Photographer Richard Altman shares his 7 top tips to improve your creativity as an individual and photographer. These are as important, if not more important, than the technical tips you have read in the past. Richard Altman has been a guest judge on ViewBug, checkout his selections in the Flock of Birds Photo Contest and Photography 101 Photo Contest.

Below are Richard's tips along some images from ViewBug members we feel showcase creativity in a unique way, enjoy!

Serious photography, the kind showcased on ViewBug, is a medium for the personal expression of a photographer’s vision. Everything from selection of a subject to presentation of the final image represents the efforts of the photographer to realize their vision. If you think about it, once we figure out how to work our cameras, the remainder of our relationship with photography focuses on how to apply our ever-evolving technical and aesthetic skills to express our vision. This sounds simple but serious photographers know how hard it can be to actually do. As a matter of fact, many serious photographers will spend the greater part of their lives working to get their images to match their vision.

One of the key elements in crafting and executing your photographic vision is creativity. Each of us is creative in our own special way. Each of us is also responsible for discovering, developing and learning to express our creative gifts in ways that are meaningful to us through our photography.

Here are 7 Tips that can help you improve your creativity and photographic vision.

1. You are creative in your own special way: Discover your gifts and develop them.
Your attitude and beliefs about your own creative abilities will determine how creative you become with your photography. We are all endowed with the ability to be creative, but if you go around saying you are not creative or don’t do anything to develop you abilities, it’s not likely you will be expressing yourself in creative ways through your photography.

You need to believe you have the ability to be creative and commit to developing and practicing your creative skills. Making pictures is fun, and digital technology makes it so easy to explore and play with different ways to capture a moment. Take advantage of this digital feature to discover and develop your vision.

2. Discover what inspires you and learn to express it.
We are the only ones who can really discover what “inspires” us, what gets us energized, engaged, and passionate.

What makes us want to grab a camera and start shooting?

Answering questions like this is an inside job and it may take time to resolve. Some of us find our passion at an early age while the search for others can take awhile. Most of that time “searching” is really spent stripping away all the garbage that keeps us from acknowledging what we feel in our “gut”. Once we discover and acknowledge our area of creative interest, we need to learn how to channel it in ways that are meaningful to us. Photography is a great tool for creative expression. Your interests or passions can attract you to a subject, and your camera becomes the instrument for your creative exploration.

You can show yourself and others how you feel, or what you’re thinking about a subject as you make your images. Your photographs are like stories you tell yourself. You can learn a lot by looking at your body of work.

3. Advance you skills and domain knowledge.
If you have a feel for what inspires you, put yourself on a mission to learn the technical and aesthetic skills needed to express it in a meaningful way. Assemble the required gear if resources allow. Or, be creative with what you have and get to work playing with your ideas. All of the photo skills we learn form composition and lighting, to shutter speeds and lens selection, become tools that can be used creatively to help bring our vision into reality. This also includes exploration of the relatively new discipline of post processing images which involves a comprehensive set of tools ranging from the simple to the mind boggling.

Since creativity is a process of making unique connections between existing knowledge and experiences, expanding our knowledge of photography and other subjects of interest is important. Explore photo history and study the lives and work of photographers you admire, and a few you don’t. Also spend time exploring other disciplines outside of photography to increase the opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas. There is no shortage of content on the web to stimulate your thinking and spark your imagination. Just be careful you don’t overwhelm yourself into inaction.

4. Put aside your expertise and “adopt the beginner’s mind.”
This may sound like a contradiction to advancing your skills and domain knowledge we just discussed, but they actually work together. This little quote explains how:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki

Think back to your first photographic experiences. Can you recall how you felt when you first picked up your camera? Do you remember the excitement of having a tool in your hands that enabled you to capture and share your view of the world? Can you look at your world and your work with child like curiosity and open mindedness? Or have you become methodical and predictable because of the skills you have acquired and what you know? The beginner’s mind can provide fertile ground for a fresh and creative approach to what has become routine.

5. Art and creative expression are not necessarily the same.

Creative expression can show itself in lots of different ways, through a career, a sport, a hobby, and of course, photography. As soon as the word art is brought into the mix, we get caught up in a specific kind of creative expression that carries with it a set of cultural issues.

If you want your work to be “blessed” as fine art and appear in fine art publications, galleries or museums, you will need to follow a course of action with that as your goal, unless your work is “too good to ignore” and you “get discovered”.

I would say that all art results from creative expression, but not all creative expression is art. Unless you have put yourself on the art path, focus on creating your own original works, and then if the art thing emerges as an option or becomes a goal, so be it. But don’t let the comments of others deter you from pursuing the expression of your vision.

That is a great way to tee up the next tip.

6. Protect your creative energy.

Bottom-line, certain people, including some fellow photographers, can be a nasty bunch when it comes to commenting on photos. Many times the most critical are those who are the least open to creative expression. It’s guaranteed as you venture down the path of creative expression you will encounter critics that can, if we let them, derail or destroy the creative quest, just as there will be those who are encouraging. Part of sharing our work is receiving feedback. Most of us are sensitive to what our parents, teachers, mentors and friends have to say about our creative expressions. It can get personal. Exposing work that is meaningful to us, only to have it trashed, can leave emotional scars and dampen our creative spirit.

Listen to trusted people’s comments, and be as objectively as possible. Consider what you feel is constructive, and let the rest go. Protect your belief in your creative abilities despite how others might unconsciously or purposefully try to depress, or destroy them.

7. Creative expression is part of living a healthy life.

I believe that engaging in some form of creative expression is part of living a healthy life. The specific activity doesn’t really matter. It could be cooking, playing music, drawing or photography.
Participation in a process of creative expression that captures our imagination, or challenges us to solve problems, leaves us feeling energized. The entire process can be more enjoyable if we keep ourselves in good physical condition. We use our bodies as we make our images so keeping in good health is actually an important component optimizing our creative potential.

You have most likely experienced a time when you were so involved in your work you lost track of time and disregarded hunger and fatigue. You were in “the zone”, feeling energized, enriched and fulfilled.

Maybe this happens when you’re taking pictures or working in the digital darkroom. Expressing our creative energy is a personally enriching experience that nurtures our spirit.
Make your photography an enriching activity that supports your health and well being. Be careful about turning something that is personally enjoyable and enriching into a business. Running a photography business and doing photography for creative expression are not necessarily the same.

To learn more tips, visit Richard Altman's Creativity Unboxed.

© 2015 Richard Altman All Rights Reserved