Have you ever had an idea for a photo that you simply cannot ignore? This happened to me a while back.

My idea was inspired by an area under our house that is covered by our back porch. The light in this area is similar to that of a garage. I knew that I could use the inverse square law here to get a clean black background while my son played with bubbles.

But alas, when I set up the shot I made a mistake and set him too deep in the shadows. He wasn’t that into it and so I only had a few minutes to shoot. By the time I realized my mistake, he was done and I had to give up.

I was extremely frustrated by my mistake, chastising myself for not setting it up correctly the first time. I had a vision and I couldn’t make it happen! ARGH!

A few days later I tried a simpler shot again, in that same area, just to prove to myself that I could work with that light. Learning from my mistakes, I made it happen.

It was right around this time that I became a podcast junky. I was listening to the Chase Jarvis podcast when he started talking about this thing called the creative gap. His words immediately resonated with me.

What is a creative gap?

The ‘creative gap’ is this distance between what we as artists envision ourselves creating and what we actually create. Sometimes we nail it and the gap is nil. Other times, as you might imagine, there’s a huge disparity and the gap is wide.

Having a definition for what I was going through made me feel so much better. As I continued on my photography journey and encountered the inevitable stumbles, I had a mantra in my head to get me through. “No big deal that’s just the creative gap – I can work harder.”

Calling our mistakes the creative gap instead of blaming ourselves or feeling inadequate can remove so much unnecessary pressure. Even more, it can motivate us to work to bridge the gap instead of spending energy berating ourselves.

No matter where we are in our journey—beginner, intermediate, or pro—we are all striving to close the creative gap in one way or another. Identifying a creative gap’s existence in your photography journey means that we are pushing ourselves to learn more. Instead of being frustrated by the gap, we should celebrate it!

Illustrating the creative gap

As I listened to the podcast that day, I started reminiscing about specific photographs that required multiple attempts to successfully achieve what I had aimed to create. I am sharing those experiences with you today so that you can learn from my gaps and more easily navigate your own.

Bridging the gap to capture the perfect reflection

I had the idea for this photo when my kids were playing with the hose one afternoon. I caught one of their reflections in the window and loved the repetition.

The next night I recreated the scene and started snapping. I was unhappy with the results. Nothing I captured in-camera matched what my eyes saw in front of me.

I ended-up bribing my kids the next two evenings so that I could try again (and again). I played with different lenses, different apertures, different focal points, and different times in the evening.

I began to see that I needed the light to be bright enough to catch her reflection, but not so bright that the sky above was blown out. Needless to say, by the time I got what I wanted, my kids were a little burnt out on this!

Bridging the gap to achieve pleasing skin tones

The light in this photograph is entering the scene from a west-facing window. I wanted to take advantage of the colors and shapes of my son’s bedding by shooting from overhead.

The first time I attempted this shot it was early afternoon. The sun was a little too bright coming through, making it difficult to achieve good skin tones and exposure.

The next day I tried again. But this time I set-up the shot mid-morning when the light coming through the window was more subtle. And I got exactly what I wanted.

Bridging the gap to create a perfect shadow

It took my poor little one about 20 times of walking up those stairs over two days to capture this scene!

On the first attempt I used a plug-in lamp with a circular shade as my light source. I realized that the bulb was not strong enough to create distinct shadow.

Rather than being defeated, I headed to the hardware store the following day to purchase a stronger bulb. And we tried again.

I played with my positioning, the lamp positioning, and even changed which hand in which my son was holding his stuffed elephant. I ended up flipping the photo in post processing to strengthen the composition.

What bridges the creative gap?

When I analyze the photos that took several attempts to achieve my vision, there are two specific elements that make or break the photos. First, the light has to be just right. Second, the subject has to be just right.

Sure, there are times when I get perfect light and a genuine expression on the first try. However, the longer I am a photographer, the more I realize that this is an exception, not the rule.

As artists, we have to work to bridge the gap. We have to identify what is most important to making our photographs successful. Then we must make every effort—sometimes over the course of multiple shooting set-ups—to have those elements for success present in our work.

It’s about the process, not the product

Another lesson I have learned through this process is that the successful execution of a vision is not the most rewarding part. Rather, the most important factor is what we learn while trying.

When bridging a creative gap photo, we are working to better understand light. We are working to better understand our subjects. And we are setting ourselves up to see these elements more clearly on the first try next time. We are doing the work and continuously learning.

Doing the work to bridge the gap

So what can you do to bridge your creative gap?  Stop beating yourself up for not getting the shot you want on the first try! Get out of your head and GET. TO. WORK.

These are a few ideas to get you in the zone of bridging your creative gap.

Shoot often

Ideally this would be every day or every week. Committing to a 365 or 52 project is a great idea. It is a large undertaking but is so worth it as you will see a huge difference in your work over time.

Related: Why YOU should start a 365 photography project this year

There are days when you won’t feel inspired to pick-up your camera. But there are always lessons to learn every time you shoot. Rather than aiming to get a portfolio-worthy shot every time, aim to learn something with each photo.

I also urge you to edit and share your photos as you work through your project. There are always lessons to learn in post processing and by sharing your work with others, you open up the opportunity to learn from others.

Educate yourself

Whether it be an online workshop, attending an in-person conference, or reading through the thousands of tutorials on the Clickin Moms forum, find every opportunity you can to learn. The more you fill your head with knowledge, the quicker you will be able to apply that knowledge to your photographs.

Always seek inspiration

Creative inspiration is everywhere. Whether it be a great song on the radio, a beautiful sky at sunset, or a really great book, there are infinite ways to keep yourself inspired. And an inspired photographer is a productive photographer!

One of my favorite things to do is go through “feed stopper” photographs I have saved on Instagram. I am inspired by the artistry of the photographers I follow and am also able to analyze their technique and execution. I can reflect on what I love about each photo and often find myself motivated to try and translate that in my only work.

Never stop building your bridge

It doesn’t matter how you choose to tackle the creative gap. What matters is that you are perpetually working to bridge it.

The mark of a great artist is that she never feels like she has reached the finish line. She never feels like she has bridged the gap completely. Instead, she crosses one gap and then seeks another to build a new bridge.

Celebrate your challenges in photography – it means you are pushing yourself and your limits. It means you are in the process of becoming a better photographer every day. And that is something to be excited about!

Tell us in the comments below your favorite lessons learned while bridging your own creativity gaps.