8 Tips to Stay Motivated and Inspired by Your Photography

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8 Tips to Stay Motivated and Inspired by Your Photography

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Taking photos is one of the most inspiring and exciting of pursuits. It can encourage you to have adventures, see the world in a newer, fresher way, meet interesting people – all while creating something that is totally unique to you.

“We are born makers, and creativity is the ultimate act of integration – it is how we fold our experiences into our being.” – Brene Brown

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But what happens when your well of inspiration runs dry, when you can’t get excited by your images or you feel stuck in a rut? Most photographers, even professionals, have periods when creating feels like wading through glue. You get tired or bored with your own images.

So, why do you (we all) get stuck?

The destructive habit of habit

As most of us, you are probably immersed in habit – you do almost the same things each day, every day. Making your coffee in the same way at the same time, going to work on the same route at the same time, eating the same kind of food each evening. It’s almost like you stop thinking and just do.

“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge” – Henry van Dyke

Your brain has made a great effort to get you into the state of habit. It makes life easier for you so that you don’t have to make tonnes of new decisions every day. But, if you are lost in habit you aren’t seeing new things, doing new things, or trying things in new ways. Habit will strangle your creativity.

So how do you get out of this cycle?

The way to fill your life with inspiration and motivation will be different than others – depending on how you create and what drives you. Here are some ideas:

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1 – Leave your camera at home

If you’re someone who is always out and about with your camera, taking lots of photos – abandon it for a while. It’s easy to get carried away. Instead of taking time to see and compose, you are likely just taking shot, after shot, after shot. If you are bored with the photos you are taking – this is probably what’s happening to you.

I would encourage you to start examining the world in a different way – not as a photographer, but as someone who hears, feels, smells, and absorbs the atmosphere around you. Using all of your senses is a wonderful way to help experience the same world, but in a different way. It will help you gain a different perspective.

Sound is a particularly evocative sense for me – the crackle of dry autumn leaves under my feet, the low hum of trains on a railway line in the distance behind me, the vibrating thump of music in a bar, a conversation drifting past me. Tuning in to senses that you usually don’t prioritize (because we photo lovers tend to put our sight first, don’t we) will also help you anchor yourself into the present moment, pulling you away from your busy mind, and into the world so you can eventually see more interesting and unique things.

Challenge: When you are ready to start taking photos again, set yourself the challenge of taking just three photos a day, for 15 days. If this sounds hard, then it’s the perfect challenge! This will help you be more precise and thoughtful in your approach. You will work harder to create a smaller number of better photos. So – what will you take with your three images?

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2 – Make taking photos a habit

Now, let’s consider the reverse. You are someone who doesn’t take photos very often – maybe you wait for an occasion like a walk in a lovely area, good light, or a holiday – then my advice is the opposite. If photography is something that you pick up only now and again, you’ll never get into the rhythm of creating, you’ll never develop the skills of really seeing the world and composing great images. The act of creating is like a muscle – the more you do it the stronger it becomes.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou

By creating a habit of creating, you are making a declaration to yourself that photography is a very important part of your life. It also helps to get your subconscious organized in a way that it knows you are going to be calling on it more regularly. It starts preparing. I know this sounds strange but it’s like anything you do regularly, your body and your mind get used to doing it. You are in the mood and the wonderful act of creativity starts to energize you in new and exciting ways.

Challenge: If getting into the habit of taking photos is tough for you, then this is the challenge for you – take 50 photos every day, for 15 days. That will kick start your creativity, and imbue your day with the looking and seeing and noticing that is necessary to take great photos.

3 – Take photos not to see the result, but to enjoy the process

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When you see small children making art there is a beautiful joy that they get by just doing it. From feeling the feathers before they glue them on an egg box, to painting wild splashes of colour on a sheet of white paper. In fact going out with kids, and watching them look at the world in such an open way, is great training on how to be present with the world around you.

With kids there is a complete enjoyment in the process of making – and that is something we, as photographers, sometimes forget. Perhaps because the act of creating is so instant – the click – we forget that it’s our whole creative process which leads up to that click.

“What moves me about… what’s called technique…is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices somebody has made that take a long time and keep haunting them.” – Diane Arbus

I do my best work when I am totally present, totally in the zone, not thinking about emails, or jobs, my to-do list, or my kids – but looking with wonder at a beautiful cloud, or some rain dripping off of a leaf. And if you need encouragement – isn’t it just great to cut yourself off from all of your responsibilities and absorb yourself in the wildness, the peace, the craziness, the beauty of the world?

4 – Start a project

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Sometimes I find my attention gets fragmented – with all of the work I do, my family, etc., so that I’m jumping from task to task, and not getting deeply involved in anything. A few photos here, a few photos there. This is when I like to jump into a project.

Key advice for projects: Choose a subject that you are blown-away passionate about. It could be anything – the colour violet, armpits, salt mines, trees, your kids, men with mohawks – it doesn’t matter what it is, you can bring something new to a subject if you make the effort.

“I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years about photography. Through clouds to put down my philosophy of life – to show that (the success of) my photographs (was) not due to subject matter – not to special trees or faces, or interiors, to special privileges – clouds were there for everyone…” Alfred Stieglitz

The key point is that it’s not so much about technique, but the passion. Why? Because:

  • When you hit a roadblock or life distracts you, you’ll be less likely to abandon the project if you are really excited about it.
  • Passion will help drive you to create a new and interesting perspective on your subject.
  • When you feel something when you are taking photos, you are more likely to take a photo that contains feelings. Why is that important? Because you want people to notice your photo, to feel a connection with it. Most images we look at are flat and devoid of feeling. The best photos communicate both a visual idea and a feeling, we are moved in some way by it.

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” – Don McCullin

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5 – Do something completely different

I’ve talked about how habit can be a force of good for your photography – by making you commit to a regular practice, and exercise that creativity muscle. But it can also be a negative force – you get so used to your ways of doing things, or your lifestyle, that you don’t push yourself in new ways.

Think about the kind of things you normally photograph. Now think of some you’d be terrified to photograph, and go and photograph them. So maybe you’re great at landscapes. You like photographing the odd person if they happen to be in the shot. But the idea of taking a close-up or a portrait of them terrifies you. So do that. Or you’ve always wanted to get up onto some rooftops and photograph your city from up high. But the idea of asking for permission, etc., makes you feel nervous. Just go for it!

“You may never know exactly what you need to do, or exactly where you’re going. But if you are willing to start taking tiny steps, and keep going, the dots will connect over time to create something beautiful and fulfilling.” – Lori Deschene

6 – Remind yourself why you take photos

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It can be easy with your photography to get into that should way of thinking – “I should take more photos! I should be better!” But scolding yourself rarely gets you anywhere (with anything). Instead, I encourage you to think about what photography really means to you, what are the benefits beyond the fun of taking that photo. How does it enrich, energize and enhance your life?

Ask yourself:

  • What does photography give me?
  • How do I want to be creative in my every day?
  • Which of my photos or projects am I really proud of?

When you connect with the reasons why you do things, it’s so much easier to stay committed and motivated.

7 – The trap of perfectionism

Often we stop taking photos, or we start slowing down or moving off on a tangent when we are working on a project, because the feeling of not being good enough starts to insidiously infect us.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life” – Anne Lamott

Who cares if you try things that don’t work. Who cares if some of your photos aren’t great? Stopping yourself from doing something you love, before you’ve done it, is crazy. Recognize you have the fear, but don’t let that stop you. Fear goes away eventually.

Be aimless and wander. Resist those urges to make your photo explorations productive. Ignore the output and focus instead on what you see. Listen. Follow things that spark your interest.

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8 – Get inspiration – indirectly

I really believe that inspiration for your photos can come from all kinds of places. It just so happens that my favourite photographer of all time, Ernst Haas, agrees (if you don’t know him, look him up). He said:

“Beware of direct inspiration. It leads too quickly to repetitions of what inspired you… Refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”

So fill your life with creative inspiration of anything that moves you. Beautiful music, looking at bizarre paintings, reading wild adventure books – it doesn’t matter what it is, if it excites and moves you then it’s right for you. The more you remind yourself what feeling excited and creative feels like, the more your body and mind will imprint that into yourself.

Along that vein, I also like to remind myself of times when I have felt super creative, super in the flow, and I was taking great photos. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’ll never take a good photo ever again (happens to me all the time, especially when I am starting a new book), but just think back to a time when you were taking great photos and in the zone. Remind yourself of that, and it will be easier to get back into that space.

I hope those ideas help. I’d love to know if they do – and what you do when you get stuck. Comment below, I’d love to hear.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Anthony Epes is a photographer who has exhibited and published internationally. He is also a teacher - publishing free in-depth photo guides and tutorials for his website, and on The Guardian and Huffington Post. Anthony has a free 10 day ecourse on becoming a more creative photographer, available here. His work has been featured on BBC, French Photo Magazine, Atlas Obscura, CNN, Digital Photographer Magazine, and The Telegraph.

  • Judith Laguerre

    Very helpful tips. Thanks for sharing Anthony! I find listening to music, writing, and art journaling helps to fight a creative rut. When it comes to photography, I made a box that contains different photo challenges. I select one each day, then grab my camera and set out to illustrate what is written down. I find it both therapeutic and productive. 🙂

  • diane b

    I really enjoyed this article. I am ready to get out of my rut and try some of these suggestions. I get most inspired when walking by myself either through the forest or on the beach or even in my garden. Thank you.

  • diane b

    great idea a box of challenges.

  • Judith Laguerre

    Thanks Diane. You should try it. It may help with the rut.

  • Judith Laguerre

    these are great options. 🙂

  • diane b

    Have you got some challenge suggestions I could use?

  • Judith Laguerre

    I am currently using challenge suggestions I found on this website:
    http://www.theidearoom.net/2015/12/january-photo-a-day-2016.html
    Hope this helps

  • diane b

    Thanks, me too.

  • Brian

    Must admit, I have been in a bit of a rut with my photography too lately. I bought myself a new lens, a Tamron 70-300mm LD Macro lens and it just isn’t performing on my camera as I had hoped it would. I use a Pentax K-r and I am finding when I shoot at the longer range my pictures are not properly focused and are blurry, this is the same whether or not I use a tripod and whether or not I use auto-focus. So I have been feeling a bit on the low side with the whole process lately. I love shooting my landscapes and I have been wanting to get closer to nature but it seems the lens just won’t cope.

  • Pepa Acors

    Thank you! Very inspiring! I closed my photography business because I felt that my work wasn’t good enough until I realized recently that I am a great photographer. I have been doing 30 days photo challenges and now I am doing one year photo challenge one picture per month and it has help me a ton on how to use my camera and being more creative with it. I feel is a must for photographers to find their challenges. Thank you again for this article.

  • I feel like you wrote this article for me. I’ve been in what I call a slump for about 2 months. I have started taking pictures again but still don’t feel good about it This article inspired me greatly. I am using the indirect method and listening to some marvin gaye. I think I’ll go out and take some pictures. I know what I have to do!

  • Wayne Shakell

    Heavy, Famous and Fast

  • Nezih Onur

    Great article. I enjoyed reading it a lot. Everyone can find something that appeals.

  • Trudi Skinn

    I have lost my photographic mojo in the last year or 2. I bought the new camera I’ve been saving up for almost 5-6 months ago and I’ve barely used it!
    I’m ready to get back into it again (that urge has finally returned) but found I’m a bit stuck as to how, and this article has inspired me to be more proactive about that! Keep the camera in my bag and go out and shoot! re-start my photographic project I started a couple of years ago

  • pete guaron

    Great article, Anthony – and it’s wonderful to see photographers with your depth of experience taking time out to help others, like this.
    Can I add a thought? A very common problem for amateur photographers is “GAS” – gear acquisition syndrome. It shows in various ways. One of the most common is seeing or reading what gear other photographers are using and imagining that if they are to take “good photographs” then they must acquire similar gear.
    I’ve been photographing for over 60 years, now – I’ve played with all sorts of equipment during that time, and I’ve had favorites – some of which still guide my eye & my hands.
    And I keep banging into people who are miserable because they find someone has something they don’t – a camera, a lens, a different sized sensor, whatever. Pulleez – enjoy the gear you have – explore it – see what you can do with it – and don’t fret about other people’s gear.
    Or criticism from photographers – SERIOUS photographers – who are banging the drum to push what THEY do, as if it’s necessary for everyone else to do it, too. It’s not. We all do our OWN photography. Let me give an example – all my life, I’ve been keen on ‘available light’ photography, but I keep seeing articles where the famous Mr So-and-so claims that my total disinterest in flash and studio lighting is a reflection of my ignorance, my lack of any serious desire to acquire the “right” equipment, and in general a sign of pure laziness on my part. And while I am writing this, I have open on the other side of my desktop an article which COMMENCES by saying “Natural light is what landscape photography is made of. Other forms of photography rely heavily on flash, but most landscapes rely . . on . . the sun’s rays . . .” Oh dear – now all I can do is laugh, at the critics who would have me drive a truck laden with power generators and super strong floodlights to my next shoot!
    The same goes for the rest of the gear – I use a compact for some things, it’s light & fun to play with & I can slip it in a pocket so I am never caught short, without a cam – I use a full frame with shockingly expensive lenses for quite specific purposes that have nothing in common with most people’s photographic needs – and I have a Nikon half frame D7200 complete with the kit zoom that came with it, for general photography.
    Just to make it clear – plenty of “serious photographers” will tell you modern cams have great zoom lenses, that are perfectly OK for most purposes. I’ve shot two weddings with my D7200 recently, for family members – and when they got their photos back, both couples were far happier with my shots than they were with the stuff they got from the professional photographers they’d paid to cover their weddings. It’s NOT about the gear – it’s about what you do with it!

  • Al B

    I had the same problem and I have a Tamron Lens 70-300 also. I realised that the viewing diopter was off so I changed it and now my shot are no longer blurry

  • Donna J

    This may be the best article I’ve ever read on photography. Honestly.
    Thank you Anthony for continuing to inspire me.

  • Alex

    Above tips are good from tonyc0101. At 70-300mm your depth of field will be much much shallower than with the wide angle lenses you might be used to as well, so be sure you are using a small aperture (F11 or higher) for landscapes. Make sure you’re not in Macro mode (if the lens has one) as well. Longer focal lengths have less room for error, so try weighing down your tripod as well.

  • Wow thanks Donna! I’m so glad you liked it. I’m super inspired now! Have you got my free ebook? It’s all about inspiration, so I think you’d like it. Have an awesome week

  • Hi Pete

    “GAS” I love it. Never heard of that before but I know the symptoms. Personally I don’t really care what camera I have as long as it gives my the options and quality I require. In my kitbag I carry my Canon 5DIII and just three lens, a 50, a 17-40 and a 100mm. If I find myself wanting to shoot something different I might think about renting a lens – I dont often get the itch for a 400mm, but it does happen once in awhile. My other kitbag has my 25 year old Hasselblad 503cx (still works like magic) and is the best camera I’ve ever owned; light, reliable and beautiful. What else could a photographer want, right?
    I keep up with the latest kit, not for want or lack but just to keep up with the GAS addicts on my workshops – I want to at least seems like I’m up to date!
    Ill probably get a new mirrorless system this year but I’m in no rush.

    On your second point about Natural Light – I also love it and would rather spend a year in it then drag out a flash or studio light. Not my style anymore. I had a studio way back when but really preferred being out shooting. Natural light inspires me. Studio strobe does not.
    It really all depends on what is going to inspire you and keep you shooting. If its lots of kit, great, go buy it. If it’s location flash or strobe, wonderful, haul it out. If it’s natural light, lovely, go for a walk to appreciate the day…and bring something to shoot with.

  • That’s wonderful to hear. So glad I said something that inspires people to go be creative. We are all creatures of creativity but sometimes we forget 🙂

  • thank you. Glad you liked it!

  • Excellente! Best of luck!. Which method do you think you’ll be using?

  • You are most welcome. I’m feeling pretty good right now 🙂

  • All of these tips are great. I would also suggest a microadjustment test like in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2tKs1zQ58E

  • That sounds like great fun. Enjoy yourself!

  • Thank you!

  • I am starting to get the itch to draw again, being inspired by my son and his joy of it. Inspiration comes and comes.

  • pete guaron

    Some photographers have a real need for 400 or 500 or longer tele lenses, Anthony. Sports photographers and bird/wild life photographers, for example.
    When I rekitted last year, I looked over the past 60 years and thought “No – tele lenses ain’t my bag – for the odd occasion when it’s important, I have the 140mm equivalent zoom on my half frame and a 200mm equivalent zoom on my compact.” Not that I didn’t spend the money anyway – but I spent it on a couple of Sigma Art prime lenses and a couple of Zeiss lenses that I was drooling over – and I use ALL of them.
    The 135mm tele I had on my Zeiss Contarex hardly ever came out of its carrying case, the whole 50 years that I owned it – I doubt if I took a hundred photos with it, whereas I took around 20,000 during that same period with other lenses.
    And yes, I do have a limited range of flash & studio lighting – mostly for my macro work. But it’s utterly useless for my general photography.
    Plenty of others disagree – there are more flashes popping when I try for night shots of the Eiffel Tower, than there are stars flickering in the Milky Way!
    Each to their own – I’ve no wish to spoil their fun, as long as they stop waving selfie sticks in my face.

  • Donna J

    I do have it, just started reading it …. thanks you for taking the time to do this.
    Would love to know how you edited the photo in tip# 4 above- beautiful contrast between light and dark, love it!

  • I just so happen to have a video tutorial on the creation of that same image. It’s my first video tutorial so I won’t make any excuses for it…it my first! Many more to come soon. Production values on the way, promise 🙂

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZy4IhVJwI4

  • Donna J

    Great video, thanks so much! I love Lightroom and will only go into Photoshop if I have to… I’m not much of an editor, I would much rather spend my time shooting. But it is necessary most of the time to get the results I want. Thanks for sharing this video tutorial, I sometimes think I spend way too much time editing a photo and then won’t even be sure if I like it. Its good to be able to see your thought process and how you achieve the results you want.

  • Judith Laguerre

    You’re welcome.

  • Judith Laguerre

    You’re welcome!

  • Judith Laguerre

    you should take it up Anthony 🙂

  • This must be, by far, the best post I’ve read in ages..forever! These are things that I try to remind myself constantly but it’s great to hear it come from someone else as I do a lot of encouraging myself in my personal project on Instagram https://instagram.com/takenword/. Keep up the great work my friend! Thank you my friend @anthonyepes:disqus

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