What are differences between a good and a great picture or photographer? Does the better photographer see different things or does he see differently than the average guy with a camera? For the most part every photographer, has the opportunity to discover the same great scenes that allow to create a great image. But a great difference lies in utilizing the full potential and even furthermore. Knowing your craft let’s you create good pictures out of mediocre situations, but creativity takes the picture on the next level and is the factor that differentiates your images from the ocean of mediocre well done pictures.
Knowing your craft
The first step in creating outstanding photos and boosting your creativity actually has nothing to do with thinking outside the box. To translate your ideas into pictures you first have to learn the craft of photography. Mainly the rules of composition that allow you to create relatively pleasant pictures on an ease. These design rules are no secret. You probably heard of them before and thought that you don’t need them because “creative freedom” gives you the right to ignore all the rules and do it your own way. Contrary to that believe you have to confine yourself to the rules first and follow them religiously.
Applying simple rules like aligning leading lines with the subject or placing the main subjects after the rule of thirds is the absolutely basic premise to create good looking images. Although there are a lot of photo rebels out there that justify their mistakes by the freedom of art, you should always know your craft before going into detail and breaking certain rules. Learning photography therefore might be no different than any other craft in the beginning, but through this learning period you build your fundament to truly express yourself through your images later on.
You can also learn more about the basic rules of composition in my article: The basic rules of composition.
Leaving the comfort zone
Let’s assume you know the basic rules of composition and you are able to apply them very fast on the street to create good pictures steadily. So far you didn’t need a lot of creativity to create pleasant images. You just played by the rules and that is good enough. But now you want something more, you want to create your own style and sense of photography, heading in a direction that is more suited for yourself and less “generic”.
Humans are creatures of habit. The most time of our day we aren’t even present in the moment, because we exercise daily routines that don’t our attention. Do you remember vividly how you brushed your teeth this morning or did the laundry or any other mundane task? You probably don’t, because our mind just skips these very standard procedures and they are too unimportant to require our full attention.
If you are doing Street Photography for some time now, you probably have your favorite spots where you got some of your best shots too. I wouldn’t want to forbid you to enter these areas, but if you want to create new pictures I recommend you to explore new areas that are totally different from your comfort zone. Try to explore places you haven’t been even though they seem not very photogenic.
Changing these routines and discovering something new makes you more aware of your surrounding. It helps you stay right in the moment instead of your thoughts wandering somewhere else because you have experienced this adventure before. Think of it like a travel experience. A lot of Street Photographer I know prefer to travel to take pictures. The results often times affirm their love to travel and their photographs are a lot better when they have the opportunity to explore new places. So why not take the travel experience to your own city?
One step to more creativity is to leave the routine at home and try something new that requires our full attention. We have to think of new ways to take pictures and can not rely on past decisions or locations where we can get good photos. Instead we have to start from zero and are able to get completely new pictures.
Make yourself a Prisoner
Street Photography has become very stale in the sense, that there is a lot of repetition and you see the same kind of pictures over and over again. Reflections, shots through windows or silhouettes are very present. Don’t get me wrong I do like these pictures too and there is a reason that they are so popular. But Street Photography offers a lot more opportunities for great pictures.
If you want to stay away from these type of images you could restrict yourself the next time and write down a list of pictures you don’t want to take. It might be contrary to the freedom that is always preached in Street Photography. But these restrictions force you to take pictures that aren’t bound to your forbidden list.
Think about being a prisoner in a cell for the longest time of your day and the only goal for you is to escape. Even though you are very limited in your options, some can come up the most creative ways of making the impossible possible. The time they are investing and the restrictions they face make them come up with solutions that people outside these walls would never register.
At first you might think you are lost on the Street when your list of forbidden items contains a lot of pictures that you would have taken any other day. Maybe you go the first hours without taking any picture at all, but creativity also comes from boredom. The longer you are out there without any success at all, you are going to try to come up with very different ideas that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Even going multiple days without a picture isn’t unheard of, especially when you try to come up with something completely new.
Apart from the general mindset that I explained above and the background knowledge about creativity, here comes a list of practical tips to instigate your creativity.
There is no right or wrong
Throughout our lives we get drilled to have the right answers, solve tasks correctly and feeling that there is only one way to solve a problem. It starts at school where we are forced to do things a certain way and every deviation will result in lower grades and continues in our work life.
In photography there is not one right way to photograph a certain scene. You are advised to follow certain rules, but apart from that you are free to create your own story. Don’t step into the fallacy that there is only one way to take a picture that is “right”. Take multiple pictures, work the scene and analyze what works for you.
Try to make abstract connections of totally independent objects. For reference have a look at the “Walk the Line” series by Siegfried Hansen where he continues geometrical lines with the support of the background or different layers.
As you can see the connections can be anything you can imagine and don’t necessarily need to be your typical “street” subjects.
Be Curious about everything
Curiosity leads you to totally new paths, not only in photography but in life. Whenever you encounter something you don’t understand, or want to know more about, don’t hesitate to learn more about any subject. In photography there isn’t a photo “too difficult” to recreate for you. Study how your role models took your favorite picture and you will be able to take similar shots yourself.
Absorb quality Photos
By absorbing I don’t mean analyzing single pictures into oblivion, but to have a look at a lot pictures, until you can’t distinguish them anymore and you can’t remember single pictures by detail. The advantage of this mass consumption will be that you won’t be tempted to copy single images.