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What is Creativity?

by Dan Bailey on October 27, 2010 · 23 comments

What exactly is creativity? We all throw that word around quite a bit, but how much time to we spend really thinking about what it means, aside from the mere act of being creative?

By definition, creativity is the set of cognitive brain functions in the human and animal existence that revolve around solving problems, or expressing ideas, concepts or methods that are uniquely original.

Creativity in human society is about producing something useful that has never been done before. It either allows to complete a previously impossible task, improve a process or else it entertains us in a novel way. Both processes stem from looking at our surroundings in a new way and modifying or adapting either ourselves or our environment to our benefit.

Often times, those ideas are met with the barrier of opposition, and it’s the persistent individual who is able to push forward with his or her ideas and create new and successful methods that change the lives or the perceptions of ourselves or others. In the animal world, those barriers are usually environmental. With humans, they can either be environmental barriers or social constraints that cause lack of acceptance.

Creativity requires both risk and the confidence that your ideas will have some inherent value or merit, either to yourself or to society. Throughout our human story, our creativity has not only allowed us to evolve technologically as a species, it has also allowed us to find meaning in our lives, express our own individuality and define our personalities.

Whether you’re trying to build a space ship to explore the outer rims of the galaxy, or trying to create a great image, there is a standard method as to how creativity is applied when solving problems, and it can be easily broken down into five stages. I’m not a rocket scientist, so let’s look at how those steps might play out in a photographic process.

Fact Finding: Where you do research and collect data about your surroundings. You notice a subject that you’d like to photograph and note the different elements of the environment that attract you to the scene. Or you imagine a subject and how you’d like to portray it your imagery.

Problem Findings: Where you pinpoint specific problems in the current method or areas that could be made more efficient. You evaluate the lighting conditions, shadows, backgrounds and anything that might conflict with the way you’d like your final image to look.

Idea Finding: Where you mull over your collected data from the first two stages and brainstorm new ideas for success or originality. You come up with ideas such as angles of view or directions and quality of lighting that might better emphasize your subject.

Solution Finding: Where you come up with specific solutions to the problems or barriers in your process. You consider exactly what equipment you’ll need, which lens to use and where you’ll need to stand in order to effectively capture the scene as you imagine it.

Plan of Action: Where you carry forward and implement your new ideas to achieve something brand new. You plug in your lights, grab your camera, move around, reposition the subject and actually take the photograph.

Not that you have to memorize and plan out these specific steps every time you take photos, but it can be useful to recognize what goes into our creative process as photographers. The next time you find yourself in a creative rut, try running through these steps in your mind and see if any new ideas pop out.

For more on the subject, here’s an interesting article about Neuroscientist Rex Jung and his methods to explore human creativity.


Dan Bailey is a professional adventure, outdoor and travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska. Follow his own blog at and see his daily updates at

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Henry Lee October 27, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Great article – thanks, Dan!

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