8 Rules for the Creative Life

8 Rules for the Creative Life

The biggest stumbling block for many photographers is not knowing how to be creative. You have some natural talent but never seem to break out and become a satisfied creative person. Thankfully, some rules govern a happy and productive creative life. These rules help you to get control and live out your creativity – even with a busy work schedule, and without sacrificing valuable time with your family.

Here are eight of those rules that will help you thrive as a creative photographer.

Practice your creativity.

Kids have creativity mastered. They may not be very good yet, but they do it all the time. Their life is ordered around exploration and little creative projects. Between the new skills they learn, and the volume of their output, their natural ability increases quickly.

1. Don’t rely on your natural talent

Maybe you’ve got a natural eye for photography, but that’s not enough. You’ll hit a wall some day and not know how to overcome it.

Even with a good eye already, you should keep learning more about what makes for a good photograph. Go ahead and put your own creative spin on what you’re learning. When you work hard and understand what makes your photography good, you’ll always have ideas and principles to pull from, even when you’re completely uninspired. At the very least, you’ll be able to keep working until truly creative ideas strike you.

Don’t rely on natural talent. Understand how photography works, and exercise your creativity so that you can turn it on whenever you need it. 

Practice your creativity

2. Successful creative people never stop

Successful creative people never stop working. They are not lazy. They rise to the top because of how hard they work.

But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t sleep or never step back from your creative endeavors. Successful creative people rest in order to recharge and come back to their work even stronger.

When you think about it, you’re always doing something with your time (even if it’s just scrolling social media). But the best creative people are intentional and constructive with their time. If you’re always doing something anyway, then why not prioritize something creative?

Many people think they lack time to devote to their photography. You have time, but you’re choosing to spend it on other things. Write down exactly what you do all day. You’ll be shocked at how much time you waste. Don’t waste your time, do photography instead.

Get up one hour earlier. Study and practice photography before your day even begins. You’ll be cheating time by using what you usually would have slept away.

Think about where you could be in a year if you devote one hour to photography every day. Henri Cartier-Bresson says that your first 10,000 photos are your worst. If that’s true, then hurry up and get them behind you. You only need to take about 28 pictures a day over a year.

But working hard does not mean that you need to neglect your family in the process. A workaholic career can destroy your family, and this is not healthy for them or you. Many traveling photographers abandon their families in the name of doing something meaningful with their work. However, what good is their work to the world if their own family suffers for it?

Work, work, work. Get up one hour earlier to do it, but guard your family from abuse of work.

Black and white Rembrandt lighting

I know this photo is grainy and a little soft. It’s okay with me because I’ve acquired a taste for imperfect black and white photos (and Rembrandt lighting).

3. Creativity generator

Exploration is a creativity generator. So explore your craft, other peoples craft, and the whole world around you.

If your craft is portraiture then you need to explore portraiture. But you should also explore other types of photography (photojournalism, macro, wildlife, etc.). You’ll discover interesting ways to improve your portraiture as you study other forms of photography.

Take your learning beyond photography. Study all sorts of creative disciplines (writing, painting, sculpting, or architecture). You don’t have to learn to do these things, just learn about them.

Read memoirs and biographies of creative people too. See what a successful creative life looks like. And learn from the mistakes of tragic lives.

Part of creativity is bringing familiar things together in new ways. The more you explore, the more you have to bring together.

Exploration leads to endless creative possibilities.

4. Capture your ideas before they disappear

As you learn, work and explore, you’re going to need a way to capture the creative ideas that keep coming into your mind. They light up brightly but disappear quickly. You need to capture those ideas like fireflies in a jar.

Rather than jumping from idea to idea without ever completing anything, carry a notepad or recording device to capture your ideas. Record your idea and then get back to the project you’re working on. Being single-minded is far better than scattering your mind across many half-finished projects. Those half-finished projects will likely become never-finished projects.

Sift through your ideas later when you need something new to work on. You’ll find that many of those ideas weren’t worth pursuing. Moreover, you’ll realize that there were some gems that you had completely forgotten about.

You’ll end up with a lot of ideas, let the best ones rise to the top over time.

creative black and white photos.

While watching my son build Lego, I noticed the gesture expressed in his toes. Part of exploration is just watching what is going on around you.

5. Build bridges

Some people prefer to work as a team, others prefer to work on their own. Even if you prefer to pursue your craft on your own, you should still gather with other photographers.

You should especially gather with ones who photograph different subject matter than you. The friendship and feedback will encourage you and help you to avoid becoming narrow and stagnant.

It can get very lonely being the only creative person you know, especially if your spouse doesn’t share your drive for creativity. Before you know it, you’re like an isolated island.

Build bridges to the other creative people around you. 

6. One explosion can ruin everything

It’s better to build bridges than it is to burn them.

All it takes is one big emotional outburst to ruin your career as a creative person. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or work in a team, nobody wants to put up with your anger or dramatic outbursts. Treat everyone around you with respect. Even go as far as to treat them as more important than yourself. Everyone will love working with you.

If you do let your emotions get the best of you, be quick to make amends.

Excessive negative emotion stifles your creativity. Be kind to yourself as well and get help dealing with your stress.

In a world of difficult people, be the easy person to work with.

Creative community

Gathering with other creative people.

7. Help other creative people be better than you

It would be natural to assume that if you’re generous with your talent, time and resources that people will just take advantage of you. That might happen. But soon enough your generosity will align with people who will be forever grateful for it.

I still remember those who went out of their way to help me when I first started out. They could have protected themselves from the new photographer, wishing that he would fail and disappear. Instead, they helped me. Now, I help other photographers, even if they seem like my direct competitors.

It seems counter-intuitive, but you’ll help yourself more when you help others first. At times, focusing on another person’s creativity may help you more than focusing on your own.

Be the first in a fellowship of creative people helping each other to get better, and better, and better.

Improve creativity

My daughter wanted to make her own birthday cake. We let her.

8. Turn off your phone

You need to have periods of time when you are uninterrupted. The last thing you need when you’re brainstorming ways to complete a creative project is a phone constantly alerting you to something else.

Practice turning your phone off for a couple of hours at a time – maybe even a whole day. It’s liberating to think, play, and be creative without the distraction.

While I was driving back from a 3-hour creative session this morning, I saw a person checking their phone while they waited at a red light. I had a lot on my mind and couldn’t fathom adding a phone to the mix. Now I know that looking at my phone means that whatever creative ideas were on my mind will vanish. So I only look at it a couple of times a day.

We easily become addicted to our digital technology, and a “fear of missing out” keeps us constantly checking in. I’ve developed a greater satisfaction in my creativity and a greater fear of losing my creative drive in the moment. My phone is off most of the time.

You don’t want to trade your creativity for endless digital chatter. Phones, tablets, and computers are useful. But they have a way of talking over.

Turn your phone off and switch your creative mind on.

The creative life

When you follow these eight rules, your creativity will be able to thrive.

You’ll have distraction-free time to learn, work, and explore.

You’ll find yourself encouraged by the other creative people in your life.

Moreover, you’ll always be growing and so will your creativity.

Do you have other tips for your creative life? Please share them with us 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.