(Please Note: this section and those that follow concern the photography of the project. Concerns with writing introductions, essays and captions (the text) are in a different section.)

Real creativity comes when a photographer-

  • investigates a subject of interest, and
  • develops a project or story around that subject that reflects his or her personal “take” or appreciation, and
  • recognizes the significance of any given scene to advance that story, and
  • captures that scene in a way that reflects his or her understanding and appreciation of the subject’s story, and
  • recognizes the additional information needed to fully realize the telling of the subject’s story.

The rest of the process- the entire rest of the process- is devoted to presenting the results of the project. Nothing more and nothing less.

Just to be as clear as possible about this, real creativity is not something that is “done to” or “added to” or “applied to” a photograph in post-production. It is baked into whatever your project is from the inception. In the end it is what directs and drives the project.

There are all kinds of “step programs” that have been put forth to help folks initiate and organize their “creative process”. Some have as few as four steps and at least one has 22 steps. But in the main, there seem to be five phases or periods of creative development that the photographer, and hence the project, will go through.

Notice that there is a change here- it will no longer be referred to as the “creative process”. “Process” implies a number of preset steps that you follow and, at the end of the “process”, you have your project all tied up in a nice, neat package with a pretty bow on top. Sorry.

From here on it is called what it truly is, “creative development”.

The first phase is the genesis. This is the phase in which you develop the kernel of the project. This is the idea phase. It is the “what if…” or the “how about…” or the “wouldn’t it be neat if…” stage. This stage may last only five minutes or it may last days or weeks while you figure out exactly what the idea is.

Once you think you have it figured out, write it down. This helps give the idea shape and makes it real. When the idea is ‘only in your head’, it is perfectly formed and immensely doable. When it’s on paper, the shortcomings become evident and can be addressed before moving into the next phase. Remember, if the shortcomings evident at this point aren’t addressed, they will be harder or possibly impossible to fix later.

Keep in mind that “The idea” is not always about “something new”. It can be about seeing something in a new way or taking a different approach to the subject.

Next is the development phase. This phase includes refining your idea and doing all of your research. If your project is your child’s fourth birthday party you probably won’t have a lot of research to do but if it is the architecture of your town’s downtown area or photographing the Founder’s Day activities celebrating the town’s sesquicentennial, you might have a considerable amount of research to do.

In this phase you need to be very open-minded and follow where the research leads you. This is when you start looking at all of the options that are available to you. You literally start thinking inside the box, outside the box, above the box, below the box, etc. You are not selecting final options here, just looking at all of those available to you.

Project development is followed by synthesis in which you try to narrow all of the options down to the approach that will guide you through the actual photography of the project. Some refer to this as the “ah-ha” moment.

But it’s not really...

What a number of writers would have you believe is that after you have come up with the idea and have done the refinement and research, you can go off and do all kinds of other things and the synthesis will be forming in your subconscious. It’s there, in the background, magically creating your project. And then BANG! On a Saturday morning at 9:37 it hits you… you’re outside mowing the lawn… and there it is… the long awaited answer to how to approach the entire project. And it’s just so perfect! It can only work!!