A Kick in the Creative Pants

posted on 2nd of march, 2007

The most important advice I have to offer after my decades in the stock photo business about what images to make is listen to yourself. You know more than anyone about why you want to create imagery. Build on those thoughts first. Then see how to make the images more salable. Once the flame is lit, it's easy to turn up the temperature!
True Purpose
Self Knowledge
Today I was with an old friend who is a top creative consultant to advertising and stock photographers. I asked her to sum up in one word her best advice to anyone needing a kick in the creative pants. She answered, "Oh, that's easy. My word is play." I remembered then that she had been giving away buttons that just said "play" at a trade conference a year or so ago. We over think; we over analyze; we take our work too seriously. Then the work is in danger of becoming stilted and far too derivative. The images become formulaic. We try to guess what the market wants more than what we can do best. My spouse says it best, "The hardest thing to do, is to be yourself." So get out of the box!
Businessman looking over
Thinking outside the box
All children can and do draw. Most stop once their work is graded or becomes something they have to do or be judged upon. The sense of play leaves and only a few rare, creative souls manage to hang on to the playfulness that frees the creativity inherent in us all.
Hand Paint
ABC fridge magnets spell Play
How can we recapture that sense of childish creative freedom and still stay within the requirements of a salable image? Try this: Forget for a moment about trying to create images that you think will sell well. Sit down in a quiet place with a pad and pen. Let your mind wander. Write down all the words that come to your mind for a period of exactly five minutes. If you get bored, just let your mind drift for a minute or so and then pick-up some words from that detour.
Woman lying on grass
Review the list of words. Pick the word that seems the most interesting and let your imagination loose to conjure up images based on that word. Forget about whether the images are technically possible or salable. Usually one image will keep coming back again and again. I just did this and found that I kept seeing a man in a red armchair with a reading light shining down on him. I haven't the foggiest idea where THAT came from. The word was warmth. I found a lot of interesting images on Dreamstime with the keywords red, chair, lamp, man, warmth but none that fit my vision. Below are the closest to what I had in mind.
Red chair
Beauty and Brains
So in just a few minutes I came up with an image that could be unique to Dreamstime. And now that I think about it that could be a very salable image if the man was reading or sleeping or even just daydreaming. The cone of light from the reading lamp would make an interesting composition. Now using what you know about salable images, see if you can turn your vision into a much downloaded Dreamstime photo or illustration. Think: Play...Be Yourself...Let it happen!
Comments (17)

Posted by Amyemilia on January 08, 2008
You are so right - the best work comes when I let go and stop documenting and just grab the image that grabs me.
Posted by Sextoacto on November 30, 2007
Thanks for the advice.
Posted by Ellenboughn on March 23, 2007
Hi Carla,
Sorry I missed seeing this until today. Very pleased that you found the blog to be a bit inspiring. thanks for letting me know.
Posted by Korat_cn on March 23, 2007
Hi, when I read this tip I tried to do what you write.
And today I have some images accepted by DT created following your suggestions.
 PLAY word  

It's so difficult finding every day new ideas: thanks for this blog!!

my illustrations
Posted by Msphotographic on March 03, 2007
Great advice. Needed to hear that.
Posted by Plaintiger on March 02, 2007
wonderful job of jogging the ol' perspective. thank You, Ms. Ellen.
Posted by Denisebeverly on March 02, 2007
thank you ellen i bet there will be several shots of a man relaxing in a red chair will show up now!! just for the record i bought some of those magnetic letters to photograph before this blog appeared :)
Posted by Gvictoria on March 02, 2007
Posted by Gvictoria on March 02, 2007
I love these blogs, especially this one, great help when we feel stuck with creativity. Thank you for your wonderful insight.
Posted by Cathysbelleimage on March 02, 2007
Yes ! Something we should remind ouselves often...keep it fun !! thanks Ellen ...
Posted by Ellenboughn on March 02, 2007
i am an overthinker... i have been afraid to venture too far into being creative afraid it will fall into the artsy categories. i understood artistic images were not really stock images the agencies would accept. hopefully this information will help me boost my portfolio[/quote

Not to worry. Like I said, once you light the flame you can always turn up the heat or turn it down if the images get too wild. Go ahead and experiment. You can adjust your future portfolio to what you learn is successful. The great thing about Dreamstime is that you aren't restricted to the just the images that traditional stock agencies would take. The internet has created a great democracy of talent and new ideas in stock photography. Don't be afraid! Jump in.
Posted by Denisebeverly on March 02, 2007
i am an overthinker... i have been afraid to venture too far into being creative afraid it will fall into the artsy categories. i understood artistic images were not really stock images the agencies would accept. hopefully this information will help me boost my portfolio
Posted by Winzworks on March 02, 2007
I look forward to reading your blog and this one really hits home for me. I seem to find that my best images or atleast the ones that I am drawn to are for the most part unplanned and spontaneous. So I will continue to keep my camera close by my side. I am glad that I now have an excuse to keep playing!

Posted by Maigi on March 02, 2007
You made my day.
Thanks! :)
Posted by Littlemacproductions on March 02, 2007
Thanks for the reminder!
Posted by Elenaray on March 02, 2007
Hi Ellen,

I do play hard at my work! I'm always amazed that people download my images since they are often not clean commercial stock. But it seems with digital technology the uses for imagery have just blown wide open. My hairstylist who works in a little shop here in my little town uses microstock!! Microstock is for the people, ALL the people. I think there's like 6 billion of us becoming more connected all the time, and many of us have at least a dollar (or equivalent) to use for expressing our diverse interests.

I'm continually surprised by the creativity of my peers here on Dreamstime. The old traditional business of stock, with the organizational neccessity of analog materials, kept it's doors closed to all this crazy creativity of so many unique individuals. But that was the old days. This is just great and I'm having a blast as I think so many of us are.

Thank you for featuring my work in your article and for your encouraging insights.

Posted by Stuartkey on March 02, 2007
Excellent article, Ellen. Easily my favourite so far. I think many people will find this useful and perhaps more importantly, fun.

Comments (17)

This article has been read 12717 times. 12 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Bellemedia, Elena Ray Microstock Library © Elena Ray, Odelia Cohen, Bobby Deal, Theresa Martinez, Piksel, Joanne Harris, Tomd, Zimmytws.

About me

I have written a about microstock photography released in 2010. I was the Director of Content at Dreamstime for two years ending in Feb, 2009. You can order my book from amazon via my website at www.ellenboughn.com/blog.

Bainbridge Island, US

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