10 Things Every Creative Person (That’s YOU) Must Learn

Here is a list of 10 things I’ve learned the hard way that every photographer, designer, creative–hell, every creative person–should know.

1. Experts aren’t the answer.
The blogs, the teachers, the mentors, the seminars aren’t the answer. They’re not there to tell you exactly what you need to know. If they’re good, then they are there to give you some ideas, some guidelines, or some rules to learn and subsequently break. This isn’t about the expert, it’s about you. In creative pursuits especially…what’s going on inside you is where the answers can be found. Hear what experts say, but don’t always listen to them.

2. Clients cannot tell you what they need.
Clients hire you because they have a problem. They need a great visual representation of something, a solution. They think they know the best way to photograph something, but they don’t really. That’s why they hire you. Take their suggestions to heart, because they definitely know their brand, product, their vision–perhaps even shoot a few versions of the images they THINK they want to see first–but then go nuts with own vision. Add value. Show them something they didn’t expect. Don’t be a monkey with a finger. Remember why you got hired…that YOU are the badass image maker. If you are good enough to get selected for the job, you should be good enough to drive the photographic vision.

3. Don’t aim for ‘better’, aim for ‘different’.
It’s funny how related “better” and “different” are. If you aim for ‘better’ that usually means you’re walking in the footsteps of someone else. There will often be someone better than you, someone making those footsteps you’re following… But if you target being different–thinking in new ways, creating new things–then you are blazing your own trail. And in blazing your own trail, making your own footprints, you are far more likely to find yourself being ‘better’ without even trying. Better becomes easy because it’s really just different. You can’t stand out from the crowd by just being better. You have to be different.

4. Big challenges create the best work.
If you get assignments that are pushing your vision, your skills, then awesome. Kudos to you, keep getting those assignments. If you’re not getting those assignments, then you need to be self-assigning that challenging work. Give yourself tough deadlines and tougher creative challenges. You do your best work where there is a challenge that is clearly present and 10 feet taller than you think you can handle.

5. Aesthetic sensibilities actually matter.
Go figure on this one… I’m constantly surprised as how much this is overlooked. Read this and believe it: You must develop a keen understanding of design, color, light, and composition. To just say “I know a picture when I like it” isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to know –for your own sake as well as the sake of your clients who will ask you– WHY a photo is a great photo. WHY is this one better than that one. If you don’t have any visual vocabulary, opinion, or aesthetic sensibility you won’t be able to explain these things. You won’t get the job. Or if you do get the job, you won’t be able to explain why your photos are worth getting hired again by the same client for the next campaign, story, or video. Trust me on this. Develop a sense of visual taste.

6. Simple is good.
Almost every photo that is bad has too much information. Outside of technical basics, the number one reason that most photos fail is because there is no clear subject. Often this is the case with design, film, fashion, you name it. Remove clutter, remove distraction. Tell one story, and tell it well.

7. Make mistakes, learn quickly.
Simply put, you need to be able to learn from your mistakes. Avoiding failure is not the goal. The goal is recovering from mistakes quickly. That goes for ever element of your photography–creative, business, vision…you name it. If you’re not willing to make mistakes, you’ll be paralyzed with inaction. That is the devil. Get out there and do stuff. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t work, change it. Quickly.

8. “Value” is different from “price.”
Don’t compete on price alone. That is certain death in any creative field. Focus on delivering value and price yourself accordingly. If you deliver great value with your images — better than expected, and better than your competition– and you can illustrate that through any means, then you should be more expensive. And remember that value comes in many forms.

9. A-Gamers work with A-Gamers.
If you are good at what you do, then you work–or seek to work–with other people who kick ass too. If you suck, then you put yourself around sucky people to feel better about yourself. If you want to be the best, seek to be around awesome people–be it other artists, assistants, producers, clients, partners, whatever. Shoot high. Shoot for better than yourself.

10. Real artists create.
Do you just sit around and think of stuff you could create, photograph, build, ship, or design, but never output anything? Then you’re a poser. Take a new approach and make stuff. Maybe what comes out of your studio isn’t perfect, but there should always stuff leaving the door and hitting the web, the page, the billboard, the gallery, or the street. If you are for real, you’ll be pumping out work on the regular.

There you go. Now don’t just read this list, KNOW this list.

[This list was unabashedly, profoundly inspired by my pal Guy Kawasaki’s article “What I learned from Steve Jobs.” If you like this version that I’ve adapted to and reworked to be creative industry/photography centric, you’ll still love Guy’s version here.]

Hi! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him.
Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

Selma Houzah says:

I read your blog all the time. I check it on a regular basis. Then I think of my blog and how your life seems so much more eicntxig than mine. Keep writing! I will comment more. Usually I just laugh or cry right along with you!Love, Bonnie

I used to be suggested this blog by my cousin. I’m
not sure whether this submit is written through him
as no one else know such targeted about my problem.

You are amazing! Thank you!

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Alex says:

A very inspiring post, Chase. Thanks a lot. It’s a good kick up the a*%£ for me, starting out out in this awesome industry.

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gacukruhture says:

Wonderful post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Cheers!

OlléS says:

Thumbs up again for that one.
10 good rules.
I love especially #9 be around other great artists or “doers” …. I see it so much with myself. Beeing around nei sayers is just dragging you down. More than the ones close to can compensate with saying yes go for it…
Everytime I get around other creatives which burn and do I feel like Superman. … I gotta find more to explode :D

Thanks for doing this post as the info is extremely valuable. These are important points for any photographer to live by.

Usually I do not learn article on blogs, but I wish to say that this
write-up very forced me to try and do so! Your writing taste has been surprised me.
Thank you, quite great post.

Joe says:

Chase – can you expand on 5. Aesthetic sensibilities actually matter. This is an area I really struggle with. I assume this is an area that is learned over time but it needs a good foundation. My foundation is built with toothpicks, I want to reconstruct with concrete pillars. What advice or recommendations do have for bettering yourself in this area?

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#5 and #6 are priceless! Tomorrow I might need to hear #4.

I desire to utter appreciation to the writer for this brilliant post.

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Mike says:

Well nowadays as everyone has a perfect “gun” to shoot, the differents are mor and more in finding the right moment to take a photo. thanks fpr your interesting article, seems you are a fotographer crack!

JC Ruiz says:

Chase always has words of wisdom that can resonate with anyone.

jon says:

Well I am a creative photographer…maybe this list is useful.

Seamus says:

Don’t forget the experts built the Titanic.

Jeff says:

Great stuff! I love the fact that the typo was in the paragraph on making mistakes. “for ever/for every.” Keep ‘um coming!

PaulaMiles says:

I visited a lot of website but I believe this one holds something extra in it. “I thank God I am as honest as any man living that is an old man and no honester than I.” by William Shakespeare.

Came over from Me Ra Koh’s blog. So glad I did! What an incredible post. Pinned it. I need to read it often.

Vania Shuler says:

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Perla Kopf says:

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Andreas Will says:

Really good post! Thx for sharing.

Bookmarked! Thanks for an amazing post, will read your others posts.

Roger says:

how awesome … :O

Mike says:

Spoken like a true master. This will be one of very few web articles that I actually print out and ready every couple days.

Yasin says:

These are exactly the words I was thinking about for days and chatting about it with friends. Well said, very good and inspiring words for new and upcoming artists. Boosting words for their self esteem for sure. I feel inspired and encouraged. I’d say way to go and looking forward for more to come as guidelines.

Rob says:

Great words Chase, has a fine Artist myself these words are well written & remind me so much of how I developed my skills in being a painter / amature photographer. Also in response to point five, ‘do’ understand your own work & be prepared for that technical explanitory feedback which could dissolve you in an instant from clients, purchasers..ect. Therefore do know your artistic terminology and be original in your creative endeavour.

ameyer says:

totally agree with you on point 5 chase. do you have any tip where one could learn why a picture ist good? a book or a website or something to get the basics to start from? that’d be real great
as to the other points: amen to that and thanks for sharing your thoughts

Suzy G says:

Love it. Thanks for inspiring.

May says:

Very true! Being different and having a unique vision is a necessity!

Ryan Golla says:

Well said Chase! Wise words…

lola says:

“Then you’re a poser.” ahahaha….

yes, and so are you for writing such a silly list of platitudes and opinions.

Those who can’t…. well, try to tell others how to do it, most certainly.

This “piece” is utter bollocks.
You don’t know better than anyone else. Where is your opus or masterpiece?

chase jarvis says:

@lola: my work is well documented in the world.
and this blog is exactly my opinion, nothing else. don’t read it if you don’t want it.
lastly, feel free to share some of your links here if you’re so incredibly qualified to talk smack…
anonymity is weak.

This is so good. Thank you for sharing : )

marco says:

ok…you are an expert so.. i can’t listen you LOL ps thx ;)

Chase says:

“Do you just sit around and think of stuff you could create, photograph, build, ship, or design, but never output anything? Then you’re a poser. ”

Thats it. Thats the shit right there. Describes me on occasion and more than 80% of the photo sphere at this moment.

lola says:

yes, because photography has been saturated and degraded thanks to the amount of idiots with a digital camera and no talent…not to mention the “we can fix it in post” mentality.

Photography is dead and images produced today can hardly be trusted.

Tammy says:

Great read. I needed to hear it now more than ever. I was just going to tweet how I get all these great ideas but can’t seem to stick to one. Guess I just need to pick one and dive on in man. Thanks:-) <3 it!

dbagley9 says:

Ray Bradbury — “Creativity is continual surprise.” Thanks Chase and crew.

Awesome. 10 must do commandments – Practice everyday.

At college we had a project that made us only take pictures inside our house. This made us think more and had to create a good image rather than just point the camera at a sunset or a pretty model. To get the edge as a photographer you have to go that bit further than all the others.

Excellant article. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for the information. Its great.


Excellent article, thanks for sharing! I�m excited about reading more!

ix says:

Learn to compose a photo before becoming proficient in Photoshop.

AV says:

I almost cried at # 3 LMAO im so lame!
; )

andrej says:

if you are the smartest guy in the room, you are in the wrong room!

“Another word for creativity is courage”. Great article!
VAL Masferrer Oliveira

köln says:

Thank you for sharing this with the rest of the photographyworld – this is an excellent post. Regards from Cologne – smell the light. Take care

Viktor says:

Thank you for that great article! Point 10 treats me most. Still can’t get it, that i am a dumb poser :) Have to treat me in my fatty back for doing more photos again! You have wake me up, thanks!

Excellent points! Some of these can be applied to other industries as well, not just photography!

Thank you for writing this. Although I have followed some of these some of the time. Now I have a concrete list to remind me to do it all of the time.

jonny best says:

Great post, I think this guy could do with reading it though – http://www.prime-exposure.blogspot.com – at least he’s trying I guess.

GREAT REVIEW! I totally agree with all your thoughts you said in your post, especially at the middle of your article. Thank you, this info is very useful as always. Keep up the good work! You’ve got +1 more reader of your web blog:) Isabella S.

Chase: I would add in an eleventh guideline to your list, which is:

“Learn all the rules… And then break them”

The people in this world who are respected for their technique are respected because they follow all the rules, perfectly and to the letter (think of just about any world class classical musician, or a physician). On the other hand, the people who are truly respected for their artistry are respected (though often reviled at first) because they break the established rules (think about Bob Dylan, The Beatles, William Eggleston, Jackson Pollock, etc, etc…). Of course, the catch here is that the true artists who at first break all the rules eventually create the framework for a whole new set of rules — which then need to be broken again by yet another set of artists.

Anonymous says:

no need to add that.. it’s in there…

Mandy says:

These are things that I know on one level or another, yet still struggle to live them… And as you say it’s all down to fear of failure.

I know I can do it so I need to get out there and do it!

I’m going to print this out and have on a wall where I can see it everyday… Thank you

Matthew L Kees says:

I like all but #1. I teach, but I don’t stifle my students. I help them grow.

Someone, somewhere has to explain f/stops.

Matthew L Kees
Director of MLKstudios.com

“Every artist was once an amateur.”

Seb says:

Hey! Aren’t you the one who wrote to Zack Arias that he and Chase were newBs??!?


Chase, another moment for me to bow down at your philosophy and knowledge.

I cannot believe I didn’t see this before. Great words and read. I am definitely going to quote you at myself everyday to “Not be Better, But Different”.

I just printed this list and put it on my wall. It’s very good.

Andrew says:

I’m cheering from the East Coast. Leaping in agreement. Ecstatic to find this blog.

Chase I agree with everything but your first point. I’ll listen to anything you write! Seriously, thank you, awesome blog entry, you make small fry like me dream big. :)

Rick says:

Interesting article- but I think you are missing the importance of listening… truly listening to clients… you talk about ‘hearing’ them – which I just don’t agree with… My suggestion would be to better embed that message– too many junior resources have this very self centered attitude- which just doesn’t work long term.. if you look at the many reasons why Steve Jobs was so revered- is that he listened to what people wanted- he was incredibly creative- but based his output on the many requiremens that users yearned for… he listened and then delivered a unique and differentiating product based upon what customers were asking for.. to your point,,, customers didn’t really know what they wanted- but they could certainly tell you what they didn’t and were able to describe the adjectives of the ideal product…. Nixw Attemmpt but looking for your v2!

Would love to hear directlly from you,

Partner and Member of Board of Directors
Think Inc Photography
Dr Rick Gaetano

joe Smith says:

I look to people like you and Zack Arias to ‘push me out into oncoming traffic.’
Something about an oncoming car makes you move, quickly.
Thanks for doing that time and again. I’ve gotten good at running!
And yes, I agree with your text. Good words.

joe Smith says:

I look to people like you to ‘push me out into oncoming traffic.’
Something about an oncoming car makes you move, quickly.
Thanks for doing that time and again. I’ve gotten good at running!
And yes, I agree with your text. Good words.

R. J. Kern says:

Brilliant, Chase!

Pierre says:

RT & shared this like crazy :)

Eddie says:

Rule 1 should be Rule 10. Otherwise I don’t need to read past RULE 1. Good post,

clopix says:

Thank you! should be on every creative refrigerator door!

TimR says:

That’s actually a really good and useful list (most lists like that aren’t really). Thanks, Chase!

fas says:

Real artists create, good artists copy :p

#3 Kinda reminds me some landscape or nature photographers I’ve seen: photos technically immaculate but extremely boring to look at…

Jeremy Aaron says:

My question to Chase is do you force the issue of being different, or do you try to move in that direction? I would be one of those people who are trying to “get good” at being a photographer, so its tough to figure out how to differentiate myself when I’m wanting to push my work to a level that I’m happy with. Thoughts?

Chase says:

force it. anytime you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to take a second look… (somebody smart said that first.)

erin perkins says:

Brilliant! Everyone should read.. everyone can snap an image but not everyone can tell a story & really FEEL what they are doing.. doing for others & not themselves.
Do what you love & people that love what you do will find you.. my 2am quote to myself…one of many late nights.; Why an artist has trouble with sleep.. i’d love to hear your thoughts on that !

JC Ruiz says:

Chase has a way with words. Brilliant post.

Stu Bailey says:

Memorised! Thanks Chase! :-)

I could not agree with #8 (create value) more! This is the heart of my photography business. While I am not focused on commercial photography at the moment, this point is really important. I spend a lot of time defining what makes be valuable beyond my photography skills. I also spend a lot of time making sure clients can see and feel the value. Let’s face it, I’m not the best photographer ever and I never will be. However, my clients know value when they see it. With me they get great leadership, less headache, a friendly person, easy services and good photography. And of course they are willing to pay for it.

David Burke says:

Thanks for the great article, and putting things so succinctly. Think I will print these off and have them on my desk – a quick checklist at the start of each busy day!

Rob Franklin says:

Hi there, great post

Loving the advice on here, especially given the relative inexperience I have.

I decided to follow a cliched route of a 365 to basically force myself to use point 7 as a bit of a mantra.

I have found it difficult to really get a sense of what I wanted to do having read expert ‘how to’ type posts before.

This is a great way of looking at things.


Girish says:

A great post. Something to think about and to learn each point correctly.

The 5 point is very very important.

Always a big inspiration. A big reason why I dropped my successful career to follow my passion. These guidelines I will keep throughout my photography/creative career. You put into words what I have felt for a long time. That is why I follow this blog. The creative guidance and vision of Chase Jarvis and other photographers like Sam Abell is the reason I do what I do. I try to interpret your vision into my own work but add my own vision to it. Breaking the rules…. its what creativity is all about. Having the guts to change yourself/life to follow your personal vision is what the creative lifestyle is all about.

Dan says:

Great advice!

As for number 5 on building aesthetic sensibility…how do you go about doing that and how do you know once you’ve reached or accomplished it?

I’ve seen/heard photographers say things about shots (about the aesthetics) which just made them sound like idiots…or maybe I was the idiot, lol.

Thoughts? Advice?

very nice blog… i love number 8… ;-)

Kevin Foster says:

I’m with Dan on #5. I would love to see a blog post expanding the information here.

Thank you!

John Caetano says:

Well said, thanks for the info as always bro!

Bas Clark says:

A wonderfully profound list. Thank you for sharing this with the rest of the creative world.

I have to say I practice number 7 everyday I shoot.

Jay Sanaknaki says:

Very well said. Thanks for the reminders and new hints.

abroboyedzin says:

WOW!! What a long big nail to the head! If only I had saved every scent I’d spent on tutorial dvds, online subscriptions and every darn new book that claims to reveal secrets in the biz not to mention gear, I would still have some money in the bank and not complain about how awful the industry is and how much less money I’m making.
The truth is that MOST of the dvds, tutorials out there contains information that YOU already know but fail to implement. Most expects out there will charge you every dim to give details of “how they did it” but wait a minute, that’s actually part of their photography business. Oh sh*t they figured there is a demand from “customers” like me.
I had to downside my home for a smaller house to pay off my debt. Thank God my wife is still with me. Fast forward, I’ve found my vision and creating content that’s genuinely mine!

Interestingly though, as I’ve refined and continuing to refine my craft, I’ve realised you can actually create compelling imagery with LITTLE gear and camera gadgets. ZACK has been right all along. Why didn’t I listen to that white grey bearded guy!

Some day I’ll market a book or dvd tutorials on how not to screw it up and put your family and marriage on the line like I did to photographers. Oh yes!!

Moritz says:

well said as always.
and as for no.10, be creative and create… just did another shoot yesterday and some pics posted on my blog… like you said, get the work out there.
follow my blog at http://www.mostphotography.blogspot.com

Very awesome advice!! I will definately check out the article about Steve Jobs!

Luis says:

Just what I needed to read today, Thanks, Chase.

jonathan says:

If you’re not getting those assignments, then you need to be self-assigning that challenging work.

Nugget of pure wisdom right there. Nice one chase.

Love these. And so true. I’ve made a series of images from these statements (plain text on grey field), placed them in a folder. They now rotate through as my desktop, one every minute!

Merva Ayberk says:

100% Chase Jarvis there. Great post buddy.

That was out of the park good. There’s usually one item in a list of that sort that means something to me but in this list every item was hot.

Great advice from the master… want to be friends? ;P

Dustin B Denney Photographer says:

Nice job of porting that into our language (creative), Chase. Thumbs up!

CW says:


Thanks for this.


mik says:

funny. as i read along, i knew that this was a rehash of kawasaki’s steve jobs list.

nicely adapted to photography, and nicely attributed.

I’m ready to shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Good stuff!

Mathieu says:

Another nugget of information! Thanks Chase!

Matt Timmons says:

Going to save this and read it regularly. Cheers-

glenn g. says:

John Langford, an Austin-based photographer, sold everything a year ago in order to pursue his photography and travel passions. He’s spent most of the time in Asia-Pac, including a month or so in Cambodia teaching photography to kids whose parents were working clearing land mines. His website is http://www.cosmiccandidcamera.com. I don’t know of a more inspirational yet modest example of someone who knows his passion and is willing to set aside everything else to pursue it.

Shaun H says:

Inspiring! Well done! Great article to always come back and reflect on.

Kickass! Loved that, soo inspirational!

Hollie B says:

Great words! Love to hear this every once in a while to remind me where I’m going and to not get caught up in the little things.

NOEL says:

The 10 Commandments of Chase Jarvis. AMEN! lol

Amy says:

“Alternate Title” to this post. Awesome.

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