Here are 5 things photography has taught me about creativity.
1. It’s not about the tools. Good photographers can use an iPhone or a Holga—the real tool is in between their ears. And the same can be said of good graphic designers. Sure, you need a solid understanding of Adobe Creative Suite, but you don’t need 500 fonts, all the latest software, and knowledge of every single tool within that software. I’ll take a great designer with a few colored pens and an old scanner over a mediocre one with a desk full of hi-tech toys.
2. Embrace the limitations. When I’m going on a long hike in a national park, I don’t want to bring two camera bodies and five lenses—I need to limit my choices. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s good. When the only lens you have is a 35 mm f/1.4, you tend to focus on the details, and you see shots that you wouldn’t have seen if you had a wide lens for landscapes and a zoom for wildlife. Just like the structure of a haiku or sonnet forces you to be creative, all limitations lead you to do something you wouldn’t have otherwise done.
3. Creativity is problem-solving. Photography is all about anticipating problems and solving them—picking the right aperture, finding the right angle, recognizing the perfect lighting conditions, using a tripod when needed, or attaching a neutral-density filter to keep that sky from turning white. Don’t run from the problems—embrace them and learn from them so you’re better prepared for the next one. And remember, if there were no problems, you wouldn’t be getting a paycheck.
4. Good editing is everything. When my team is reviewing photo portfolios from potential freelancers, we expect all of the photos to be stellar. When a photog shows us her greatest hits, there better not be a single clunker in the mix. If there is, then we immediately know the photographer can’t judge her own work. And that means I’ll be spending a lot of time sifting through those mistakes. The same goes for design—create a lot of options and know when to toss the weakest ones.
5. The work should speak for itself. At a portfolio review at the Palm Springs Photo Festival a few years ago, one amateur photographer showed me a thoroughly underwhelming photo of a grizzly that he was particularly proud of. He explained that he’d captured that photo after days of hiking in Alaska, without a grizzly to be seen. Guess what? I don’t care. A good story doesn’t make a bad photo any better.
When a graphic designer spends 15 minutes explaining the thinking behind a magazine spread and the hidden beauty that lies deep within—yep, you guess it: I don’t care. You won’t be there to explain your design to my readers, so you don’t get to explain it to me. Good photography and good design don’t need any explanation.
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