Creativity Living Photography

The Root of Creativity

 “At the root of creativity is an impulse to understand, to make sense of random and often unrelated details. For me, photography provides an intersection of time, space, light, and emotional stance. One needs to be still enough, observant enough, and aware enough to recognize the life of the materials, to be able to ‘hear through the eyes’.” — Paul Caponigro

Paul Caponigro

In his poetic reflection on creativity and photography, Paul Caponigro speaks to the impulse within us to find meaning and connection. He describes creativity as the act of synthesizing seemingly disparate details into a new understanding. This certainly rings true for photography, which takes fragments of time, space, light, and feeling and fuses them into a single image.

Caponigro argues that photography requires stillness, observation, and awareness. In stillness, we allow the details to come into focus rather than rushing past them. In observation, we notice and absorb the subtleties that give those details meaning. And in awareness, we sense the deeper essence that animates the materials—the “life” inside inanimate objects and moments.

This process of seeing and synthesizing creates order from chaos. The photographer looks patiently until the details crystallize into something coherent. By “hearing through the eyes,” they grasp at the threads connecting each fragment into a whole. They take meaningless bits of time, space, light, and emotion and compose them into an image that conveys a new understanding.

There is a mystical quality to this act of creativity that Caponigro evokes. Photography becomes almost a meditative practice of slowing down and listening closely enough to hear the inner life of the world around us. When we tune into that life force, we can then give it expression through a photograph. Just as a musician channels sound into music, the photographer channels light into art.

Note: for more about Paul Caponigro, see this short video about making prints from his images.

AI AI: Large Language Models Bing Chat ChatGPT Claude Creativity Google Bard

Hacking Creativity with AI

Abstract surface of Multicolored splash watercolor blot. Artistic hand-painted vector, element for banner, poster, card, cover, brochure.

On my walk this morning I listened to the latest episode of Cal Newport’s podcast Deep Questions which was about “creativity hacking”. He reviewed a couple of his techniques, shared a few links to good articles related to the topic, etc. For example, he talked about using different venues for working – such as moving between multiple locations in a single day. He cited several other techniques that he’s used all of which involved helping lift your mind out of the mundane to stimulate its ability to get creative.

Listening to Cal stimulated my mind to make the bridge between something like working on a whiteboard in front of a group of colleagues and, in lieu of humans, working on a topic with an AI chatbot like Claude, Bard, ChatGPT, etc.

I’m drawn to this approach because of just how low the overhead is to start to use chatbots for helping in my thinking and creativity processes. Unlike other humans, the chatbots are always available – 24×7 – and generally they’re pleasant and polite to interact with. Sometimes humans are too but they can also be unpleasant and impolite!

The speed of the interaction with a chatbot is probably slower than with another human or group of humans but I don’t find that to be an issue. In some ways, the ability to just pause, give me time to think, and then interact again with a chatbot is more pleasant and completely eliminates any peer pressure I might be feeling.

I can also use chatbots to respond to challenging questions I might ask or have it brainstorm wild ideas, or roleplay different perspectives – all of which help to get my creative juices flowing. A friend would do the same – but, again, the low overhead nature of creativity hacking with a chatbot is very attractive to me. I can also spread my chatbot interactions around between the various AI chatbots. They’ll bring different perspectives, just like a group of my friends might. I might also ask a chatbot to help me think about an idea from the perspective of a particular historical figure (e.g., “what would Steve Jobs say about this idea?”).

I’m increasingly finding the benefits of this chatbot approach helping me in my creative work. For example, while writing this blog post, I asked for a critique of it from one of the chatbots. Over a few interactions, I was able to gain some new insights to include which hopefully made it even better.

Update: this morning Andrew Chen posted a great article titled “How I use AI when blogging and writing” which explores his experiences using AI chatbots to help with blog posts, generating topic ideas/questions, and even starting a book outline. Definitely worth reading!

Creativity Living Photography - Black & White

Uncovering Hidden Value

Leveraging the “Sawdust” of Your Creative Process

person holding chainsaw
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

For creatives, the byproducts of our work often get swept aside once the main project is complete. The unused sketches, raw demo recordings, or half-baked concepts – these become the “sawdust” we leave behind after building something new. But what if we viewed these creative leftovers through a different lens?

Rather than discarding the residual materials from your creative process, consider how they could hold untapped potential. Just as a woodworker’s sawdust can be repurposed into revenue-generating products, you may be able to extract value from the fragments left over from your projects.

By sifting through the unused ideas, experiments, and prototypes you accumulate, hidden opportunities can emerge. Could an alternate lyric or melody from a recording session work in a new song? Might those rough product sketches contain the seed of a fresh design? With the right perspective, your leftovers can become ingredients for future work.

This philosophy of maximizing resources aligns with Jay Clouse‘s emphasis on reframing challenges. By bringing a spirit of creative reuse to the byproducts of your efforts, you can uncover new possibilities where you once saw waste.

For photographers, the sawdust metaphor could apply to all the unused or discarded photos from a shoot. Rather than deleting the outtakes, putting in time to review these images with fresh eyes may reveal some gems. Photos you initially disregarded due to small flaws could potentially be salvaged through editing. Or alternate angles could lend themselves to new creative compositions. By taking the time to re-examine your photo “sawdust”, you may find shots that warrant a second look. With some targeted post-processing or creative cropping, those photos destined for the trash could end up being featured in your portfolio. Just like a carpenter transforming sawdust into useful material, photographers have the power to find merit in the images they may have previously discarded or overlooked. I’m often surprised when I look back at old photos and see an image with “new eyes” – for me that joy is one of the best parts of photography.

So challenge yourself to regularly revisit the “sawdust” of your creative process. You may discover surprising connections that spark your next big idea. With some imagination, everyone has the capacity to transform their leftovers into treasure.

AI AI: Large Language Models Claude Creativity

A Creative Helper

woman filling job application form in office with boss
Photo by Sora Shimazaki on

Having an interest in posting more to my blog, I’ve started playing with chatbots to help with ideas, etc. In particular, I’ve found to be quite a partner. Over the last few days, when I’ve come across an idea, perhaps a quote I liked, etc., I would flip over to Claude and start a prompt with: “write a musing on the following…” 

Claude will quickly respond with a few paragraphs riffing on that idea. I can then add to it, perhaps argue with a point it made, bring in additional thoughts, etc. and it continues to help me flesh out my own thoughts that were triggered by that idea. Once I’ve had that conversation, I’ll copy it into Drafts and let it chill for a day or two before going back to it and seeing whether I want to pick it up for a blog post.

In my experience, Claude is better than ChatGPT, Google Bard, etc. for this kind of “conversation” with me. But I’m sure everyone’s mileage may vary – and it could also be that this kind of creative back and forth isn’t what you’re looking for or don’t find helpful. Again, for me, it all begins with challenging the chatbot to “write a musing on the following…”

Creativity Photography

Just throwing some paint around…

For a while I’ve been enjoying being a member of Story Club by George Saunders. I’ve enjoyed his writing a lot and find that the kind of interaction that Story Club enables deepens my appreciation of his work. In addition to the insights George shares there, the comments shared by other members also add a lot of value.

One of the regular weekly things George does is to answer a few member questions. His most recent Office Hours post was good fun where he talked about having a recording session to capture a snippet of music to include on an audiobook version of one of his books. He wrote:

What I found electrifying about this experience was the way it shot me back to the early days of my writing life.

— George Saunders

That triggered me to think about the similar feelings I get when I’m doing some of my photography work – in particular, when I’m re-editing an old photo perhaps years after I originally made it. There’s something about the re-editing process that takes me back to the time I made the image – including how I felt that day, what the location was like, anything usual about the lighting or the smells of the place, perhaps any music around – that kind of stuff. There’s also often an element of serendipity at work drawing me back to a particular image and even thinking about editing it.

I find one of the most enjoyable things about photography is a certain left brain/right brain aspect it brings me. For me, the process of making an image often begins in the creative side of my brain – being drawn to the light, color or shadows of a scene – but my mindset than quickly shifts to being an analytical one as I consider the specifics of things like settings, composition, etc. required to capture the image. And maybe I become captured myself by the scene and my creative side pops back in and out.

What’s wonderful later about the editing process is re-awakening that initial creative vibe that brought me into image making in the first place. And, while that original image is static – frozen in time when I snapped the photo, the editing process can be very dynamic and non-destructive. I can play with adjustments, try different things, perhaps make some severe manipulation or just a light tweaking.

As Saunders wrote in his post: I’m really “just throwing some paint around…” and it’s such fun!

Creativity Photography

My Creation Process

During this time of much more limited opportunities to make new photographs, I’ve enjoyed going back through my back catalog of images (over 70,000!) and doing creative edits on them.

Most of these edits are done quickly – literally in the spur of a moment – when I get an inspiration. And the edits are almost always done on my iPhone – it’s become the workhorse of my photographic creativity!

A typical session involves me coming across an old image of mine (the Photos widget on the iPhone does an amazing job surfacing old yet interesting images). I’ll then make a duplicate of the image and open the duplicate in one of the editing programs I use (usually either Photos itself, Snapseed, or DistressedFX Pro). I’ll make whatever edits, crops, texturing, etc. that I’m inspired to make by the image itself.

A few minutes later, I’ll save the edited image back to Photos – and, if inspired, make one final edit pass – typically using Snapseed. Sometimes I’ll want to add a black border – I do that in Snapseed. Then I’ll post the image to my Instagram account. End-to-end this process usually takes 5-10 minutes. Once in a while I’ll stumble across another image in the process and go on another editing jag.

There’s a wide range of creativity that I’m applying during this process – depending on the image. Often I’ll be using DistressedFX Pro as I’ve come to love the addition of textures to many of my images. Other times I’ll take a color image to black and white, perhaps severely cropping it as well to reduce what I call “image noise” (distracting elements) and provide increased focus on what I find most interesting.

You can see some of the range of creativity in some of my images below. More can be found on my Instagram account.