We commonly think of creativity as something inspired or magical; creative people just get ideas, and act on them. Another way – I think the correct way – to think about creativity is as something that we develop through work. Most creative folks actually spend years developing their skills, and then get ideas based on what they’ve learned.
A simple example would be a potter. It takes time to learn how to work with the clay to get it to the right consistency for a ceramic piece, and time to learn how to work with the potter’s wheel. Then there’s the glazing and firing. A potter must master these skills first; then she can work towards creativity. With the basic mastered, new possibilities in ceramics might reveal themselves.
Even novelists must master their craft before becoming successful. My favorite novelist when I was young, Kurt Vonnegut, spent years in other professions while working to become a full-time novelist, doing publicity for GE, writing advertising copy, teaching school, and even selling Saabs. All that time, he wrote novels and short stories, honing his craft through the 1950s. By the late ‘60s, he found success, but that success came more than a decade into his writing career. He drew much of his creativity, even for his science fiction based novels, from his life experience, both in the army, and in his corporate career.
As photographers, we must also do work before we can become creative. We need to master the basics of photography: ISO, shutter speed, aperture, composition. Then, we need to work on the more advanced skills and techniques: Photoshop, Lightroom, HDR, multiple exposures, and even the basic computer skills like file organization. Then, we can truly understand how to combine – to synthesize – that knowledge into new images. And, we need to understand our own sense of beauty; in order to make a beautiful or compelling image, we need to know what we find beautiful or compelling, and then develop an individual way of translating that into an image. I’ve worked with photographers who find patterns visually compelling, so they translate those patterns into compelling photos. I’m drawn to color, and to well-isolated subjects, so those become the basis for my photos.
Creativity is not a trait inherent in certain people. It’s something we all can develop, with work and time. In short, creativity is a job.