Where Does Creativity Come From?
Photography is both an art and a science. One the one hand, there's the whole question of how to produce a well exposed competent image that doesn't accidentally cut anything important out of the frame. On the other hand, there's the question of creativity.
Modern cameras are amazing devices. They can help make difficult technical problems much easier. Calculating exposure was once quite difficult. Modern cameras can be told to do it automatically. There's no question but that the continuing advances in camera technology have made photography easier with each new generation of camera model that gets released.
But no matter how good your camera is or how good you are at using it, it can't be creative for you. There remains a role for the photographer themselves. Cameras can't yet point themselves at the ideal subject and take great images all by themselves. And even if someday they could they will never be able to make creative decisions by themselves. Cameras these days are basically computers, and computers live and die by their programming. Yet the word "creativity" refers to the ability to go beyond traditional rules and ideas. If you hold any illusions that cameras improve creativity, they don't. They can't. No matter how smart cameras get to make the science part of photography easier, they can't do much to help with the art side of photography. That's where you come in.
There are countless books available on the topic of photographic composition and creativity. I've written at length about the topics here on Earthbound Light. So is creativity something that can be learned? Is creativity something "out there" that you can gain more of by learning about it? Well, not really.
All that writing and reading about creativity does serve a purpose of course. It would be cynical to conclude otherwise. All those "rules" of composition do serve a purpose in that they give us a common vocabulary to describe at least some of what makes for good composition. And being better able to describe what you are after in terms of composition makes it easier to conceptualize the process so you can think about it rationally. All those rules can provide a tested series of pathways through which creativity can be expressed.
But attempting to make good compositions by more closely following all those "rules" can't really create good composition since creativity specifically means the ability to go beyond those rules. The only way to go beyond the rules and actually be creative is to take matters into your own hands and be creative. Creative composition has to come from you. Your camera and all those rules and guidelines are just tools for you to use, but it's you that matters.
So how do you get better at composition? How do you become more creative? You have to become more in tune with yourself and with what is around you when you're out with your camera. There's no other way. You have to break down the barrier that separates you from what you're photographing. You have to experience your subject and its environment. You have to become immersed in it. You have to become part of it so you can actually see it as it is.
In my experience, many aspiring photographers try too hard to be creative. Not knowing how else to approach the problem, they try as best they can to follow the "rules." Rather than becoming more in touch with their subject, they work at becoming more in touch with the rules. In a way, it's the rules themselves that become the wall that stands between them and their subject. The rules become the problem rather than the solution. As I've said already, I'm not suggesting that all those rules serve no purpose. But they can become a distraction for some.
If you're interested in creative composition, it's only natural to think about how to go about it. If you care, you're going to think about. All those rules and guidelines for better composition can serve as tools for expressing your own creativity in the same way your camera is a tool. But you have to keep things in proper perspective. All those tools should be in service of your creativity rather than you attempting to follow what they say to do. If your camera says to do something that you know isn't the best choice, you disregard what your camera says. In the same way, you shouldn't let the rules of composition become more important than your own experience and what looks good to you.
Always remember: creativity comes from you.