Restriction breeds creativity


A little while ago a good friend of mine, who I met through Fujifilm Canada, sent me this in an email:

“I’m really looking to try and improve my photography, but I am having trouble getting inspiration and don’t really know where to start. I think what I’m looking for is a photography mentor, or maybe just someone to share my photos with who can give me feedback, tips, or just advice on where to start.  Would you be interested in helping me?”

Now, I loved this for two reasons:

  1. I think this young lady is a fabulous person, who has gone out of her way time and time again to help me with things.  And,
  2. I love, love, LOVE the fact that she had the courage to reach out and ask for feedback on her work.  This is something that far too few creatives do.  The best creatives are always looking outside of their bubble, looking up the food chain, and are seeking out honest feedback on their work.  It can be uncomfortable to hear at times because we become so attached to our art, but we benefit so much from receiving this feedback.

I was totally excited to jump in and help my friend out.  Now, we live on opposite sides of the country, so we decided that we would be doing this via email, Skype, and through blog posts on our respective websites.   We also decided that each week or two we would pick a different theme or technique to focus on, and rather than just “mentor” her work I would also shoot new work for each theme too.

I decided to start with one of the most important lessons I learned early in my photography:

“Restriction Breeds Creativity”

I fully believe an artist’s eye develops when they have restrictions placed on them.  It helps you see a certain way, and it also places you in positions where you see something you previously wouldn’t have.   For somebody who has been plying their craft for a long period of time it can bring a new and refreshing perspective.  For somebody who is a newer artist a blank canvas can be overwhelming, and placing parameters on their work can help provide focus while they are learning.

I often place restrictions on myself in terms of gear used, most commonly working with just one camera body and one lens.  I’m pretty sure I could happily shoot with a 35mm equivalent for the rest of my photographic career as a matter of fact, but for our first theme I decided to pick the colour blue.

Here is a selection of the images I grabbed while out focusing on “blue”:












Now, are any of these award winning images?  Nope, not at all.  That totally  isn’t the point though.  Having this restriction (“blue”) made me walk the streets of Vancouver and Seattle, streets I have walked countless times in the past, with a new vision.  I looked up more, I looked down more.  I noticed repeating patterns.  For instance, I was quite surprised how often I saw all 3 primary colours together (blue, red, yellow).  I also looked in windows for reflections more often than I normally do, as well as saw leading lines like the diagonal row of chairs in the photo above this text.  Every time you do an exercise like this your eyes gets a little bit stronger for when you want to make a photograph that really matters.

My good friend Olaf recently wrote a blog post called “Training Your Eye“, in which he talks about several different ways you can do this.  It is an excellent read, I highly recommend you check it out!

And, my friend Chelsea has posted her “blue” post too.  Go read it and give a new and young photographer some love:




4 thoughts on “Restriction breeds creativity

  1. Chelsea Parker says:

    This is awesome, Ian! Such amazing photos… and many kind words 🙂 Thanks again for helping me out, looking forward to our future projects!

    PS. Can I ask what the 4th image down is of? I love it!

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