Creativity is neither an endless or constant stream. It ebbs, it flows and sometimes it simply leaves you. If you work in a creative industry, that can be problematic. In my case, my primary source of income is travel stock video footage. That in itself requires that I head out to far-flung places, and attempt to shoot creative clips that will make me money.
Very often the clips that do make money are somewhat formulaic, there is a certain type of shot that sells and it’s my job to be creative in my interpretation of them.
Recently however there was a bereavement in my close family. That necessitated that I returned to London for a few weeks. In turn, it gave me time to think about my own creativity and the fact that I was not fully enjoying my job. I was in a creative rut. I decided to take the time I had been given to set myself a project, which in turn would hopefully reinvigorate my photography.
Setting Yourself A Photographic Project
The key to unlocking your pent up creativity is to keep it simple. By all means, think up multiple different photographic projects, but when it comes time to shoot, pick only one and stay with it. This will focus your mind so that every time you go out with your camera, you are looking purely for that particular vein of creativity.
In my case, I came up with several different ideas for a project. Some of these were Splashes of Colour, London Juxtapositions, London Long Exposure, and Post Covid City. However, there was one that really piqued my interest and that could also be applied to any location. It was called Glimpses of. During this particular trip, that would be Glimpses of London.
Sticking To The Concept
The concept was quite simple, to take shots of London icons, without showing them in the whole, or in the cliched postcard type view. I would employ a shallow depth of field, telephoto lenses, and even creative shutter speeds, to create my own take on my city of birth.
There was another important part of shooting this project and that was freedom. By that, I mean freedom to move around and shoot easily. When I am shooting video, I am often burdened with tripods, gimbals, having to add neutral density filters, thinking about how to move the camera, and so on. It kind of fixes you to one location at a time, taking a careful and considered approach to each shot. Whilst the careful and considered approach does not preclude creativity, sometimes to really get the creativity flowing you need to be as light and mobile as possible. To that end, I carried a camera and two lenses. That was it.
Shooting The Project
If there is one key killer of creativity, it’s an obligation. If you feel obliged to go out and shoot, that creativity will not come. To be truly creative you need to be relaxed, you need to be happy and you need to just wander in a more or less holistic way. Don’t look for the shots, the shots will find you. That might sound like a cliched statement, but it is very true.
For my project, initially, I wanted to get up at the crack of dawn and shoot through the morning golden hour. The problem with this is that in London, in June, dawn is 4.30 am. When shooting commercially I would set my alarm for stupid o’clock then force myself to get up at this time to go and shoot. However, for this project, I set in my mind that I would go out when I was ready, not when the light was perfect.
That simple concept of shooting when ready and not at a set time is incredibly liberating. Personally, I would have in mind a rough area and route for the shoot. I would head out, sit down drink a nice coffee in a cafe then wander roughly along that route.
The route would not be set in stone, rather I took a somewhat holistic approach to where I might end up. If one particular street looked more interesting than another, that’s where I would go.
Keeping It Simple
I did little to no planning other than thinking of a route. This is the complete antithesis of my normal approach. Being London, I knew that on any of my given routes there would be an iconic location, however, it was down to my own creativity to interpret my brief, Glimpses of London.
Whenever I came across a famous location or building, I would start to look around at ways to suggest that location without it being the main subject. This was both visually challenging and yet very cathartic. I soon noticed that I was creating a certain style for my images. It was a style that was molded by London itself. The muted greys of London’s buildings and skies juxtaposed against the many bright bold colors of London’s street furniture and transport. Another juxtaposition was the endless seams of old and new, especially in The City of London, the financial district.
As mentioned earlier, a key creativity killer is forcing yourself to do something if you are not ready to do it. Another killer is tiredness. Walking in London can be a tiring, exhausting pursuit, especially in high summer. For that reason it’s very important to pace your photography, not just physically, but mentally. If you are like me, a short sharp creative burst can be as exhausting mentally as a long walk in a hot city. For this reason, I would take frequent breaks, from having a coffee or drinking some water, to sitting on a bench for half an hour and contemplating the photographic possibilities of my surroundings.
Setting myself a photo project has revitalized my photography. As I edited the images, I started to discover themes and styles to the shots. This further inspired me to head out and enhance or improve upon those themes. In a few days, I shot over 1000 images, not all keepers, but liked an unusually high percentage of them. And that’s the key, you have to like the photos you take otherwise you are simply going through the motions of photography rather than making creative images.
If you find yourself in the photographic doldrums, start listing some potential projects. You will find the process liberating and energizing and you may find new strands to your own creativity.