Protecting Your Creative Energy

One of the most useful things I’ve ever learned about photography came from a book titled ‘The 35mm Photographer’s Handbook’ by Julian Calder & John Garrett. I’ve misplaced my copy so I can’t quote directly, but the idea was around the equipment needed to capture specific shots. The gist was, that if for example you attend a football game on an early Sunday morning to capture some in-action shots, the best piece of kit you can bring is a warm coat. I read this book in my teens, and I still remember and use this advice on a daily basis in the studio.

Perhaps that doesn’t blow your mind right now as it did for me, for I am no wordsmith, but let me elaborate. Any work is tiring, even if you love what you do. And as you tire, your standards, your attention, your ability for the work degrades. So anything you can do to conserve energy is going to improve your creative output, plain and simple. Take the above quote for example, how long would stick around to get ‘the’ shot on a cold winter morning? Stood in a local park as your breath condenses in the air in front of you, starting to shiver more intensely as you start to notice other spectators in their warm parkas, sipping from steaming cups of tea from the flasks they so intelligently packed. Maybe you notice the cold stiffness in your fingers as you try to press the trigger. The point is, all the expensive camera gear in the world can’t improve your ability to get the shots you want in that situation, but something as simple (and free!) like an extra layer of clothing can. Mental!

Heeding this lesson and applying it to all areas of my work is something I’ve honed over the years, and it’s made an incredible effect on my workload. One such example which seems so obvious in hindsight, is the small table I used to put my laptop on while I’m shooting tethered, which is always these days. It was at a regular table height, meaning I leant over about 50 times an hour to check my shots. Now I use an adjustable height table on wheels, and subsequently my spine no longer feels like it was donated to me by a nonagenarian. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to take a break from shooting to rest my back, and I shot like this for over a year before I realised this problem had a simple solution. That I could improve my photography work without paying thousands for yet another piece of photography specific equipment. I feel simultaneously like a genius for making such an effective change, but also like a complete idiot for not solving the problem sooner. Perhaps the issue was that I didn’t see it as a problem, until I reflected on the things impeding my creative process, and asked myself directly “How can I fix or improve this?”. Like tripping over a dog-eared corner of a rug every day for months before finally removing it and thinking, “This is great, why didn’t I do it sooner?”.

 

 

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that physical energy is directly linked to creative energy, and so I am saying just that. Creative problem solving should be one of your best features, and this requires enthusiasm and willingness, which come from your energy. Things don’t always go to plan on photoshoots, and all the planning in the world can’t guarantee a shot will work, nor will it necessarily reveal flaws in your plan. And when problems need to be solved, you need to step up to the mark. Because it’s not about ticking a box, it’s about maintaining the quality of the work you have done up until that point, and not half-assing the last few shots because you’re tired and keen to wrap after a specific shot took an hour longer than you accounted for. So any minor improvements you make to your process or set up will accumulate and soon you’ll find yourself powering through your usual mid-afternoon slump.

Not all solutions to things draining your energy are simple, affordable or sustainable (like moving to a larger studio space solve storage/logistical issues), but acknowledging that there are ways to refine your process and remove friction, and then realising how much of a difference these changes can make is a strangely amazing feeling. Or maybe that’s just because my brain runs on productivity dopamine, and increasing my efficiency feels like how I imagine class A drugs do. Who knows?

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