Idea Debt

Last week I read a wonderful post by Jessica Abel about a concept called “Idea Debt”. It resonated with me because it’s something that I am very much guilty of doing, and I have a feeling it gets worse the more I learn about photography.

The gist of the concept is that it’s very easy to get caught up in the idea-phase of a creative task; planning out every detail and trying to make sure everything is perfect before you start. In reality, nothing is perfect, so all you’re doing is setting yourself up for failure.

Back then I were a young lad, way back in 2007 when I got my first proper camera, I found it much easier to take photographs. I didn’t know about lighting, composition, aesthetics, contrast, form, colour, shape or texture, the idea was all I needed. I had an idea, and I went and photographed it, job done. Not the best photos I’ve ever taken, but they were actual bytes on my hard drive instead of ethereal thoughts and myriad possibilities.

Each technique you learn, every bit of knowledge you gain as to what makes a pleasing photograph builds up the number of things that require your creative attention. So many things that can stop you actually taking a photograph – is the light right, is there a good composition here, what’s the story I’m telling, what’s the purpose of the photograph, what’s the subject of the photo, which way is the eye drawn across this scene, do the colours work well with each other. So many things!

The solution is predictable, stop thinking and just take the photo. It won’t be perfect, but sometimes you get lucky, and it’s just good enough.




0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ben Teoh
8 years ago

Thanks for this, perfect timing as I’ve been wresting with a lot of ideas for photographs and for LEGO MOCs but feel I just need to start creating rather than being stuck in the idea phase.

After all, I think many of us learn well by actually trying new things (not just thinking about them) and learning from our successes and failures.

I’ll have to go and read Jessica’s post!

Shelly Corbett
8 years ago

So much comes to mind when I read this: perfectionism is not your friend, don’t over think it, just do it, never talk about your ideas. I will also invoke one of my favorite photography quotes: “It can be a trap of the photographer to think that his or her best pictures were the ones that were hardest to get. – Timothy Allen I would also change your last line to read: The solution is predictable, stop thinking and just take the photo. It won’t be perfect, but sometimes you get lucky, and you will get something better than anything… Read more »

8 years ago
Reply to  Shelly Corbett

Shelly’s little change to Mike’s great text is important. That’s what I’ve been experiencing: browsing through images, old and new, turns me briefly into a member of the audience and it’s thrilling! …until the doubt creeps in. But before it does, It’s the best part, the discovery.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Scroll to Top