The Art of Creativity

Is Structure Necessary for Creativity?

Art feels like something full of spontaneity, but the most successful artists are those who structure their time. See how this applies to photography here.

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When you think of creativity, it feels like it should be something random and spontaneous, something that is born out of a moment’s inspiration. And, there are times when random creativity leads to groundbreaking art. I would argue, however, that the majority of creativity comes not from spontaneity, but from structure. You see, a lack of structure leads to things like uncertainty, wasted time and other issues that are detrimental to productivity. Here’s a brief list of the problems and questions that arise when you have not structured your art:

  • You don’t know how your final images will turn out, which leads to hesitation.
  • You’re uncertain how much time you’ll need to complete a project, which leads to never starting the project.
  • Is your subject material good material? Questioning your choices leads to inaction.
  • You don't have a plan for a photo shoot. Without organization and detailed planning, you may not capture the most important images of the day.

Now, perhaps, you are starting to see where a lack of structure leads to trouble. But just how much trouble? Let’s tackle a few of these issues to show you how structure leads to more creativity.

How Will My Final Images Turn Out?

This is one of those vague doubts that has haunted every photographer since the beginning of the art form. So many small things will make a difference in your final photos, from lighting to post-processing tools, photo paper and more. The best thing to do is to plan each detail of your process.

For instance, if you’re planning an outdoor shoot, take along lighting equipment just in case the day turns cloudy. Structure the way that you do your post processing so that you can do it efficiently — and, of course, make sure that you have all of the post-processing tools you think you might need before you take the photographs. There is nothing worse than frantically searching for Photoshop plugins at the last minute.

Even details that seem minor, like photo paper, can make a difference in your final project. If you truly want to leave nothing to chance, you’ll choose paper before you start taking photographs. After all, prints can look entirely different on different types of paper. When you know what you’ll be using, you’ll be able to take photos accordingly.

How Much Time Will This Take?

Imagine yourself on a Saturday morning. There you sit, pondering whether or not you’ll have enough time to pack the camera equipment in the car and head of on a photographic excursion. The problem is, you don’t know where you are going off what you will be doing, so you don’t know whether or not you’ll have enough time. With these doubts, you sit down on the sofa and spend the day watching TV rather than pursuing your art.

This is where structure becomes vital. Sit down and plan your project, start to finish. Plot such items as learning your subject material, thinking about how long it will take you to set up your equipment or drive to a destination. Make estimates for how long photographing and post-processing will take. Once you have a plan, you can break the elements of the project apart and more easily fit them within your schedule.

Is My Subject Material Any Good?

Here is one of those questions that is impossible to answer. Or, perhaps it isn’t as impossible as it sounds. After all, all subject material is valid as long as you have your own way to turn it into something original and artistic.

If, however, you still have doubts about your subject material, build time into your schedule to study it. Look at similar work by other photographers, spend time studying your subject, and maybe even schedule experimental sessions so that you can take test images of your subject. When you examine your own test images and the work of others, and when you get to know your subject, doubts in your chosen subject will start to fade away.

Another way to look at this is the old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Schedule yourself enough time to practice with your subject before you take the final images.

Is Your Photo Shoot Structured?

The photo shoot itself is where structure and organization is most necessary. Whether you’re photographing landscapes or attending an event, you’ll need to have a plan to make sure that you’re taking the best photos that you can without missing opportunities. Here are some examples:

  • Have you planned for every piece of gear that you think you may need? This includes not only your camera and lenses, but tripods, lighting equipment, filters, supplies to clean lenses, extra memory cards, weather gear and more.
  • Have you been monitoring the weather? This is essential for any outdoor shoot. Don’t take any chances and plan for any possibility that the weather can throw your way.
  • What about scheduling shoots within shoots? If you’re attending an event, think of it like several separate events that each need equal attention. A wedding, for instance, has several parts — the rehearsal, the pre-ceremony preparations, the ceremony, the reception and more. Each of these “sub-events” should get equal attention. Photos of a show of conference won’t tell the whole story if you miss important speakers, contests or other happenings throughout the day.

These are just three instances of the things that you’ll need to organize. Through these things, you can see just how important structure truly is to photography. Without structure, you’ll find yourself underprepared for the day ahead, which means that you’ll spend more time trying to make up for your lack of preparation and less time taking photographs. And, of course, fewer photographs leads to fewer opportunities to capture something magical.

If you’re a photographer, then the wise choice is not to rely on random bursts of inspiration. Instead of waiting for creativity to happen, make it happen by structuring your art.


About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will has been creating photographs and exploring his surroundings through his lens since 2000. Follow along as he shares his thoughts and adventures in photography.