We live in a world where most of our images are intended for an audience. In this article, I’ll share some ways to circumvent that way of thinking to create simply to create.
At its core, photography is very obviously a creative venture. Social media such as Twitter and Instagram have allowed for a platform where every single image we create has the potential to reach millions of viewers. As great as these platforms are, they stifle creativity because it means that each picture we create almost has this in-built pressure of censorship to be good.
“What if no one likes this?” “Will this get me followers?” “If my audience doesn’t like this, I’ll lose followers.” Falling into this mindset can be daunting.
The task is simple. Set yourself a location and a time and go out and make pictures. Don’t think, just "find" images you see around you and snap them.
I was taught this technique by a mentor who did this over the course of a few days while staying in a hotel room. As you can probably imagine, there isn’t a whole lot of visual interest inherent in a hotel room. So for him, it was a lot about really honing in on what was there in a way which he saw the world. Personally, when I did this I attempted it around my local neighborhood and only spent about an hour or so on it.
This exercise isn’t so much about a specific camera or settings; you can do it on your phone if you want. The point is to make as many images as you can find within the framework you have assigned yourself. Don’t think, just shoot.
Once you are finished with photographing, it’s time to curate your selection. Again, assign yourself a set amount of time to do this; about thirty minutes to an hour is great but do what works for you. I have done this exercise both digitally and by printing small, cheap copies of the images just on legal/A4 paper and doing it manually with physical prints. There are pros and cons to both but if you have access to cheap printing, then definitely do try that method first.
You don’t have to keep everything you have photographed. You are allowed to make a tight edit but aim for maybe 8 to 12 images. The way to curate your work is to find images that may go together in a series. What are some commonalities between images or groups of images? Are there images of similar colors? Or are there images of similar shapes or compositions? Did you create visual narratives which go together?
Once you are finished, think of presenting the work. Maybe make a little magazine? Or think of how the images might be displayed on a gallery wall. Are they all going to be the same size? Color or black and white? Really just make it look as good as you can. Or something completely different.
I should re-iterate that this is more or less strictly a learning exercise. You don’t have to show the work to anyone or put it up anywhere. It’s more about the process of having done it.
By photographing without planning or thinking, you get a real sense of how you perceive the world around you. And then by curating and reflecting on your images, you are better able to define what your style is.
It would be remiss of me to suggest this exercise and not do it myself. Or rather not show that I’ve done it myself. From this exercise, I learned that there is a certain simplicity to the forms present in my images. Also, I use color sparingly for emphasis. These things are present in the images I create which are meant for public display, such as on my website (or even the cover image shown at the start of the article).
I did make a bold claim of finding your style with the title of this article. That might not happen in one go. Or it might. But you’ll certainly be further along than you were without having done this exercise.
What are some things you learned if you’ve attempted this exercise?