Recently, I had a very interesting conversation with one of my coaching clients (let’s call him Jake) about creativity. Jake shared with me that he’s made a very good living doing real estate photography, including making a six-figure income over the past three years. To do that though, he’s shot multiple houses a day and quite often, shooting at least one day on the weekend; and while his decision to outsource his editing a couple of years ago made his life much easier, he’s still very tired! He came into coaching with the expressed desire to slowly start moving into shooting for interior designers.
So, I assigned him some homework aimed at gauging the type of shooter he aspired to be. For most of my coaching clients, this particular assignment is a lot of fun because they’ve never really thought about what types of images get them excited and going through the homework usually ends up making them feel more hopeful, if not purposeful, in moving toward their desired state for their photography and/or business. For Jake though, the assignment was a struggle. After exploring the reasons why, Jake shared that his ultimate fear about approaching designers was that he didn’t think he was “creative enough”. When I asked him why he believed this, he said that, after years of shooting corner-to-corner for his real estate work, he didn’t think that he had it in himself to be creative enough to shoot in other ways and certainly not creative enough to find the detail shots/vignettes that he presumed most interior designers would be looking for.
So, our session turned to exploring certain beliefs around the question: What is creativity? Jake and I ended up having a very provocative discussion on the topic and I found out that he had certain stereotypes about creativity and, it was those beliefs that were actually getting in the way of him moving forward to achieve his goal.
I thought that examining some beliefs--perhaps even myths--about creativity would make for an interesting post. So, here goes:
Myth #1 - Not everyone is creative. Generally speaking, this is the belief that I think truly limits a person’s capability. Indeed, whether it be a senior manager in a corporate setting trying to figure out ways to have her division become more profitable or a real estate photographer who’s trained himself to believe that shooting corner-to-corner is all he can do, I believe, with every fiber in my being, that everyone has some level of creativity, even if it’s just a spark that happens every now and then.
Myth #2 - Unless you’re doing something completely original, you’re not truly a creative. This is the belief that was most getting in the way of Jake achieving his goals. Creativity is not relegated only to those who can take a blank canvas, so to speak, and use it to paint something that no one has ever seen. If you look at a landscape painting and think to yourself, “I wish the artist had painted a few small birds flying off into the distance, in the top-right corner of the painting," then that shows creativity. In our line of work, finding a unique shot is going to be extremely difficult. That said, creativity can come up for us, in many ways. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of walking into a room and having a “gut feeling” that there was a great composition to be had there. Well, that gut feeling--and you can call it intuition or instinct--is creative thought. It doesn’t have to be an original thought for it to be considered creative.
Myth #3 - Creative thinking is all that’s required for creativity. Thought, without tangible execution, is simply thought... it’s mental gymnastics... Cirque de Soleil in your head! Creativity has to be manifested somehow. In the previous section, we talked about having a strong gut feeling that there was a great composition in a given space. Well, guess what? That gut feeling can’t be used as a shot on the agent’s listing! It’s up to us to make that thought a reality, in the form of a usable photograph.
Myth #4 - A positive, calm environment is essential to being truly creative. Hogwash! As the old-saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Sometimes, the stress of needing to meet a deadline and/or customer expectations is what causes us to look at things in a different way, which in turn, prompts a creative spark. One of the great stories in the history of product marketing happened with the soft-drink, 7-Up. In the late-60s, sales of the lemon-lime soda were lagging well behind the long-time industry leaders, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. A top advertising agency (J. Walter Thompson) was hired and given a deadline to present a new campaign. Advertising industry folklore has it that this advertising team was struggling and, with just a few days left to develop a campaign, literally had nothing developed for the client. Late one night, after days of trying to come up with ways that showed how 7-Up was similar to the cola giants, someone on the team asked how it was different. After a bit of back-and-forth, someone called 7-Up the “Un-Cola” and, with that, one of the greatest advertising campaigns in the history of 20th century marketing was born!
I hope this post has been helpful to you--especially if you’ve been recently feeling stuck, creatively. I also hope that you will use the comments section, to share a story of how you came up with a creative solution at a shoot, as it might inspire others to come up with their own creative solutions in future!
Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.