Freedom from choice

Want to know a quick tip to renewed creativity? Set boundaries. Make arbitrary rules. Limit your choices.

The rules can be completely random or they can expand on some aspect of photography you already enjoy or want to explore.

Recently on G+ I was invited to join a community called “Black and White Minimalism”.  Think about that. Me? When was the last time I took a photo that was either minamalistic or black and white? But you know what, I’m inspired to limit myself for the near future to only take minimalistic photos of toys…in black and white. Now that will be a challenge for me!

Photography is a beautiful and malleable medium. You can do and be whatever you want through the lens of your camera. It’s also incredibly challenging. Street photography takes a different set of skills from say studio photography, food photography is not the same as fashion photography; …you get the idea. Each area of photography has its own set of challenges, its own unique skill set that needs to be understood and mastered. Personally this desire to keep learning new areas is what has kept my interested in photography for so long.

If you’re feeling like you’re in a creative dead-end, try adding some  artificial limitations and see where this leads you. If you’re unsure of what that means, here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing: time of day, location, only one (or a few) figures, style, technique, storyline.

It doesn’t really matter what you choose, limit your choices. Why? Because by creating artificial barriers to your creativity your mind will start working on the problem you set out for yourself and try to find a solution. You will be forced to reach deep into your creative well to find a work around for the limitation you set up.  You might be surprised what images you can create when you look at photography through a very narrow range of options. I’ve found through past experience that freedom from choice actually inspires my creativity in the most wonderful ways.

A few artists that have limited their photography choices and by doing so have created a unique body of work are:

These are only a few examples to get you thinking. There are many  photographers who have narrowed their choices down and by so doing, have forced themselves to get creative. If you decide to limit yourself be aware that not all your photos will be gems, but I guarantee you, you will surprise yourself.

To paraphrase one of my favorite musical groups:

“Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want.” – Devo

Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to have fun!


If you were to limit your choices, what would you choose?

Do you have a favorite toy photographer that has limited what they photograph and / or the technique they use? 

Not more Chima??!!


  1. Thank you for your great article, Shelly! It’s so interesting how the limitations of the choice can be inspiring! I remembered that some photographers took only black and white pictures for the scenes of the historical battles. And it really makes them rich in new ideas. If I find their pages again I will write their name here. 🙂

  2. aliceincleveland

    Thanks for the mention Shelly! It has been a long while now since I put any restrictions on myself, SIP challenges excluded, but I do often think about how nice it was to only have one subject. I wonder though if my Alice limitation was more about the written text than the figure. I did not have to think much about “what am I trying to say” in the photos, because I was just making a visual representation of a block of the Alice story. It was not always easy and many of them definitely are liberal in their interpretation, but I rarely – if ever – thought about a photo the same way I do now. I would be lying if I said that was a blessing I wasn’t even aware I had.


    Then I just grab Alice anyway and head out.

    Choices… they are some much more a GREATER BEAST than I ever realised.

    • Of course I mentioned you! You are always doing interesting work and I enjoy seeing what you are up to next!

      I can’t believe I didn’t mention the written word. Not only was your work inspired by the story of Alice, but I also created a series of photos based on a book to great success. I loved that each page was a puzzle to be solved!

      No restrictions is a curse, but maybe you see that too. Maybe thats why you keep grabbing Alice and I inevitable fall back on Chima or some astronaut.

      I was accepted into a mentorship program on G+ and I look forward to the challenge and the limitations. I will let you knew how it goes. 😀

  3. As I sit before a mountain of minifigures ahead of this weekends #brickstameet, this post resonates with me. Maybe a limited number of passengers is what’s in order? Although, with two non-plastic passengers already in tow (the kids), this might be a bigger challenge than expected? There were a lot of plastic passengers last trip to our meetup that never saw the light of day. This time, by limiting myself (or my baggage), hopefully they’ll get to come out and play!

    • Brett, I know the temptation…the need to be prepared! I’ve been to many a meet-up where the toys are packed so tightly that I can’t dig through my box to see what I have, this ensures that only the top few ever get photographed. I keep pairing down my selection, creating a few pre-made scenes – taking a less is more attitude. I haven’t been disappointed yet. Besides if you get in a bind, you can always raid someone else’s toy box which can be lots of fun! I hope you all have a fabulous insta-meet! S

  4. I know I’m 11 days behind on this topic but after I read your post, I’ve been letting the idea brew in my head. Often I run out of inspiration for holiday themed photos so this year I decided to do my Halloween photos in black and white 🙂 It’s been a fun “limitation”. Hopefully I can finish editing them and get them posted before Halloween 🙂

    Thanks for the inspiration Shelly!


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