Recover (or Discover) Your Creativity With a Self-Assignment

Pink Sky Above Three Sisters, Utah. Copyright Bret Edge.

Last week I read a great article on friend and photographer Gary Crabbe’s blog about the reality of working a photo assignment.  Gary’s article, and my own experience last year on assignment in Goblin Valley State Park, inspired me to write about a technique you might try next time your creative fire needs a little stoking.

If you’re lucky enough to land a photo assignment, it means that someone thought enough of your work to pay you to create photos of a specific subject for them.  The key word at work in that sentence is photos – as in more than one.  Perhaps there are exceptions but every assignment I’ve ever worked required that I provide a healthy collection of images to the client upon completion of the job.  Adding to the pressure to deliver is the fact that you are likely given a short time in which to make the images.  You’re probably charging a day rate.  Unless you’re a brilliant negotiator your client probably didn’t tell you to take as many days as needed and to send a bill when you’re done.  No, it is more likely that you’re told that there’s only enough money in the budget for a couple of days.  This means that during the “couple of days” you’d better be able to fill some memory cards with enough images to satisfy your client’s needs.

If your natural style of photography contradicts the “spray and pray” method, filling memory cards can be quite challenging.  Although I use a D-SLR I feel my style is more contemplative, not unlike large format photography.  I make far fewer images in a typical day of photography than most, but for the Goblin Valley assignment I had to maximize my time in the area to ensure I delivered enough images to my client.

In the field I discovered that I was taking more chances than usual.  I was staying out past sunrise, photographing all day long and not heading back to the truck until well after sunset.  Knowing that I had to produce forced me to look at the world around me through a different set of eyes.  And, I had to find ways to make compelling images in the middle of the day.  Fortunately, some nearby slot canyons solved that problem.  I found other things to photograph, too.  Grand landscapes, macros, abstracts, intimate landscapes – I found myself burning through memory cards creating all sorts of images.  If there is such a thing as forced creativity, this was it.

Consider this: Your creativity is in the trash and you’re stuck in a rut.  Your mojo is on hiatus.  Why not give yourself an assignment?  Find a local park or nature preserve, or even do something totally different and try your hand at photojournalism.  Pretend that you’re on assignment for a prestigious magazine and you’ve got to deliver images to your client or you’ll risk losing out on future business.  Find ways to photograph mid-day.  Shoot a variety of compositions – some grand, some intimate, some abstract.  Change hats and imagine you’re the client.  What types of images are needed for the project?  Do you need to tell a story about the place?  If so, how are you going to create a visually compelling story with your photographs?  Immerse yourself in your environment and you’ll begin to see differently, with increased sensitivity and regard for your subject.

Give yourself an assignment some time.  I think you’ll find the challenge to be fun and rewarding, and it may just help you claw your way out of the creative doldrums.

Have you ever tried a self-assignment?  Do you have any tricks to share that have helped you find your creative spark?  Please leave a comment below!

Editor’s note: To see a complete list of Bret’s workshop offerings, visit And if you find yourself in Moab, Utah, be sure to stop into his new gallery, The Edge Gallery.

2 Responses to “Recover (or Discover) Your Creativity With a Self-Assignment”

  1. Derek Lyons says:

    I’m currently planning something like that. I’m usually more of a ‘found scenery’ photographer, and I’m gearing up to do some still life/conceptual work.

  2. Bret Edge says:

    Derek: I think you’ve got a great idea! I’ve done similar experiments in the dead of winter when it just isn’t all that appealing to wander outside. Some of the lessons I learned there I’ve applied to my “found photography” and it’s been a great asset. Good luck to you!

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