Creativity – can it be taught?

Discussing creativity
The author and his three identical tutors discussing creativity before our next course.

Photography training courses can teach you many things and give you the opportunity to experiment and explore your creative streak but can you be taught to be creative?

The technical side of photography is in many ways the easy bit – learning what the camera controls do and the effects of different settings is a factual thing. If you open the aperture you’ll get a narrow depth of field, if you use a slow shutter speed you’ll blur the action – that sort of thing is basic. Even learning how to measure and control light just requires a little practice.

There are ‘rules’ about composition, perspective, framing, exposure and even subject matter and you need to know them, you need to know what is expected and normal and be able to produce an image that conforms to those rules before you can step outside, after all, rules are made to be broken.

It’s interesting that many camera manufacturers refer to the operating modes like Tv, Av or M as ‘creative modes’ i.e. anything that takes the setting away from the auto settings and puts the photographer in control. Modern cameras are ingenious in their ability to capture images in almost all conditions, it’s possible to point and shoot and get an acceptable picture without really engaging your grey matter at all.

A bit like learning to drive – you take lessons and pass a test (eventually), you’re given a licence and you’re free to head out on the open road. It doesn’t mean you’re a good driver, it just means you’ve learned the basics. Becoming a good driver takes time and experience and perhaps making a few painful mistakes along the way. Things that you struggled with at first become almost second nature over time.

With photography, after time, the operation of the controls becomes second nature as well. You know what to do to create the sort of picture you want. You switch to manual focus, you deliberately over exposure for effect, you look for different angles, you become more aware of the light, you see the picture in your mind.

However to go to the next level – to create images that stand out for their originality and artistic merit takes a creativity that I believe is impossible to teach. Some people have it, they’re born with it, some work hard at it, and others just struggle. It’s the same in all field of artistic endeavour and those with the creative genius inside them always rise to the top.

So where does creativity come from? We are inspired by pictures we see, films we watch, books we read, sights we come across in our lives and to a greater or lesser extent they have an impact on us. We make connections, we see shapes, textures, colours, patterns, light and shade, we may even be inspired by a dream or unexpected flash of brilliance. Everybody has an imagination, it’s just that some have more imagination than others.

Sometimes great shots are as a result of being in the right place at the right time – almost a matter of luck but as the golfer Gary Player** said “The more I practice the luckier I get” you still need to know what you’re doing.

When you look at mostĀ great works of art or memorable photographs, you take the technical expertise as a given – it’s the creative genius that leaves its mark.

Photography courses can give you technical expertise – you’ll have to work harder to discover your imagination and creativity.

** This quote is often attributed to Gary Player, although there is some doubt and various others claim ownership. seeĀ

Creativity – can it be taught?