It might sound strange to suggest that writers can teach us anything about photography. I believe, though, that any creative pursuit springs from the same space within us, whether it’s photography, writing, painting or even making exquisitely beautiful cakes.
Creativity comes from a desire to express ourselves, to verbalize our experiences, thoughts, ideas and what fascinates us about the world. The ways we express ourselves are merely our personal preferences, but the fact that we choose to create, that is a universal desire and, what I would argue, is also a need.
I like to show these connections between the different arts because I think the more we look outside of our particular craft, the more ideas we can allow to flow into our photography.
The state of creating is one of both absorbing and doing, not just doing. I love to find little seeds of truth and inspiration about being a creative individual, and so for this article, I have turned to some of my favorite writers.
I have found 10 ideas that speak to the universality of being creative – as well as expressing some of the most essential lessons we need to learn (or be reminded of) as photographers. I hope you enjoy them!
The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware. —Henry Miller
The world is here to feast on, with our eyes as well as our senses. As photographers, to be enthralled with the visual world and to pay attention to all that is around you will open up your perception so you are always seeing things anew.
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. —Anaïs Nin
The brain processes two billion pieces of visual data a second! And yet we only see a few hundred. It’s surreal to think that what we are choosing to pay attention to is not necessarily what the person standing next to us is seeing.
What we notice is defined by what our mood is, what we are doing and thinking about, and what we are expecting to see in the world.
Release your expectations of what you think you might see, and try and find something new and unexpected.
All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. —Ernest Hemingway
There is an agony in getting started in any creative pursuit. Photography is no different.
Our mind can stop us in our tracks by starting an argument within us about all the things we do badly in our photography, all things we are no good at, or all the equipment we don’t have, or how uninspired we feel by our environment.
When, in fact, the only way to take photos is to take photos. When we are stuck in the agony of getting started, I like to think of this thought: you don’t need to worry about what you will do later or tomorrow, just start by taking one photo. One photo of something that you are intrigued by.
Once you’ve taken one shot, you are over the hump and can take one more. Before you know it you’ll be in the flow and away.
You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page. —Jodi Picoult
Again this speaks to when we are having a hard time getting started. Getting the camera off the shelf, blowing off the dust, telling ourselves off for being lazy with our photography and getting out there.
I say, better to take a bunch of terrible photos than no photos at all. Sometimes I even say, it doesn’t matter if I only get rubbish shots — it’s better than staying at home!
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. —Anton Chekhov
Mood and feeling mean so much in photography. We think we are taking photos of interesting subjects, but really we are aiming to transmit the feeling of what it is like to see that subject, or to be that subject, or to be standing where you are with pretty morning light dancing on your face.
Practice showing the mood and feeling of a place. Practice transmitting feeling in your photos.
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. —Robert Frost
And this is 100% true of photography also. If we feel nothing when we take photos, the viewer will feel nothing either.
One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. —James Baldwin
You are a wealth of life experience. You are a fascinating, unusual and totally unique human being. All that you have seen and done and witnessed comes into play in your photography. Celebrate your passions and loves and desires with photography.
Because also I totally believe that…
Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. —Franz Kafka
Sometimes we can get too focused on what other people think of our photos, and almost start taking photos for praise.
We have to remember, though, that what makes us who we are, and what we love to photograph, may not always be the most popular subjects.
It may be that our images are of things that are strange and unusual, but they are meaningful to us.
Forget populism and go instead for what you love.
I believe myself that a good writer doesn’t really need to be told anything except to keep at it. —Chinua Achebe
We will find all the lessons we need to learn along the way. We can read books, articles and watch videos. But nothing, nothing is more important than keeping at it.
Practicing and making photos.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. —Maya Angelou
I don’t need to tell you that our life here on this beautiful planet is limited. That there are no guarantees except this very moment right now.
I don’t have to tell you that taking time, even if it’s just a small, small sliver of time, out of your day or week or month, to do and make things that make you happier and more fulfilled, should be a priority for you.
I don’t need to tell you any of that because you already know. But what I will ask you is: where is photography in your life right now?
About the author: Anthony Epes is a photographer whose work has been featured internationally; including on BBC, French Photo Magazine, Atlas Obscura and CNN. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Epes is also a teacher – writing in-depth free articles on his website. Receive his free ebook on the two essential skills that will instantly improve your photos, and sign up to his weekly newsletter providing inspiration, ideas and pro-photo techniques. This article was also published on Cities at Dawn.