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Saul Leiter Taxi 1957

Why creativity is your new secret weapon

An interview with Jon Cunningham, award-winning tutor of new online series, 'Creativity Live'

Even camera phones nowadays shoot technically perfect shots. With 1.4 trillion images being shot every year, isn’t it time to brush up on our creative skills instead - to ensure our work stands out from the pack?

Q1. How did this new series of online workshops come about?

I recently read a stat that the average dwell time (the time we take to look at an image) has dropped by half to just 1.7 seconds in recent years. With trillions of images being shot each year - and the ones we do see being given such little time to get noticed - I realised we needed to demystify the creative side of photography, so people had some really accessible tips and tricks to ensure their work gets seen. Creativity isn’t a dark art, it’s actually quite easy when you know how. Delivering these workshops with the Royal Photographic Society has allowed us to engage with an incredible photographic community and has enabled us to offer a completely unique style of workshop that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere.

Q2. Can you teach people to be creative?

Absolutely. That’s what they spend most of the time doing in any photography degree.

With Creativity Live, we’ve taken the foundations and packaged them up in two hour chunks; highly visual, highly interactive and accessible for all skill levels. The 10 workshops currently cover things like how to come up with an idea, how to critique photographs like professionals, how to tell stories with your images, and so on. All the language is jargon free, and we take you step-by-step through each technique so it’s completely clear. At the end of each workshop, we send out a free 100-page PDF reference guide, so you can try out the techniques at your own pace.

Q3. So, what does success look like for those attending this series?

At Creativity Live our ethos isn’t so focused on winning photo competitions or gaining certificates – it’s about freeing ourselves from rules, experimenting and having fun with photography. That’s how to create images you will treasure – the trophies that count. Being free means we can elevate our work, find our own style and voice - creating something meaningful for ourselves. That’s the true power of photography, I think.

© Steve Mccurry Hon FRPS

"The RPS exists to promote the appreciation of photography and to encourage the highest standards of photographic education and practice by its Members. The most rewarding and enjoyable route to achieving this is always when we come together as practicing photographers, to learn from each other and to share our skills and experiences. Creativity Live workshops take participatory engagement to a new level and create an environment where we can explore photographic creativity, visual literacy and real-world practice with other photographers." – Simon Hill HonFRPS, President

Q4. How interactive are your workshops given they are online?

For all of our Creativity Live workshops, we believe the best approach to learning is to show, not tell. So we don't use slides, bullet points or talk at you for 2 hours, instead we use lots of interactive Zoom features that immerses you in the content, giving you a front row seat to what’s happening. Learning doesn’t happen without engagement so we have lots of it – plenty of chats so you can give your opinion, and we use polls to absorb you in the content. Everyone is heard equally, so you understand lots of different points of view. Part of the beauty of creativity is that there is no right or wrong answer, so all opinions are valid and useful to your understanding.

Q5. You have 10 workshops, do they have to be done in order?

Creativity isn't a formula. Each of the workshops are like single pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – and together they form the fundamentals you need to create some really interesting images. So they can be done in any order, each will give you complimentary techniques to build your personal photography toolkit, together you get the entire picture.

Q6. You refer to these workshops as ‘toolkits’ not ‘courses’ – what’s the difference?

For me, a lot of photography courses out there reveal the specific recipe of a certain photographer you like, so you can replicate that yourself. But our signature or style is unique to us, so I believe it’s much more rewarding to go find your own, rather than borrowing someone else’s. Case in point. During each of our Creativity Live workshops, we give hundreds of tips and techniques you could use; your only job is to pick the ones you like that suit you, and leave the ones you don’t. So every participant develops their own toolkit, their own ‘recipe’ of how and what they want to shoot. Shooting work that is personal to you is automatically more interesting, and much more likely to stand out.


“This series has transformed my photography. Jon’s ‘show not tell’ approach and particularly the way he asks such powerful questions to deepen our learning is superb”.

Q7. What is visual literacy and why is it an important skill to have?

Imagine the judges of MasterChef solely saying “that’s nice” after hours of toil in the final cook-off. A photograph, like a great plate of food, is complex, full of nuances, with great looks, contrasts and cleverness. One of the key skills you need as a photographer is visual literacy – the ability to read, interpret and communicate detailed feedback on an image. It’s one of those foundation skills we build through all of our workshops - if you know what the ingredients are of a good photograph, it’s then much easier to go out and make one.

Q8. Do these workshops give an insight into how professional photographers operate?

All of our examples are from revered professional photographers, whose work we break down and show you exactly the techniques they used to get there. Not many people realise, but professionals and amateurs actually use mostly the same kit nowadays; but it’s how the professionals use that kit creatively that makes all the difference.

Q9. As a professional photographer and tutor, how did you approach creating these workshops?

It started with ‘What did I wish I knew back when I was learning?’ We’ve structured the whole series around that thought - if that was me now, what do I need to know? We’ll show you all the dead ends, clichés, overused techniques and more - so you fast track your way to fresh, interesting images that people really respond to. Creative education to me is the least understood (and least taught) aspect of photography - also perhaps the least valued amongst amateurs. We all get tempted to buy that latest piece of kit rather than working on our own confidence and creative ability – but that’s the thing that’s going to make you evolve, not how sharp your latest lens is. When we look at an image and decide to look more or move on, of course we’re looking at the technical prowess of the shot, but the main thing that makes me stop is am I connecting with this image? Is it moving me in some way? All of this is from creative ability, and has nothing to do with what kind of camera you have.

Images: 1) © Saul Leiter Foundation, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery; 2) © Steve McCurry HonFRPS; 3) © Nadav Kander HonFRPS courtesy of Flowers Gallery