getting closer to the subject and ends
    with a big frustration of getting poorly composed shot.

    Nevertheless, I am very passionate lover of photography and read almost anything that comes to
    me excepts books written by Michael Freeman 😉 I have also read your books With in Frame,
    Photographically Speaking and Vision & Voice. But I still want to grasp as many new concepts as I

    So KINDLY put a list of Books and Blogs that you think an aspiring photographer must read.

    Thanks, LOVE and Lots of LOVE

  4. Pingback: Creative People

  5. Art and Fear sounds like a good book. Thanks David, now that’s another book you’ve got me to read 🙂

    That’s a good point about making quantity matter. We should not take things too literal. There’s two sides to every equation. One school of thought says “quality over quantity” yet that experiment proves without quantity you cannot achieve quality.

    Every frame I expose brings me one step closer to being a better photographer. It doesn’t necessarily mean each subsequent photo is better than the other. It just means when it comes time to make that quality image I will be more capable because I will have that wealth of knowledge and experience behind me. One cannot exist without the other.

    That quote from Chuck Close is great because it’s a bold and personal statement that speaks to what Close values more. It also speaks to what he thinks separates the artists who have elevated their ability to create.

  6. Thank you for bringing these thoughts to our attention. I have “heard” a lot of this before, but forget, and need my memory recharged from time to time.

  7. Picasso again…

    “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”

    Ha! I can relate, although I have been a working artist for the better part of my life, I have always enjoyed working to talking about it. I have a friend I often go shooting with. He loves to drive and can do eight hours w/o breaking a sweat. However, he knows that although I appreciate my equipment, it’s secondary to my joy in capturing images, so he constantly says, when with me, how he wants to get better at creating images and spend less time on talking equipment… 8 hours later and he has not stopped talking bodies and lenses for 10 seconds…. he… he… he…, good thing I’m a patient man and he does love to drive…..

  8. I agree with all what you say. And meeting creative people, in other interest areas is always a good way. The process a musician select and put in a sequence the pieces he will play in a show is not very different than the way a photographer select and put in sequence the pictures for a show, just to say. Should I choose all normal pieces (photos) ? May be too boring. Choose “alternative” pieces only? Too quirky! A mix of both? Maybe, but than not a clear identity…Times ago we were a group of friends with different “artistic” interest, from photography to sculpture via dance and meeting or visiting a museum or an exhibition together and discussing it afterward was always a good source for ideas. Than, we have to work…

  9. Great summary on how creativity works! Incidentally, photography is my way of doing “something that increases your inputs in an area seemingly unrelated to” writing in my case, as that is my primary way of creating. My best friend to talk to about the creative process is actually a visual artist, precisely because we never talk about technical stuff – after all, we work in different media.

  10. Despite the message in the opening quote, this post was indeed inspiring! Now… time to get to work! Thanks, this was wonderfully written, David.

  11. “Truly creative people know that the brain will only connect dots that it is aware of.”

    Something i never thought of.

    Very well written. Thank you for sharing.

  12. I love your last point about ‘Quantity Matters”.

    I practice, practice & practice some more – every chance I get. I take my camera everywhere. I’ve taken over 60,000 photos in that 3 years and while at least 75% got deleted as lousy or out of focus, I genuinely think (in my case), regular practice has made an enormous difference to my progress.

    (I might add that I’ve also done pottery, painting, sketching, craftwork, furniture restoring, writing, designing, dressmaking and a whole lot more in my 40 adult years too). Health & eyesight prohibit most of this in retirement, but Photography is relatively easy as there’s an AF on the lens (to help with my lack of good eyesight).

    Like Kat Cole (comment above), I have serious chronic health problems, but photography and doing something creative again, has really given me my life back.

  13. A terrific and inspirational post. I absorbed and believed every word.
    I don’t want to take issue with anything, or try and top one of your quotes with anything I think I know. Just a humble thank you David for making me constantly think ‘Why couldn’t I do that’ ?

  14. I’m always being critical of your blog posts, so this time I’ll just say, ‘excellent post!’

  15. As a creative person struggling daily to survive serious health issues, I find this idea to be core – to my health! I was drowning in the medical stuff and realized that if I let it take up all the space in my life, it would. Now, instead of waiting for the days when I think I have the energy to produce something I would enjoy seeing or hearing, I make it a point to do whatever I can with whatever I have. The other day it was sketching out ideas – on a sticky note pad, with a ball-point pen – for two paintings I want to do. That choice got me closer to an artistic goal, but more importantly, it was choosing to live the life I value, in the present; including my artistic life in a time of medical crisis. The end result is a whole life, regardless of the “quality” of the artistic product. Thank you for the encouragement, David!

  16. “Want to be more creative? Make more photographs. Stop talking about photography and go make photographs. Creation lies in the doing, not the talking.”

    Well said, David. I always get a swift kick in the pants from your rants and sermons. Thank you!

  17. Your eclectic list of references models your suggestion that we should be talking with folk, other than just photographers, their world then offers the dots we can relate to our own interest… Thanks for a very thought provoking essay… and suggestion of resources

  18. If you don’t know what you wish to catch, then you’ll have to be happy with whatever bites your hook. That’s great if salmon and catfish are all just fish to you. I like John Dory. I’m not interested in catching fish just for the sake of pending my pole.

  19. “Inspiration comes of working every day.” For about three years I recorded no music. My guitars strings were seldom clean or in tune and my gear was in a cupboard. It took so long to get ready when I did feel “inspired” that by the time I set up, the drive was gone. I never stopped having musical ideas, but I did stop being able to do something with them.

    These days I record music, make photos and write words every day. My holidays are just exercises in creating in different ways and different places. I’ve lost all interest in having an artistic lifestyle, instead I want a life full of art.

    Right now I have pounding construction work outside and jet fighters swooping overhead (National Day rehearsals). It’s loud as hell and not conducive to creative work. But, I keep going because I need to finish projects, need to make something of my life, need to look my daughter in the face and tell her what I did with my day. Responsibility is like that and I feel responsible to my craft.

    I’m fishing for inspiration in shallow barren waters today, but as long as I keep fishing, I will catch something. If your rod isn’t in the water when the fish swim past, you’ll never catch much.

  20. Working without direction will result in distance that is not intentional and potentially nothing more than elsewhere. One may with hindsight have preferred another way. There is beauty in accident, but there is poetic beauty with intent.

    I agree completely that we must work, but I believe that we must work with intent, with inspiration, with design. Working for the sake of working is no better than pushing a boulder up a hill — only to have to push it up the hill again. Just my two dollars. (Yes, I’ve gotten more expensive and have forgone the cents! :-))

  21. Hard when people like me take people like Chuck out of context, but I think inspiration comes, in part, from working – exercising our craft. The two are inextricably linked. My reading of Close is that this is about what rely on. Waiting for inspiration before we get to work – not toil, I hope – won’t usually get us far.

  22. With all due respect to Chuck Close (who is a somewhat better painter than philosopher), inspiration is not a lack of work, while work can often be without inspiration. If work was all that one required, then we’d be applauding the works of Sysyphus in galleries around the world. I’ll take inspiration over toil any day. Chuck is welcome to the latter.

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