We are all familiar with the common mantra that “creativity knows no boundaries” and while I whole-heartedly agree, I have also found that I can pull myself out of creative ruts by imposing limits on my creativity. Sometimes boundless freedom to photograph whatever I want leaves me almost paralyzed; I don’t really know where to start. When I challenge myself to create something with a few constraints my brain takes it as a challenge and produces work I might not have otherwise been able to create.
I discovered how much I liked limits while on a road trip about a year ago. I am the typical Mom in the front passenger seat for the ride. My husband drives and I hand snacks back to the kids and occasionally try to referee a fight. It gets pretty boring after a while.
So on this particular trip, I pulled out my camera to look at photos I’d already taken to try to pass the time. I glanced out the window and saw a beautiful sunset and thought I’d try to capture it. But before I could get my camera settings ready to go-the scene had changed and there were trees in my way. I was annoyed I had missed it, but realized I wasn’t going anywhere (seeing as how I was strapped into the seat and all!) so I sat with my camera and waited for the scene to change again. And sure enough, as a few minutes later we were in a clearing and I was able to capture this:
I was hooked!! Hooked on seeing what I could capture while I had all these constraints, or limits, placed on me:
- No.01I was in a box.
A literal box with wheels. We “creatives” always want to do things out of the box-but this exercise really pushed me to create while in a box.
- No.02I was strapped in.
I absolutely forbid you get out of your seatbelt to try to get a shot while riding in the car. I don’t care if you pass by a unicorn sliding down a rainbow-DO NOT take your seatbelt off.
- No.03The scene changes every second...
so it’s a rush to try to capture what you want before you’ve passed it by.
- No.04You are shooting through your window.
That creates another layer of challenges because you have to determine whether you want the side mirrors in your shot or the darkened top of the windshield visible-it makes cropping and composing more difficult than normal.
- No.05For me, I was shooting unfamiliar subjects.
Until this point, I had only taken portraits of my children. I had never shot a landscape and had no real desire to. So taking photos of the world passing my by was really a giant step outside of what would normally inspire me to pick up my camera.
So with all those limits, I found I was really forced to use my creativity in ways I typically didn’t. I started looking for things to photograph other than just the scene itself. I started using those trips in the car to focus on color, shapes, lines, textures and patterns. So many options opened up to me when I imposed limits on my creativity.
Here a few examples of when I focused solely on lines:
These are from my study on color:
In these photos, I was trying to see how many ways I could capture the clouds:
And here I challenged myself to photograph the atmosphere:
If you find yourself on a road trip over the holidays, do yourself a favor and keep your camera accessible for the ride! This may be my favorite article that I’ve written because I absolutely LOVE to take these types of photographs. You will learn so much by giving yourself creative limits.