The quest for creativity – Part 1 – Consuming, creating, and limiting beliefs

Education without application is just entertainment.

Tim Saunders

Everyone wants to be a better photographer.

And for every photographer that strives to be better, there are many more people willing to show them the way.

Portfolios, articles, tutorials, documentaries. You name it.

There is now enough photography-related content on the internet to sink several battleships.

And some of it is very good, too.

But is this embarrassment of riches a good thing for photographers?

Well, yes and no…

The pitfalls of consumption

There is no doubt that it is beneficial to look at the portfolios of photographers we admire.

Ditto for that new focus-stacking technique we saw on YouTube.

This is how we learn, form opinions, inspire and express ourselves.

But consuming content can only take us so far.

It’s one thing to understand the theory of focus-stacking from watching a video.

It’s another thing entirely to be able to apply that theory in practice.

A report released last year shows that Americans are consuming over 11 hours of content per day. This is a 36 minute increase over the previous year alone.

Granted, it’s not all photography-related. But it does hint at a larger obsession.

Whichever way you look at it, our addiction to content eats away almost half of the 24-hour day.

Critical functions such as working, sleeping and eating occupy most of the remaining 13 hours.

For those who do not consume content as part of their professions, it is difficult to imagine that they would have time for anything else.

Where does creative photography fit in? How does creative photography fit in?


Create more, consume less

Creativity is where you will reap the true benefit of your photographic efforts. But it is much harder to create than it is to consume.

Why? Creativity carries many limiting beliefs.

Some of these limiting beliefs revolve around the fact that:

  • Creativity opens us up to rejection and criticism. We believe that our work is inferior, or that we won’t be able to handle the criticism of others.
  • Creativity has perceived constraints. We believe that we don’t have enough time, or that we don’t have a good enough camera. Or that we can just get the shot next weekend when conditions might be better.
  • Creativity requires uncertainty. We believe that we won’t be able to adapt. We will go to water at the first sign of trouble, like we did last time. We don’t trust ourselves, or our intuition.


Rejection, criticism, constraint and uncertainty are all rooted in a fear of failure.

The fear of failure is a mighty hard fear to shake, and the veritable glut of content only exacerbates the fear that we are simply not good enough.

The relentless torrent of stimulation promulgated by media, technology and entertainment… leaves us distracted and drained, in a state of fractured attention.

David Ulrich

We develop unrealistic expectations about what we can achieve.

It doesn’t matter that the time we have devoted to improving our craft is woefully inadequate.

Each unsuccessful photography trip only heightens the sense of failure. Our standards reach astronomical levels.

Indeed, anything less than an award-winning shot is a failure.

With such lofty standards, disappointment is inevitable.

At some point, the threat of failure is so high that we deem it far safer to not risk failure at all.

We decide to stay at home and feel the warm embrace of content instead, as the camera gathers dust in the corner.

How can we rise above the noise?

Instead of being result-oriented, become process-oriented.

This is a concept I picked up from Guy Tal, one of my favourite photographers.

(Note: the following is an affiliate link. This is one book I feel that I would have written with another 10 years under my belt. It’s simply superb and if decide you like it, I’ll have a few more dollars to contribute to the purchase of my next lens cap (I have a habit of losing them!))

In his book, More Than A Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life, he writes:

Behold, the results-oriented photographer: perpetually in a state of worry, stress, anger, and jitter. When they manage a “victory”, they are classic case studies for what psychologists call the hedonic treadmill – momentarily satisfied… only to fall back into their stressful unhappy state as they go on the hunt for the next “keeper”.

He goes on to argue that being process-oriented is far more fulfilling than the alternative.

Success is not shackled to the singular, black-and-white, all-or-nothing “keeper” that is so prominent in the results-oriented approach.

Indeed, the joy of being process-oriented is in the process itself.

Imagine your creative process as a train. You are the driver, but you don’t have much say in where you are heading.

(It’s not like you get a choice anyway, you’re on tracks remember!)

The train is simply a vehicle of discovery. You are free to explore your every whim, desire or motivation, and to reflect on the creative insights that result.

In a process-oriented approach, there is nothing wrong with having goals. But the attainment of goals does not dictate whether you are successful, or happy.

Here, we are content to enjoy the ride. The little nuggets of information that we learn about ourselves are the best rewards of all.

Again, you won’t know where this journey is leading you. The creative process does not have a destination.

Nor does it have a terminus. It adapts and changes course, according to the knowledge and experiences you collect along the way.

This is the joy, excitement and surprise of a process-oriented approach.

Creativity leads to fulfilment

Expressing yourself creatively is how you feel fulfilled, not only in photography but also in life.

The fulfilment comes from pushing past your own, self-imposed barriers that might have stopped you aligning with your true self as a photographer.

Ultimately, fulfilment comes from creating something that didn’t exist before.

Before you know it, you find an extra three hours a week to devote to your craft (even though the time was there all along).

What’s more, you’re less inclined to let fear dictate where you go and what you shoot.

You have a new found sense of passion and energy, which helps you resist impulses and stay true to yourself and your craft.


A harmonious balance between consuming and creating is the most effective approach. Like most things in life, I suppose.

In an ideal world, consuming should feed off of creating, and vice versa.

There is nothing wrong with idly consuming content, of course. But don’t let the idle consumption of content consume you!

If there are images to be had, Thomas Heaton’s latest video can wait, as can that re-run of Law & Order SVU.

While consuming content helps you collect pieces of inspiration, it is creation that allows those pieces to fall together.

There is no substitute for doing the hard work of creation. The pieces won’t fall together by themselves.

Creativity, then, is not the path of least resistance, but the path of greatest reward.

The rewards may not be immediate. They may be difficult to conceptualise, particularly at first.

But know that by engaging in the process, you are freeing yourself of limiting beliefs and making room for more constructive, creative beliefs to emerge.

In Part 2, I talk about the process of being creative in more detail. Specifically, how you can use all of those instructional videos and crime show re-runs to really produce something unique.

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