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Creativity: Who Needs It?

It ain’t easy being green–or creative on purpose.

It’s easy to be creative when you don’t have any responsibilities.
-Soren Bredsdorff

This week’s missive is aimed at creative SOHOers plying their craft as photographers, artists, or designers. The rest of you can eavesdrop or wait ’till next week when I put my generic small business hat back on and go off onto another tirade.

I’m often asked where the ideas for these columns come from. Many times they’re a reflection of the projects and problems I face in my daily SOHO reality. Other times, as we all have a finite amount of creativity, I get ideas from you. Recently I spoke with a Montana photographer named Dave and he mentioned his frustration about the limited amount of creativity he was able to apply to current assignments.

Let’s face it; not all of the work we produce for clients might be considered “creative.” Sometimes the nature of the project itself forces us to become merely passive recorders, but I had a solution for Dave, and although he knew deep down inside that it was true, he laughed when I gave it to him. Sometimes you have to do the job for free. Before you think I’ve lost my marbles, let me explain. There are several kinds of projects that allow total control of all creative aspects and here are just a few of them:

New Portfolio. When’s the last time you updated your book? Sometime you get so busy with paying projects you overlook the marketing tool that brought many of those clients to you in the first place Update that portfolio to include your personal work or self-assignments that demonstrate capabilities some clients may not know about.

Client Mailers. While many creative types use samples of recent work as promotional mailers, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you want to obtain more assignments of a certain type, create one yourself, then mail a copy to everybody and his brother. Since many people send holiday-oriented mailers, choose a less popular holiday. For many years, I did a Halloween promotional mailing featuring whimsical images; be creative when you mail, too.

Promotional Projects. When a friend of mine completed an environmental portraiture workshop, she contacted a local bank suggesting they mount an exhibit of portraits of local professional women–starting with the bank president. She used that as an entrée to contact local businesswomen and made dramatic portraits of them under the photographer’s total creative control. She even talked a local photo lab into making the prints for free in exchange for “promotional consideration,” as they say on TV. At the end of the two-month exhibit, several of the women featured in the portraits bought prints for themselves. It was a win-win situation for everyone.

All this creative activity can become a money pit. You can easily kid yourself into believing you are actually working, when, in fact you’re not. Being a professional also means you must make a profit from your creativity. Any promotional activity must be approached just like a client project: Set a budget, production schedule, and completion date. It ain’t easy being green, but it’s just as difficult being creative on purpose.

Contributing Editor Joe Farace, the author of more than 1000 magazine articles and 23 books, believes that creativity, like any skill, must be practiced. Each week, he makes new images using tools that vary from pinhole cameras to the latest four-megapixel digicam. (See goose2.jpg.)

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