Getting Creative Things Done

Cal Newport has written a great piece on a process for getting things of a creative nature done when there are other demands on your time. I recommend reading it here.

His ideas draw from those of Paul Graham and David Allen and basically revolve around scheduling blocks of time through the week to do the creative work (1 to 3 hour blocks) and scheduling everything else around those like they were locked in appointments. Read Cal’s full article to get the full richness of this.

Push Yourself That Bit More, and Thus Push Your Photography

Do you give up when out photographing just a little too soon or do you give up when you have a succession of failures with a new technique? If so, you need to read this.
You may be tired and decide to pack it in for the day. And of course as soon as you pack up and leave the light will turn wonderful. Do you give up on trying that night photography technique you have told yourself you are keen to try just because it is a bit cold or your favorite show will be starting on TV? Or you may have put all your stuff away ready to try a new location and an opportunity presents itself. Do you get it all out again or do you go home or move on?

Pushing your photography requires pushing yourself. I don’t know about you, but lugging that big, heavy but oh so nice tripod around is hard work. Same with taking some of that extra gear. So do you leave it in the car or at home or do you make the effort?

Pushing your photography is a lot more than just pushing your technique. In fact, I would argue that really it is only the pushing of your thinking that advances your photography. Techniques are only the vehicle by which you demonstrate this change in thinking.

Arnold Schwarzenegger said that it is that last extra repetition of an exercise, after you wanted to stop that builds the muscle. When your dad told you that life was hard he may not have meant exactly that, but rather that sometimes you have to persevere even when you have little to apparently show for it.

Taking great photographs or making great art is not easy. In fact it is a complex and demanding task. Some of those demands are intellectual, learning exposure and optics and all the rest. Some is physical, such as carrying the gear, walking that bit further for that great view or crouching in a cramped position to get exactly the right point of view. But some is also emotionally and spiritually demanding: how do you keep going when it is just not coming together and the shots are lousy or how do you summon the motivation to drag yourself out of a nice, warm bed so you can shoot before dawn?

To borrow a phrase from the Mel Gibson movie ‘We Were Soldiers’, there is always one more thing you can do. So apply this to your photography, your art and to your whole life, in fact. There is always one more angle you can shoot, one more change in the lighting you can try or one more technique you haven’t given a go.

Are you a quitter?

Shoot Smart

Just because you are creative, it doesn’t mean you have an excuse not to use the rational part of your brain. Photography and art are both intellectual and creative pursuits and benefit greatly from the application of both.
Photography and art are complex and varied disciplines. They are both creative and technical. Depending on the type of photography and art you do, you may be required to understand chemistry, physics, optics, light behavior, thermal characteristics, psychology, business, accounting, web search engine optimization, computers, software, composition, design, color theory, decoration, nature survival skills, mathematics and more and more. This is one of the things I really love about photography and the visual arts in general: you can well exercise both sides of your brain.

So how do you engage the intellect?

Learn, read, study, talk to people and explore. The best photographers are knowledgeable about their art and craft. Be one of them. And don’t just stick to photography. You can learn equally well from artists, sculptors, geologists, in fact anyone and anything.

Depending on your own personality, location and resource, you could make use of training courses at local colleges, workshops and seminars by famous photographers. Just make sure they are not just famous, but also good educators. There is a difference between being able to do something yourself and being able to teach others to. Many learn best by having someone teach you. Mentoring is available in photography, as in many other areas like business; you just need to find the right person. For others, self-directed learning from books, magazines, videos and websites works well. There are also the many website forums dedicated to photography where you can ask questions. Just show respect on these. Make an attempt to educate yourself first and when you do post a question provide as much information as possible so that people can answer it. There is the saying that there is no such thing as a stupid question, only a stupid answer, but on forums you come close sometimes to invalidating this. I am amazed how often you see questions like: ‘What is the best digital camera?’ Best digital camera for what purpose, with what budget and what other criteria matter?

Many institutional galleries will have public talk programs, as will specifically photography-oriented organizations. Professional photography organizations run workshops, talks and get togethers. Camera clubs can be a great place to meet and discuss. Artist groups can be fantastic, as you can learn a lot from artists.

There are myriad books and magazines. Set yourself a reading program. Don’t just stick to the magazines you buy. Go to Borders and look at their magazines over a coffee. Checkout libraries, especially including any university that has a strong photography and art program, and look for magazines you might not normally find, such as overseas ones. If you have photographer friends make use of their personal library.

All the above also apply beyond photography. A backpacking magazine could fire you up for some landscape work. A car magazine could have you off trying panning shooting motor sport or a nature magazine could have you shooting bugs in the back yard. You never know what will have something that is the key to advancing your photography or art.

When you read interviews with famous photographers and artists you generally find they are very knowledgeable people, not only about their craft, but also about other things. There is a reason for this. Imitate them.

Every Image Has a Story

When it comes to selling your photography and art there is one great aid. Make sure that you have a story about or involving each image. People love a story.
One of the things that those of us who are serious about making images forget, whether photography or art, is why other people buy images. We are focused on the beauty of the image, or its symbolic meaning or whatever.

So why do people buy art? Well there are, of course, many reasons. Some will buy purely for their own enjoyment, some from a collector’s mentality and others to enhance their surroundings.

No matter the personal motivation, most people who buy art will, in some way, share it with other people in their lives. It may be a conversation with a friend over coffee, down at the gym or while picking the kids up from school or at a dinner party. Describing images is a challenge for most people. But telling a story comes naturally to many. If the artwork has a story attached to it, it makes life much easier.

At gallery openings I have a tendency to watch the artist. I guess all photographers are voyeurs but I find it very enlightening. Many of the artists and photographers that I see doing very well from exhibition sales know how to spin a yarn. As they chat with potential buyers they have an interesting story about every image in the show, “You know, when I shot this…” or “I have to tell you this about this image, I had a proof hanging in my studio and …”. You can see the way it changes how the potential buyer views the work. Now I am sure few are directly thinking “Wow, if I buy this I will have a great story for my next dinner party”, though some will. For most I think that it draws them into a deeper engagement with the work, adds depth and interest and increases the feeling that they just must have that image, that their life will be the lesser if they have to let it go. This same idea holds in other venues than galleries: it is applicable at art fairs and markets, online and in a portrait or wedding studio (helped here by the buyer’s own stories about the images). Obviously the length of the story and how much time you have to tell it needs to be different in these varying contexts, but the idea is the same.

Selling is still selling and it is easy for artists and photographers to loose sight of this about their work. Sometimes people need just one more reason to buy. Make sure you give it to them.