What is Creative Photography?

Let’s face it… when you talk about creative photography, the field is wide open. Some may consider an abstract out-of-focus photo as being creative, while others may consider it to just another excuse to call a bad photo “creative”. So, before we begin, we should take some time to talk about – What is creative photography?

The following is my definition of creative photography:

Creative photography contains an extra element (or elements) that are intentionally used to improve the photo from its original state.

This definition contains two important aspect that differentiates creative photography from everyday photography.

Extra Elements – Extra Element(s) lie outside the normal photographic process and are open to interpretation. They can involve a simple workflow that a photographer used to capture that unique look of a photo. Or they can be a complex post-processing technique that was used to bring out the mood and textures in an image. The key here is that the extra element has to be outside of the normal photography workflow.

Intent – The use of these extra elements should be intentional. The lack of photography skills does not automatically give a photographer a creative eye… it only makes the photographer inexperienced or ineffective. Similarly, just getting the exposure perfect in the camera does not make a creative photo; however, intentionally underexposing for purposing of creating a dark, moody image does make it creative.

Landscape Photo of Sunrise at Mana Islands, Fiji

Mana Islands, Fiji

The composition and exposure of the image (above) from my recent trip to Fiji is perfect, but I would not categorize it as a creative photo. Why? Because I did not use anything outside my normal photography workflow to capture the image. I relied on the location and light to capture this landscape photo at the right time and used my post-processing skills to bring out details and colors in the image.

Example of Creative Photography at Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

Now compare it with the shot of a sea shell from the same trip. This photo was taken in harsh midday light, with a shallow DOF, and with a sea shell that was placed using the rule of the thirds. The purpose of this image was to make the viewers dream about gorgeous blue skies day on a beautiful island.

I will be the first to admit that not all of you will agree with my definition of creative photography, but this definition does give us some way to differentiate creative and non-creative aspects of photography.

Developing a Creative Workflow

Now that we know the definition for creative photography, just how do we go about being creative?

This is not an easy question to answer because, unlike the technical side of photography that be mastered by following specific workflows, there are no clear workflows for being creative. This is what makes creative photography challenging. It’s also why many photographers find photography to be a lifelong learning experience. While you can master the technical side of photography, the creative side often requires you to come up with something new to accomplish your goal.

While I can’t give you an exact step-by-step creativity workflow, I can tell you that, for me, careful observation and out-of-the-box thinking have proved indispensable in capturing creative photos. Here is example of what happened on our Fiji trip…

Photo of a crab on Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

I was out one afternoon trying to shoot the crabs that were hanging out on the island. What I really wanted was to fill my frame with the crab… and at the same time, create an interesting photo. I started out selecting the right subject. After waiting and watching for about 20 minutes, I soon found the perfect crab. He was bright red and stood out against the grey rock, especially compared to his “siblings”.

Photo of a red crab on Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

Now that I had the right subject, all I need was to improve the composition by removing the distracting elements around the original photo (other crabs, rock face)… then I would be set. But when I looked at the image, it looked rather dull and boring. Technically there was nothing wrong with the image, but it did not require anything outside the normal photographic workflow to capture it… and it’s rather ordinary.

Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

I soon noticed that the incoming tide was making the waves crash just behind where these crabs were hanging out… and every once in a while, a big wave would wash over them. What if I was to time my shot and catch the crabs just as they were hit by the wave?

  • Creative Photography Example 1 of red crab at Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

    Eat my bubbles!! – Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

  • Creative Photography Example 2 of red crab at Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

    I have a creative Eye – Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

  • Creative Photography Example 3 of red crab at Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

    Who turned off the lights? – Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

  • Creative Photography Example 4 of red crab at Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

    Crabstract – Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

This bit of extra element was enough to add details and a point of interest to my image. Once I saw the first of the images…I was hooked. I captured several shots ranging from crabs just under water to crabs playing peak-a-boo with the sea foam while keep an eye on me. This was clearly an improvement from my initial shots of some boring crabs sitting on a rock.

As you can tell from my experience, the creative process is often very situation-specific and conformed to what worked while shooting the crabs. The next time you want to capture creative photos, put on your thinking hat and ask yourself this question:

What can I do differently?

You may just come away some interesting shots and have fun while you’re doing it.

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About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams