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3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

Most of us photographers struggle with our creativity. As time goes on you’ll likely experience fewer moments of passionate inspiration and longer periods of hard work and creative dryness.

It was during a period of creative dryness in my photography business that I discovered a whole breed of photographers who had been able to express their creativity in surprising ways.

They brought every part of their life to their photography, found beauty in unlooked-for places, and got in over their heads. Their ideas were just what I needed to breathe new life into my own photography.

Let me share with you three quotes that will help you understand yourself as a creative photographer.

3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer - boat on a lake

It’s liberating as a creative photographer to forget about making money or comparing yourself to other photographers and just go play with your camera. For me, it’s climbing sand dunes or wading through water at sunset. It brings me to life.

1. You Bring Your Whole Self

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” – Ansel Adams

When you first became a photographer you likely focused on finding the perfect camera and lenses. For a while, it was all about chasing gear. But in the end, the gear doesn’t satisfy. Unless it helps you expand your creative horizons it becomes a worthless dust collector sitting on a shelf somewhere.

Fuji Cameras - 3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

These are my favorite cameras to use. The Fuji x100s is perfect for everyday life. I’m nostalgic about the photo quality of the iPhone 4s. It was the first phone camera I ever used. The Fuji XT1 along with a portrait lens and silent shutter mode is perfect for portraits.

You probably tried your hand at copying what you saw on Pinterest or other photo sharing groups. I bet that once you were successful you got bored and moved on quickly.

Gear and gimmicks don’t satisfy you. In fact, you’re more likely inspired by the books you read, even though they are non-visual because they fire up your imagination.

3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer - kid in a dingy on a lake

Two winters before this photo was taken, my imagination had been fired up after reading “The Wind in the Willows.” But I had no idea how to capture that in photos. That is until one spring when the bay that we live on overflowed its banks and took over our yard! I bought a dingy for my son, put on my chest waders and spent the evening in and on the water. Ratty would be proud of us.

The creative photographer brings to their work their whole life, their whole selves. That usually includes a whole host of other creative endeavors like music, painting, writing, or acting, even if you pursued them at different moments in life.

Photograph of Alice Cooper - 3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

Though I loved photography as a kid, I was a musician before I became a photographer. Knowing what it’s like to perform and connect with the audience, I always look for those engaging moments when I photograph bands. Is there anything more engaging than Alice Cooper in a straight-jacket staring down the barrel of your lens?

Alice Cooper with a booze bottle. 3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

An Alice Cooper performance goes beyond the music and incorporates drama as well. The story that is played out for the audience is part fiction and part biographical. Alice brings everything to the stage, including his past battles with alcohol, showing the audience and fellow musicians what can be accomplished in life and art.

2. Making Beauty Out of Chaos

“I don’t just look at the thing itself or at the reality itself; I look around the edges for those little askew moments – kind of like what makes up our lives – those slightly awkward, lovely moments.” – Keith Carter

As a creative photographer, you’re often going to feel like you don’t fit in. You’ll likely find it hard to commit to one type of photography for the rest of your life (or as a business).

Here’s one idea that might characterize everything you photograph; beauty out of chaos.

Creative photographers are often at the fringes, on the edge of chaos and order, in unpredictable situations, trying to make something beautiful in difficult situations.

Kieth Carter quote - 3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

Many of us deeply resonate with Carter’s words as we “look around the edges for those little askew moments.” While it’s natural to photograph the happy, predictable moments of life, I’m most at home looking around the edges. When a little guy “acts up” he’s taken out of the game to the edges for a time-out. But aren’t these the defining moments of life? I was drawn by the boy’s face and his inability to look his father in the eye.

boy and his father - 3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

The situation was irresistible to me as a photographer. It was a “theological” moment and I was fascinated by the boy’s unwillingness to look his father in the eye. He expressed himself through his hands and fingers instead.

kid wiping his eyes - 3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

I love that even the dirt on his arm speaks to his guilt. You can’t plan these moments, you just appreciate them as they come.

You’re likely drawn to “the real,” not being satisfied with mere poses but what happens between the poses, at the edges of a photo session – those “slightly awkward, lovely moments.”

Window silhouette of 2 kids - 3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

No parent in their right mind would allow their kids to play in the curtains. Those curtains will end up a complete mess. But, even for just a moment, I saw beauty in that mess.

Golden hour silhouette - 3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

Sometimes those moments in the window are more serene. I couldn’t help but notice afterward that the curtain ties were “slightly askew.”

3. You’ve Got to Get in Over Your Head

“I realize more and more what it takes to be a really good photographer. You go in over your head, not just up to your neck.” – Dorothea Lange

With the pursuit of the perfect camera behind you (happy to use whatever camera you’ve got on hand), and Pinterest a distant memory, you bring everything you’ve got to your photography. But even when you find yourself up to your neck, you’re still holding back.

There’s nothing to force your creativity quite like walking into a situation that puts you in way over your head. You’ll be forced to figure out what to do at the moment.

Rock band photography - 3 Quotes for the Creative Photographer

I still remember the first time I took the stage as a musician. It was a high school talent show on a makeshift stage in the cafeteria. All I could think was, “How did I get myself into this?” I knew I wasn’t qualified in any way to be on that stage (even though it was just a bunch of tables pushed together). But the moment took over and I knew I was made for the music.
To this day, I look for raw emotion when photographing musicians.

I daresay that, for most of us, going in over our heads means overcoming ourselves. Overcoming our social anxiety, fear, and laziness. While a little social anxiety, introversion, or laziness can kill your creativity – it can also fuel it.

Successful creative photographers talk about how they challenged themselves through their fears and assumptions and constantly embraced constraints that forced them to grow as people and as photographers.

What do you look like as a creative photographer?

I love hearing from you. Which ideas do you resonate with and what do you look like as a creative photographer? Let’s chat in the comments below.

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Mat Coker
Mat Coker

is a family photographer from Ontario, Canada. He teaches photography to parents and families, showing them how to document their life and adventures. You can get his free photography ebook, and learn more about taking creative photos.

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