Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut

(aka “The Unplanned Diptych”)

by Sarah Wilkerson

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

Rather than focusing on technique or compositional principles, this month’s assignment is an exercise in observation, conceptualization, and execution. We’re going to capture a pair of images, and the key to making the most of the exercise is that you not plan too much. Be patient, embrace the process, and permit yourself to be receptive to where your art leads you. You do not have to complete the whole exercise at once and can do each step at your own pace!

Step One: Establishing a Foundation
Your first image can be almost anything, and it’s fine to stay in your comfort zone! For the purposes of this creativity exercise, it may help to isolate your primary subject as much as you can; fill the frame or utilize negative space to make the main subject prominent and/or readily identifiable. If you need a bit more direction to get rolling, choose one of the following subjects for your shot:

  • Your Child
  • A Piece of Fruit
  • Your Favorite Pair of Shoes
  • A Piece of Furniture
  • Something with Wheels
  • A Flower
  • Something Red
  • A Faucet

Shoot as many or as few images as you wish during this initial phase of the exercise. Keep shooting until you feel satisfied that you have captured something that speaks to you.

Upload your memory card, cull, process, and select a single image with which to move forward.

[Note: If desired, you may choose a favorite image already in your portfolio rather than shooting anew.]

Step Two: Observing and Describing
Print your chosen image out if possible, or maximize it to fill your computer screen.

Grab a favorite pen and notebook, and carefully observe the photograph, listing (one per line) as many adjectives as you can to describe the image and primary subject within. When you run out of steam, consider words you might use to describe …

  • the shape of the subject
  • the size of the subject
  • the style of the subject
  • the color in terms of hue, saturation, and luminance
  • the sensory qualities (texture, taste, smell, sound) of the subject
  • the quality of light in the photograph
  • the mood of the photograph

Step Three: Identifying Opposites
When your list is complete, go back through it again (with a different color pen, if possible), and write down words that represent the opposite of the adjectives on your list. For example, if my initial list is:

  • Quiet
  • Soft
  • Shadowy
  • Still
  • White
  • Small
  • Rounded
  • Serene
  • Young
  • Pastel
  • Desaturated
  • Timeless
  • Innocent

Then my completed set might appear as:

  • Quiet-Loud
  • Soft-Sharp
  • Shadowy-Sunny
  • Still-Active
  • White-Black
  • Small-Large
  • Rounded-Angular
  • Serene-Anxious
  • Young-Old
  • Pastel-Vibrant
  • Desaturated-Saturated
  • Timeless-Dated
  • Innocent-Guilty

It’s okay if you can’t find a direct opposite for every word. Identify the best approximation you can, and skip a word if needed.

Step Four: Letting Your Word Lead You

Choose the word that speaks most to you from among the opposing adjectives that you added to the list.

Clear your mind of the first image as much as you can. Use the selected word alone to conceptualize/identify the subject, composition, and processing of your second photograph. Again, keep shooting until you feel satisfied that you have captured something that speaks to you and powerfully represents your opposing word. Upload your memory card, cull, and process with the selected word in mind.

Present your two images as a diptych.

IMPORTANT: The idea of this exercise is NOT to present an obvious dichotomy; it is to allow your first image to drive the conceptualization of the second. You will have a much more elegant and nuanced pairing if you embrace the process than if you skip ahead and identify your pair of opposites ahead of time. Don’t go into this thinking, for example, “I’ll shoot something old and then something new!” Let the process carry you from image-to-adjectives-to-opposites-to-image. At face value, and absent an explanation of the adjectives used, this second subject may have absolutely no relationship at all to the first subject.

This exercise can be repeated time and again, with very different results each time; the idea here is simply to allow your images to flow one into the next. As a variation on the exercise, you could also present a compelling pair of images by building on a shared word from the first set of adjectives (e.g., a shadowy-shadowy pairing rather than a shadowy-sunny pairing). However, working with a set of opposites can be especially effective in pushing you to capture visual representations that might be a little outside of your comfort zone or beyond your typical subject/style, empowering you to use your own images to inspire new approaches when you get in a creative rut.

Social | Solitary by MissySue Hanson:

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

Miniscule | Immense by Elodie Brunel:

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

Empty | Filled by Kristin Peereboom:

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

Bright | Dark by Meredith Raarup:

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

Sunshine | Shadows by Alice Che:

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

Quiet | Loud by Kristin White:

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

Silky | Rough by lifewithcrew:

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

Reality | Fantasy by Melina Nastazia:

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

What’s the best way to improve your photography? Shoot thoughtfully and frequently! Try new things and embrace creative and technical challenges. Every month, Sarah Wilkerson posts a new tutorial and challenges our members to join in a new Creativity Exercise on the Clickin Moms photography forum. At the conclusion of the exercise, we select Editors’ Choice images from among the exercise submissions and share them here with you on the blog.  Congratulations to the ladies whose photographs included in the exercise above were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices, and thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

Do you want to participate in the next Creativity Exercise?  Visit the forum here where Sarah Wilkerson has posted “Creativity Exercise #50: 6 New Ways to Approach Backlighting.” We’d love to see your work!

Sign up for a risk-free membership!

Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut photo

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14 Responses to “Creativity Exercise: 4 steps to break out of your rut”

  1. KimG
    Jul 10 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Great idea for a thoughtful exercise! Definitely will make you slow down and shoot with intention and direction but still not “closed in” for ideas as well. When we get back home I’m excited to try this!!

  2. Jul 10 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    I like all the creative exercises, but I particularly enjoyed this one!

  3. Kristin
    Jul 10 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Yes, this was my favorite exercise so far!! Thank you!!!

  4. Melina
    Jul 10 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    Absolutely loved this exercise and am so honored to be included!! Thank you! <3 <3 <3

  5. Michal F
    Jul 11 2014 at 1:17 am #

    Can’t wait to try it out!

  6. Jeramie
    Jul 11 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    What a great exercise! Not like any other I’ve ever seen.

  7. Jul 12 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    Oh, yeah!!! I had fun with this exercise and am so honored to have been picked for the blog!!

  8. Jul 13 2014 at 4:25 pm #

    This is perfect timing! I haven’t picked up my camera much in the last 2 months for lack of …? Just in a rut. I can’t wait to start working on this!

    Carol

  9. Krisanne
    Jul 13 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    I’ve been in a major drought so thanks for the challenge! This may be my ticket out of my rut!

  10. Jul 15 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    Love the artistic aspect of some of these photos. Nothing better than seeing art in a photograph.

  11. Lila
    Jul 23 2014 at 8:12 pm #

    I am so impressed at this! It’s just what I needed after a couple weeks of not picking up my camera. Can’t wait to shoot intentionally more often!

  12. Valerie
    Jul 24 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    I really like the ideas for the Creativity Exercises. I need to find time to participate, even just for myself.

  13. Jul 25 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    bookmarking this!

  14. Jul 25 2014 at 11:24 pm #

    I love exercises like this! I personally think true creativity is something that is lacking in popular culture. Thank you for helping us to expand our originality!!!

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