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6 Ways to Enhance Your Creativity

No matter what your artistic interests, whether photography, drawing, painting, sculpture, etc., the underlying force behind your work is creativity. It’s much easier to talk about technical aspects of photography as it’s a tangible skill, unlike the more mysterious intangible skill of creative thought.  While every art form is unique unto its own, harnessing one’s creativity is a universal skill.

There are some that might say you either have it or you don’t in relation to creativity, but the truth is we’re all creative. Every child makes believe at some point and lets their imagination run wild, and if I’m correct you were once a child. Creativity is a thought process and one that can be strengthened with practice and exercise. Below are 6 ways I like to get my creative mind working. If you have techniques that work for you be sure to add them in the comments.

1. Never Stop Thinking About Photos
Whether your camera is in hand or not conduct mental exercises to find subjects, mentally frame images and think through how you would capture the subject. Keeping photography constantly in mind is important in training yourself to think creatively. If your mind is primed for creative thought, creativity will have an easier time striking you.

2. Embrace Your Mistakes & Chance
It’s OK for chance or mistakes to bring something new to your attention. Always take a second look at your mistakes and see if it presents something new to the scene that perhaps you hadn’t thought to try. Not every mistake is a creative epiphany, but you’ll never have one if you never look.

3. Find inspiration
Whether viewing artwork at museums, in photo books or immersing yourself in nature, embrace the work of others including Mother Nature to help you see or think in new ways. When our minds are introduced to new techniques or ways of seeing our mindseye begins to expand its view fostering creative thought.

4. Break the Rules
Rules are great as they provide a roadmap of how things can be done or explain why we find something visually appealing. Once you know or have mastered the rules its time to break them. Creativity knows no bounds.  A great creative exercise is to intentionally break a rule to see how you can find a new way of viewing something in a manner that is otherwise “taboo”.

5. Have No Fear
Free yourself from the fear of what others might say if critical of your creative experiments. People by nature almost always have adverse reactions to new things particularly when they’re entrenched in thinking a more common practice is the “right way” or “norm”.  Creativity is the antithesis of a “norm”. Creativity brings a new way to present and see things. Never let norms and the attachment others have to them sway you from your creative exploration of the world before you with your camera.

6. Extract Yourself
Remove yourself from familiar routine and locations. Taking time to be away from the things that normally fill your day is a great way to obtain freedom for your mind to wander. Distraction free time allows for new thoughts and ideas to surface and most importantly it allows you to shape them into actionable projects.

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Jim Goldstein is a San Francisco based professional photographer. An author as well as a photographer Jim has been published in numerous publications including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo Pro, Popular Photography and has self-published a PDF eBook Photographing the 4th Dimension - Time covering numerous slow shutter techniques. His latest work and writing can be found on his JMG-Galleries blog and on 500px

  • http://www.myphotopro.ca Kim

    Good suggestions, especially No. 1. My friends and family laugh at me. I’m always saying, ‘I’d love to shoot that..”
    I have always found my creative process to have two steps, whether in writing or photography. Step one is to just let it flow without judgement. Shut off that running commentary in your head and let your heart lead you. Shoot what pleases you without worrying about why. I think of it almost like a sketch book. Straight from the heart to the hands without too much logic impeding it.
    Part two is crafting, where we use all we have learned to perfect what we have done. Take a very critical look at the work. This may mean reshooting with a better composition or exposure, or tweaking in Photoshop. I go back to it a day or two later when I can be more objective.
    This two part process has always worked well for me.

  • Toni Aull

    Creativity is Infinity, there Never Ending….
    I’ll think I’ll go for it!!!

  • http://kirantarun.com/lens Kiran

    A very thought-provoking and unique perspectives! Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://www.kazaphotography.com Jenn

    break the rules….. for me it’s a must :-)

  • ScottC

    I agree with Kim (first comment) on “going back” to a photo later to be more objective about it, I think we all are most partial to our photos while the memory is fresh. To take it one step further, I go back months or years to old photos. I “cringe” more often than I’d care to admit, but some photos really grow on me. This is also a great practice as I get better at post-processing, it’s a satisfying exerience to reprocess an old photo and see it improve.

    This one was almost a year old when I reworked it, but I think it’s much better now than when I originally called it “finished”:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5174151519/

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    Hi

    I was inspired by Macro Photographers who solved the problem of Depth of Field when shooting Bugs. It’s hard to get antennae to body in focus – its just optics. I discovered an image merging software circa 1988 that allows one to take multiple shots with different focus points, merge them all together to produce one perfect Marco. (Click the image to get a good resolution)

    This shot was an attempt to get the entire watch in focus, but finally I selectively chose the foreground image of the chain and the SUN SAT on the dial. (This one was 10 shots in total moving the focus up from the chain to the top of the watch…I will study further to perfect this)

    The software is “CombineZM” and is designed to blend the focused areas of several partially focused digital photographs in order to create a composite image with an extended depth of field (DOF), created from the in-focus areas of each image. This is essential for product photography (and Bugs). And its Free!

    Perfect Timing: http://t.co/NuhIy1s

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    The first tip is really the only one you need, “never stop thinking about photos.” To me this is especially important if you have your camera out and in hand. While my camera is out, I am focused on photography. I am like that because you never know when a dolphin might surface right next to you:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2009/8/19/photo-story-dolphin-surfacing-at-vinoy-park.html

    The lens I had on would not have been my first choice for photographing the dolphin, but because my DSLR was at least set for the situation I could get a shot despite not having all the focal length I would have wanted.

  • http://marriageweekly.wordpress.com Mweekly

    I’ve been doing the first one a lot more and realizing I should always have my camera on me as a lot of times the perfection is only there for a second. The perfect time of day, framing and moment may never come again.

  • Diana Mikaels

    Here’s an advice from a book on photography:

    Look at what you have around it and call it by a different name, whatever, just whatever comes first to mind, without thinking. If it’s a chair, call it something else. If it’s a tree, name it differently. After a while you find yourself perceiving things in a more creative way – maybe you become more aware of forms, or colors…

    My advice: sit down and look around, without shooting. Embed yourself and become damp with the feeling of the place – how it looks, how it smells, the sounds you can hear … Then you can take better and more creative pictures. Have a FEELING for what you photograph :)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/44475334@N02

  • Tunde

    Very interesting advises. I have trouble with No5. Every time I try or do something different ppl and family looking at me in a ‘ funy way ‘. I have to learn to tell them, I like it, if you don’t then look away.

  • http://www.alexthephotoguy.com Alex

    I say- try a minimalistic experience. Go on vacation with only one camera and one prime lens (50mm 1.4 is my fav). No flash, just extra memory cards, and maybe a tripod depending on the setting. Having less forces you to utilize more. “Zoom with your legs” and you’ll get a lot more for and interesting angles and ideas. I try to do it every few months to keep things fresh. Trust me, you’ll be surprised with what you think of.

  • http://blog.alwaysaclickaway.com Brett Cox

    An exercise I like is to crop my own images. I take one shot and see how many different shots I could have gotten out of it. This usually doesn’t yield me a high enough resolution image to do anything with, but it does make me think more creatively the next time I am out shooting a subject. I try to find the shot in the shot.

  • Susie

    Great list of thing s to consider and remember. #1 is my OCD!

    Alex great advice. I’m using my 50mm 1.4 for as much as I can, leaving all others at home. I’m finding it forces me to look harder for the right shot, to look harder at whats right in front of me.

  • http://www.james-dolan.co.uk/ James Dolan

    Number 1 – I can’t stop doing that anyway.. It’s an addiction!! AHHHH

  • Yaaqob hawkins

    I find that you must try new things almost every time you shoot , try a different angel, a new setting , a higher or lower f stop , don’t always trust your camer to tell you what is in focus or bright enuf , if you think you should take a pic from eye level also take one or 2 from on your knees or laying down on the ground , if the pic did not come out great from the ground than what did it hurt ? You will have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t!!!

  • Trudy

    I agree with all these tips and will work on them more. I try to always have a camera with me and when it’s not appropriate for my bigger camera, I carry a small point and shoot in my pocket. It’s come in handy sometimes. I’ve also begun looking more for lines, shapes, patterns, textures, and colors rather than a certain subject. I’ve begun shooting things that I’d never thought I’d be interested in before. Also getting a feeling about something before shooting it (if able to) is helpful to get more creative shots. A great teacher I’ve had in workshops told me to figure out “what catches your eye” about a subject first (thanks Les).

  • Trep Ford

    Rule 1+4+6: Sometimes I like to use rule #4 in order to break rule #1 by using rule #6 to extract myself from always thinking about photos. :)

    I will happily agree that thinking about photography and images a lot of the time really helps. This rule also helped me learn the benefits of always having a camera in my bag. It changes how you look at and see things, for sure, and in a very positive way. But one day my wife and I were traveling some place visually very interesting, and she asked me why I wasn’t taking pictures. I hadn’t even taken my camera out of the bag. I said “I’m just not feeling it today”. Some part of me wanted to just BE where we were and NOT take pictures. I wanted to enjoy the place as a person first, and I found the camera was getting in the way of that, instead of helping. On that particular day, I extracted myself from the world of always thinking about images and just enjoyed our time there very much and formed a very personal connection to and understanding of the place. I let my photographic guard down and just enjoyed being.

    When we went back to this place for the 2nd time … I shot like crazy. :)

  • http://thinkingcreativity.com Thinking Creativity

    The first step to a new endeavour is always the hardest, after that you can take leaps!

  • Les Boucher

    1. Never Stop Thinking About Photos…I agree, even when I am watching television I am watching to see what the photographer saw and try to work out how, what, when and where the shot was taken. Was it early morning, late afternoon, from the sea, was a filter used etc.
    Have you ever watched CSI Miami?…next time that you do take note of the sky. The colour goes up and down the screen as the camera follows the actor. Why? … Because they are using a grad filter to enrich the sky and make the Miami sky look more Orange than the bleached out section that you will see below the graduation of the filter.

    I also have a book which I keep with my photographic gear. It is just a small note pad in which I keep a record of places that I visit and information that I might pick up on an area that sounds interesting. I often go through the book just to refresh my memory or pick out a spot that either I haven’t visited yet or to return to a spot where I got a few good shots but with better light………. Hmmmmmm Maybe……..!!!!

    My second book is a record of where I have been and what the weather was like, the time of day, sunny or raining etc. I also make note of which direction the object was facing..North, South East or West Just in case I want to return to that spot at another time which may prove to be a better photographic opportunity and so that I will have an idea of where the natural light should be coming from. This is really good for landscape photography but also if you have a model with you and you want to shoot in natural light.

    I know that it sounds a lot of messing around with books and writing but once you get into the habit it becomes second nature to you.

    Happy Photography

  • http://jimmartinphotoblog.blogspot.com Jim Martin

    I like your tips. I’m not sure I could add anything to them except perhaps by adding a subcategory to “Find inspiration”: challenge yourself. I read various photo blogs and set myself the challenges offered by the websites. In a way this helps me respond to your first tip in that I never forget photography!
    Practice is also a big part of overcoming creative blocks.

  • http://marriageweekly.wordpress.com Mweekly

    Love it, read it again and it still is amazing!

  • Glenn

    Great read Jim.

  • http://www.enviactions.com Stacie Jensen

    What great things for people to remember during their career. You are so much more artistic when you do not follow rules.

  • Mei Teng

    Great tips. I can really identify with tip #1.

  • http://www.guigphotography.com Guigphotography

    Number 5 inspired me to try some camera movement. I got a few shots I really liked but posted one that gave me surprising and freaky result. Great article!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8450921757/in/photostream

  • http://www.wallpaper-tadka.com Vikey Sharma

    Nice and useful tips.. Thanks

  • Subhash Dasgupta

    good advice

  • Chareese

    Thanks for the inspiration Scott C. I also look back at old photos and realize how far I have come. I love the idea of going back to reprocess old photos! I can’t wait to try it!!

  • Sarah Graham-Taylor

    Even if you don’t have a camera with you (and if not, why not?!) Tip #1 is right on: never stop thinking about photography. How would I have taken this? (if I had had my camera with me!) Why would I have taken it? Is it worth taking? What would/could I do with the photo? What has struck me about the scene? Why am I emotionally involved and how could I best express that emotion?

    Love this site for all the practical help and tips on it.

Some older comments

  • Sarah Graham-Taylor

    March 16, 2013 08:30 am

    Even if you don't have a camera with you (and if not, why not?!) Tip #1 is right on: never stop thinking about photography. How would I have taken this? (if I had had my camera with me!) Why would I have taken it? Is it worth taking? What would/could I do with the photo? What has struck me about the scene? Why am I emotionally involved and how could I best express that emotion?

    Love this site for all the practical help and tips on it.

  • Chareese

    February 18, 2013 07:15 am

    Thanks for the inspiration Scott C. I also look back at old photos and realize how far I have come. I love the idea of going back to reprocess old photos! I can't wait to try it!!

  • Subhash Dasgupta

    February 16, 2013 02:16 am

    good advice

  • Vikey Sharma

    February 10, 2013 05:15 pm

    Nice and useful tips.. Thanks

  • Guigphotography

    February 9, 2013 11:52 pm

    Number 5 inspired me to try some camera movement. I got a few shots I really liked but posted one that gave me surprising and freaky result. Great article!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8450921757/in/photostream

  • Mei Teng

    February 9, 2013 12:59 am

    Great tips. I can really identify with tip #1.

  • Stacie Jensen

    February 8, 2013 12:22 pm

    What great things for people to remember during their career. You are so much more artistic when you do not follow rules.

  • Glenn

    January 3, 2012 05:37 am

    Great read Jim.

  • Mweekly

    March 1, 2011 09:01 am

    Love it, read it again and it still is amazing!

  • Jim Martin

    February 28, 2011 12:31 am

    I like your tips. I'm not sure I could add anything to them except perhaps by adding a subcategory to "Find inspiration": challenge yourself. I read various photo blogs and set myself the challenges offered by the websites. In a way this helps me respond to your first tip in that I never forget photography!
    Practice is also a big part of overcoming creative blocks.

  • Les Boucher

    February 21, 2011 07:41 pm

    1. Never Stop Thinking About Photos...I agree, even when I am watching television I am watching to see what the photographer saw and try to work out how, what, when and where the shot was taken. Was it early morning, late afternoon, from the sea, was a filter used etc.
    Have you ever watched CSI Miami?...next time that you do take note of the sky. The colour goes up and down the screen as the camera follows the actor. Why? ... Because they are using a grad filter to enrich the sky and make the Miami sky look more Orange than the bleached out section that you will see below the graduation of the filter.

    I also have a book which I keep with my photographic gear. It is just a small note pad in which I keep a record of places that I visit and information that I might pick up on an area that sounds interesting. I often go through the book just to refresh my memory or pick out a spot that either I haven't visited yet or to return to a spot where I got a few good shots but with better light.......... Hmmmmmm Maybe........!!!!

    My second book is a record of where I have been and what the weather was like, the time of day, sunny or raining etc. I also make note of which direction the object was facing..North, South East or West Just in case I want to return to that spot at another time which may prove to be a better photographic opportunity and so that I will have an idea of where the natural light should be coming from. This is really good for landscape photography but also if you have a model with you and you want to shoot in natural light.

    I know that it sounds a lot of messing around with books and writing but once you get into the habit it becomes second nature to you.

    Happy Photography

  • Thinking Creativity

    February 18, 2011 07:29 am

    The first step to a new endeavour is always the hardest, after that you can take leaps!

  • Trep Ford

    February 8, 2011 09:36 am

    Rule 1+4+6: Sometimes I like to use rule #4 in order to break rule #1 by using rule #6 to extract myself from always thinking about photos. :)

    I will happily agree that thinking about photography and images a lot of the time really helps. This rule also helped me learn the benefits of always having a camera in my bag. It changes how you look at and see things, for sure, and in a very positive way. But one day my wife and I were traveling some place visually very interesting, and she asked me why I wasn't taking pictures. I hadn't even taken my camera out of the bag. I said "I'm just not feeling it today". Some part of me wanted to just BE where we were and NOT take pictures. I wanted to enjoy the place as a person first, and I found the camera was getting in the way of that, instead of helping. On that particular day, I extracted myself from the world of always thinking about images and just enjoyed our time there very much and formed a very personal connection to and understanding of the place. I let my photographic guard down and just enjoyed being.

    When we went back to this place for the 2nd time ... I shot like crazy. :)

  • Trudy

    February 5, 2011 07:56 am

    I agree with all these tips and will work on them more. I try to always have a camera with me and when it's not appropriate for my bigger camera, I carry a small point and shoot in my pocket. It's come in handy sometimes. I've also begun looking more for lines, shapes, patterns, textures, and colors rather than a certain subject. I've begun shooting things that I'd never thought I'd be interested in before. Also getting a feeling about something before shooting it (if able to) is helpful to get more creative shots. A great teacher I've had in workshops told me to figure out "what catches your eye" about a subject first (thanks Les).

  • Yaaqob hawkins

    February 5, 2011 07:51 am

    I find that you must try new things almost every time you shoot , try a different angel, a new setting , a higher or lower f stop , don't always trust your camer to tell you what is in focus or bright enuf , if you think you should take a pic from eye level also take one or 2 from on your knees or laying down on the ground , if the pic did not come out great from the ground than what did it hurt ? You will have a better idea of what works and what doesn't!!!

  • James Dolan

    February 4, 2011 08:47 pm

    Number 1 - I can't stop doing that anyway.. It's an addiction!! AHHHH

  • Susie

    February 4, 2011 05:54 pm

    Great list of thing s to consider and remember. #1 is my OCD!

    Alex great advice. I'm using my 50mm 1.4 for as much as I can, leaving all others at home. I'm finding it forces me to look harder for the right shot, to look harder at whats right in front of me.

  • Brett Cox

    February 2, 2011 11:22 am

    An exercise I like is to crop my own images. I take one shot and see how many different shots I could have gotten out of it. This usually doesn't yield me a high enough resolution image to do anything with, but it does make me think more creatively the next time I am out shooting a subject. I try to find the shot in the shot.

  • Alex

    February 2, 2011 02:42 am

    I say- try a minimalistic experience. Go on vacation with only one camera and one prime lens (50mm 1.4 is my fav). No flash, just extra memory cards, and maybe a tripod depending on the setting. Having less forces you to utilize more. "Zoom with your legs" and you'll get a lot more for and interesting angles and ideas. I try to do it every few months to keep things fresh. Trust me, you'll be surprised with what you think of.

  • Tunde

    February 1, 2011 11:22 pm

    Very interesting advises. I have trouble with No5. Every time I try or do something different ppl and family looking at me in a ' funy way '. I have to learn to tell them, I like it, if you don't then look away.

  • Diana Mikaels

    February 1, 2011 11:04 am

    Here's an advice from a book on photography:

    Look at what you have around it and call it by a different name, whatever, just whatever comes first to mind, without thinking. If it's a chair, call it something else. If it's a tree, name it differently. After a while you find yourself perceiving things in a more creative way - maybe you become more aware of forms, or colors...

    My advice: sit down and look around, without shooting. Embed yourself and become damp with the feeling of the place - how it looks, how it smells, the sounds you can hear ... Then you can take better and more creative pictures. Have a FEELING for what you photograph :)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/44475334@N02

  • Mweekly

    February 1, 2011 09:18 am

    I've been doing the first one a lot more and realizing I should always have my camera on me as a lot of times the perfection is only there for a second. The perfect time of day, framing and moment may never come again.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    February 1, 2011 07:34 am

    The first tip is really the only one you need, "never stop thinking about photos." To me this is especially important if you have your camera out and in hand. While my camera is out, I am focused on photography. I am like that because you never know when a dolphin might surface right next to you:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2009/8/19/photo-story-dolphin-surfacing-at-vinoy-park.html

    The lens I had on would not have been my first choice for photographing the dolphin, but because my DSLR was at least set for the situation I could get a shot despite not having all the focal length I would have wanted.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    February 1, 2011 06:40 am

    Hi

    I was inspired by Macro Photographers who solved the problem of Depth of Field when shooting Bugs. It’s hard to get antennae to body in focus – its just optics. I discovered an image merging software circa 1988 that allows one to take multiple shots with different focus points, merge them all together to produce one perfect Marco. (Click the image to get a good resolution)

    This shot was an attempt to get the entire watch in focus, but finally I selectively chose the foreground image of the chain and the SUN SAT on the dial. (This one was 10 shots in total moving the focus up from the chain to the top of the watch…I will study further to perfect this)

    The software is “CombineZM” and is designed to blend the focused areas of several partially focused digital photographs in order to create a composite image with an extended depth of field (DOF), created from the in-focus areas of each image. This is essential for product photography (and Bugs). And its Free!

    Perfect Timing: http://t.co/NuhIy1s

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • ScottC

    February 1, 2011 03:28 am

    I agree with Kim (first comment) on "going back" to a photo later to be more objective about it, I think we all are most partial to our photos while the memory is fresh. To take it one step further, I go back months or years to old photos. I "cringe" more often than I'd care to admit, but some photos really grow on me. This is also a great practice as I get better at post-processing, it's a satisfying exerience to reprocess an old photo and see it improve.

    This one was almost a year old when I reworked it, but I think it's much better now than when I originally called it "finished":

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5174151519/

  • Jenn

    February 1, 2011 02:59 am

    break the rules..... for me it's a must :-)

  • Kiran

    February 1, 2011 02:50 am

    A very thought-provoking and unique perspectives! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Toni Aull

    February 1, 2011 01:31 am

    Creativity is Infinity, there Never Ending....
    I'll think I'll go for it!!!

  • Kim

    February 1, 2011 01:09 am

    Good suggestions, especially No. 1. My friends and family laugh at me. I'm always saying, 'I'd love to shoot that.."
    I have always found my creative process to have two steps, whether in writing or photography. Step one is to just let it flow without judgement. Shut off that running commentary in your head and let your heart lead you. Shoot what pleases you without worrying about why. I think of it almost like a sketch book. Straight from the heart to the hands without too much logic impeding it.
    Part two is crafting, where we use all we have learned to perfect what we have done. Take a very critical look at the work. This may mean reshooting with a better composition or exposure, or tweaking in Photoshop. I go back to it a day or two later when I can be more objective.
    This two part process has always worked well for me.

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