The number one cause of lousy, uninspired, meaningless, poorly composed, weakly lit pictures is creative laziness. The number two cause is lying to yourself. “Hey that’s not so bad,” you say, but deep down you know— you can and should do better. “I’ll put a filter on it,” you rationalize, “stick it on Instagram, get a few likes— at least it is something.” But adding the latest fad filter simply means that you now have a compositional mess with a new filter.
I practice and teach hard-core creativity in my Creative Seeing fundamentals class. I emphasize shooting the subject from every angle, camera setting, light, weather, and to reshoot until you see that one shot in your camera roll that just burns with emotion. Now you have an image that is worth your time and skill in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
Every successful artist will tell you that until you get in the habit of consistently exploring a subject you will rarely create significant images. This is where new photographers make a big mistake— they do not take enough photographs of the same subject. Long-term practitioners often get in the habit of mailing it in with a vision that needs a serious refresh, because they too do not take enough images of a given subject.
How many images are enough?
Ten, a hundred, a thousand; the number is not important. What’s important is putting in the creative work to produce a significant image that is rewarding for you and your viewer.
When you capture a multitude of images of the same subject (or subjects in the case of thematics) each lens selection, camera position, and use of camera controls allows you to see the subject in new ways. With each squeeze of the shutter, you begin to connect to the subject until you create an image(s) at an optimal visual and emotional level. How do you know when you have achieved that level? If you are honest with yourself, you can feel it and see it on the back of your camera long before you enter into post-processing.
For example, if you are outdoors photographing a flower, consider how to deliver a new point of view with an extended emotional range. You may start by shooting the typical ‘viewer looking into the flower angle’ (it’s what amateurs do). What happens if you shoot from underneath the flower; backlight the flower; shoot from eye level; move back and see if the flower has meaning within a bigger frame? What happens if we bring a stool or ladder to the flower shoot and see this from a bird’s point of view? What happens if we use a very wide angle and touch the petal edges, and what if we explore those same angles and elevations at a different time of day, season and weather atmospherics?
Magic is what happens. Image significance is the result.
Writers rewrite to improve and refine their creative product; singers spend hours in rehearsal; actors go through multiple takes for cinema; graphic artists deliver many design concepts to achieve that final ‘look’ for the visual message.
Photographers need to revise as well and we do that with recapture to extend our creative exploration. We shoot the same subject again and experience new insights. Obviously in the case of a single flower, revision would need to be timely before the flower wilts, or use a new flower. In the case of events, we cannot come back, so we preposition our shooting stance to capture as many points of view as possible, which gives us creative headroom for post-production revision.
Revision is refinement, and that is when visual magic takes root.
Yes, that magic moment can happen on the first shoot, but usually that deep emotional connection needed to produce significant work happens after several attempts. A word of warning here; do not mistake this revision for, “Well if you shoot it enough times you will get lucky.” Revision is not about luck; it is about giving the creative juices in your head and heart time to learn and connect.
Summary for Success
It’s rather simple, capture as many images of the same subject from as many points of view, atmospherics, light, and camera/lens combinations as possible. Next, revise and refine, and I guarantee that you will start producing images of significance.
All it takes is creative work and being true with yourself.