On Limitations and Creativity

This morning I read a comment on a Facebook post saying simply that the weather recently had sapped any creativity and discouraged photography trips. I paraphrase, obviously, but it’s a sentiment that is seen expressed often. I’ve said it myself too, many times. Or should that be too many times! Only on Sunday morning I looked out early, saw the overcast sky and decided against going out.  

First of all let me say that I have a natural reticence to writing blog posts. The thing is, I’m so anxious not to offend anyone or seem to be patronising that it pretty much nullifies anything I’ve got to say! Then there’s the other issue about whether what I’ve got to say is of any value to anyone anyway. Well I suppose there’s only one way to find out about that!


So, for those that don’t know me, or my background, I’ve been involved in the development of video games for approaching 30 years. A little known fact is that my first role was as an artist, drawing cockpits for a flight simulation game. It amuses me to sometimes throw into conversations that I’ve been a professional artist. Although technically true, it’s a little mischievous I think. After pretty much a disastrous year at University (Maths & Computer Science) I turned my hand to programming, again developing flight simulator games on PC. Now we’re not talking the PCs of today’s generation with the 5k-monitor resolution, Gigabytes of RAM and terabytes of disc space. The first game I worked on was 4 colour CGA, black, white, cyan and magenta and had around 640k of RAM. Even that 640k of RAM represented a 40-fold increase on the ZX Spectrum I programmed my first game on as an enthusiastic early teen.

Loss and Gain: View from Raven Crag

Loss and Gain: View from Raven Crag


The limitations we had as game developers encouraged our creative solutions. Now I wasn’t particularly part of the design team but my creativity would come in solving fairly complex (at the time) technical problems with the fewest clock cycles of processing time and with the fewest bytes of memory taken up to do so. It was fun, and when it worked it was very satisfying.


Video games have gone through many hardware cycles since, with each presenting a new set of limitations to work within; be that resolution, RAM size, disc loading speed, processor speeds and so on. Some iterations seemed to bring massive leaps forward but the ‘headroom’ over previous constraints were always short lived. We were always quickly up to the limits and working out ways to ‘seemingly’ exceed them. The same is true on a design perspective. How many people played Snake for example on the Nokia phones? Two colours, a tiny screen and two key presses for input, clockwise or anti clockwise. Limitations overcome by creativity, millions of hours played.


To be honest, coming up with examples of restrictions inspiring creativity is like shooting fish in a barrel, so insert your own examples here!


Autumn Slate


So onto photography then - what are our limitations on producing creative work? The weather? Resolution? Sensor size? Time? The fact is that if we had the perfect weather, location and an unlimited resolution sensor size (or whatever is your perceived impediment) then there would be zero creativity. There is no problem to solve and so our creative juices don’t work.


If a development studio has unlimited resolution, processing power, time and human resources I can almost guarantee that they will never produce a finished game.


Steel End Birches


Put simply, creativity is a way for us to overcome limitations. If we don’t have boundaries then there are no problems to solve and therefore nothing to be creative about. I think it’s true to say that there are fewer constraints for today’s photographer than in times past. Access to expertise, travel and equipment give us more opportunity than our landscape photographer predecessors. Perhaps it is an invite to set our own boundaries for photography or at least not let external factors influence us so much.

P.S. The photographs in this post are all taken from under a brolly in the pouring rain.