One day I got to work and pulled my loose change out of my pocket. I put the change on my desk and reached for my purse to put the money away. But before I did, I noticed the reflections on the new pennies. They sparkled. I thought, hey, these would make a pretty picture. But who wants photos of pennies?
Over-analyzing our creative instincts is a sure way to kill them off. Art, whether it’s writing, photography, painting, or any other type of creativity, needs a certain amount of play to be done well. You can study the “rules” of a particular pursuit, and they’re very useful when you are a beginner because you need to learn how to manipulate the tools of the trade. Oil painters need to learn how to handle their brushes and mix their paints, and how to prepare their canvas. They need some basic skills in using perspective and handling highlights and shadows in their work.
But eventually, all artists push past the rules and try things that you aren’t supposed to do. Like taking photographs at high noon or disregarding the rule of thirds. Sometimes they’re successful at creating dynamic artwork, and sometimes the images just don’t look very good. But the point is that they are willing to try something different.
A lot of times I’ve been put off from taking pictures because I think there is nothing to take pictures of. I prefer to take pictures when I travel because I don’t think my yard is particularly interesting. And certainly the office is less vibrant. But the pennies intrigued me: why shouldn’t I take a picture? I have a smartphone with a camera, so I don’t have to think about not having my camera with me or wasting film. If the image doesn’t turn out well, I can just delete it. No problems. So what’s stopping me?
In this case, nothing. I took the picture. You decide if it’s interesting or not. Would you have taken the picture, or just ignored the pennies? Photo opportunities are all around, but we often don’t see them because we’re busy looking for the big things instead of the little, obvious things that surround us. Today, why not spend some time looking at the little things in your office or home, and take a few pictures?
Set up some objects as a still life and position them by a light source. Move the objects around until you like the way they’re arranged. Now take some pictures, and vary the composition by moving the camera around. Change the focal length and shutter settings. If you’re using a phone or point-and-shoot camera, change whatever settings are available to you. The point of this photography exercise is to just work with the camera and subject matter. Don’t worry if any of the photos aren’t “keepers,” you just need some play time with the camera to get the creative juices flowing. Don’t be afraid to take the picture.