Photo Creativity 101 – the 10-minute rule

04-29-20 Trabuco Canyon KI6A6984v2

Have you ever gone out to take photographs, whether to the beach, park, or just a walk around the block and come back and realize that for all that time you spent, you did not take one single photograph? You might be thinking you have photographers-block, similar to writers-block or artist-block; encountering a blank slate and unable to engage and get something meaningful started.

What to do about photographer-block is one of questions that arise in my photographic workshops that is indirectly about the creative process, and this is where the 10-minute rule is really applicable for any creative endeavor, whether photographing, painting, writing or drawing.

10-minute rule: Within 10 minutes of arriving at your photographic destination (or at your studio, or wherever your creative space is located), make something. Anything. But make something, become engaged in the creative process. Photographers can take quick snapshot of something, or artist can create a quick sketch to loosen up, or throw some paint at something. It does not have to be totally serious. It is more about becoming engaged in the creative processes.

What’s behind this 10-minute rule: to make the switch from left brain (analytical & verbal) thinking into right brain (non-verbal & perceptual) thinking. An example of left brain thinking involves driving a car (to your photo destination), which relies on a lot of very analytical thinking; need to pay attention to the posted signs, calculating where you are at the moment in regard to where you want to be, the processes of actually driving a car, monitoring the car’s speed as compared to the posted speed limits. So the left side of the brain is fully engaged.

Trouble is creativity is highly related to right brain (non-verbal) thinking; being aware of space, colors, shapes, and perceptual relationships, which includes types of feelings and aromas and other senses. My favorite easy read on right versus left brain thinking is the now classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by (Dr.) Betty Edwards, and I think in its fourth edition (I still have my copy from the 1980’s). Her books, which is also about seeing versus looking or assuming, is a great read for photographers as well, explores the scientific investigations that our brain has two halves and each side is developed toward separate and unique cognitive functions. As you might suspect, one side processes analytical and verbal data (left brain) very well, while the other, the right brain, is open to non-verbal and spatial relationships used by most artists. On that right side is where we want to dwell in our creative pursuits.

When preparing to engage in artistic practices we need to make that mental shift as quick as possible from doing the verbal left brain thinking to the non-verbal right brain perception mode. Thus idea of the 10-minute rule, which is something that was encouraged in one of the earliest workshops I ever attended, and has become an integral part of my experimental/play process that I use today (okay, the 10-minute rule photo above was at the beginning of my walk yesterday morning).

Even when venturing out with my mechanical camera/film rig (using a spot meter to calculate a Zone-system exposure, then set the aperture and shutter speed accordingly while considering the film development is pretty much left brain thinking) , I will use my cell phone to photograph something once I arrive within the first 10-minutes. Any camera will do, but I recommend a fully-auto version so that you engaged in seeing versus thinking about camera settings (my DSLR settings are made before I leave the house). As a scientist for my day-job, I do a lot of very left brain thinking, thus my need to make the cognitive switch to right-brain thinking if I really want to explore creative alternatives and concepts. Thus I have found the 10-minute rule to be ideal in helping to make that switch and I have used it so often (practice, practice, practice) that my process of moving into perceptual awareness is pretty quick using this little creative trick.

For the photograph above that I made yesterday was at the top of the trail head (within the first couple of minutes of arriving), this time carrying my DSLR set to Av (Aperture priority for my Canon), which is a smart version of auto exposure. I became quickly engaged in how I wanted to compose this photograph to use the trail to lead the eye into the far landscape that was shrouded with the lingering costal fog. I anticipated that the resulting exposure would be low contrast, which when I returned to my studio, found to be the case and so I processed the image according, perhaps tweaking the dark values a bit more to increase contrast. It was a moody morning and I wanted to instill that “moodiness” in the final photograph. Thus, I was doing more than just looking during the first 10 minutes, but making a shift to being open to what I was seeing (perceiving) in the landscape’s tonal and spatial relationships in front of me.

This is a photograph that is not part of any project and probably not destined for any museum walls, just something that had me engaged in the spatial relationships, tonalities and my perception of what I was seeing. Bingo, I was now fully engaged, as evidenced by the amount of photographs I made on this walk.

So try it, you might like it. Next time you are out or starting to work on a creative endeavor, do something to engage your creative side within the first 10 minutes. You could be pleasantly surprised by what might result.

Cheers, stay healthy and safe,


Featured artwork above: untitled (Trabuco Canyon) copyright 2020 Douglas Stockdale


Gardening For Ordnance solo on-line exhibition, Fabrik Projects on, March 24th – April 30th, 2020.

Los Angeles Center of Photography (LACP) Faculty Exhibition, in Los Angeles at the new LACP gallery, located at 566 Washington Blvd. The exhibition opened March 21st and the closing reception is Saturday, April, 18, 2020, from 7-10pm. TBD

Update! Medium Photo 2020 Workshop: Developing a Creative Book workshop that I will be leading, is now rescheduled for September 24 – 27th, 2020, a four-day extended weekend workshop in San Diego.

Medium Photo 2020 Lecture Series, I will be giving a one-evening lecture Artist Books as Art Objects on Friday, March 20th, from 7:30 – 9pm at the You Belong Here artist venue, located at 3619 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, California 92104. TBD


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