Top Creative Photographers Have 10 Things in Common: Part Two


Creativity is a challenge for all of us. This second article looks at five more attributes that the most successful creatives have. It includes the one most important trait of all.

In the first of this two-part series, we looked at the first five of the ten common habits that top creatives have in common. This second part adds five more and, similarly, includes some simple exercises to help your creativity grow.

6. Spend Time Alone

Solitude gives you time for yourself, and that has been shown to help become creative. Most great artists spend time alone. Sometimes, being distracted can be an annoyance and break our creative flow. However, for many of us, much time is spent dealing with external factors and we never find time to be alone with our thoughts.

Creative Practice Exercise

At least three times a week, find some time for solitude and think about yourself. By that, I mean be totally alone with your thoughts and not distracted by external sources such as your smartphone or camera. Close yourself in a room, go for a walk, or drive without the radio playing. If you are not used to it, at first it is hard to do, but your brain will trigger different neural pathways that fire up your imagination. Keep a diary of your thoughts and things that happen.

7. Using Photography as a Mindfulness Exercise

I have long held that being creative by taking photographs can help us with our mental health. It can take us outdoors into nature, get us moving, help us meet other people (they always come to talk to me just as the sun peeps above the horizon), and concentrate our minds in the present on creating a photograph instead of whatever is troubling us.

Mindfulness is another word for open-monitoring meditation. It is the opposite of daydreaming. It is concentrating entirely on one thing in the present moment. Focusing on our photography and switching off all other thoughts is that kind of meditative experience.

Besides being good for our mental well-being, mindfulness leads to a range of benefits, including improving learning and memory. All these traits have a positive effect on creativity.

Creative Practice Exercise

Head out into the street, or the countryside with your camera, and find somewhere to sit and stay still. Put your camera completely into auto mode and observe the world around you. Photograph things as they pass by. After every ten or fifteen minutes, take away some of the automation, perhaps using aperture priority to start with, then auto ISO, and then switching to manual mode. Finally, turn off autofocus. Think about how your thought processes change as you gradually add more control.

8. Passion for Photography

One of the most annoying clichés I see is businesses declaring they are “passionate about (insert business activity here).” I don’t doubt for one moment that most of them are passionate, although I have seen it used by a business claiming they were passionate about unblocking drains. The guy I called, when he turned up, didn’t seem that enthused.

Blocked sewers aside, I think those businesses are misinterpreting the word.

Think about what passion is. It’s that excitement you feel when you first fall in love, or those shivers down your spine when you attend a live performance of your favorite musicians. Real passion is short-lived. It’s an important feeling to get you motivated and started on the road to creativity, but over time, it is replaced with deep satisfaction and contentment. If you continue to seek that passion when it has naturally moved on, you will be disappointed.

Passion gives your brain a kick with all those feel-good hormones. It’s why so many photographers like buying new gear. Think about the new lens or camera you bought a couple of years ago and how excited you were to receive it. Although you still appreciate how fabulous it is, you don’t feel that same level of passionate excitement as when you used it for the first time, do you? Instead, you buy another lens to get that kick.

Passion is an emotion that needs to be treated with caution. If it doesn’t cohere with your life, it won’t lead to success.

Creative Practice Exercise

Take a few photographs. Then, think back to a time when you were exceptionally happy. Try to remember how it felt, what you saw, and how the world looked to you. Try to induce those feelings and take some more photos.

Does the way you approach the photographs change? Can you see a difference in the images?

9. Intuitive Photography

Intuition is a spontaneous and unconscious thought pattern that gives our conscious mind a strong, instinctive feeling. It happens because the unconscious mind processes information without our conscious self being aware of it. It seems like a sixth sense, but there’s nothing spooky about it.

The most creative people work intuitively. In photography, intuition can help us predict where to point the camera to get the shot. Anyone can learn to be intuitive and mindfulness activities such as doodling, playing a musical instrument, singing, and fast photography, where we don’t think about the shot, can enhance our intuitive powers.

Creative Practice Exercise

Go for a series of walks and quickly photograph things as they catch your attention. Don’t overthink or plan the shots, just raise your camera to your eye and shoot quickly. Over time, your subconscious mind will learn to anticipate what is going to happen.

10. The Most Important Facet of All: Broadening Our Experiences

The most creative people are open to trying new approaches to everything in their lives. They are driven to explore life and have new cognitive experiences.

This might mean trying out new food or visiting different places, but it’s also about varying your routines, meeting new people, and discovering new activities. Multiple research papers show that experiencing new things, above all else, is the biggest driver toward creativity.

In photography, it might mean expanding into different genres, trying techniques you haven’t attempted before, visiting exhibitions of other people’s work, discovering other forms of art, and going to shoot in places you haven’t previously visited.

It also means doing new things that might be unlike anything you’ve done before. Most recently for me, it’s been pottery, tai chi, and ornithology.

Broadening our experiences and being open to discovering different things is about the desire to learn. That has far more bearing on the quality of creativity than one’s intellectual powers.

Creative Practice Exercise

There are countless different activities that we can try. Never have there been more opportunities to learn new skills with the vast array of tutorials available online, and many organizations have beginner taster sessions. Take something up that is unrelated to photography that you haven’t tried before. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you missed the first part you can find it by clicking here. It will be great to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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