Instructions for a Creative Life - Kristyn Miller Photography
“No matter what kind of creative work you do, it is your own curiosity and delight that empowers and engages others in ways that no one else could.” Get more expert advice from photographer Kristyn Miller.

“Instructions for Life: Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About it.” — Mary Oliver

Confession: 36 years in, I’m still learning what creativity means in real life.

Even after many years as a photographer and a brand strategist, I still find myself asking whether being creative is a discipline or a lifestyle or a set of skills. And even beyond that, I still sometimes feel the pull of that nagging voice in the background asking if whatever definition I’m living into in my work and my soul is actually creative enough (and I know I’m not alone on that front).

I think the closest definition I’ve landed on so far is this:

Creativity thrives in the moments when we’re most present, because those are the moments when we are the closest to our true selves.

For some of us, this is in moments of play and lighthearted fun with our kiddos, and for others, it’s in the stillness just before dawn, when the coffee is still hot and the house is still quiet. As mommas, it’s so easy to be drawn through the day while being pulled in so many competing directions, and often it’s just the permission we give ourselves to come back to the present moment that allows our curiosity and our energy to converge in ways that surprise us.

The real beauty of this is that in any moment, we’re free to be delighted by our own mini-discoveries and explorations — any of which can lead to a moment of creation.

So much of my work as a lifestyle and documentary photographer lives in these moments. Both my job and my art rely on my ability to be fully present – whether I’m capturing my own wild, sassy 2.5 year-old son Miles at home in our garden or I’m working with another mompreneur to capture the magic of her family and her professional life.

In preparing my clients for a session — whether it’s for a family or for a brand — I spend a lot of time working to ensure that there is space for you to feel present in the moment. We make lots of choices ahead of time that free us up to be curious and attentive for the extra magic that might happen while on set.

For a brand shoot, this could mean everything from working together to determine the list of your final “hoped-for” shots, to getting to know everyone who will be part of the session, to really understanding what your brand means to the lives of your customers and clients. These are all part of the framework that make it possible to be fully present together on the day of a shoot, spontaneously ready to capture whatever magic happens while we’re thoughtfully working through the plan.

Photographer Kristyn Miller & her son Miles

Photographer Kristyn Miller & her son Miles

I find the same is true in all of my brand strategy work as well – the more present you allow yourself to be in your preparation, the more curious and engaged you can be when you’re thinking through big challenges and bigger opportunities for the growth of your work.

Truly, I thought I had this whole creativity thing locked in before I had my son. I thought I understood what it meant to be present, in my work especially, in ways that spontaneously brought my creativity to the surface.

Sure, I had an idea, but it wasn’t until I was faced with the wholly new and completely uncertain landscape of motherhood before I was forced to acknowledge that I was a total amateur (full disclosure, I delight in the fact that I still am) — especially as I attempted to navigate running two businesses and raising a child. But the more I learn, the simpler the lesson seems to be:

No matter what kind of creative work you do, it is your own curiosity and delight that empowers and engages others in ways that no one else could.

Being present to just this moment right now is enough to make the next leap, or pick up your camera, or share that idea you’ve been sitting with for a long while. And with all my 36 years of amateur human experience, I’ll tell you that that’s the closest thing to creativity there is.


Kristyn Miller is a momma, a lover of coffee, running, kindness, and black raspberry ice cream, and lives with her husband, kiddo, 2 dogs, and a pony named Joshua in Fairfield, Connecticut.  She is an award-winning archivist of love, life, and light behind the lens, capturing children, families, couples, and brands (kristynmiller.com), and is also the Chief Operating Officer and Brand Strategist at MadisonMott (MadisonMott.com), a Bridgeport-based creative agency. 

(Psst! Kristyn also did lifestyle + brand photography for MotherHustle — including these shots of Emily and her family.)

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