Why I Take Crap Photos & Make Crap Films
5 tips to help you start creating your own crap content.
I have a friend called Ben. He’s a videographer and filmmaker and part time philosopher. We went to Bosnia/Herzegovina together once to create a documentary on a lady called Dina who uses sports to break down racial divides between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. But before we got to travel the world creating documentaries (let’s be honest - it was just the once) I remember chatting with him about his desire to make short films, and how he didn’t really know how to get to the level he wanted to be at. The gap between his current ability and the types of films he wanted to create was vast. Without thinking about it, I just said “You just gotta start making crap films. You’re never going to be a good filmmaker until you start being a bad one.”
Not long after that conversation, he wrote and directed a short film. I think by his own admission it was a crap film. But that’s ok, because he kindly gave me an opportunity to write and produce a crap soundtrack. And ultimately we were both pretty proud of the crap we created. And you know what? At least we’d started the journey toward good.
You see, in order to be good at something you have to start by being bad at something. I’d argue that doing something is the single best way to get good at it.
I was talking to a photographer friend the other day. We were musing at the irony that if we added up all the time we spent watching Youtube videos about how to take great photos, and compared it with the time we spent going out and actually taking photos — the ledger would be well in favour of the watching, not the doing. It’s laughable really. At some point — we just have to get out there, look at the world through a viewfinder and start closing the gap between the photos I am taking now and the sort of photos I’d love to be gracing my instagram feed.
There’s a film on Apple Music about Ed Sheeran and his exploration of songwriting called “Song Writer” (here’s the trailer). In it, he likens songwriting to getting water from a rusty tap. This is my best rendition of his metaphor. You turn it on, and a spurt of brown, undrinkable metal-laden h20 comes out. Then another, and then another. After a few seconds you get a flow of water. Maybe it’s a little clearer but certainly not drinkable. However, the longer the tap runs — the cleaner the water gets, and provided you leave the tap running, you will eventually get clean, flowing drinking water.
The same can be said for any creative pursuit. Often the hardest part of the process is turning on the tap, and keeping the water flowing long enough to get the good stuff.
So if you’re anything like me and have ever lamented that there’s not much clean water coming out of your creative tap, or you’re just frustrated at that gap between your imagination and your ability — here’s 5 simple tips to help you start creating crap content.
1. Put it in the Calendar
I was actually thinking of creating a Youtube video for this titled “The single best way to improve your photography skills.” Then I’d just film myself creating a calendar event — “Friday, 6:30am-7:30am | Photograph Sunrise. Repeat every Friday.” How do we possibly think we’ll get better at something when we aren’t doing it regularly? I find it interesting how frustrated I get when my drone photos don’t look as good as the ones I see of the Faroe Islands on Instagram. Reality check — I’ve never been to the Faroe Islands. And I don’t fly my drone that much. So um, do I really think I’m going to get great drone photos? Put it in the calendar!
2. Recreate Great Art
I don’t mean plagiarise. I mean recreate. What is it about a particular image you’ve seen that you love? The colours? The perspective? The depth of field? The angle? The lighting? The subject? All of the above? Go out and set up the same shot and recreate as many of those elements as you can. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and by investing your time recreating content, you are actually teaching yourself the skills and concepts you’ll need to do it next time — with new subjects, new sunsets and new places.
3. Get Yourself a Gym Buddy
It’s so much easier working out when you have a friend with you right? You can cheer each other on, call each other out if you’re slacking off, and drag each other off the couch if one of you is feeling lazy. So too with creativity. Love writing songs? Write with someone else — they’ll draw the best out of you and help you hear things you wouldn’t on your own. Love taking photos? Organise a shoot with a friend — or better still someone who takes better photos than you do. They’ll help you see the same thing from unique perspectives. They’ll suggest a setting, a new technique you didn’t know or an opportunity you didn’t didn’t see. This always inspires a Creative mind. So when you sit down to do tip #1, send an invite at the same time.
4. Set Yourself a Weekly Challenge
One of the richest seasons I spent as a photographer was when i signed up for a 3 month TAFE course called “How to Take Better Photos.” I got a cute little certificate at the end of the 12 weeks. (Designed by someone who had not taken the “How to be a Better Graphic Designer” course.) The certificate wasn’t worth much, but the experience was priceless. Each week as a class we would explore a new technique. Leading lines, rule of thirds, perspective, contrast, landscapes, portraiture etc. We would then be tasked over the next week to try to capture as many examples of said technique as possible. After curating our best attempts, we’d send them off to the lecturer who would review them and then unpack the best and worst examples submitted by the students each week. A three star rating was the highest honour, and was all the incentive our little creative cohort needed to go out there and brave the creative process for another week. I still use the techniques I learned to this day. Most of them without thinking. Setting a weekly challenge fast-tracks your learning and gives you skills for life.
5. Create, Review, Repeat.
Once you’ve created something — evaluate it. Now, we are all our own worst critics, so it will never be as good as we want it to be. But if you can step back and be subjectively objective for a moment, ask yourself some questions. What do I like about it? What do I think I could have done better? What were the challenges I faced during the shoot that could be avoided next time? A good example of this was a recent shoot I did with my new Sony A7 III. Having always been a Canon guy, my venture into the world of Sony meant I had to get my head around an entirely new menu system — and a convoluted one at that! One of the issues I faced was not knowing the menus well enough to get to the settings I needed in time to take the shot I wanted! If the sun pops out from behind a cloud for 15 seconds — then I have 15 seconds to find the settings I need, recompose and shoot. My note to self — spend more time finding out where critical settings are in the menu system. Needless to say, there were a lot of crap photos from that session. And I will be a better photographer for it.
It’s ok to be crap at something. It’s the first step to being good at something. As long as you are moving forward and not staying stagnant, I suggest keep taking crap photos. One day you’ll be scrolling through your instagram feed and think, “Huh! These are actually quite good. Go me!”