Barriers to Creativity in the Digital Darkroom

With more people at home lately, I’ve been receiving a lot of emails. Many of them ask about my processing workflow….specifically, the order of operations: what exact steps I take to get to my final image.

“Should I crop first or later?”
“How do I know which colors to enhance?”
“Did I oversharpen?”

Everyone has their own tactical questions about the darkroom…and I’m always happy to answer them. But the more photographers I talk to, the more I am noticing a trend…that these questions are masking a bigger problem.

It seems like no matter how many tutorials they watch or new “trick” they try to implement…they still feel that their images are unfinished, or otherwise subpar.

Now, there are several ways to move past this plateau. However, the absolute biggest roadblock standing in your way right now is doubting your own creative abilities.

Every photographer gets this feeling at some point, and it’s a challenge we all have to overcome. Because when your workflow doesn’t click in the darkroom, it’s easy to default to the standard excuses:

“Lightroom and Photoshop are too hard to understand. I’m not a computer whiz”.
“I shouldn’t be ‘fixing’ things in post anyways – I need to be more creative with my camera, not in the darkroom”.

And my favorite myth to dispel…

“I’m just not artistic or imaginative. Some photographers just have this natural gift where they can create masterpieces easily”.

Thankfully, all these beliefs are 100% false…and are easily dismissed with a simple shift in perspective.

Being able to create expressive photographs that you can be proud of comes down to three very basic concepts…and these will remain true no matter where you are in your journey.

  1. Identify your creative vision…or “thesis” for an image. I call this finding your “creative compass”.
  2. Minimize any distractions that are not aligned with your compass.
  3. Amplify the atmosphere and enhance the qualities of your image that ARE aligned with your compass.

I call this the “IMA method” for short…and is something we can talk more about later.

The concept is quite simple, but massively powerful. Because when it comes down to expressing your creativity through photography…the efficacy is in simplicity.

Unfortunately, there are several stumbling blocks that can derail your workflow and sidetrack you from producing images you can be proud of.

Some are technical, which is an easy fix…but most are mental barriers that clutter the path to your creative vision.

So instead of sending out another “tactical” tutorial…I thought it would be more helpful to talk about some simple shifts in perspective that you can implement right now.

To start, let’s discuss the difference between “editing” and “processing”. This is a topic I’ve talked about before, but worth mentioning again since it’s a concept that can immediately bring you much clarity in the darkroom.

These terms may seem similar, but are actually quite different…and once you start to compartmentalize your own workflow into these “editing” and “processing” buckets….your time in Lightroom and Photoshop will be faster, easier, and much more fun.

>>> Editing vs. Processing in the Digital Darkroom

This is just one small step you can take to simplify your workflow…

And each change you make will gradually clear the way for your creativity to flourish.

It’s not about ADDING more techniques or tactics…but rather narrowing your focus so you can process more intentionally, instead of being a jack of all trades.

Anyways, I hope you find this simple tip helpful….even if it’s just a reminder to reorganize your workflow a bit!