12 Ways to Inspire the Creative Photographer Inside You: Part I

12 Ways to Inspire the Creative Photographer Inside You: Part I

A Guest Post by Andrew Gibson


Have you ever had the feeling of being stuck in a rut with your photography? It happens to all of us at one time or another. Sometimes it’s difficult to find inspiration or to think of new subjects to photograph.

Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing again. Pick one or two that interest you and take the opportunity to learn some new skills and challenge yourself. Afterwards, you can look back at what you’ve achieved with a renewed sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

1. Read a Photography Book

The photography book (both printed book and ebook) publication industry is booming and there is no shortage of inspiration. You don’t have to buy a new book either – your local library should have plenty in stock.

Try reading a photography book written by an author you’re unfamiliar with or who is writing about a genre you’ve never tried before. Then go out and put some of what you’ve read into practice. The great thing about the best photography books is that they have both beautiful photos to inspire you and the practical information you need to try out the same techniques.

Don’t limit yourself to photography books. I spent time yesterday looking at Jamie Oliver’s latest cookbook. The quality of photography is breathtaking and makes me want to try out food photography for myself (as well as the recipes).


I learnt the toning technique used in this photo from a book about black and white photography.

2. Use a New Lens

Buy (or borrow) a new lens – then use it. Or you may have a lens in your kit that you haven’t used for a while. Lenses are the eye to your camera’s system and using a new lens (or rediscovering one you have’t used for some time) can give you a new way of seeing.

Try this. If you normally use a wide-angle lens, then try a telephoto lens instead. Or if you normally use a telephoto, try a wide-angle. If you usually use a zoom lens, then how about a prime? You get the picture. It’s all about using a new lens to force yourself to take a fresh approach.

New lenses don’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of inexpensive wide-angle and normal prime lenses around. Another option is to buy a Holga lens for your digital camera (they are available for all the major camera manufacturers at Holga Direct). These are inexpensive and great fun.


A simple image taken with a Holga lens on an EOS 40D.

3. Take a Photo Holiday

Sometimes all that is needed to re-energise your creative self is a trip to somewhere new. Even a short trip for a day or a weekend can help. What’s important is that you dedicate it to photography. That way you can concentrate on exploring the most photogenic locations and making sure you are then when the light is best.

You don’t necessarily have to travel far. But it helps if you’ve never been there for a while so you see it with fresh eyes. It should also be visually exciting and inspiring.


Who could fail to be inspired by a trip to Venice? But any trip to somewhere new has the power to re-energise your creative vision.

4. Be more Critical

Look at your work through fresh eyes. What are your favourite images? What photography and post-processing techniques do you like to use? How can you improve?

Editing your photos ruthlessly. What are the ten best photos that you have taken in the past 12 months? Don’t be afraid to ask someone else’s opinion. It’s often difficult to be objective about your own work. Does a style emerge when you look at your best images? Does this suggest fresh ideas for future projects?

Imagine that an art director or magazine editor is looking at your portfolio. What might they say about your photos? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Don’t be over critical. It’s just a thought exercise that may help you obtain a clear idea of your strengths and the skills you’d like to develop.

Here’s an idea. Once you’ve selected your best photos why not send them to a photography magazine? They may be published, earning you some money or a prize. Seeing your images in print is always a good feeling, especially the first time.


Photos of mine used in a spread in EOS magazine.

5. Enter a photography Competition

There are plenty out there. Just beware of competitions that are rights grabs (there is a list of approved photography competitions here). Most competitions have tight briefs that can inspire and focus you. The prizes can be pretty good too.

6. Set a photographic project

Set a project, something you can return to again throughout the year. Projects give you direction. For example, this year I’ve been experimenting with long exposure photography. This new way of taking photos has encouraged me to view my local area with new eyes, evaluating different locations for their photographic potential.

Projects are good because they give you chance to develop your skills in a certain area. The photos taken at the end of the project will be better than the ones taken at the beginning. You’ll also need a good variety of images to create a cohesive set of photos. Thinking long term gives you time to think up ideas and execute them.


A long exposure photo taken a few minutes walk from my front door. Choosing a project that you can carry out close to home can save you time and motivate you to complete the project.

Have you ever been stuck in a creative rut? How did you get out of it? Leave your comments below, I’m sure we will see some good ideas.

The next six ideas are in part II of this article.

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Some Older Comments

  • Phaedra Culley November 20, 2012 03:22 pm

    Jenny - Thanks so much! I am looking forward to using it once I have an ipod or an ipad.

  • Dewan Demmer November 20, 2012 07:29 am

    I do like the ideas in general and I have probably tried them all and they all work, however with the topic "Be more critical", well. I do agree be sure that you give each image a critical eye, but so not much that you question yourself and this is something happens so often and to the point that some really brilliant images never make it off the desktop. I would rather say to be creative be ready to experiment and make mistakes, and when you sit down and be critical of your mistakes and know that tomorrow you wont make those mistakes again.

  • Jenny Mirton November 20, 2012 01:27 am

    Hi Phaedra

    It's a photography assignment app that works on iphones/ipod touches.
    You can get it here:
    There are two versions, one for SLR shooters, one for people who shoot with their iphones/ipods (like me!)

    I recommend it!!! Can't go wrong for $3(slr version) or $1(iphone shooter version)

    I came across the developers website, lots of info on them here: www.learnphoto.ca/apps


  • Phaedra Culley November 19, 2012 01:22 pm

    Jenny - what app do you have?

  • Melissa November 17, 2012 07:23 am

    This was a great article. And thanks, Jenny, for the photo app idea. My photo "project" is I like to dress my rabbits up for every holiday and take pics of them :) People seem to enjoy it and look forward to the pics every year.

  • leigh darilek November 17, 2012 04:47 am

    all great ideas. and i've done the photo a day challenge where others create the inspiration (@fatmumslim, @colorsoftheweek, @popyacolour to name a few), but what i've decided to do is finally create my own. i have some ideas about it - for instance, instead of a new prompt for each day, having a selection of prompts for the month (eg: november - thankful, family, food, travel, gather...or whatever)

  • Jenny Mirton November 17, 2012 04:36 am

    HI Ben

    Not if you've got this app!!! I think even once I've gone through all the assignments, most of them can be done over again and again with different subjects or places, etc. And the random assignments are limitless it looks like!!! Gives you things like photograph a fork at night...or a credit card and a pen...or a brush reflected in something.
    Insane ideas!!! Things I never would have come up with on my own.


  • Dr.Pinaki Baidya November 16, 2012 09:36 pm

    Very good article.I am going through this phase.Yesterday I read author's e book "understanding exposure".Tomorrow I am going to buy a new telephoto zoom lens.I am already excited about it.I want to add one way to energise-just share your work with any photo sharing site on net and try to analyse good photos of others. You can try to take your version of image of similar subject .I bet its really fun and exciting.

  • ChrisJ November 16, 2012 10:02 am

    Events are usually full of interesting subject, rather than (expensively) going to a new location and event can yield many more interesting shots.

    Buying a new camera can make a difference, I recently bought a Pentax Q, I have took more pictures with that small camera in the few weeks I've had it as it's always with me than I have with my DSLR in the last six months. Image quality is better than it should be with such a small sensor, highly recommended.


  • John Pettett November 16, 2012 09:46 am

    The best tip of all is 'don't sweat it''. To one degree or another, we're always in a creative rut. Just think of how many times you've looked at someone else's great photograph of a familiar spot and wondered why you didn't think of doing it that way?
    For inspiration, I like to copy what others have done. It will never be exactly the same but you will end up with something which pleases you. Then, re-do it with your own twists. Yes, that's plural. Sometimes, I can find ten different ways of taking the same shot. Most won't be keepers but by then, I've long stopped thinking about my creative limitations.

  • Phaedra Culley November 16, 2012 09:34 am

    I have done a few of those listed - taken a trip, read a book...what I usually do to get out of a rut is give myself a break - no photography for a day or two - just looking, and allowing myself to take a break.

    Another thing I do is find an assignment either on DPS or one of the other photography sites and then do that assignment.

    I also like to 'pretend' Like this week, I am a travel photographer, or a journalist. Then I go places and take pictures of places I would for my 'role' that week/day.

  • Ben Chapman November 16, 2012 08:15 am

    Jenny, i bet it is difficult to take a different photo everyday.

  • Ed Law November 16, 2012 05:23 am

    I needed that!! :-)

    Looking forward to the next 6 and taking a look at your books.


  • Jenny Mirton November 16, 2012 03:39 am

    I've just started getting into photography, these are great ideas!!!
    i've been doing a 365 day photo challenge, which as the name says, has been a challenge!!!
    It's hard to come up with new ideas, but I came across a cool photography assignment generator on the app store.
    It lets you pick from a list of ideas, or gives you a random one. I've been using the version for iphone shooters like me, but there is a version for slr cameras(someday I'll upgrade!!)
    There are lots of great assignments, and a crazy amount of random ones and scavenger hunt.
    You can also set up a daily reminder, which has helped me stay on target!
    all the version are here, and there is even a free version to try it out.

    keep the tips coming!!!

  • Mei Teng November 15, 2012 02:43 pm

    Great set of ideas. I like to embark on personal projects whenever I have the time.

  • Scottc November 15, 2012 10:47 am

    All great ideas, I particularly like the "New Lens" idea.....

    Maybe a bit more practical, add photography to your holiday?


  • Ben Chapman November 15, 2012 09:42 am

    My camera spent a lot of time collecting dust in the cupboard until I spent very little on buying a Holga lens and an old canon lens that I've reverse mounted for macro. These inexpensive items have boosted my love for this hobbie again

  • Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri November 15, 2012 01:50 am

    2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th works better for me. :)


  • Jai Catalano November 15, 2012 01:38 am

    Very nice start. 6 good ones. At first I didn't like be more critical but after criticizing my own thinking I had an ahh hah moment and now agree.