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Creative photography

Without creativity, our world would be bland, boring, and lack self-expression. As photographers, self-expression plays a significant role in our reason to take photos, and as I’ll touch on later, expression is a key component of creativity...

What is creativity?

Before we discuss what creative photography entails, I think it’s important to examine the definition of creativity. Creativity is defined as a multifaceted concept that involves our ability to create new and original ideas or solutions that are both novel and valuable.

There are five key aspects to understand when it comes to creativity:

  • Flexible Creation
  • Innovation
  • Originality
  • Problem-Solving
  • Expression

1. Flexible creation

The first aspect of creativity to understand is flexible creation. This is the capacity for you to think about specific problems or tasks in new and different ways.

2. Innovation

The second aspect of creativity is innovation. Innovation is the ability to apply creative thinking to produce something new or improve upon something already existing.

3. Originality

The third aspect of creativity is originality. Originality is the ability to come up with unique ideas and concepts.

4. Problem solving

The fourth aspect of creativity is problem-solving. Problem-solving involves your ability and competence to find solutions to issues that may be complex or challenging.

5. Expression

The fifth aspect of creativity is expression. Expression is the means by which ideas, feelings, and values are conveyed in a way that others can understand, appreciate, or find meaning in.

Now that we know the definition of creativity, let’s apply its aspects to the realm of photography.

What is creative photography?

Creative photography refers to our ability as photographers to go beyond the basic representation of a scene or subject and to express our vision, feelings, and message artistically.

Creativity and art often go hand-in-hand because creativity can be seen more explicitly due to the tools we have available to us. Just as a painter has different brushes, canvases, and paints to use, we also have light, shadow, texture, color, subjects, and composition to play with as a photographer.

We can use all these elements and tools available to us as photographers to evoke emotion, provoke thought, or creatively present our subject. And the beauty of it is that any niche of photography can take creative photos, from portraits to street photography, landscape photography, and fine art photography.

Now, let’s take those same aspects from the definition of creativity as discussed earlier and apply them to photography so we can look at some concrete examples.

1. Flexible creation in photography

Flexible creation in terms of creative photography can be characterized by our flexible use of techniques such as angle changes, selective focusing with shallow or narrow depth of field, creative exposure control, and post-processing choices.

This flexibility allows us photographers to effectively communicate our vision and think about and capture our subjects and scenes in novel and diverse ways.

2. Innovation in photography

Innovation in creative photography is about knowing the rules of photography in terms of lighting, exposure, and composition and then breaking the rules to discover new ways of seeing the world. It’s all about pushing the boundaries of photography in both execution and presentation. An example of this can be seen with double-exposure photography.

3. Originality in photography

Originality in creative photography is similar to innovation, except I believe originality refers more to the photographer's shooting style and character. Once a professional photographer has been shooting for many years, they develop an original style. This can be seen with well-known photographers such as Ansel Adams, Alessio Albi, and Cindy Sherman.

4. Problem solving in photography

Problem-solving in terms of creative photography is found in almost every photoshoot. The problems in photography often revolve around lighting conditions, subjects, perspectives, and compositions.

For example, you can head to a photoshoot, planning to use an off-camera flash, but your flash dies mid-shoot, and you have to then use natural light and position the sun correctly on your subject.

Or another example, you were planning to shoot natural light portraits midday, and it was supposed to be a cloudy day for good soft light, but the sun appeared all of a sudden and in full force. You now have to solve the problem of harsh mid-day sun by finding shade or using backlighting.

And yes, both of these situations are scenarios that have happened to me personally on client shoots!

5. Expression in photography

Lastly, expression in terms of creative photography is one of the main reasons we take photography in the first place. As photographers, we are constantly chasing the photo that perfectly captures what we are trying to express, whether that is joy, sadness, wonder, or curiosity.

Creativity can be seen as the lifeblood of photographers, and it is what drives us to take photos and capture moments. Creativity is what transforms photography from a technical skill of knowing exposure values, f-stop ranges, and ISO values into an art form that has the power to move, inspire, and transform.

As photographers, there is nothing more draining than losing our passion and creativity or getting stuck in a creative rut where we feel like we are just taking the same photos over and over. With that being said, what are some things we can do as photographers to take more creative photos? Well, let’s look at some tips I’ve learned to take creative pictures.

How to take creative pictures?

If you want to take creative pictures, then it’s about combining your technical skills and knowledge with your imagination and willingness to experiment. It’s about knowing the rules and breaking them when the occasion calls for it.

Here are ten steps and tips that I use when I want to capture more creative images than the traditional photos I usually take for clients.

Take note!

If you take photos for clients, I want to emphasize that I often use these tips on practice shoots rather than when I have a paying client in front of me.

If you have a client who is paying for just traditional, clean-looking images like an eCommerce website for product photos or a family just looking for family portraits, then make sure they are clean, traditional images with good exposure and focus.

1. Find your unique perspective

The first tip I have for taking creative pictures is to find your unique perspective. If you have your subject or scene in front of you, experiment with shooting from a lower angle, a mid-level angle, and a high angle.

You can also change your perspective and viewpoint by moving laterally left and right and taking a few steps to either side. Both of these perspective changes will alter the composition and mood of the photo. If you usually shoot eye-level or higher, try shooting lower and vice versa.

2. Play with your light

The second tip I have is to play with your light. Remember that early morning or late evening light during Golden Hour or Blue Hour provides soft light, while midday light creates harsh shadows.

A big part of playing with light is using your shadows creatively. Remember that shadows can add mood, mystery, or drama to your images. They can also act as lines that cut through your scene and can be used to hide parts of your subject's face for creative looks.

If you’re taking an image without a single subject, then the shadow can be used to divide your scene or highlight points of emphasis.

3. Embrace color and contrast

The third tip I have is to embrace color and contrast. Understanding color theory, analogous colors, complementary colors, and monochromatic colors will allow you to impact the mood of your photos.

Warm colors evoke feelings of happiness and energy. Cool colors convey calmness or sadness.

A popular color palette you often see is the complementary colors of orange and blue. If you consistently use a certain color palette, like orange and blue, and you want to be more creative and original, then experiment with a different complementary color palette, like green and red or yellow and purple. Or skip the complementary color palette altogether and make your image a monochromatic color scheme.

You can also play around with the contrast in your image. Don’t settle for a normal contrast setting. Experiment with high contrast to make your image stand out and create a bold statement. Or try a low-contrast look to give your photo a softer, more nuanced look.

4. Use patterns and textures

The fourth tip I have for taking creative pictures is to use patterns and textures in your image. Patterns and textures can add depth, interest, and visually striking images. Close-up shots of textures will allow you to train your creative eye and see things in your environment that you may not have noticed before.

So, while this tip is more for abstract or macro photos, it will train your creative photography eye.

5. Use then break composition techniques

The fifth tip I have for taking creative pictures is to use and then break down composition techniques. Before you can break a rule, you must first know it.

If you don’t know your photography composition techniques, I have a separate guide covering all of them. For example, with the framing composition technique, traditionally, we want to frame subjects fully to avoid cutting off important elements.

You can experiment with breaking this rule by using unusual cropping or framing, such as cropping off the top of someone’s head in a portrait to focus on a specific detail or create a more abstract composition.

6. Experiment with movement

The sixth tip I have for taking creative pictures is to experiment with movement. If you aren’t familiar with the exposure triangle, our creative use of shutter speed is what will allow us to play with movement.

For example, using a slower shutter speed to capture movement will create a motion blur effect, giving our photos a sense of motion. Conversely, using a faster shutter speed to capture movement will freeze motion, creating a dynamic action shot.

Experimenting with either of these exposure settings will allow you to play with your image creatively.

7. Get creative with your focus

The seventh tip I have for taking creative pictures is to get creative with your focus. Similar to experimenting with movement, we can experiment with our focus, but this time, we will use a different element of the exposure triangle—aperture.

Our aperture allows us to control our depth of field. Using a wide aperture will allow us to create a shallow depth of field, which means our focus will be on our subject while the background or foreground is blurred.

If we want to get really creative, sometimes, an out-of-focus shot can convey more emotion or create a dreamlike quality with your image.

8. Post-processing experimentation

The eighth tip I have for taking creative pictures is to experiment with post-processing. Experimenting with color enhancements, filters, or composite images is a great way to explore your creative boundaries as a photographer.

One way I like to get creative in post-processing is to add a lot of grain to my image to make it look retro with that film-type look. Another easy way to get creative in post-processing is to try out different crops. A simple crop change can dramatically change the composition and focus of your photo, as mentioned earlier.

9. Incorporate props

The ninth tip I have for taking creative pictures is to incorporate props into your image. Props are an easy way to add interest to your photos and give you another dimension to consider when composing your scene.

Look for props that will help add interest to your image and further enhance the story you are trying to tell. For example, adding in a hat or another piece that could go with an outfit to spice it up a little:

10. Challenge yourself with photography projects

The final tip I have for taking creative pictures is to challenge yourself with a photography-themed project.

What this does is combine all of the tips I just mentioned into one big photoshoot from start to finish, from the location planning to wardrobe choice to lighting choices, time of day, poses, composition, and editing. This is something I love to do when I am going to collaborate with someone on a creative shoot.

When I think of a concept I really want to capture, my brain starts thinking of how we could capture it and how it could turn out. For example, I wanted to capture a shoot incorporating mirrors with my friend Noite. Knowing this concept or project in mind, I found a location with nice greenery. We planned for an ethereal look with the makeup, the outfit, and the poses.

Having this photography-themed project allowed me to flex some of my creative thinking, which is good practice because I usually shoot traditional photos for clients.

Creative photography ideas

While I provided the tips I use to take more creative pictures, I want to end this guide by providing five photography ideas that are very creative in nature if you are struggling with photoshoot ideas.

Light painting photography

Light painting is when you use a light source like a flashlight, LED light, or glow stick to “paint”  in the air while you use a long exposure time to capture the trail of light. This photography idea is known for being creative in nature, as you can shape the light into patterns, words, or other abstract designs.

Crystal ball photography

Crystal ball photography is when you use a crystal ball or glass sphere as a lens to capture your environment. You can order these crystal balls on Amazon (affiliate link). All you do is hold them up to your lens and then take a photo.

The image will be upside-down, and the crystal ball will act sort of like a fisheye lens, offering a creative new perspective.

Forced perspective photography

Forced perspective photography is when you play with perspective to create optical illusions that alter the perceived size of your subjects. This is often seen when people take photos with the Eiffel Tower when it looks like they’re touching the top of the tower.

This is done by positioning a person far away from the camera, but you align them in the frame so they appear to be bigger or smaller.

Mirror photography

Mirror photography is when you incorporate mirrors or other reflective surfaces in your composition to create a reflection of your subject or to blend reality with reflection for a dream-like effect. You can experiment with your subject's pose and different sizes and shapes of the mirror for different results.

Double exposure photography

Double-exposure photography combines two or more exposures into a single image to create a composite that blends different scenes or subjects together. This is often done in post-processing software, but the two images you want to combine should be considered when taking the photo.

For example, you can take a portrait photo and a landscape image to create a double exposure, suggesting a deep connection between your subject and the landscape.

Pumpkin head photoshoot

Imagine you’re planning an ordinary photoshoot. Now, add a comical twist by substituting traditional props with a pumpkin transformed into a jack-o-lantern.

But the pumpkin isn’t for holding or setting up as a background. It becomes an unusual headpiece, giving the photoshoot its distinguishing name – a pumpkin head photoshoot.

Think of it like wearing an oversized, orange helmet tailored from a pumpkin with a carved face! It’s a playful mix of Halloween-inspired spookiness joined with the cheerfulness of a carnival mask.

Imagine it as becoming a human jack-o-lantern, if you may. This quirky activity promises numerous laughs, fun, and some fantastic pictures.

Person peeking behind corner with a pumpkin head.
Pumpkin head photoshoot example

In conclusion, staying creative in photography is a continuous journey that will challenge you to look beyond the ordinary. While creativity is often about breaking or changing the rules to create something new, I want to emphasize that it’s important you first understand and know how to use the rules.

Remember to try out the tips I use for more creative pictures, and if you’re in a creative rut, try out those five creative photography ideas I mentioned. Ultimately, the journey of creativity in photography is one of personal growth both as a photographer and as an artist. It is a journey that every photographer should embark on and a journey that will never end.

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