Apogee Photo Coach: Framing Creativity

Nuance, Hope, Attention and More

Today, photographers search for ways to be more creative. Apogee Photo Coach Jim Austin offers 5 ideas for creative image making, which begin with the mindful framework of: Hope, Uniqueness, Movement, Attention and Nuance.

Can we learn to be more creative?

Yes, absolutely. Photographers can adopt ways to successfully make more innovative photos.

Creativity can’t be forced, but it can be structured. Making creative images starts with a framework. Each one of us has a framework for becoming more creative, and my five subjective ideas begin with the concept of hope.

Creative image making flows from our frame of mind. Hope is a key part of the process.

 #1 HOPE: Be Hopeful And Stay Curious 

Thinking hopefully leads to positive action like preparing the gear. I hope that each time I make an image, it will be better than my past photos. Hopefulness also empowers my intent, so I’m more likely to prepare, and take action. Then, it’s easier to quickly bring it into play and create a singular image.

Recently, a self-assignment photograph was to capture Easter in the USA. Spotting a bunny on shore, I made a photograph.

Keeping a long focal length lens close at hand, and photographing while passing by on a boat, I was able to make this image in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S.A. during Easter, 2017. The process began by thinking ” I hope each photograph will be better than the last.” This led to the effort of getting the camera and 500 mm lens set up, turned on, and ready for anything.

Creative photography takes a mental effort when self doubt clouds our vision. To overcome these doubts, we can borrow an idea from Chris Orwig. He teaches that being creative is a fight, and notes that creativity is like boxing. It can be a wild, unpredictable moving thing. So, photography needs a structure, in order to to “stay in the ring,” and give our hopes some structure.

However, instead of boxing gloves, we can don mental “get going” gloves. These gloves are actually thoughts. They are warm-up steps with the gear. They help us prepare. Doing them regularly, we begin to think hopefully, and logically, about the risks and challenges that our projects will present. Hope is the key.

Hope for the best for your own photographs. For instance, we believe our our camera brand’s imagery and slogans (“wildlife as __sees it” and “if the picture matters, the camera matters”). We believe these ads and their imagery.

To transform our own photographing, we should put a similar glowing value on our personal artistic efforts. This investment takes effort, training and persistence, but it brings a lasting sense of hope to our work.

#2 UNIQUENESS: Keeping YOU In The Photograph.

When we get up close and personal with subjects that matter, we can make more unique photos. In his book Instant Connections, gallery owner Jason Landry wriyes about showing his portfolio in grad school critiques, when he was asked: “Where are YOU in these photographs?” The message? Choose your subjects selectively, so that who you are is embodied in your photographs.

Dead But still in Tune Saint Augustine, Florida, Copyright Jim Austin Jimages.
TITLE: “Dead But still in Tune”. Saint Augustine, Florida, Copyright Jim Austin Jimages.

Your mind/brain is unique. Even when we find intelligent life in other parts of the cosmos, there will still be no other consciousness like yours. Try to make photographs that are unique to your vision. Let’s look an an example from the world of weimaraner dogs.

The artist, painter, and photographer William Wegman is legendary in the photography world for his weimaraners photographs. Creating human situations for his dogs for over 40 years, he’s crafted a body of iconic images. They are unique to him.

#3 MOVEMENT: Notice More By WALKING Around?

There is poetry in motion. Be a prime mover. Grab the camera. Take a walk. You’ll feel better. Walking, I try to move purposefully, looking up and out, away from my camera. I move slowly. After a few moments, visual ideas usually begin to flow.

Then, I spend time making many photographs. A large body of emerging research bolsters a vital idea: being outside and photographing, walking or doing any vigorous activity helps you be more creative and happy.

“The photographers with the most good photographs are the ones who spend the most time photographing.” ~ Stewart Harvey.

Attention is the key to intensified seeing.

#4 ATTENTION: go beyond casual snap shooting to “INTENSE” seeing.

“Pay attention to the things that really matter to you…live near them.” Photographer Emmett Gowin

Your best photographs come from paying attention to your immediate experience. To pay attention, start by slowing down. Notice your wandering thoughts. Breath deeply and slowly to focus your mind as you photograph. Then, when you see and feel something that makes your jaw drop and your eyes pop, trip the shutter.

There is a vast canyon of mental energy lying between casual photo shooting and intensified seeing. Intensified seeing is about the nuance.

#5 NUANCE: replace novelty with NUANCE.

“If it’s a goal of yours to become expert in something, one of the skills is to learn to substitute nuance for novelty.” ~ Angela Lee Duckworth

Freakonomics is a podcast, broadcast by Stephen Dubner, in New York City. In one episode, Dubner spoke with Angela Duckworth, the author of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In her book, she wrote that creative people ignite their creativity and learn to be gritty through practice, interest, hope and purpose.

Working towards an important goal, they “substitute nuance for novelty.” Nuances are those subtle differences in meaning or expression that empower a photograph.

A child reaches out to a salt water crocodile behind glass, at the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm. The photograph’s nuance lies in the fact that each class, human and reptilia, has nails on its fingers.


Instead of abandoning projects for something new, we can polish our existing portfolios, using shades of more subtle, deeper meanings. A key to creativity is polishing what you are working on now. Nourish the nuances.

There is nuance in much of the work by master photographers. While flash has been a tool in photography for decades, photographer Joe McNally showed us nuanced ways to shape light from strobes for more compelling portraits. In his book Sketching Light: Exploring the Possibilities of Flash,  McNally expanded the art by showing how to control flash in subtle nuanced ways.

We can recall the ideas of Hope, Uniqueness, Movement, Attention and Nuance, because their acronym is HUMAN.


Jim Austin Jimages, M.A. lives aboard the sailboat Salty Paws. Austin is a photography educator who works with photographers in the field and online, coaching visionaries to empower their photography. Find out more about Jim here





All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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