Inspired By_Challenged By: The Creative Gap

I recently received the email below:

“Your pictures are stunning. Mine are not. Not trying to oversimplify this, but how on earth do you do what you do with a camera? I desperately want to move my creativity forward, but it won’t seem to budge.”

OK, first thing’s first: Over time I’ve challenged myself, struggled, and worked hard and failed, and sucked a-plenty. You already know this. As artists, we all do. Sometimes the inspiration or the execution is lacking, or worse, sometimes both are completely void. On the other hand, we all also make really great stuff sometimes. That’s the crack. The buzz. It’s what keeps us getting out of bed in the morning.

Second thing: The answer to the question above lies in what I call ‘the creative gap.’ A description of the creative gap, how to deal with it, and a video after the jump–click the ‘continue reading’ link below…

The term ‘creative gap’ is a way of describing the difference between what we as artists can visualize ourselves creating and what we actually create. Sometimes we nail it and the gap is nil. Other times, as you might imagine, there’s a huge disparity and the gap is wide. Whether we lack vision, skills, timing, whatever – it can get frustrating to set out to create a masterpiece, and settling for a different kind of piece, if you know what I mean. You envision it like an Edward Weston, but what you get is more like an Edward Scissorhands.

But there is a clear answer to closing this gap and it’s a simple one: Do MORE Work.

I discovered this in the early beginnings of my career, and I still remind myself of it to this day. Mastery is rarely innate. It requires a repetition of the fundamentals – creatively, technically, etc – you name it. It’s through exploring that creative process over and over that we get stronger and better.

On the surface it might seem to some like we’d be pandering to luck, as in “take enough pictures and you’re bound to get one good one”, but that’s crap. It really goes way beyond that. Get out there and make more pictures, and get your hands dirty, again and again, and you will close that gap over time. Interstingly, I find that it’s also a way to discover your own style. You take enough pictures and you’ll start to see a similarity in your vision. This understanding continues to help me tremendously as an artist.

Want to leave you with this little tidbit from Ira Glass. I’m not a big This American Life fan, but I recently stumbled across this video (via Todd’s great blog over at where Ira describes precisely what I mean. It’s through repetition and pushing on that almost all artists succeed.

26 Responses to Inspired By_Challenged By: The Creative Gap

  1. shelbywhite June 22, 2008 at 2:05 pm #

    great video

  2. Jay McLaughlin June 22, 2008 at 3:20 pm #

    This is all so true and well said.

    Another tip would be to have projects to work on. Collaborate with other people. Their ideas may help spark off some of your own!

  3. Иван Чертов June 22, 2008 at 3:31 pm #

    This post will help a lot of people…
    Thank you ;)

  4. emile June 22, 2008 at 3:32 pm #

    Interesting thoughts Jarvis

    i’m wondering if this somehow ties in with Robert Pirsig’s ideas on ‘gumption traps’ not the same deal at first glance but transcending that concept into art (instead of fixing a motorcycle) seems like as good a plan as any …. it won’t be a straightforward transition I think though; should be a hoot either way.


  5. Richard Cave June 22, 2008 at 3:48 pm #

    Speaking to a fighter pilot about how he works and how steep the learning curve is,

    The bit of advice he gave me “is make mistakes, learn from them then dump them and continue forward to the next task”.

    Which means everyone makes mistakes just dont make the same mistake twice.

    As for creativity look at the world around you, learn to look and look again. There is a saying in the military called wide asleep. If you watch pedestrians walking down the road they do it automatically without looking around them this wide asleep.

    Help out on a project, go and help out with the community. Help special needs kids go and help the elderly.

    As a photographer you can suffer with cabin fever very easily, and not grow as an individual. Growth is good for creativity.


  6. Chuck June 22, 2008 at 3:59 pm #

    So, in the video, the guy gives a specific example of a story where he fell on his face. Do you have any examples of where you failed to close the gap between your vision and your product?

  7. Chuck June 22, 2008 at 4:05 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote. I’ve been at this for almost five years and finally feel that i have an understanding of my gear. Funny enough people are starting to offer me jobs.
    I recently began an exercise of reviewing all of my photo shoots. I’m posting one image per shoot in flickr, and from october 03- july 05 I had 100 shoots. Shoots when i went out with a camera and a goal, model, bands, wedding, whatever. I have 2.5 more external drives to review, but what i can see so far is improvement. That feels good.

  8. Paul Dymond June 22, 2008 at 4:27 pm #

    What a great post Chase,

    as artists we all struggle constantly to close that gap but a lot of people don’t really understand that that’s what they’re trying to do.

    We can too easily get into the rut of just producing work that keeps our clients happy without satisfying ourselves, or worse still knowing we could do better.

  9. Chase Jarvis June 22, 2008 at 4:32 pm #

    @chuck: You bet I can give an example… Off the top of my head I recently failed to close ‘the gap’ on a recent piece of ambient video I wanted to create while in Tokyo. I had a vision of this symphonic, short piece that illustrated the harmony of Tokyo train commuting (as opposed to the traditional portrayal of the commute as sooo many people, so monotonous, so machine-lie). I was aiming for well organized with beautful little artistic flairs (people running elegantly to grab the train as the doors closed…flairs of people floating quickly down the stairs…) My inspiration was that I’d been doing a lot of listening to my wife’s heartbeat, just laying with my head on her back, and thinking about the blood running through her veins…her heart pushing all that red stuff around in perfect harmony. So generally, I’d give myself an A on inspiration. Where I failed was in execution. I figured I could capture this excellent footage on a very short timeline. Ultimately, this was my demise. After a short scout and very little pre-production planning, my “winging it” got me a whole bunch of mediocre footage, and a lack of flair.

    The one thing I’m better at now (ironically from working so hard to close the gap over many years) is pulling the plug when something’s not working. So I pulled the plug. I’ll certainly go back and do it right sometime in the future, but with a tighter, better plan in place. FWIW, I’m really encouraging myself to do high concept, short shoots on a more improvisational platform these days–and I’m very excited about it–however this project was not something I executed well according to that plan I’d had in mind.

    And all that’s okay, because I’ll go do it again; which brings me right back to the point of the post.

  10. Anonymous June 22, 2008 at 4:33 pm #

    Thanks for the great post, I love how level headed you are!

  11. Dov Viramontes June 22, 2008 at 4:41 pm #

    I agree. Work more, do more. When you’re not working, test test test. Shoot shoot shoot. Do test shoots once a week. I push myself to do them (once a week) because I get to experiment and squeeze out my creativity. It gives me a chance to try something entirely new that I’ve never done before. Also, It also allows for some fabulous networking and connections in the industry. The more you shoot, the more you’ll see and the more you’ll improve.

    My favorite photography professor, Lesley Krane, once said to me, “Do what you’re afraid of. Get out of your comfort zone. If you’re unsure of a shoot, a concept, or the way something’s gonna come out, push yourself to do it anyway and then look at your results.” You may be surprised.

    Many of us are in this safe comfort zone, but still aren’t fully satisfied with what we produce. Try for one day to break out of your zone, experiment and try something new. You will get results.

    Some of my best work has developed out of my comfort zone. I would of never known that if Professor Krane hadn’t given me those words of wisdom.

    Let your dreams inspire you. Literally. One of todays greatest vintage fashion designers, Rita Watkins, once told me to, “Keep a dream diary, and generate photo shoots based off of what you dream.” And so I have. Once again, my creativeness jumped to another level. What I have learned is that we are most creative when we’re asleep. A lot of don’t remember what we’ve dreamt of. The more you write about your dreams, the more creative they become. Translate your dreams through a photograph and you will be surprised.

    Newly updated site:

  12. Robert Terry June 22, 2008 at 7:54 pm #

    Great post, great comments, all true. Something I would suggest to the emailer that hasn’t been touched on here is post processing. Very few of my images look the way I want directly out of the camera. Some require nothing more than a basic levels correction; some require a fair amount of time in Photoshop to reveal my vision of the image. Point is, if you’re skipping this step you’re seriously handicapping yourself and the final product that you produce.

  13. lM ll lL lL S June 22, 2008 at 9:46 pm #

    Chase, you freakin’ rock, you know that…i have one question….how did you get your start??

    and thanks for the post…it’s inspiring…

  14. cjmiranda June 23, 2008 at 2:33 am #

    Nice piece of advice! I’ll be sure to take it under account!

    Chase I tried to contact you for an article I’m doing on you and your blog, it would be great to hear from you on this.

  15. ricklohre June 23, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    Jesus Pete! You’re in our friggin’ heads man! LOL
    It’s soo funny how alike we all are.

    Your blog on “We Are Independent…” goes deeper here in this blog too…
    We’ve all been there…stuck in the muck…your candidness and willingness to be transparent has enormous value to your readers. Sharing your thoughts on these topics really helps people understand that successful creative experts are not born, their made! Surely, you’re born with some level of creative talent, but without working at it, you’ll never grow.

    I agree with what “jay mclaughlin” said, I’ve got my wife as my assistant/shoot manager now giving me ideas and tips during shoots. It’s been unfreaking real having her along. She’s so creative! You know sometimes I get all caught up in the technical aspect, I forget to let some creativity loose.

    Allowing others to join in can definitely add to the creativity.

    In your Staff page, I hear in almost all of the videos how “great it is to be around such a creative team”…Not to take ANY creative credit away from you Chase, but I know that just fuels you too.

    Keep it up and thanks for sharing man.

  16. Chase Jarvis June 23, 2008 at 9:31 am #

    c3l50: I don’t think i have your email about an interview in my inbox. Hit me again: info @

  17. Chuck June 23, 2008 at 12:06 pm #

    Thanks so much for your example. I think it really helps us mere mortals to know that such a great photographer has been there and still occasionally fails to close the gap. You’re challenging and inspiring to so many. Especially with this blog and your videos. Thanks for sharing.

  18. bruceh June 23, 2008 at 1:51 pm #

    I think it’s also important to throw out the bad stuff, and move on, as a learning experience. (ha, I’m better at giving advice than taking it…)

  19. lM ll lL lL S June 23, 2008 at 2:03 pm #

    so apparently i didn’t dig deep enough…i found my answer….thanks…

  20. Ian June 23, 2008 at 2:03 pm #


    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of “taste” that Ira is talking about and how editing (not post processing but choosing the deletes and the selects from a shoot) is a huge part of the art. I feel that part of closing the gap is having the eye to pick the hero shots.

    I was hoping you’d be willing to pick some examples from your portfolio and tell us what your original vision for that shoot was and how you chose that (or those) shot(s) from the hundreds of thousands of clicks in your career to represent you as a photographer.

    I’d also love to hear your general philosophy for picking a representative sample out of a vast body of work. I have found making my selects difficult because I shoot for a wide variety of clients in different genres. It is feels like comparing apples and oranges and deciding which is “better”… or at least which represents you and your vision better, and I would love to hear how you feel is best to go about doing it.

    Thanks. Love and appreciate the blog.

  21. lizsong June 23, 2008 at 3:20 pm #

    hi Chase,

    I really appreciate your thoughts on the topic of the creative gap. It was well put, in that I never knew how to articulate the many gaps that I’ve encountered over my lifetime so far.

    As an aspiring photographer, I’m finding that the vision is often there….but the lack of technical knowledge can be quite stifling. It’s been a learning process…a good (and sometimes frustrating) one.

    I totally agree with you that mastery comes with practicing a LOT. I know I’ve improved quite a bit just in the last couple months, b/c I’ve been putting myself out there just trying anything.

    I recently took a shot in NYC that I absolutely love and felt that I had vision and was able to execute! Would love to get your feedback…I posted the image (low res, sorry) on my blog for you.

    Many thanks and look forward to hearing from you if you get a chance.


  22. Alvaro MAM June 25, 2008 at 3:26 am #

    Great post, as always totally enlightening, I get caught in this gap more than I want but of course I think this is part of the game, the trick I think is not get stuck, move on and rethink after all nobody has been blessed with the constant ultra creative, easy inspiration gene.

    Perhaps somebody involved in the creation of daily content can give us some tips and tricks to help with the process.

  23. Anonymous June 26, 2008 at 3:45 am #

    great answer!

    Feels good to have a name for it now

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