Never Run Out of Creative Ideas

_MG_0004-3-Edit2         Remember when you first fell in love with your work?

At first it was novel and then it was overwhelmingly passionate, as if it was what you were always supposed to be doing with your life.

It felt effortless, self-propelling, completely expressive and free flowing.

So what happened?

The Honeymoon Stage

Did you dive in eagerly to an endless knowledge-base?

Did you absorb everything you could get your hands on?

Did you spend time testing and practicing a wide variety of techniques to better hone your skills?

Did you burn yourself out?

Hold on, it gets better.

Dental Plan/Lisa Needs Braces


Did you start work with some friends/family first?

Did they spread the word to others who wanted your work?

Did you start charging for your work and feeling like you might make this happen?

Did you start taking gigs that weren’t exactly what you wanted to do with your passion?

Did you start taking more and more of these gigs to pay the bills and continue doing your “dream job”?

Do you feel even more burned out and unfulfilled?

When did you first stop and ask yourself,”Why did I want to do this again?”

I Used To Be Creative… What Happened?

You started taking orders again.

In the 9-5 workforce, it’s set up that you go in and wait for orders.

From your boss, clients, co-workers, managers, etc etc etc.

You can even get orders from a predetermined task list that solely exists to give you them in case someone isn’t there to do so.Advertised

This system is ingrained in practically every industry in the world and we are taught and trained via recrimination or patronization to do nothing of our own volition without permission – yet we are also “encouraged” to use our own initiative at work, although action should not be taken without again, first getting permission.

Could this be any more confusing?

Could this be any more restrictive?

Alternatively, when you first started your craft, one of the greatest things about it was that you needed no permission from anyone but yourself.  You came up with the ideas to explore and craft into reality.  You were only limited by the boundaries of your imagination.

The problem occurs when we start bringing those boundaries in because of the restrictions our clients make or our media makes or our gear makes.

Anything that restricts the limits of the creative process is detrimental to the process.

See Mike Flop

I’m going to let you see into my creative flop.

How I lost sight, vision, creative juices, passion and drive.

How I started taking orders again and turned my dream career into another job – and how I got it back.

I took a gig I really didn’t want to do.

I knew the people involved, it was for a good cause and the money was decent.

Then more arrived.

Some batches of shoots for holidays, families, children, grads – all perfectly good sessions with some incredible people.DELETERS-2

But not really what I want to shoot as a creative photographer.

Then I started to get smart.

I started to streamline my sessions – I could shoot a dozen different clients in an afternoon with diverse images for each without pause.

But it still wasn’t what I wanted to do for a living.

It wasn’t creative – it was predictable.

There was no incentive to go beyond – my clients loved their images as is.

I felt my work was repetitive and derivative.

I saw work from colleagues that were dynamic and always pushing the limits.

I couldn’t understand how they were always coming up with new stuff and yet my creative vein was choked cold.

How could this have happened?

You Get What You Focus On

Glamor photographer Sue Bryce once said:

What you are getting is what you’re focused on. When you think you’re not good enough, you aren’t. When you’re focused on all the reasons why not, you won’t. There is not struggle; it’s choice._MG_0127

My focus shifted away from my imagination what it could do for me and my work.

I slowly started focusing solely on what little I thought my gear could do, what limited settings I had to work with, what few types of clients I had to serve locally, what limited types of sessions I knew I could execute in my sleep.

Do you hear a theme here?  I had already put a list of restrictions on my work because I was ignoring the very first thing I had learned in creating anything.

To imagine.

Imagination Has No Limits

During a quick conversation with friend and fashion photographer Brent McCombs of AlterEgo Photography, I was asking him questions regarding work, appealing to clients, getting gigs and he said:

I’m not sure what to say, other than to make images that no one else makes. When people see those and want that, they *have* tad-Exposureo hire you.

At first I thought this was obvious, Brent makes some of the most inspiring and stellar images you will find out there.  But what I came to realize is that Brent doesn’t shoot for anyone but Brent.

He dreams big and he gives himself permission to not limit those dreams – then he executes it.  And he keeps getting better.

Here are the steps I should have been following all along:

  • Step 1 – If you could create(sometimes I think draw) anything you could imagine, what would you create?  No limits!!
  • Step 2 – Now for each idea, hash out the logistics of building it.
  • Step 3 – Organize logistical steps.
  • Step 4 – Execute.

I knew these steps- especially the first one, it kind of goes without saying that you couldn’t be creative without an imagination right?

But what was I doing?  I wasn’t creating anything because I kept skipping the first step!

I simply went straight for the logistics, putting my focus on my restrictions – no wonder I couldn’t dream up dynamic, eye-popping work!  I was starting from the position of “I can only do this…” instead of “If I could do anything…”.

Metamucil for Creatives

If any of you have taken Metamucil, you know how well it works.

Switching my focus back to idea creation with a mental note to ignore all external issues/limitations worked better than a gallon of that orange-tasting, Draino for humans.

Within 10 minutes I had over two dozen new and diverse shoot ideas – just off the top of my head._MG_0004-4-Edit

They ranged from dark and sinister to surreal and dreamlike, composite, commercial and character pieces, alternative and striking fashion/glamor profiles and even a few humorous(and some twisted) photo storyboards.

I was invigorated and rejuvenated!

My brain, out of habit, would pull me towards the logistics of each idea I created.  I refrained from allowing it until the creative process was complete.  I knew I could figure it out, even the most daunting shoots, so I wasn’t going to worry about it right now.

I still had two questions: how long would it last and how can I work for clients if I’m cutting them out of the process?

Blending of Two Worlds

To answer the first question, my creative ideas are still coming to me as fast as ever and it still feels effortless.  I will let you know if this ever changes, but I’m not anticipating it to unless I slide back into my old habits again.

Which leads us to the last question.

I completely believe this process works for creating your best work and a diverse variety of it.  With regards to working for clients, I suggest first calling it working with clients, and to keep this in mind throughout the entire work process so that you don’t fall into the old “waiting for permission” habits of taking orders.

Secondly, remember to start your work from the unlimited realm of your imagination.  There will be requests from clients and I suggest that during the creative process to take only those requests that color the theme of the work.

Need an example?  Here goes:

Client: Hi, I love your work, you must have an expensive camera.

You: Yeah, thanks. *insert frustrated sigh here*_MG_0065-Edit

Client: Well I would love to get you to do some work on the Spring line I’m putting out.  I really want the colors of the fabrics to pop and the photos to show how slimming they are on the models.  I have a variety of dresses that need images and range in length and style.

You: Okay, sounds fun.

You then go into the process of pricing, contracts, production etc etc etc – or hold off until after you come up with some creative beginnings.

So when you go to dream up some dynamic shot ideas for your client, simply color your thoughts slightly with thoughts of or relating to “slim”, “color”, or “length”.

Maybe you will set the shoot among thin vertical tree trunks, a multicolored fence or a cast iron gate.  All relating to one or several of these client requests, they don’t overwhelm or dictate the creative process and they were just the first thoughts that came out of your imagination!

Well, they came from my mind – but you get the idea.

What can you come up with yourself?  In more than a minute?  An hour?  A day?  A week?

So start with dreaming without limits, with either personal or client work.  Stop focusing on your limitations until you have to get down to the logistics.  Give yourself permission to choose what will be.  Color it slightly with whatever external two-cents come into play, but remember to be the one who dictates how those two-cents are spent on your creativity.

Because no creative wants to run out of new and exciting ideas, take orders all of their lives or lose their passion – with this, you never will.



Michael Carty


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