Exploring the edges; Using creative constraints to develop your photographers voice

Tall young trees, some of which have spring leaves but some of which have only leaf buds or no leaves at all reach towards a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. The sun, very slightly to the right of centre at the top of the image is in sunburst form with rays extending to left and right edges of the image. On the floor are swathes of violet bluebells and fresh almost luminous green grass. The overall impression is of peace and growing things. As your eyes adjust to the scale you realise there are 8 or 10 people and a dog in the near distance, and this gives scale to the forest, the huge swathes of bluebells and the trees

One of a series of images of bluebell woods in Wanstead Park, combining techniques I developed working with different creative constraints (c) Carole Edrich 2016

Exploring the edges; whether real or self-imposed, is a wonderful way to develop photographic creativity. Whether this involves working with, pushing or working around the technical limits set by the camera, the lens or the environment or around less tangible ideas depends on your own objectives and circumstances. Even the mistakes and the images that didn’t quite reach what you saw in your head have value, as they’ll teach you what not to do as well as give you pointers on what you might try to develop in the future.

If you spend a month or more concentrating on getting to know the limits of the constraint you have chosen along with searching for the most original way to express your theme, the best that the constraint will allow and how to exploit the strange things that happen when you find ways to push through what first seemed like a barrier you’ll have bedded the thinking the creativity and the doing into your subconscious. After that your fingers will know what to do, you’ll have a new set of creative approaches for your next photographic project and you’ll have started developing your personal aesthetics and the confidence to push your photography to a new level.

Eventually, your exploration of the edges will turn into exploitation and you’ll see ways of telling a photographic story that you’d never have imagined before you started.

The list of creative constraints you could play with is endless, but here are the ones we came up with in the classes I gave tonight and last week:

  • Aperture
  • Camera’s light meter
  • Colours
  • Composition
    • Leading Lines
    • Triangles
  • Disposition
  • Exposure
  • Focus
  • Geography
  • Image Quality
  • ISO
  • Kit
    • Camera
    • Filters
    • Lens
    • Tripod
  • Light
    • Natural
    • Artificial
    • Combination
  • Location
  • Mood
  • Plans
    • Rule of Thirds
  • Shade
  • Shutter speed
  • Time available
  • Time of day (or night)
  • Tones
  • Weather
  • What ‘looks right’
  • White Balance

Everyone is different. The constraints that they feel, the constraints they work best under and the constraints that –  in playing with – they will learn most from are likely to be different. The constraints they choose to explore (because we all have lives, need to prioritise and are unlikely to explore them all) will contribute to the way they create their art.

I’ve asked my class to try to imitate the techniques of one of their favourite modern photographers as closely as possible, and then do so within whichever constraint or constraints they choose in the list above. Whether you’re one of my students now (or have been) or are simply reading this post and feel like doing this too, I’d love it if you show what you’ve done in the comments below.