How To Break The Rules & Unlock New Creative Possibilities

Stuck? Experiment! How? Try this.

List all of the rules of photography. Then break them. 

Doing this will offer two profound benefits. 

One, you'll develop a better understanding of and versatility with the medium.

Two, you’ll deepen your understanding of your personal goals and voice (vision and style).

If an experiment fails to produce interesting results, you’ll have proven confirmation that what you’re doing is working for you. If an experiment succeeds by producing results that are exciting to you, you’ll develop a new relationship with the medium and maybe even find a personal breakthrough. 

Often you’ll need to try an experiment more than once. Try each experiment long enough to see whether they’re working or not; many of these things won’t feel natural at first.

I recommend making this kind of experimentation a lifelong practice. No matter how accomplished you are, discoveries await you.

Here’s a list to get you started …


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Reversal / Do The Opposite – It’s The Most Powerful Way To Innovate

Day / Night

Looking for something new? Do the opposite of what you normally do. Use the power of reversal; it’s a powerful strategy used by countless creatives. 

The principle of reversal is similar to the photographers’ 180-degree rule. You shoot in one direction. You’re so focused on one thing you don’t see all the other possibilities around you. You force yourself also to look 180 degrees in the opposite direction. You discover new vistas. It’s a good habit. Extend this. Identify the ways of seeing you typically engage. Now list other ways of looking and try them. You’ll quickly discover new ways of seeing that will reenergize you and make your work more vital.

Our minds are conditioned to think in terms of opposites, so ideas for reversal come easily to us.

On – Off

Dark – Light

Day – Night

Vertical – Horizontal

Up – Down

In – Out

Active – Passive

Moving – Still

Dynamic – Stable

Whole – Incomplete

Repaired – Broken 

Full – Empty

Some – None

Many – One

Altered – Unaltered

 

Full / Empty

Try putting a prefix of un or anti on any word (even if the results are not in the dictionary), and you’ll instantly find a different perspective. Then reverse that perspective. Inverting twice doesn’t always return you to the same point. New things can be gained in translation.

The possibilities are so limitless they can be overwhelming.

Break the challenge down into useful chunks. 

Physical Processes

You can make reversals in your physical process. 


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Every Picture Tells A Story … But How Does It Tell It?

Visual stories can be simple or complex, quiet or dramatic, short or long ... the possibilities are endless.

Even in abstract images things happen, at the very least formal elements interact.

Sometimes stories are told with images through their relationships with other images.

Every picture tells a story. Every picture? Every picture!

Even abstract images tell stories. The stories they tell are not about their subjects. By definition, they don’t have subjects. Or do they? They have themselves. So they tell stories about themselves. They tell stories about the things that make them – color, line, texture, shape, proportion, etc. How all of those things relate is a drama of form.

How many kinds of stories are there? There are scientific stories that tell us what things are and how they work. There are historical stories that tell us how things were, how they changed, and what they’ve become today – some even speculate about how things will be tomorrow. There are emotional stories that tell us how people respond emotionally to things. There may be more kinds of stories, but these are the big ones. When it comes to images, the stories they tell are usually only about a few kinds of things. The images themselves. The things images contain. The processes things go through. The feelings people have in response to things and processes. The concepts created through interpretation. Things: Nouns. Processes: Verbs. Feelings: Adjectives and Adverbs. Concepts: Abstract Ideas.

So if every picture tells a story, one way to determine the strength of an image is to ask, “How strong is the story?” Put another way, one way to improve your images is to tell stronger stories. A story doesn’t have to be big or dramatic to be strong; it just has to be told well. Tell stories strongly. Tell them with stronger form; tell them by more clearly delineating actions; tell them by disclosing emotional responses more passionately; tell them by inspiring us to find the bigger picture beyond each picture or group of pictures.


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How To Use Metaphor To Make Stronger Photographs

Zoomorphism animates and connects these images.

 

Photographs can often be well-crafted transcriptions of their subjects and nothing more. It’s usually that elusive ‘something more’ that makes great photographs, elevating them beyond craft to art. How can you bring more to your images? One way is to use a guiding metaphor.

What is a metaphor? In language, spoken or written, a simile implies a shared quality (This is like that.), while a metaphor states that two things are the same (This is that.). When a metaphor is used, it’s understood that poetic license is being taken. A metaphor isn’t used to create misinformation and confusion, it’s used to emphathetically draw attention to shared qualities.


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Three Keys To Analyzing Images – Content, Form & Feeling

1 Realistic images emphasize content.

2 Graphic images emphasize form.

3 Expressionistic images emphasize feeling.

4 Impressionistic images may evoke content, form, and/or feeling.

 

Making verbal statements about visual images can be challenging. But, it’s also very useful. Learning to make useful statements about images can help you clarify the type of work you’re looking at or making. It can help you identify an artist’s intentions, including your own. It can help give you direction. It can help you improve your images. It can help you develop projects and predict outcomes. It can help you more effectively communicate with others. When it comes to appreciating and making images, words can be very useful. You don’t need to have a degree or be a professional writer to use words well. Sometimes, a few simple words can end up being the most useful – especially if they’re the right words.

One useful way to comment on images is to discuss three important and related aspects of images - content, form, and feeling. While all images have these dimensions, you can describe the kind of image a work of art is based on how it weights these three concerns. 

Here are several types of images that weigh these concerns differently.


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How To Discover & Develop Your Visual Voice – A Talk With Photographer Matt Payne

Recently, I had a great conversation with Matt Payne (FStop & Collaborate).

We talked about …

  • My journey into photography and how I differentiated myself as an artist,
  • The difference between what art “is” and what it “is about,”
  • Discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary through photography,
  • Finding our voice as artists (and is that even a thing?),
  • And a lot more!

In bonus content, we discuss studying creativity, ways to do it, and how it has helped me as an artist.

Listen to the bonus content on Patreon.

Find more of Matt Payne’s great content here.

Three Ways To Tell A Story More Creatively – It, I, You

Using words can help you find new perspectives that can be translated into images. How? Tell a story, from at least three different points of view – it, I, and you.

First, tell the story in the third person (it) as a distant observer – “Just the facts ma’am.” 

What images are needed to tell your viewers a complete story about your subject?

This perspective tends to be more objective, emphasizing facts and linear timelines so you do more research. It values clarity, balance (all sides of a story), and completeness (the whole story). It tends to avoid metaphor and stylistic distortion. It’s rarely the easiest way to build empathy for you subject. Be careful not to keep too much distance from your subject and find ways to make your viewers care.

Next, tell the story in the first person (I) as an involved participant – “How do I feel?” 

What images are needed to tell your viewers the story or you experience with your subject?

This perspective makes it personal and so draws your viewers closer to you by helping them to live vicariously. This viewpoint can become highly subjective and opens up a lot of room for interpretation. It can become like a journal. In translating this to images you might include the traces of things you do and leave behind or even yourself. (Go ahead and stand by or with your subject but be careful not to leave your subject behind.)

Finally, tell the story in the second person (you) as if you were the subject – “How does it feel to be you?” 

What images are needed to tell your subject’s story from the inside out?

This perspective encourages empathy, initially in you and later in your viewers. You can move deeper into this perspective by asking, “If I were you I would sense, think, and feel …” It might seem strange at first to do this with inanimate subjects – like rocks or buildings or roads. Remembering what it was like to be a kid playing these kinds of games will help you a great deal here. (We all know how creative kids can be, so have fun and play a little.) This perspective may encourage you to photograph from different perspectives; get closer or further, lower or higher, or turn around and photograph what your subject might see. Often, this voice will help you discover the most unusual perspectives.

 

Read more in my Storytelling resources.

Learn more in my Creativity & Photography workshops.

Why Defocussing Your Images Will Help You See Them Better

It’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

We’re capable of seeing a lot of detail. Sometimes detail is distracting. Eliminating it can help us see fundamentals more clearly.

1     Frame an image.
2     Defocus your lens enough to lose sight of details.
3     Refine your composition by moving the camera or zooming.
4     Refocus.
5     Expose.

You can also do this with existing exposures to better see distracting elements that can be made less distracting or removed altogether.

Images that contain well-rendered detail without a solid compositional structure often appear cluttered and confusing. Develop the habit of slowing down and taking the time to make sure your compositions are as strong as they can be.

Find more resources on Composition here.
Learn more in my digital photography workshops.