Learning How To Create More By Creating Less

image: dan james
image: dan james

Which artist doesn’t want to create their best work, and for that work to continually evolve and become even better?

Logic suggests that to do this we need to create as much as possible.

But what if the opposite were true?

What if by choosing to create far less, we create far more?

A recent experience taught me an important lesson.

I’d gone out on a photowalk with a roll a film a friend sent me. I assumed it was 36 exposures, like most film I use, so thought I had 36 potential photographs to take.

When I got to frame 13 though, the film wouldn’t wind on. It had reached the end, and was evidently only a 12 exposure film.

I felt disappointed, and realised that I had been pacing my photograph taking on having a 36 exposure film.

I asked the question –

“If I’d have known I only had 12 shots, not 36, would I still have taken the same first 12 shots?”

The answer was no.

There were a few compositions that were less than photograph worthy, but I took them anyway, because I had (I thought) plenty of shots left on the film.

This experience reminded me that I want to take better photographs.

Which sounds obvious – we all want to create our best work, as we spoke about at the outset.

But what running out of film after 12 shots specifically taught me was that to take better photographs, I need to take fewer photographs.

Which fits in neatly with my general minimalist mantra –

“Do less, do it better.”

Whilst creating an abundant amount leads to great learning and developing of our skills (especially in the early stages of trying a new medium), there comes a point where we need to become more discerning, more thoughtful.

If we want to keep improving, we need to take tougher decisions about what we’re creating, and whether it’s helping us with that evolution or not.

We need to ask whether we’re creating something we’ll be proud to stand by and share, or something that’s merely mediocre.

Are we creating something new and interesting, or just another generic version of something we’ve created a dozen or a hundred times before?

For me, this means every time I have my eye to the viewfinder, contemplating the composition I see, I need to ask – Is this going to make a worthwhile photograph?

If I decide it is not, I’ll move on.

Then, hopefully, when I come to develop and scan the roll of film – even if it’s taken 100 (or 1000) compositions without clicking the shutter button to get 36 where I did click – the overall satisfaction will be greater. And I will be continuing to explore my potential and evolve.

I also believe that the more I do this, the more easily I’ll be able to decide which shots to make, and which to not bother with, again increasing the quality of the work I produce, and the experience of making the photographs.

How might this apply to your chosen creative forms?

How can you create less in quantity – and make better decisions – to create work that is more rewarding and fulfilling in quality?

Join the conversation with us on CCS, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences…


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