• Owen Johnson

Kick Starting Creativity by Challenging Yourself - Photography

Something that sometimes happens to students in a creative academic environment is they are caught off guard by assignments as something to complete. The moment that an outside force has enlisted you to complete a task by a deadline, then it doesn't matter if it happens to be in an area that is your passion, your creativity is squished. So the next best thing is to cave in and just meet the bare minimum of the assignments, get your B+ and save your creativity for when it is entirely self-driven and autonomous, right? Wrong.


When you are burning calories trying to complete simple tasks that you could care about if the circumstances were just a little better and you are working towards the bare minimum requirements, you are wasting precious time and energy (in this case) behind a camera. So the struggle is finding a way to wrestle that motivation to complete an assignment into a position where the motivation is to learn. This does take a lot of energy, and you really do have to want to learn in order for this to work. So how do you do it?


There is a good chance that if you are experiencing this kind of emotional block, the reason is because the assignment itself is not challenging you enough. By taking a moment to consider the assignment in-depth and then figure out how it isn't challenging you, you can start to adjust the motivation to your creative favor. The assignment simply may be too easy.


For example, this past week, in my photography class, an assignment was doled out to the students with the intention of teaching them "what shutter speed is." As someone with nearly ten years learning to operate cameras and take good video and photos, this assignment supplied to me zero internal challenge and supplied exclusively extrinsic motivation (the points awarded upon completion of the assignment). I was tempted to get out my camera and complete the assignment on the walk to my apartment, shooting a photo of a car with a high shutter speed and a slow shutter speed to either to freeze a moment, or indicate motion, respectively (This was the requirements for the assignment). I found absolutely nothing interesting about it. I was ready to write it off and cash out with my B+.


As I was thinking about the assignment, I decided to make it more challenging for myself. I wanted to get something out of it that wouldn't come from the homework exclusively. The requirements were the bare minimum. I talked with my professor about what he thought the best subjects for photography were, and in so many words, he suggested I try to take photos of people. As a generally anxious person I didn't want to hear that because interacting with strangers is difficult for me sometimes. I realized that I had more challenging requirements for this assignment.

  1. The basic requirements for class

  2. Take photos of something with varying shutter speeds to showcase movement or freeze a moment

  3. Take photos of people

So now I needed people who move quickly. Runners and bikers seemed too boring. I wanted something more casual than football or basketball. I settled on skateboarding. I hopped on the motorcycle and bounced around town using google to route me to a few skateparks. The first two I visited were void of skateboarders. The third wasn't even on google, I just remembered seeing one while out riding one day and set out to find it. I hit the jackpot there. It was loaded with intermediate skateboarders, getting air, doing tricks, and wearing fashionable clothes.


I walked up and forced myself to speak. I introduced myself and asked a boarder for permission to take photos of them doing tricks. (Sometimes I found it easier to mention it was for an assignment, since most of them were students anyway.)

It was awkward at first, but they agreed, and I shakily got out my camera.




In the end, I completed the assignment with an A. I went back again even after the project was done just because it was so much fun taking pictures of such cool subjects. I began to learn what angles were best, how to plan my positioning, how to focus ahead of time, and how best to introduce myself. It's a blast and I totally recommend it to anyone looking for a new project.


I managed to get motivated even under the strain of boring assignment constraints and I learned so much. I'll be revisiting the skate park more in the future to visit with some new friends I've made.


Another tip, offer to send the skaters any photos you take that turn out well. They are creatives too, and are often happy to work with you to get cool shots, do tricks several times, work on angles, etc.


Finding ways to challenge ourselves when under the weight of what feels like an oppressively simple requirement minimum can be hard, but thinking critically about the constraints, and pushing out beyond our comfort zones can boost creativity, and are almost always awesome learning opportunities.


Here are some cool photos I got from my trips to the skate park:









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