Creativity Cannot Be Taught, It Must be Learned

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Samsung NX500 First impressions product photos (12 of 12)ISO 2001-6400 sec at f - 2.0

This post is inspired by a string of emails that I’ve received for years now, and it’s something that needs to be addressed as businesses need to realize it. As a concept and overall, creativity cannot be taught. It must be learned. What am I talking about?

I’ve worked in the tech world, men’s lifestyle and the photo industry, and I’ve always been known for my photo knowledge. Over and over again, I’ve had companies ask “Can you recommend a great setup for us to shoot images and get results like you do in your product photos?”

While it’s flattering and kind for them to say this, it isn’t just about the gear and I always tell the person corresponding for the company that it isn’t about gear. The reason why you pay a professional photographer to begin with is for them to be able to create captivating images over and over again. If you’re doing the exact same setup over and over again like with product photography that has a white background, then I get it, but good lifestyle photography requires a creative vision to start.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Samsung 16-50mm lens review (1 of 6)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 4.0

More recently, a former staffer talked to me and explained that he’s now in charge of training his company’s staff to use a flash, camera, etc. Basically, he needs to create guidelines. The problem is that photography can be taught but specific creative visions and the knowledge of manipulating light cannot be taught overnight to every single person.

Let’s be honest here, not everyone in the world is a creative–and that’s fine. We need folks that are more inclined to being doctors, lawyers, and teachers. That doesn’t mean that you also can’t be creative, but creativity is a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to develop results for a company that wants to otherwise brand itself as something a bit more high class than the rest.

So what are we talking about specifically here?

– A good photographer that can deliver the product that you want first and foremost talks to you about what kind of a look you want and what you’re trying to achieve with the photos that you want to pay for.

– They get to know you and your target audience in an interview process–again, intelligence is key here and the greatest asset to the photographer.

– When they’re done, they come up with a couple of concepts or sketches for you. 

– The photographer most likely knows how to make your vision come to life through manipulating apertures, ISO, shutter speed, and flash exposures.

– Your ideas, wants and needs as a company are going to change and evolve and try to give someone guidelines on how to do this will only be applicable to specific situations. 

What do we mean by that? The same setup won’t get you beautiful images of the new Apple Watch because of its design with a reflective screen, and the same setup sure won’t look great when you try to shoot a beautiful new bottle of whiskey. Instead, you need ideas and the technicalities can’t be applied over and over again in each situation.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon G1x product images (7 of 7)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 4.0

Why do companies try to hire you to write guidelines? Because they want your knowledge for cheaper and to not hire you so that they can pay someone to do it internally instead. The problem is that it will backfire when the results that they want can’t come across.

Don’t think that this is common? It surely is! Stores do it, clothing brands do it, publications do it, etc. It’s all in an effort to save money, and sometimes companies genuinely don’t have the money but you need to do your best as a photographer to explain that creative visions can’t be taught and that the same formulas can’t be applied to each photo necessarily.

Of course, a photographer can always provide guidelines, take the money and run–but then you’re hurting yourself by not giving the best results to a client that you want to get steady work from.

Years ago when I tried to explain this to a men’s lifestyle publication, they couldn’t understand it and instead were too caught up in the marketing that Canon and Nikon threw out there.

On a broader basis, this is why when you take a photography class they will teach you the introduction to settings and then give you projects that are designed to get you to think differently and try new things. It just makes sense. A good teacher will also be able to immediately gauge how creative a person can be and grade them based on what they output. Uncle Bob that shoots your wedding won’t be able to do anywhere as incredible of a job as Ryan Brenizer.

Consider this when a client wants to find a way to take advantage of you.