Photo Tip: The Importance of Being Prolific

By |2018-01-25T21:39:20+00:00Sep 20th, 2017|

A few weeks back, I read this fantastic article on The Next Web (TNW) that talks about focusing less on being original and more on being prolific. It clearly serves as the inspiration for this post. Look, I completely get it. One of the most innate desires of any creative is to leave their mark on the world. We create because we have a drive to share and enrich other people’s lives. And I’m not necessarily talking about the photo of last night’s dinner or that whimsical selfie. I’m talking about spending weeks or months focusing on a single track, concocting a single project and working on nothing else all for the sake of being as original as possible. Don’t get me wrong here. It’s not that I’m advocating for racing to being less original. Rather, I believe that true, individual creativity is achieved through a variety of steps with one of the more notable ones being prolific in creating new work.

The TNW article also references a book that I have read and highly recommend called Originals by Adam Grant. A common theme that Grant threaded throughout the book as he introduced notable people and how they accomplished greatness was the role of how much they created and the importance of that increased frequency of creation. To quote psychologist and professor Dean Simonton from the book:

On average, creative geniuses aren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers, they simply produce a greater volume of work which gives them more variation and a higher chance of originality.

When I first moved to Oregon in 2011 and began spending more time photographing along the Columbia River Gorge, I quickly found a project that fascinated and inspired me. All around me was tons and tons of water flowing somewhere. Regardless of what was in its way, if there was a path to take, the water would go that route. And so, I decided to focus on a photo study that I internally dubbed The Path of Least Resistance. My goal was to look for as many examples of how water flows and photography whatever I find. Sure, on one hand, you can say that I’ve amassed a body of work that contains essentially the same subject matter. However, what I realized after spending years building this study is that I had become very good at finding unique compositions of this subject matter. In fact, my body of work for this study grew so large that I considered publishing a coffee table book on it.

All of this is to say that there is virtue in working to create a lot over anything else. The more you create, the higher your chances are of catching lightning in a bottle. In other words, I’d rather be out there with my camera every day creating something—even if it’s only slightly different than what I created the day before—so long as I’m actively doing it. It stands to reason that, almost invariably, a moment of pure inspiration will strike as a result of my constant acts of creation and I’ll grab that lightning.







6 Comments

  1. Village Photography September 20, 2017 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this Brian. I think you are absolutely right. I find it an inspiration because sometimes you feel you are just putting out the same stuff as everyone else when you have a desire to make something “original and radical”. So I will keep at it and the creative juices will get squeezed out!
    I also read the article you referenced from The Next Web and I think that the last two Practical Take-aways in that article are excellent points. And they are…
    ..do the best possible work you can do. Don’t put half-baked flabby ideas out there unless you’re happy with just your mum’s opinion (it’s very good dear).
    and Remember – the first ideas are always the most conventional. To get to the really original and radical stuff keep digging and keep producing.

    • Brian Matiash September 28, 2017 at 8:33 am - Reply

      Thanks much for adding those two points from the TNW article! I agree with them completely. The thing about living in a safe space creatively is that, while it can be very comforting, it can also be quite stifling.

  2. Barbara Koester September 26, 2017 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    Just what I needed today. I’m a little tired of myself going for something great rather than enjoying the process of capturing and sharing the joy of what I see often. Thanks!

    • Brian Matiash September 28, 2017 at 8:31 am - Reply

      My pleasure, Barbara! I’m glad it served useful for you. :)

  3. Chris Coughlan September 28, 2017 at 4:04 am - Reply

    Try working with 10″x8″ transparency film on a view camera and you may think slightly differently about being prolific. When I was student we were told in no uncertain terms “Get it right in the viewfinder or don’t bother. If you can’t do that, you’re neither use nor ornament”. True, that was a bit harsh, but it was to drive home the art of ‘seeing’ not just thrashing about in the hope of getting something. As I have been forced into using digital for practical and financial reasons I have noticed a distinct drop in my ‘seeing’ because it’s so easy to simply press the shutter again.

    • Brian Matiash September 28, 2017 at 8:31 am - Reply

      I completely agree, Chris. Again, I would never discount the importance of “seeing” the photo. If anything, learning to see the photo goes hand in hand with learning how to identify the ideal camera settings required to expose it according to your vision. But, it’d also be foolish of me to ignore the fact that we live in an amazing time as photographers. It’s not that I’m advocating a “spray and pray” methodology. Rather, I’m proposing that a photographer may increase their chance of yielding strong photos and growth by going on more shoots rather than focusing on getting that one perfect shot. If anything, it’s not an “either, or” scenario.

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