Creating, Fast and Slow

Hotel San Jose with Film - Austin, Texas

Hotel San Jose with Film – Austin, Texas

I’ve thought a lot about the creative process lately. For a person who’s lived most of his life in the analytical left brain, my incursion into the creative right brain has been interesting. I’ve been serious about photography for ten years now but only recently attempting to create emotive images and not going for technical perfection. My daily blogging has certainly challenged me in other ways; expression via words and not images. Most recently, by creating my book and monthly newsletter, I’m exercising design and layout skills, among other things.

I’ve learned that a dual approach of creating fast and slow has a multiplying effect on creativity and success. More so than just doing something quickly or methodically. Let me explain.

There is nothing like practicing; repeatedly doing a task to hone one’s craft. This applies to photography as well as writing. With digital, you can take nearly infinite photos rapidly and learn quickly what works and doesn’t. Not only in terms of the mechanics of image creation, but more importantly about aesthetics and your personal style. But, you need to make images constantly and make a lot of them. Make mistakes. Review what you did. Make more mistakes. Don’t over analyze. Don’t be paralyzed by indecision. The act of creating repeatedly and failing has value and luckily with digital, there’s very little downsides. That’s why people learn a lot quicker now compared to the film days.

The same goes for writing. My writing improved very slowly until I started blogging everyday. Even if I didn’t write much and did it badly, the act of thinking about topics and writing everyday has greatly simplified the process. Daily deadlines are tough, but good. It’s a brutal taskmaster but with a worthwhile upside.

On the other hand, just creating quickly is not enough. Because ultimately, you need to create quality. At some point, the rush to make things needs to be balanced with thoughtfulness. Once you’ve hit a certainly level of skill, you need to polish what you do. The quick crap that you create got you practicing, but you now want to make sure to do things properly.

So in photography, I mix shooting quickly and thoughtfully. Somethings are rushed to get it done but I also balance it with precise well-considered compositions. Together, I think I’ve been able to make better quality images, faster. The same goes with writing, I’ve learned. The daily blog posts are my quick content that I need to get out on a deadline. However, my monthly newsletter and the prose in my book allows me write slowly and considerately.

One of the slowest and thoughtful ways to photograph is with film in an old camera. I made today’s photograph with a Kodak Retina 1a, very manual camera from 1951. I need to use a separate light meter to get an exposure reading. I then need to manually zone focus on my intended subject. The process takes at least a minute or so. A far cry from the rapid fire way I make my digital photographs. All 36 exposures from that roll of film came out properly. Only three of them were slightly mis-focused. I had an incredibly high keeper rate because of my deliberate approach.

However, my success with film was because I failed and learned countless times on digital. If I slowly and methodically used just film, I’m sure my success rate would be noticeably lower, because I practiced a lot less. So yes, you need to be both quick and methodical. Create fast and slow.

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