The Creative Curve, A Photographer’s Perspective

A Street Portrait taken in DC

I recently read Allen Gannett’s new book, The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time. The book offers a compelling view on what processes make for a repeatable creative successes.

Per my Amazon review, The Creative Curve caused me to think, and become unstuck in some ways. Before I get into a quick take on the four main principles of the book, it should be noted that some photographers may balk at Allen’s prescription.

As the old adage goes, what’s popular is not good. If you have this ethos about popular trends in photography (for example, Instagram marketing), then parts of you will writhe when you read Allen’s book.

However; if you want your work to be seen, purchased, etc., then I suggest browsing his four characteristics of creative success closely. I know my best successes occurred when I was unconsciously adhering to at least three of the four Creative Curve laws. With that, here are some quick observations on those principles.

1) Consumption

I definitely got the idea to take this Yosemite photo from my many visits to the 500px community.

One thing that became clear reading this book was why almost every successful business person I know reads voraciously. The answer is the first law of The Creative Curve, consumption.

This chapter reminded me of the few months where I was helping Cade Martin, one of the country’s most well known advertising photographers, on some marketing. I would ask Cade for advice, and he would always say, “Keep looking at other photographers work, look at magazines, look at the light. Try and figure out how they take those shots.”

Consumption lets you see patterns, and understand what makes for a good well liked photograph. This in turn allows you to see what might make for a unique innovation or change, and stand out with your own work.

I never became an incredible advertising photographer like Cade, but I’ve earned some chops as a street and landscape photographer over the years. It’s no coincidence that I spend an incredible amount of time every week looking at street, landscape and city photos on a variety of online networks.

2) Imitation

This is me imitating Cade Martin, who turned me onto Day of the Dead and sugar skulls as photographic subjects. My innovation was shooting in a graveyard.

I think where most people will fall down with Allen’s prescription for creative success is the second law: Imitation. Imitation requires a sacrifice for the truly artistic type, which is conformity.

Specifically, try to ensure your photos fit within some of the archetypes and rules that we know make for a commercially viable image. For example great street shots, always capture a sense of emotion. One way to do that is to capture an image where their eyes are sharp. On landscapes, we know dramatic golden and blue hour work creates incredibly moody scenes.

One thing I will do when I see a shot I like is to attempt a similar shot. Whether I choose to innovate the scene or use a different edit, I definitely try to make for a unique work, but at the same time, the point of the exercise is to learn what made a specific type of photograph work, and whether or not I can repeat that process.

3) Community

I learned quite a bit about lighting and contrast at a Santa Fe Photography Workshop.

Successful creators surround themselves with other successful creators. I won’t lie. Even though most people know me from me online communities, this is where I stumble the most as a photographer.

Specifically, building strong relationships with photographers who may challenge me and help me grow. Whether that’s as a mentor, rival, or simply a peer going through the same trials, their insights always make a difference.

Every time I participated in a photography workshop, conference, or significant photographic project, my photography benefits from significant evolutions in approach.

Reading The Creative Curve caused me to reinvigorate my outreach and attendance at such events. My peers and industry leaders are my greatest inspiration. They immerse me in my community, cause me to meet new people, and learn new approaches.

4) Iterations

An environmental portrait of Rezia Braza.

This one seems pretty straight forward. Have a great photo idea? Try it, retry it, critique it, refine the concept, redo it again. Rinse and repeat.

Iterations are particularly easy to do with personal projects. Clients may not be so thrilled with your iterative process. Practice before the big shoot ;)

To improve my environmental portraiture, I kept working with models until I felt like I could pretty much walk into any shoot and get at least one very good to great shot! I am there as a result of the iterative process.

As you can see, I liked The Creative Curve a lot. It made me reconsider my current approaches to creativity in photography and business. Thanks, Allen!