At some stage we all hit a block in our photography. Sometimes we run out of time & real life takes over, sometimes we get distracted by other hobbies forcing photography to take a back seat. One of the more common questions I'm asked is how to keep yourself thinking & shooting creatively and how to pull yourself out of a creative rut. It can be hard but here are some of my tips to help kick-start your imagination again!
ALWAYS CARRY YOUR CAMERA
Yes, yes this is total cliché but it's true. Special moments can appear out of nowhere and the only thing worse than missing the moment is missing it because you couldn't be bothered to carry a camera! You don't need to carry your entire gear bag everywhere, even your phone is a start, but get into the habit of carrying a decent compact or smaller camera everywhere and you'll find you start shooting much more as your eye gets back in the habit.
WRITE STUFF DOWN
Even when we aren't feeling particularly inspired we can get flashes of inspiration & creativity. If you don't write these down you will probably just forget them. For example, I always used to carry a little black notebook everywhere and would jot ideas for photos all the time - either single words/sentences or sometimes sketching out the entire final image! It can also be pretty fun when you flick back through old ideas, laughing at crazy ones and taking some small pride in the ones that came to life. But unless you write it down, you're going to forget.
START A PROJECT
Admittedly, finding a subject that is meaningful to you can be hard but there are plenty of well established ideas out there like 365 projects, or 100 strangers. Maybe it's just a desire to get one good photo of your children a week - whatever it is, setting a goal can often be a useful motivator.
DEADLINES ARE YOUR FRIEND
Having ideas, projects & goals are all well and good but you will achieve more if you have something kicking you up the backside to turn ideas into reality. Think about the following when setting deadlines -
- Break stuff down into small chunks - big jobs are daunting and harder to start
- Set realistic timeframes - be honest about how much time you can dedicate to photography
- Give yourself small rewards for hitting each deadline - this might just be the satisfaction of your beautiful photo or it could be cake. Cake works well.
- Reward yourself when you're totally finished - for example, I published all of my Project 365 images in a lovely photobook to commemorate it
SHARE YOUR WORK
Even if you're the most reclusive photo-hermit out there, I can guarantee someone on the internet will be interested in what you are doing. Even better, find friends or groups online and join them - you'll get tons of feedback & encouragement but the biggest benefit is seeing what others are doing, getting those braincells firing. How did they shoot that? Could I do it? You could also consider blogging about your projects too.
The tips above are all fairly generic and you've probably seen a few of them before. What about some specific, "I hadn't thought of that" kind of inspiration?
REVISIT OLD PHOTOS
Dig back through your photo archives and look for images that were near-misses or that you couldn't quite process satisfactorily when you first took it. Have another go now - if you've been practicing your Photoshop-Fu skills then you might be able to make something out of a photo you'd written off.
DO YOU EVEN COMPOSITE BRO?
I've probably lost half my audience there... the horror, how dare you! Composites are not REAL photographs! Who cares though - I'm not suggesting you swap your camera for a graphics tablet. Love them or hate them, photo composites are one way you can really exercise some creative muscles by taking "raw materials" from all manner of photos you either already have or can go out and shoot, creating an entirely new image of whatever you can possibly imagine. It doesn't matter how good the end result is, the point here is to motivate your brain into thinking creatively again. At the very least you're likely to SIGNIFICANTLY improve your photoshop skills.
SHOOT A NEW FORMAT
You don't need to wear checked shirts, grow a beard and wear tight jeans to shoot film. Now that we've cleared that up, changing how you shoot can force your brain into looking at the world differently - and differently means out of that rut and back into creativity. Don't stop at picking up trendy old 35mm cameras either, try your hand at medium format or even large format (I'm picking up my first large format camera soon! It's sort of terrifying-exciting). Even better, try your hand at developing & printing your negatives yourself.
My latest project is shooting using instax cameras and creating triptychs - individual images but with an underlying motif that runs throughout.
Dyed in the wool photographers might balk at this one too but not only is video crazy popular, great for getting noticed and hugely in demand by ad agencies, it's also a new challenge. I've started dabbling in it myself and while my background in still photography helps it's a whole new game. You probably don't even need any new gear and your camera will be more than capable enough to get you started. Why limit yourself to one photo when you can shoot 24 frames per second or more? :)
This one is so important I probably should have moved it up the list. In almost every single case when people email me to ask how they can re-inspire themselves, at some stage in their introduction message they say something like "I shoot landscapes" or "I'm a still-life photographer". No no no no NO! <-- That's the silent scream in my head! Although finding a preferred style and a niche is great, as soon as you pigeonhole yourself you are on a downhill slope to Boredomville. Think about it - how many photographers only ever shoot things like coils of rope, rusty metal or flowers. FLOWERS! These are the things we cut our teeth on and while you might end up pushing the boundary of flower photography, I bet you probably aren't. This might sound harsh but ask yourself this - if you are shooting the same stuff again & again you are probably quite good at it, but are you pushing yourself? Are you enjoying shooting the same old stuff? If you look at your latest monochrome photo of some old rotten wood is it awe-inspiringly better than the monochrome old rotten wood you shot 5 years ago? I doubt it. You're better than wood and flowers, get out there and prove it!
Get out there and shoot something different. Stop shooting easy stuff. Photograph people, they're hard for many photographers but get over yourself and talk to them. Buy a new lens and chase wildlife around a field. But most of all look at yourself openly and honestly then do something different that scares you a little bit.
It's probably so important I should have mentioned it first. Sorry.
This is the first in a planned series of "quick tips" articles. We all hate the click-bait titles, meangingless "advice" spread across page after page to maximise the number of adverts you need to wade through. This is my way of fighting back against that - short, sweet, no bullshit and NO ADS!
Let me know in the comments what else you want to see!
All images sourced free from pexels unless otherwise stated, used for educational purposes