Free Writing and Spontaneous Photography

In writing there is a structured exercise that is often undertaken to help writers develop ideas or to overcome blocks, it is called free writing. Based on a series of basic guidelines it allows an author to write freely, in a stream of consciousness style, without any regard to form, grammar, or topic. This action allows the writer to create raw output absent of self criticism or over conceptualization. Whether the end material is usable or not, the process serves multiple purposes. First, it allows the writer to build momentum, the actual act of writing can serve to exorcise a block that may prevent one from writing in a formal method. Secondly, it allows a cathartic purging of the half formed ideas that may prevent the writer from focusing on more urgent ideas or formal projects. Finally, in some free writing sessions it allows the writer to develop and record seed ideas that may later become fully formed concepts.


During a slow night I found myself with the itch to just pick up my camera and shoot… anything. I decided to call up my friend Jessica and have her drop by the studio for an impromptu session, we were walking into this with no expectations regarding the final product, it was simply taking pictures for the sake of taking pictures. There had been no discussions of concept, wardrobe, styling, lighting, or mood, all we knew was that Jessica would bring bags of clothing, and also that she would be bringing her pet rat. All other decisions would have to be made on the spot, in the limited amount of time that we had available.

From her pile of wardrobe and accessories, a decision of styling was made on the spot, we would attempt to create two looks with radically different styling and moods in just under 2.5 hours, thankfully Jessica is a talented stylist and was able to take care of hair and makeup with no problem. Concepts were quickly decided by choosing the first two that came to mind, we would do something vaguely inspired by Louise Brooks, a 1920’s silent film star, which involved Jessica cutting and styling a wig on the spot, as well as a warmer image using her own candy colored red hair. The entire process was put together quickly and on the fly, and the concepts were only loosely adhered too in terms of execution and final look, each look evolved and changed throughout the shooting session.


It was an interesting change from my normal workflow, which usually involves hours of script development, styling choices, scouting, casting, wardrobe, lighting etc.. What is normally a very structured process for me became very loose and intuitive by necessity of the parameters I had to work within. It was a beneficial experience that led to the development of a few other concepts that I’ll probably revisit in later projects, as well a chance to experiment in a situation with no expectations or pressure of self criticism. The rules of free writing can be  tweaked for a more visual medium like photography with some of the suggestions below.

Limit yourself to a specific window of time

All decisions must be made within this time frame, not outside of it

Subject does not matter

There are no bad ideas

Attempt more than one concept

Concepts should evolve organically as the shoot progresses

Team size is irrelevant

Experiment both technically and creatively

If you find yourself with nothing to photograph, photograph anything

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