The Art in Creative Work

If you’re a creative, for the sake of this article we’ll use a photographer, you’re going to do two kinds of work.

Some photographs are your art. You pick the model, the location, the equipment, styling, props, and you bring your vision to life. Owning the full process means you own the entire piece of work, with all its perfection and imperfection. You can experiment, try new techniques or ideas for the color, framing, subject matter, and even the design on top of it. This work tends to be the most frustrating, but also the most fulfilling. Seeing a project from idea to photograph and being absolutely proud of the end product, is one of the best feelings.

Some photographs are for your job. You got hired for a wedding, so you’re shooting 100 of a certain type of photograph with certain constraints on framing and lighting, and you aren’t in control of the styling or location. If you’re photographing a physical product, you have an obligation to make the color as accurate to how the product looks in real life as possible. The company may have certain constraints on other aspects of the photo based on the brand aesthetic, the campaign message, and sizing for mobile, web, social, etc.

In the beginning, people hire you based on your personal work. It shows what you’re capable of and what you make naturally without direction. If that matches the brand’s goals , they’ll hire you.

When working with a brand, it’s easy to get stuck in the constraints you’re given, and feel like you’ve given up creative control over what you produce. If this is taken to the extreme, it will start to feel like you aren’t there for your creative vision, but simply your technical knowledge of using a camera. This ought not be the case.

Your best work will come from serving the client within their constraints, and reserving certain aspects of the work for yourself. If I’m photographing a pair of shoes my location, subject, and styling of the model are all going to be constrained by the client. But I can still be creative with my framing, depth of field, my lens choices, I can light it however I want as long as it’s color accurate.

This is how you keep artistic control in creative work; respect the constraints, and then identify the areas where you can insert your own style and perspective. After all, that’s the part they hired you for.