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creativity

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Pre-visualisation can be a straight jacket

Pre-visualisation can be a straight jacketIt's good to go to a shoot with an idea of what you want to achieve. Pre-visualising a shot is a valuable skill and can lead to some amazing work, especially for a technically skilled photographer. But it can also be a straight jacket. You leave the shoot with pictures that you hope will give you the raw (pun intended) materials to make the pictures you pre-visualised. So when you click through those pictures you're looking for signs that they've got the characteristics you wanted. You reject shots that don't support the idea in your head. If you're very diligent you'll process the winners at this point, publish them and archive away the shoot.

But sometimes, if you can make the time to go back to those pictures 1 month, maybe 2 months later you'll find gems in there that you didn't see before. You'll look at the pictures with different eyes. You won't have that pre-vis straightjacket on any more and hopefully you'll be able to look at the pictures with a clear head - seeing what's good and bad in each on its own merits. Once you can do that you're free to take those RAWs in directions you didn't intend and a whole new kind of art can appear. Some art is made, some is discovered. Most is a little of each.

Above is an example from my recent work. I've been getting as much practice in as I can with portraiture and studio lighting. I attended (rather than taught - for a change) a lighting academy run by Will Cheung, editor of Advanced Photographer magazine, and run by the company that organises my own workshops, Welshot Imaging. We shot 4 different models during those two days - you can see my "keepers" from this workshop in the Gallery - and this shot above was one where we were set up for a dramatic type of light. On the day I saw it as black and white without realising quite what I had in mind. I processed the images from the workshop during the following week and published all the winners. This shot never made the publishing cut because it just didn't look right and I didn't know why.

I've shot a few more model sessions since then and on a whim I was looking back through previous shoots and suddenly it struck me what was wrong here. This was clearly a film noir shot and I'd missed out some of the glow and lighting emphasis needed to make that work. A little tweak in Nik Color Efex Pro and Lightroom and voila - a shot I couldn't see before is now something I'm pretty proud of.

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Why the internet is devaluing art and how it's YOUR fault

I just read an article from the LA Times website where Robert Levine talks about how the internet devalues creative work and it got me thinking about how this applies to photography. I have to conclude that I agree with Robert on that hypothesis but not on much else of what he says.

It's simple supply and demand really. There's much more great work being produced for much less money now. In short, you people are getting too good at taking petter pictures and processing them to a professional shine. This is as a result of the rapid educational possibilities of the internet and technology advances that have put in the hands of the masses the same creative tools that were formerly available only to a few. And, shock horror, it turns out that there were loads more talented people out there who previously wouldn't have had the education and tools needed to produce competitive quality work.

Ironically Photoshop is a great example of one such tool. Look at the amazing wealth of superb quality photography on Google+. Even 5 years ago the typical standard of photography I saw online was markedly lower than it is today. And tools like Photoshop are partly responsible. People have always had talent but, today, more than ever in the past they also have the knowledge and tools they need to produce the images they envisioned.

My worry, though, is that Photoshop is returning to being a tool only for the 'elite'. I got a lot of feedback for my article Wave bye bye to Photoshop. Most of that feedback was agreement but of the few that disagreed the majority were basically saying,

"Photoshop *should* be expensive because it's a professional tool and there are lesser tools for the plebs who can't afford the good version".

In essence they were saying that because they could afford it they quite liked the idea of locking everyone else out - everyone else can use the less good tools that produce less good results. This is plain and simple elitism of the most unattractive kind.

The joke is on Adobe and the big media content producers, though, because this problem is going to solve itself. If Adobe don't sell a product that people can afford then smaller, hungrier companies like MacPhun, Coppertino, Realmac Software, Pixelmator and many others will just steal their lunch. The same is already true for the creative work producers. Big stock agencies are already feeling the pinch from micro stock sites like iStockPhoto. And in the music world too with millions of independent producers making and selling music direct to their fans without ever signing a record deal. Google Music is all set to capitalise on that gold rush.

The message for Adobe, Hollywood and the big content producers is simple. Make your product available to people where they want to buy it (online) and make it affordable. Cause one thing is for sure - we masses aren't going to go back to making crappy quality work. The competition is here to stay.

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Are you a creative person? Really

Being creative means being able to conjure an idea out of nothing. Doesn't it?

"Rebellion is the root of all creativity." - @SallyHogshead

Back when I entered the workforce with my 3rd class degree and a very limited idea of what I was good at I took a personality test. You know the sort - the ones where you read a bunch of statements and say how much you think each one is like you. One of the traits measured on that test was "creativity". I scored pretty low. This fit with my belief at the time that people were either science types or arty types and that it was nigh impossible to be both. Creativity was, obviously, an artsy person's trait. We scientists dealt in cold hard facts. 

To me creativity meant being able to invent something totally new. I knew that scientists always stood on the shoulders of giants and built on each other's work. I thought no idea could be truly creative if it was inspired by something someone else had done.

I hope the folly of my very narrow view of creativity is already apparent to you. It has taken me the last 20 years to slowly change my view to realise, first, that it is possible to be scientific *and* artistic. In fact I now realise that *most* people are both to some degree. But most importantly I've learned that creativity is so much more than just looking at a blank piece of paper and being able to pre-see the drawing you want to make on it. 

Creativity is quite simply the desire to create something - even if it's based on something you've seen by someone else. The very act of trying to recreate someone else's style is a creative act. By playing with a technique or approach you learn how it's done and in the process you inevitably put your own stamp on it. Maybe from there you find someone else's style that you like and work on emulating that. You learn a load more skills, but you don't forget your earlier ones. Without even thinking about it you combine the skills and styles of both and again you add a generous seasoning of your own taste and interest. Even just copying is a creative act. And of course the same is true in science and technology as well. Building on the work of others, adding to their ideas or refining them are all creative acts. Ironically, when I started my career as a programmer I was entering one of the most creative of all "science-types" professions. And I didn't even know it!

"Rebellion is the root of all creativity."

I saw @CC_Chapman tweet this quote by @SallyHogshead and my first reaction was to disagree. It suggests that to be creative you must buck the ideas of others and come up with something new. But I'm probably being too narrow minded again. Perhaps just wanting to create something, anything at all, is a small act of rebellion. What we're really doing when we create something is putting our heads above the parapet and trying to change our little bit of the world. Sounds like rebellion to me.

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Is a camera club stifling your creativity?

Camera clubs can be an incredibly positive learning experience for new photographers. Suddenly you're surrounded by experienced people who are only too keen to show you what they've done and talk about how they did it. Horizons suddenly expand and you find yourself with a wealth of new ideas to try and teachers to help you. But there can be a catch.

Experienced photographers are often still there to learn but it's also a wonderful forum for showing off their work and hanging out with like minded people. And if someone has done particularly good work (or if they're a great self promoter) then sometimes they can become a club "star photographer". Usually they're lauded and looked up to by the other members. Sometimes they become club leaders or competition judges. And of course members often try to emulate the star photographer's style in order to learn. But this is where it becomes tricky because members might start to compare all work with the work of those stars and pretty soon other styles are out of favour. Before you know it the club has it's own house style that is fashioned after that of the star members. In extreme cases you have to emulate that style in order to do well in club competitions.

This club behaviour isn't stupid or malicious. It's just an emergent property of having people wanting to show their work and others wanting to learn. It's natural but it's important for club leaders to see what's happening and encourage diversity. The same problems occur on photography websites and other photography communities as well. We all want to be the best photographer we can and we all want to have our own personal style. Emulating the work of people we admire is a big part of how we learn and how we develop our style but just try to be aware of your influences and be choosy about what parts of those you keep for the future. And if you feel you're getting stuck in a rut or your photography is becoming more of a responsibility than a pleasure then strike out in a new direction. Try something completely different to what you've done before. Show your club mates something they've never seen from you before in so doing challenge them to appreciate different styles and approaches.

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