A few months ago I wrote a contributing article for the Clickin Moms Blog. I thought I would re-post it here:
About six months after I made Click Pro, I had an idea for a photo. It was inspired by an area under our house that is covered by our back porch. The porch covering and storage area underneath creates a similar situation to shooting in a garage – I wanted to maximize the inverse square law shooting my son playing with bubbles. But when I set up the shot, I made a mistake and set him too deep in the shadows. He wasn’t that into it and so I only had a few minutes to shoot. By the time I realized my mistake, he was over the scene and I had to give up. It was one of those times I was extremely frustrated by my mistake, chastising myself for not setting it up correctly the first time. A few days later I tried a simpler shot again, in that same area, just to prove to myself that I could work with that light.
It was right around this time that I became a podcast junky. I was listening to the Chase Jarvis podcast when he started talking about this thing called the Creative Gap and defined it as this: “The term ‘creative gap’ is a way of describing the difference between what we as artists can visualize ourselves creating and what we actually create. Sometimes we nail it and the gap is nil. Other times, as you might imagine, there’s a huge disparity and the gap is wide.”
For some reason hearing a definition for what I was going through made me feel better. As I continued on my photography journey and encountered the inevitable stumbles, I now had a mantra in my head to get me through – “no big deal that’s just the creative gap – I need to work harder”. It’s almost as if my mistakes weren’t mine anymore, they were the creative gaps. Calling my mistakes the creative gap instead of my mistakes took the pressure off me and made me want to work to bridge the gap instead of berating myself.
No matter where we are in our journey; beginner, emerging expert, or pro – we are all striving to close the creative gap in one way or another. The fact that you are able to identify a creative gap existence in your photography journey means that you are pushing yourself and constantly learning. Instead of being frustrated by it, we should celebrate it.
As I listened to the podcast that day, I immediately started reminiscing about specific photographs that required multiple attempts to successfully achieve what I had aimed to create.
I had the idea for this photo when my kids were playing with the hose one afternoon and I caught one of their reflections in the window. The next night I recreated the scene and started snapping. I was unhappy with the results and ended up bribing my kids the next two evenings so that I could take it again. I played with different lenses, different apertures, different focal points, and different times in the evening. The hardest part about this photograph was that I needed the light to be bright enough to catch her reflection, but not so bright that the sky above was blown out. Needless to say, by the time I got what I wanted, my kids were a little burnt out on this!
The following photo was achieved on my second try. The light in this one is coming from a west facing window. The first time I attempted it was early afternoon and the sun was a little too bright coming through, making it difficult to achieve good skin tones in post processing. The next day I tried again around mid-morning when the light coming through the window was more subtle and I got exactly what I wanted:
The photo below took two nights to achieve and about 20 times of my little one walking up those stairs! I used a plug-in lamp with a shade that is circular and open at the top as my light source. The first time I took the photo I realized that the bulb was not giving off enough light to create a contrast between the shadow and the wall. The next day I went to Home Depot to purchase a stronger bulb. Then, we tried again. I leaned the lamp against the railing of the stairs to the left and stood on our landing to take this photo. I played with my positioning, the lamp positioning, and even changed which hand my son was holding his elephant in. In post processing I ended up flipping the photo to make the composition stronger.
When I analyze the photos that took several attempts to achieve my vision (aka creative gap photos), there are two specific elements that make or break the photos; the light and a genuine expression with the subject. Often times the genuine expression is nailed on the first try, but the light is not. When I go back with a better understanding of the light, the genuine expression is harder to achieve.
But, nailing what I deem “the creative gap photos” is not the most important thing. In fact, most of my creative gap photos are not my favorites. I can almost see how hard I was working to make those happen. The most important factor is the fact that I was trying. When I am bridging a creative gap photo, I am in the zone; always looking and analyzing light. I am doing the work and continuously learning.
The best thing that happened while I was working hard to close the creative gap on certain photos was the other photos that felt effortlessly captured around this time. By working on the fundamentals of photography on a daily basis, I was poised and ready to capture a photo when all the elements came together.
Some of my favorite photos were achieved on the first try often without my kids knowing. The one thing all of these have in common is the fact that amidst these photos I was working hard to bridge the creative gap on another photo.
So what can you do to bridge your creative gap? Get out of your head and GET. TO. WORK. Below are a few ideas to get you in the zone of bridging your creative gap.
- Shoot continuously. Ideally this would be every day or every week. Yes, I am talking about a 365 or 52 project. This is a large undertaking but is so worth it! The difference you’ll see in your work is astounding. It is difficult at first, but as you continue on the journey you’ll notice success happening more often and as they say, success is addicting. Here are a few tips for taking on this project.
- Give yourself plenty of grace. By this I mean try your best, but don’t be too hard on yourself. You are not going to achieve portfolio worthy photos every day and that is okay! I aim for one portfolio worthy shot a week and then the rest are solely for documenting purposes or practicing different techniques.
- Let light guide every photo. A great photo is no longer great if the light is not right. So before you press the shutter button, ask yourself these questions: where is the light coming from, what type of light is it, and can I position myself better to make the most of the light? Light is everything in photography.
- Edit regularly and store your photos somewhere that you will be able to see your progress. Don’t let your photos sit on your camera or on your computer. Edit them daily or at the very least weekly so that the editing process doesn’t become a burden. Then store the photos somewhere like flickr or use the app Project 365. Seeing those beauties will keep you motivated.
- Most of us in the Clickin Moms community love photographing our kids. But with a 365 project I encourage you to take a break from your darlings every once in a while. Use still objects to practice different techniques like free lensing or double exposure.
- Finally, find your tribe. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, joining a 365 group will increase your chances of success. Plus it is motivating and very effective to have others holding you accountable. The easiest way to do this is to search the Clickin Moms Forum for groups that are starting or create a post to start your own group.
- Take a class. I would not be where I am today without Clickin Moms. The classes they have available are invaluable. Whether you take a workshop as a full participant, a study along, or do a break out, you will walk away a stronger photographer. I try to watch one video a week from my Clickin Moms education archive. It’s amazing the tips and tricks I pull out each and every time.
- Look for inspiration. One of my favorite things to do is go through feed stopper photographs I have saved on Instagram. I love analyzing them – what type of light did the photographer use? What small detail makes this photograph special? What is the emotion conveyed in the photograph? I keep a running list of photos I want to emulate and incorporate them within my 365 project.
- Read a book. We are blessed to live in a world filled with creative geniuses. It is inspiring to read their words, getting a glimpse into their minds. The Creative Habit by Twayla Thorp is a must read for any artist. Her documentation of pushing through creative struggles and how they make you a better artist is incredibly motivating. Or flip through Capturing the Moment by Sarah Wilkerson to learn about photography fundamentals while looking at beautiful, inspiring photos. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is next on my list.
It doesn’t matter how you choose to take on the creative gap. It only matters that you are striving to bridge it. Celebrate your challenges in photography – it means you are pushing yourself and your limits and are in the process of becoming a better photographer. Embrace the creative gap one photo at a time!