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Have you reached a point where all your photos start to look the same? Feeling uninspired? Or maybe you haven’t gone shooting for a while at all?
It happens to us all now and then, kind of like writer’s block. When we get too comfortable with what we do, we get into a routine and everything starts to look the same. This is why it’s important for artists to break out of our own molds from time to time.
To help motivate you out of your photography rut, here are some of the best ways to get your creative juices flowing.
First of all, just remind yourself that it’s okay to think about something other than photography for a little while! Allowing your mind to take some time off will relieve the stress and tension that builds the scaffolding for creative blocks. Instead, devote some time to exploring other art forms to feed your creative soul – go watch a play, listen to music, check out a museum, or read some poetry. All of these experiences feed the muse, where they become thoughts, which associate with other thoughts, to then become new ideas.
But how do you know what to do, if you’ve never done it before? For inspiration, see what other people are doing. Look at pictures from other visual artists that you admire, or find a photography exhibit at a local gallery or museum. Go to the library and flip through photo books. Absorb as much as you can. Which photographers do you like best? What is it that you like about each of them, and what do they all have in common? Think about how each photograph was created and ask yourself: which direction is the light coming from? What focal length, aperture, and shutter speed do you think were used?
Open up your boxes and folders of old photos – the older, the better! As you look over them, think about how you’ve progressed as a photographer. With each photo, ask yourself what you would do differently if you were taking it now, with all you’ve learned since that time. Be honest with your self-critique; admit to yourself when something doesn’t work out, but be sure to congratulate yourself when something does. Feelings of accomplishment build your confidence to create new things.
There are many styles of photography – portraiture, nature, street, abstract… the list can go on and on. If you’re getting too embedded in your usual style, step out of it and try something completely different. If you usually photograph people, photograph animals or still life instead. If you’re into landscapes, you could try your hand at street or architecture photography. You could even shoot exclusively in black and white for a while. Just do something you’ve never done before!
Try some new processing techniques too!
If you find an image (either yours or someone else’s) that really interests you, grab your camera and do your best to emulate it. Look closely at the settings, lighting, depth of field, degree of blur (or lack thereof), the camera’s angle of view, and try mimic it with the tools and locations you have at your disposal. This is a fun and educational exercise that really gets the blood flowing through your creative brain.
Talking to others about photography can do wonders to rekindle your passion; seek out other photographers and try to connect with them. This could mean taking a recurring class, a one-day workshop, or joining (or creating) a local photography club. The artistic critique – the practice of discussing your work, as well as the work of others in a group setting – offers so many new opportunities to see things from differing points of view. Feedback, whether strictly positive or even constructively helpful, is very nourishing to the creative spirit.
Having a new toy to play with can spark all sorts of ideas and inspiration in your imagination. If you are lucky enough to have a fellow photo friend who happens to shoot with the same kind of camera that you do, maybe you can share lenses or other accessories (flashes, etc.). You can also check with your local camera store about renting lenses and camera bodies, or borrow through a reputable online lens rental agency.
On the other hand, if you want to go lo-fi instead, you could opt to get your hands on a 35mm camera (they’re everywhere – try a thrift store) and some film (yes, they do still make it). Limiting yourself to the 36 shots per roll forces you to think about each frame more carefully, and is a completely different way to approach photography.
If the opportunity arises, volunteering your time and skills for a good cause is a great way to challenge yourself and help others. You could run a photo booth at a local fundraiser or offer to take portraits of your friends and family, and there are countless charity organizations that would jump at the chance to have their fundraisers and other efforts documented.
Look at the world from a different point of view. This can be as simple as getting up high – on a ladder, a building, or anything else – or down low, by crawling on your knees and belly to get a worm’s-eye shot. But it can also mean a more dramatic change, such as altering your surroundings all together. Try finding a brand new location to shoot in, whether that location is just another neighbourhood or whether you’d prefer to…
This is, of course, my personal favourite way to keep my outlook fresh.
Going to a completely new place lets you view the world with fresh eyes and renewed wonder, and lets you see all the little details that get glossed over when you’re accustomed to the place you’re in. For me, traveling and photography are almost inseparable.
Creative ruts and blockages happen, but sometimes it’s our own hesitation that makes them seem so daunting. A lot of the time, all we need to get over that wall is to try jumping on a trampoline instead!