Feeling stuck? How constraint can spark creativity.
If you're anything like me, you'll have no doubt run into a point in your photography where you feel a bit stuck in one way or another. Other creatives may call it writer's block, but it certainly feels the same. You've hit a wall and can't seem to come up with fresh ideas, unique looks or even the motivation to head out with your camera.
It's certainly a simple option to go on the hunt for a new piece of equipment, telling yourself that a new lens or a body upgrade will kickstart your creativity. This is definitely one way to do it, but be careful. Gear acquisition syndrome comes for us all, and it's a slippery slope before you find yourself with every creative tool you need, and still a blank slate.
Instead, consider the gear you've already got. Alternatively, buy a new lens, but stick with it for a while. You may have heard of photographers who regularly go on a single-lens challenge, and this is the reason.
The reason it works-
Creative freedom has a tendency to be paralyzing.
For example, a creator with no time constraints or deadlines can easily fall into a pattern of perfectionism. With an unlimited amount of time to complete a project, it gives the creator an unlimited number of edits, changes or tweaks before completion. And for some professionals, a creative work can never truly be perfect. Much as we dislike them, a deadline forces us to be okay with good enough on the delivery.
If you have all of the tools and all of the time and you could go anywhere at all, what would you shoot? It's difficult to choose when all of the options are available to you. Now, if someone said "Go to the location of your old high school, bring a Nikon D750 and a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 D IF lens," what would you shoot? Your answer probably came much faster the second time.
It's because obstacles and constraints promote brainpower, forcing the mind to work out the inherent puzzle. Instead of trying to narrow down potential options, people instinctively try to find ways to work around the constraints, and many find themselves creatively bending the rules to achieve something different than what was originally thought.
Many creative hobbyists and professionals simply have more equipment than they need. Yes, every piece of gear has its purpose and every one is awesome, but it's not actually necessary to have every camera, lens, accessory and more with you at all times.
This is, of course, dependent on having at least the minimum to do what you set out to do. For example, it'll be hard to shoot wildlife if all you've got is a wide fisheye lens.
First, take a break. You're about to unlock areas of your creativity that you may not have used in some time. It won't be easy, and it may not even be fun at first, but you're going to be happy you tried it. Therefore, taking a breather from your 'stuck place' is going to be beneficial.
Shoot an entire roll of film with one of the following creative constraints. That's 36 exposures for you digital shooters. If you can't get that many, give 24 an attempt.
The key factor here is to apply a bit of pressure to yourself, and stick to it.
Challenge One – Shoot strictly with a single focal length and a single camera body. You might find yourself wishing you had a zoom or an additional lens, but stick with it. By limiting yourself to a single prime, you allow yourself the chance to learn the benefits, downfalls, ins & outs of that particular lens.
Challenge Two – Shoot strictly on film for a week or two if you're typically a digital shooter. This will force you to slow down your process, making every exposure count and keep you from relentlessly checking the LCD screen after every photo.
Challenge Three – Shoot strictly in monochrome black & white. Without the ability to use colors in your imagery, you'll be forced to observe luminance and contrast. It may seem old-fashioned at first, but this burst of surreal fantasy might surprise you.
Challenge Four – Shoot strictly with the use of a tripod. Handheld is fun and fast, allowing you to make quick snap decisions and adjustments. By locking your camera to a tripod for the entirety of a shoot, you're really committing to that composition. This again forces you to slow down and make each shot count.
The cool thing about each of the above constraints is that you'll have receipts. By following through on this kind of self-imposed restriction, you'll have images to review, critique, and maybe find your new favorite style of shooting.
They may not start out great, but you'll improve. Here are a few sample shots I recently took during my own creative constraint session, using a monochrome image setting and a 7artisans 7.5mm f/2.8 Fisheye.
The fisheye look may not be my cup of tea, but I was able to start thinking outside of the box and create some images I wouldn't have made any other way.
Give it a try and share your experiences with us below, or on Instagram at @kehcamera