Think Like an Artist and Improve Your Photography

Have you ever struggled with getting creative in your photography, but whatever you have tried, it didn’t solve the problem? Artists think in a very special way. Knowing how can massively change your photography.

In my latest YouTube video about how to get more creative with changing your way of thinking, I show our usual way of thinking, why we think in that way, which creative obstacles it brings, how artists think in contrast, and how we can all get to that easily.
It is quite interesting: have you ever observed a little child between three and six years, how they engage with their environment? ”Why is the sky blue, why is the grass green?” The child doesn’t need all that information immediately to solve any problem. They are just interested things. And this is the best basis for getting creative in my experience.

Our Creativity Gets Suppressed

It was almost 40 years ago, but I think to remember that day when I went into grade school. My dad said something like: “Son, today the serious side of life starts for you.” And he was so right.

Do you remember all the math problems like: “Family Miller has three children and they got an apple tree from their neighbor with six apples on it. How many apples does each child get?” In this one, we just have to divide the number of apples by the number of children, which gives two apples for each child. We learned to think analytically, but the problem is: we do this all the time. Sometimes, there are different ways to get to the result, but ultimately, it is all about how to get from the starting point to the result.

The higher the level of education, the more efficiently we had to work at school. I remember teachers who didn’t even accept the right result. It was necessary to calculate it a certain way. I didn’t understand that back then, to be honest. But I understand it today: it was all about making us as efficient as possible. We need that in our daily lives. But it has a poisonous side effect: it kills our creativity. We started to think like robots. And robots are rarely very creative, in my experience.

How Do Artists Think?

We know now how the majority of people are used to thinking. But what about artists? Let’s have a look at that same mathematics example I mentioned above. An artist is also able to solve that one, of course. They would also just divide the apples by the children and would get the same result.

But let’s have a look at what artists could do additionally with that mathematics example. For the analytic way of thinking, there is just the number of apples and the number of children relevant. But an artist would maybe ask also other questions like: which colors are the apples? Do the children like to eat apples at all? What about the parents? Don’t they eat apples? And shouldn’t they offer an apple at least the neighbor, as they got the tree from him? Why did he even give the tree to them? We don’t know all these things and they are not relevant for solving the analytical problem. But they could may be relevant for the artist.

What is going on here? While there is just one clear starting point and one clear goal in analytic thinking, the artist thinks in other dimensions, where the number of goals is unlimited, as are the starting points. Calculating how many apples each child would get is not the only interest in the world of an artist. The goal of art is to create something new. This is even one of the base requirements we need to get a piece of art. The artist becomes creative by asking questions that don’t seem to be relevant for anything. And that’s the key to becoming creative.

Our problem is: we got so used to analytic thinking that most of our thinking processes work exactly in that way, at least in most areas of our lives. We got used to being efficient, we got used just to asking those questions that help us to solve analytic problems. Where has our creativity gone and how can we get it back again?

How Can We Overcome Our Creative Obstacles?

I often hear people saying, that they think they would not be creative. But it is inside us all. We shouldn’t forget that we were all masters of creativity before we came to school and started to divide apples. This was a time when we asked questions like: “why is the snow white?” We stopped to get interested in things that didn’t seem to be relevant to any analytic issue.

There is an analytic and a creative side of our brains. Whenever we calculate apples, our analytic side is active. And as we are used to thinking in that way, our creative thinking gets easily suppressed. The problem is that it is not enough just trying to be creative when you go out for photography. It is a good idea to try being creative multiple times a day, for a few minutes at least.

In my experience, the strongest method of all is to ask creative questions from time to time while you are solving an analytical problem. When I have to divide apples, like in the above-mentioned example, I will do this for sure, but I also ask questions like: which colors do they have? Which sort is it? How do they taste? Ultimately, this brings me not to the analytic result, but a lot of other starting points and goals, and it allows me to get creative, not to limit myself when I’m out in the field for landscape photography next time, and to not only have a look at the obvious, so that I finally can get home with a masterpiece.

Many more tips about how to think like an artist and how to be more creative are revealed in the above-mentioned video.

Christian Irmler's picture

Christian Irmler is a passioned landscape photographer from Austria who comes from a line of artists.
He engages already his whole life with the compositions of the paintings of his family. In 1990 he began with photography and started to implement all his knowledge from painting into his photography.

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Hey Christian, good reminder for us to, ‘Think outside of the box’.

Hi Charlie, it is always a pleasure :)
Thanks a lot for your comment and nice greetings,

Thanks for this, Christian. Your comment about early childhood education reminded me of the year I taught first graders. The district I belonged to had shipped these huge boxes of miniature furniture to us and after they'd been unpacked the students had a preference for the empty boxes for the first few days playing hide and seek, camping out, and just huddling together. Staff and administrators understood and supported my refusal to get rid of the cartons telling them that they not only encouraged creativity but fostered social skills. Monitors from New York State, on the other hand, felt that the boxes were a waste of time and did nothing to foster their education but I was fortunate to have a principal who supported me and they left me alone.

Hi Eddie, thank you so much for this interesting story and I have to say, it is so good that there are some teachers out there who support pupils in their creativity. This does not only help to get a better artist, it also helps to find solutions for themselves in their lives, but also for their boss or for their clients. The big inventors were not only masters in analytic thinking, but also in creative thinking. Thank you for your contribution!
Nice greetings,

Not much meat in the discussion??

Hi Al, I thank you so much for reading my article. Feel free to add any methods that worked for you to get more creative if you want :)
Thank you and nice greetings,

Thanks for this reminder, Christian!

Hi Sébastien, thank you for your kind comment. It is always a pleasure to remind to the really important things in photography :)
Nice greetings,

Excellent first image above. I was recently photographing with a group in Yosemite and the group leader looked at my images and commented that I really didn't subscribe to all the Ansel Adams like image conventions that most photographers ascribed. I took it as a compliment.

Hi Michael, thank you my friend! It is even one of the things that can block us to improve, when we just work in that way, a great master photographer has told us to. This is also the reason, why I see critique of photographs very critical :) In my workshops, I tend not to say what the image would make better. I go more over to a discussion with the photographer, to know what he thought, what he wanted the photograph to say. The goal is, that they find out by themselves, what they can do to improve it. The goal should not be to get a second Ansel Adams, but a better Michael Dougherty, a better Christian Irmler, etc., while we are appreciating the stunning work of all the big masters. Fantastic to hear, that you are going your own way, already.
Thanks a lot for your interesting comment and nice greetings,