5 Ideas to Kick Start Your Photography Again

5 Ideas to Kick Start Your Photography Again

Image by Eric May

Last week I was speaking with an amateur photographer who told me that he’s been struggling for photographic inspiration and ideas lately.

He reflected that he felt like he’d become something of a lazy photographer and was in a bit of a rut – always photographing the same things in the same ways.

I shared a number of ideas from my own experiences of seeking photographic inspiration (some of which I’ll share below) but it struck me halfway through the conversation that a lot of the ideas I was suggesting was actually about him limiting himself in his photography in some way – in order to find inspiration.

Let me explain by looking at 5 photography ideas that I shared with him.

Note: by no means am I suggesting that these are the only ways to get inspired – they’ve just helped me at times.

5 Ideas to Kick Start Your Photography Again

1. Fixed Focal Length Shoots

I wrote about this recently in a challenge here on dPS. The idea is to choose a focal length and only shoot at it for a period of time.

While many of us have become used to (or reliant upon) shooting with a zoom lens – there’s something about shooting with a prime lens (fixed focal length) that makes you think about the composition of your shots a little more.

So choose a focal length that you don’t shoot at much and stick with it for a week and see how you go (and if you don’t have a prime lens to do this with – use your zoom but simply stick at one end of its range for a week).

Variation: another option for this is to choose a lens that you may not have used much before. Many photographers buy multiple lenses but then stick with one, ignoring others. Alternatively swap lenses with a friend for a week or even try renting one for a short period.

2. The 1 Roll Rule

Image by Paul G

I was out shooting with a photography enthusiast friend recently and was amazed at the number of shots he took. At one point we were photographing his son (who was quietly playing with lego) and my friend shot off a burst of 20 or so shots at 4 frames per second.

Considering his son was sitting still and only really moving his fingers for those few seconds I did wonder at the need to shoot so many shots.

Of course I also know the temptation – shooting heaps of shots is easy to do. It doesn’t really cost you anything (although fills up hard drives pretty quick) and some might think it increases your chance of capturing the perfect moment.

The problem is that when you rely upon the quantity of your shots to improve the quality of your images that you can easily become lazy and complacent.

Here’s my challenge – next time you go out on a shoot – limit yourself to 36 shots (the number in a roll of film). In doing so you’ll find yourself really thinking about your shots. You’ll time them better and make sure each shot counts!

3. Turn Off the Live Preview/Review

Image by Alan Antiporda

Speaking of old school film photography – do you remember that feeling when you got to the end of shooting a roll of film and wondering how your shots would turn out?

You’d put the film in for processing and wait a week or so for them to be ready and then go to the photo lab with anticipation… rip open the package and go through them one by one – reliving the moments you captured a week or so ago?

I love that digital photography gives us instant access to the images we take – but sometimes I wonder if by having that little screen on the back of our cameras we might be missing something from the experience of photography?

There are certainly advantages of being able to quickly review our shots or compose them on a larger screen – but similarly to my point above on shooting lots of shots I wonder if the instant review could be making us a little lazy? We’ll just keep taking shots till we’re happy.

I personally also find myself looking at my camera a whole lot more than I am looking at the scene in front of me and wonder if some of the joy of the moment could be lost.

So try this – turn off your LCD screen. Some cameras let you do this in your settings while others might take a little self discipline to do this – but I’d be interested to see what impact it has.

4. Manual Focus

Image by Shazeen Samad

Shooting recently with the Leica M9-P (a fully manually focused camera) reminded me how little I shoot with manual focus these days.

I admit it – I’ve become lazy and have relied too much upon Auto Focus.

Shooting with the M9-P also reminded me how focusing manually can open up all kinds of possibilities. Just thinking about your focus rather than relying upon those 21 auto focal points your camera has (or how every many there are) puts you in a different frame of mind.

I find shooting in manual focusing mode makes me slow down a little, consider my shots and get a little more creative.

So switch to Manual Focusing and see what impact it has on your photography! I’d love to hear how it goes for you in comments below.

5. Limit Yourself to an Aperture

Image by Travis Lawton

I was flicking through some of my shots recently in Lightroom and as the images opened in front of me I noticed something that I’d not considered much before. Almost every shot I’d taken over a month or so had been taken at the maximum aperture of the lenses I was using.

I was shooting wide open almost all of the time.

There were a number of reasons for this – partly I shoot a fair bit indoors where the extra aperture lets more light in – but I guess it is also part of my style. I love narrow depth of field shots – bokeh is my friend.

However I wondered whether by shooting wide open so much I perhaps was ignoring other possibilities. Perhaps some of my portrait work would have been better if I shot with a smaller aperture and included more in focused backgrounds to give my subjects context (environmental portraits).

For the next week I began to shoot with a smaller Aperture – it was challenging at first and I wanted to give up – but at the end of the week I realised I was again being more thoughtful with my shots and had expanded the possibilities of styles at my fingertips when shooting.

Share Your Ideas for Finding Photographic Inspiration

These are about half of the ideas I shared with my friend – I’ll write up the others in the coming week – but in the mean time I’d love to hear ideas from others too. What do you do when you find yourself in a photography rut needing inspiration?

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Elindaire July 26, 2013 11:27 pm

    Get your gear out!


  • Buryan July 1, 2013 03:35 am

    Great tips, thank you for sharing your ideas - I like the constant aperture tip :)

  • John June 26, 2013 07:41 pm

    thank you so much for this article.reading the first part of it felt like it might have been me you were talking too since i feel like i'm getting stuck in a rut with my photography and am getting lazy, i especially like tip no. 2 on limiting yourself to 36 shots which can really force you to slow down and think about the shot your taking. thanks so much for the inspiration!

  • stina June 24, 2013 07:22 am

    For the most part i hardly ever use auto focus. I actually prefer manual focus. On the few occaissions i have used auto focus i haven't liked the way the turned out. I sometimes try to get the same shot in both auto and manual just for comparison. I haven't figured out how to change the aperture but I'm trying and working on it. Most of my best shots have not been posed they are mostly candid unposed and unexpected.

  • Tim June 22, 2013 06:01 pm

    Martin, on the difficulty of manual focus: that's half the fun of it. First thing you'll learn is that landscape and narrow apertures are boring, because once you've found the hyperfocal distance and f/11 that's it. Second thing is for closeups, focus with the aperture wide open and stop-down before shooting; move in & out from the subject with the flow rather than expecting to keep up with tracking MF yourself.

    Finally, if you're really having problems focussing a 6x6 groundglass, especially at wide apertures, maybe you need an optician...

  • Darth June 22, 2013 06:08 am

    Go somewhere. Take your camera on a road trip.

  • Evelyn R June 22, 2013 02:05 am

    I really need to try the 36 shots exercise!...almost every event I photograph results in 200+ photos half of which I end up deleting!

    Great article...I could easily do all of them, it's been quite a while that I have been really excited about my photography

  • Nora June 21, 2013 10:59 pm

    Thank you for these ideas. I am an amateur and love what you referred to as "the experience of photography." Thanks for the reminder to slow down and be thoughtful.

  • Eeps June 21, 2013 01:25 pm

    For a variation on the prime rule and manual focus rule, find a scene with lots of interesting still subjects. Open up your aperture for a shallow depth of field and then take several shots of the scene, but manually varying the focus points on the various subject matters. This exercise should train your eye as well as your imagination.

  • Johann June 21, 2013 04:42 am

    I almost exclusively shoot with manual focus. It was hard to get sharp photos at first, but it's just a matter of practice, even on a cheap Canon EOS 1100D. While Auto-focus is handy for less experienced or casual users, it also tends to focus at the wrong distance.

  • Valerie Workman June 21, 2013 03:30 am

    Thanks for the tips! Just reading this has me coming out of the rut already! :o) I've been pushing myself to shoot completely manual. I've become lazy leaving it on Aperture priority all the time. {Yup -- one of those maximum aperture nuts.} And now you have given me another challenge. . . manual focus. I will definitely be applying this article! :o)

  • john muir June 21, 2013 03:20 am

    it is only recently that i have been doing changes using different lenses that is why i always try to remember to take them with me..

    you are right i was getting lazy ...looking for excuses

  • Bobbie M. June 20, 2013 05:36 am

    This was extremely helpful considering I have been in a definite rut. I will try some of these next time I go out tomorrow after work.

  • Gm Studio June 19, 2013 08:22 pm

    I like the idea to "back to basic" and to start to take control of your camera and understand how it work and try to concentrate on the shoot itself.
    Very good suggestions.

  • Jeff E Jensen June 18, 2013 08:42 am

    I like to re-visit places I've shot for a re-shoot, but with a different lens. If I shot it the first time with my 70-200, this time I'll use the 17-40. If I shot it with the 14, I'll shoot with the 100mm. It forces you to look at things differently.

  • Jens Erik Ebbesen June 18, 2013 07:03 am

    Good article. Here are some other ideas.

    - go out and shoot pictures containing a specific color eg. red or yellow. You will be amazed how much that changes your focus. Suddenly you will see that color all over the place.

    - find an old building, and old car or and old boat, mount your macro lens identify app. one square meter and find as many shapes or patterns as you possibly can and document them.

  • Martin June 16, 2013 07:22 pm

    All of the suggestions in this article are challenges. This might be great if you want to improve aspects of you technique or artistic eye or if you are ambitious.
    But what about those of us just wanting to have fun with our hobby?
    It might be more helpful to get together with other photographers or take pictures of fun subjects (let your kids jump on their bed for your camera)

  • Andrew June 16, 2013 06:03 pm

    While I enjoyed the article I think it missed a point and that is sometimes you need to push yourself to go outside your comfort zone and work with subject and styles you would normally avoid. Changing a lens or technique will liven things up a little but putting yourself in unfamiliar situations will be even more rewarding. If you don't photograph people then put you and you camera in front of them and try making portraits. If all you do is portraits, try focusing on details or move back and try environmental portraiture to tell more of a story.

    A number of posters have mentioned using cards or other means to generate random ideas. I use Rory's Story cubes to stimulate thinking about new images or subjects.

    I originally worked with medium format and understand the need to be economical when shooting 12 shots per roll. I don't miss having that limitation these days but I use 2GB memory cards and shoot RAW+jpg, so I can't really get carried away.

  • Scott June 22, 2012 07:57 pm

    Great points all. I shot film for a long time and I kind of miss the thrill of looking at the slides or contact sheets and see the results. I used to spend over $100 annually just for film, which I ordered in bulk from NY and froze until I used it. That doesn't even include the processing and printing. I did a little film shooting recently, but for some reason I have a hard time spending money on film and processing now. I have shelled out a lot of money for my digital bodies, and part of my justification to my wife (and myself) was that they would pay for themselves in the "savings." So spending money on film and processing when I could just shoot digital is hard to swallow.

    I already have my review set to off, although i often press the play button to evaluate my shot afterwards. Rather than shooting film I might just refrain from using the LCD and "pretend" I am shooting film. Maybe I can force myself to wait a week or so to download the images to appropriate the anticipation ;-). However, I am still saving my EOS1n film camera. It still works like new, although It saw many years of hard use before it was supplanted by digital. I "exercise" it regularly to keep it in working order and plan to revisit film shooting when I retire ;-)

  • Nonita November 19, 2011 04:08 am

    hello I'm new in photography school I want to learn every thing about new technology and new Ideas because I don't know any thing about camera and printer and how to make an albums. Because I want to open my own studio in kingdom of saudi arabia. Any suggestions, tips or ideas. I will be happy and thankful to hear you .. in this email ( raomee@hotmail.com )
    thank you ^_^

  • ryan chung October 21, 2011 12:43 pm

    COOL! I am eager to try the 1 roll challenge and I plan to join your Flickr group, Zak! Can't wait to see what 36prints has to offer! =D

  • Zak October 19, 2011 03:18 pm

    I love the 1 roll rule (#2). I think it's a great idea and I'm going to try it tomorrow!

    I just created a Flickr group for people to post their best pictures from their roll -- and also a mosaic of all 36 shots if you want. Won't you please join the Flickr group and start sharing your shots? The group is called "36 Prints".

    This also gave me an idea for a piece of software to make this challenge even more exciting... I'm going to start working on that too - it's going to be called, you guessed it, 36Prints!

  • Bradley September 20, 2011 03:28 am

    Here's another tip all these point to:


    Plus there's nothing more inspirational than developing and printing yourself, watching that amazing print come out on fiber.

  • Eugene Feldman September 19, 2011 08:31 pm

    VERY inspirational! thank you :)
    Me and my D90 are going out for a photoshooting round once again thanks to you!

  • Michael M September 19, 2011 05:12 pm

    I am going through lack of inspiration right now... I am going out tomorrow to put these ideas in practice Thanks!

  • Photography Art Cafe September 18, 2011 09:10 pm

    Great ideas! I totally agree that, for all its brilliance, digital can make you lazy and lose inspiration. Plus it's so true that limiting yourself, whether by subject, equipment or technical setting, can ironically be very liberating.

    Something I often do when ideas are running dry is shoot myself...as it were! Self-portraits are brilliant for getting the creative juices flowing. Another thing I like is to make a visual diary for a week or so; suddenly using a camera becomes cathartic! These are 10 project ideas that I often do or suggest to friends: http://www.photography-art-cafe.com/photography-project-ideas.html

    Oh, and I'm completely with Ariana (above), "The Photographer's Eye" is an awesome book!

  • Paul September 18, 2011 07:49 am

    Thanks, I get that feeling sometimes; being a wedding photog I'm so busy I sometimes neglect shooting for fun!

  • ArianaMurphy September 16, 2011 11:09 am

    One strategy that always helps me is to read photography books and magazines. There's something about holding hard copy in the hand that is different from viewing online (another useful tool but different). I am reading "The Photographer's Eye" and it's amazing!

  • Saqib Akhtar September 15, 2011 05:44 pm

    These points really remind me College (NCA) days. These are the BEST for now a day's amature photographers.

  • Amanda K September 15, 2011 08:35 am

    Another good reason to limit the number of photos you take? Less to sort through later!

  • Glenn Stokes September 14, 2011 02:21 pm

    Being a photographer who has used many a camera for the past 50+ years, and having transitioned from film to digital I am a photo-child of 2 generations. I met a young lady who I noticed was using a film camera. I asked her why. She said she was in a photo class and needed to understand the physics, mechanics of photography.

    Like a computer, a camera is a tool. You don't need to understand all of the interior components, but you do understand your tools, their potential, their limitations, how to use them, how to improvise with them.

    You need to "bond" with them so that the two of you can achieve a combined maximum potential. The tool does not know or care about you. You are it's "master". But use it without knowing it, and it is your master.

    On your camera (if possible) turn OFF everything that is pre-programmed, and automatic. Use the camera features manually. Play with it. Get to know it. Bond with it. When you are in tune, in unison with it's capabilities, features, possibilities, limitations, the two of you will be able to capture the best possible image.......one that will need a minimum amount of time in computer software post-processing. It is time well spent. You can actually bypass a lot of menus, sub-menus, when you know the basics of your camera, how to access them, and how to control them. The creative mind that knows and is in control of a camera is far more powerful than the software that is created for a camera by someone.

  • Kelli September 13, 2011 10:57 pm

    I regularly attend photography workshops through my local photography association and PPA. Seeing what others are doing helps me move out of my little world. Visits to art museums also helps me to concentrate on composition and technique. I am now studying for my professional photographer certification which is really forcing me to think about every image I create. Thanks for the great tips.

  • Megan September 13, 2011 10:16 am

    I LOVE this article. I was just telling a client last weekend that I intended to start pretending that my DSLR was just an SLR and that I wanted to shoot fewer shots but make them count. Thanks for posting such great content!!!!!

  • CanonChick76 September 13, 2011 04:30 am

    I find DPS to be very informative and useful...My Passion for Photography goes back to 35mm - Advantix Film...Just Over a year ago i invested in my DSLR & Over 5 Lens'...I have done a lot of Shooting, (Portraits, Theater, Sports, Macro, Ect..) but Lately I have been out of ideas and or not as inspired. I don't make a living out of Photography, but friends and family - insisted I have for it, I started by own side gig and it doesn't seem to be picking up.. I am not sure why..However, I do Plan on using these technique's... I mostly use Auto Focus, I Always Check the LCD to see if I like what i See, & my hard drive is storing a Lot more Than before. I shoot without Limits. So Maybe all these things mean it's time For A Change! Thanks for the Inspiration and Happy Shooting to All!!

  • Steve September 13, 2011 04:24 am

    As an amature photographer on a tight budget, manual focus is the way to go. I have 6 lenses, only two of which have autofocus (and only paid for one, the other was a gift.) My other lenses are all older manual focus ones that I got for super cheap on Ebay. At first I had trouble getting crips shots on my D80, but now that I have the hang of it I can even catch birds in flight clearly. It really gets you in tune with what your lenses are capable of when your camera can't control your focus or your aperture for you.

  • Simon Cooper September 12, 2011 12:56 am

    I like the idea of just limiting yourself to just 36 shots. I've been shooting a lot of 35mm recently, and it does make you think twice before opening the shutter.

    In fact, why not try shooting film to open up some more ideas and different thinking.

  • Aleta September 11, 2011 03:56 pm

    I've actually used #1 & #3 a lot, mostly with my Canon. I recently acquired a Pentax K-7 and have not been tempted to use the Live Preview. I'm working on using some of my old Pentax lenses which will require me to use manual focus but it's not something I had very much luck doing with my Canon. While I find shooting digital very freeing, I try to remember that indiscriminate shooting is not art and compose my shots before taking them. I have found that sorting through dross to find one or two keepers is very time-consuming so it makes sense to try and get the best shot you can to begin with, even with digital.

  • David September 10, 2011 08:17 am

    Being an old film guy I practice 2 and 3 all the time. One of the problems I have with digital is the desire to just shoot without contemplating light, camera settings or location. The more is better mentality confuses me. I had a similar experience as you. A friend of mine's daughter is a dance like mine. At a recent recital I took 10 pictures over 2 hours. I had gone to dress rehearsals, measured the light, knew where I wanted to be for each shot and was ready the day of the recital. My friend went and took 4000 shots in 2 hours (yes... I was amazed too, I didnt take that many in my first year with my digital camera). None of which was a "Keeper" where 2 of my 10 are now hanging in my house and in families homes. The one roll rule is great. I never use live preview on my camera, it wasnt a feature I wanted, but came with it. I will look at my histograms on occasion, but generally I measure, plan, shoot and review when I get home.

    Excellent article. Thanks for the tips, I need to try the others.

    Faces, Places and Things

  • Eric May September 10, 2011 07:26 am

    Thanks for the use of my photo, feel free to use any others in the future :)
    -Eric May

  • Justin Donie September 10, 2011 04:03 am

    As Darren points out, it's true that intentionally using your camera differently will shake up your shooting routines. But I must admit that I'm always surprised when I read articles like this which focus on "how we use technology" as the primary means of stimulating photographic creativity. For me, personally, there are other things I do that tend to break me out of a rut more effectively.

    When I want to stimulate a new burst of creativity, perspective and energy in my shooting, I focus on changing things that alter what I'm thinking about, paying attention to and how I'm feeling ... not from the stand point of the device through which I'm looking, but in terms of what's going in inside me before I even pick up the camera. Here are a few favorites of mine:

    1) Image Books / Websites - If I'm not feeling physically energetic, browsing the works of other artists (photographers, painters, graphic artists, computer artists) reminds me that there's a whole universe of imagination and reality that I haven't been paying attention to because the subjects and ideas of other artists often focus on things that I normally don't touch in my day to day life.

    2) Galleries and Museums - If I'm up for getting out into the world, seeing other people's work, 2d and 3d, in person, breaks the creative and thought patterns of my typical day and introduces me to all sorts of new things to pay attention to and new ways of seeing them and expressing my thoughts and feelings about them.

    3) Day Trips to New Places - picking a place I've never been to before and going there for a day or weekend really tends to stimulate my creativity.

    4) New Mode of Travel - never been on a ferry? helicopter? private jet? ski lift? Try moving through the world in an entirely new way ... it can change what you see, how you see it and what you think and feel.

    5) Do Something Brand New - Never been to a rodeo? Never dug for clams? Never went shopping at an outdoor market where they don't speak your language? Never ate Bulgarian food? Try something, anything, you've never done before, and use your camera to capture the new experience while challenging yourself to focus on expressing how it all felt to you as you went through it for the first time.

    6) Take a Tip from a "Whack Pack" ... years ago, I stumbled on Roger VonOech's "Whack Pack", a deck of cards designed to shake up your mental routine and get you to "look at your life and actions in a fresh way." I also made my own such cards and sometimes take one from the middle of the deck to just rattle my own cage and take me off in a new direction. Trying on a new thought, activity, food, style ... anything that shakes up our mental and physical (and, thereby, emotional) routine, tends to stimulate our creative juices. Roger has other decks, like the "Innovative Whack Pack" that can also stir up the inner attic.

    Using your camera differently IS helpful in breaking us out of our inner routines ... but why not take a deeper plunge into life while you're at it! :)

  • nix74 September 10, 2011 12:03 am

    The 5 ideas you mention is really a great way to spice up your photography journey. I have been practicing Idea 1 and 2 for some time and really enjoy it.

    I love prime lens, it just make photography so much more enjoyable. I'm having a Tamrom SP 90mm macro len. am trying to get another unit with a shorter focus length.

  • Marco September 9, 2011 11:27 pm

    I have been shooting Canon so far and while not sure about other brands, my recent upgrade really showed me how bad the view finder was on my first camera. I started off with the Rebel XSi which is an entry level camera that has a PENTA-MIRROR viewfinder and I had the hardest time with manual focus such that I really never used it. My recent upgrade to a 7D however is incredible. Not only is the viewfinder larger but it is also much clearer and can actually be used since it is a PENTA-PRISM. I did not find this mentioned much in the reviews I read before buying but it really is a fantastic improvement and should probably be noted more often. I guess my point is that not all digital cameras suck at manual focus and that you sometimes get what you pay for.

  • Harrisburg Photographers September 9, 2011 10:49 pm

    If I'm feeling uninspired, I'll just take the camera and try shooting subjects I haven't before. Taking the shots and then seeing what was produced always manages to reinvigorate my interest. Besides, photography is all about taking risks and trying new things.

  • Vincent September 9, 2011 07:22 pm

    Very valid,I'm going to go full manual with my 35mm prime; focus and exposure! Just like I had to back in my film days when I had no other choice!

  • Martina Tierney September 9, 2011 06:48 pm

    Great advice to avoid digital diarrhoea! So much wasted time on the computer afterwards I find.

  • James Hunt September 9, 2011 06:39 pm

    I so agree with your note about turning off the LCD. My Nikon 5100 has the pivoting screen and at a recent car rally I left the screen 'closed', primarily because I wanted to keep my eyes up as much as possible. After a while I realised that all the other photographers around me were shooting as a car passed and, as soon as it was gone, they were all ducking their heads (dozens of them, in almost perfect unison) to see what the shots had looked like. It was quite a revelation, especially when I realsied I had been one of the head-ducking crowd right up until that day. I still love the screen but I am far more circumspect about it's use now, especially at sporting events.

  • Colin September 9, 2011 05:22 pm

    I have been taking pictures using various cameras `mainly film now Digital` for a long time, and during that time i learned a very Important lesson..When to press the shutter button. Cartier Bresson called it the `Definitive moment`. I say this in reference to those who feel the need to use high speed shooting all the time it just isn`t neccessary. If you can`t see the moment coming you severly restrict your chaces of getting the shots you want. All the tips here are valid and worth consideration, I`m sure they will help most of us to Improve, but the best tips i ever got were to Get A Tripod...Shoot Manual..use a prime lens nothing else compares to the image quality and take your time, I did all this and It `blew me away`. proscessing thousands of images is just a pain in the Ar.......! It`s all good advice here, Thank`s.

  • siti September 9, 2011 04:44 pm

    I definitely agree with all the suggestions! I used to take photos with Nikon FM 2 with standard lens - and they turned out better than I do now - I spent more time upgrading my skills because of the processing costs. Now with digital, we take things for granted and take hundreds of photos, not printing all of them (cost factor) and - finding difficulties to find good ones! I also spend a lot of time with the computer - making adjustments etc Limiting oneself to manual etc is good to enhance your skill and push your creativity. Coz at time, not all situations allow you to use all the latest technology in photogprahy unless you are a full professional equipped with highly expensive equipments. Taking photos in tropical rainforests(a country where I live) for example, due its humidity and condition, pose challenges to electronic devices. A manual backup is a must. In some instance e.g for streetlife, digital is useful. Challenge oneself with limitations push our creativity, Let's give it a try..

  • Peter September 9, 2011 11:18 am

    It's definitely a good idea to restrict yourself and push outside the comfort zone. I tried pre-setting the focus as well when out shooting street before making the shot and it helped me get used to different distances and makes focus a much more conscious decision, it also made the shooting a much faster instnat reaction which I think puts life into street work. I agree about the screen, re: composition. However you didn't mention the histogram which is a fantastic lightmeter. Not using it is like not using the meter when tuning exposure before a shot. That seems counter-productive to me.

  • Jodie Richelle September 9, 2011 11:13 am

    This is all so true and helpful. My mind can become a swirl of ideas and my most helpful mantra is "focus." I have to limit myself to one idea at a time.

  • Andrew Turner September 9, 2011 10:20 am

    Great ideas Darren . I look forward to reading more next week. I am interested to find out more about home-made bokeh attachments

  • scott September 9, 2011 08:16 am

    My problem is 'fine' focus, Even with corrected lens, I am still off, regardless of the camera, so got rid of all but one film camera. Now I basically am 'stuck' with auto focus. Was fun, earlier, but I still get great pictures of the gand daughter.
    Otherwise, like what you said.

  • Lori September 9, 2011 08:07 am

    I think these are really good suggestions. Narrowing your options makes you focus more on quality rather than quantity. I like to choose a color and shoot nothing but that color for a period of time. I find myself using all the functions of my camera trying to isolate the color. I also look at things a little differently. Instead of "boring building, same ol' trees, loud kids...." I see "brown with white, green and yellow, pink and orange..."
    It's not a permanent change- it's just something to get you out of the funk.
    Looking forward to more of your suggestions.

  • Bent K. Michaelsen September 9, 2011 07:55 am

    Hello Darren, hello everyone.

    I was about to delete this mail when I saw the topic. So I just had to read it, and for me it confirmed that I am doing something right.

    I would also like to thank a couple of the contributors sharing their links. There are some great photographers out there!

    What has made me keep on going after the "first love" of photograhing has faded a little, is somewhat like some of the other contributors do. I add a function to my picture. I interview bands in Norwegian (my language) and try to take a picture of them that is underlines the article. I love Cuba, and last month I interviewed a delegat in Havana. Not everything is bad in Cuba, and this guy was in charge of a change project for their block. He had had a reasonable success, and I can boast some pictures from the same area taken a couple of years ago. So the new pictures, with this delegate, has a function. To tell his story, along with the street story.

    I find this personally rewarding, assigning a function to a photo. I realise it is more or less the same as Hector's advice just above here, or as others. But it is a good one.

    I will now stop useing my 16-85, and start to use 35 mm 1:8 and my 50 mm 1:4. Maybe I'll get an 85 mm fixed lens.

    Thanks for the uplift anyway Darren. I'll keep on reading your emails. Thanks


  • zaid sethi September 9, 2011 07:45 am

    Great suggestions. One thing I've found is that having a digital camera with all that usually comes with it, I found that I use it very much like a film camera...decide on what I want and ignore the rest. Maybe it's worth thinking about what settings you could use and don't. I like the suggestion of limiting the shots you take because apart from the fact that you waste time sorting out what you've taken, I still get depressed at the crap I take by not spending those extra important seconds which could transform something into something pleasing.

  • Paul Anderson September 9, 2011 07:24 am

    I have found to get out of a rut take pictures of what you normally would not. If you take pictures of wildlife shoot landscapes, old buildings events. You can find anything on the internet no matter where you live. This summer I shot old grist mills, hot air balloon festivals, old steam trains, old steam tractors, covered bridges, old boat shows, scenery, tons of waterfalls and on and on. It taught me to shoot other things making me a better photographer even at shooting wildlife, my passion. I got some great shots that interested other people and their interests. I used all my lenses instead of my 500mm all the time. Name something and find it in your area on the internet. It usually won't be an hour away.

  • Michael September 9, 2011 05:59 am

    Whether prime or zoom, strap on a wide angle lens and only shoot with it for a few days and make sure you use it in both horizontal and verticle orientations.

  • ArianaMurphy September 9, 2011 04:46 am

    Great tips! I've been thinking of getting a 50mm prime. Maybe now is a good time!

  • Andy September 9, 2011 04:44 am

    Sounds like you should just shoot a roll of actual film on an actual manual film SLR every once in a while.

    Primes are almost ubiquitous on older SLR's, so the fixed focal length won't be a problem. You're already automatically limited to 24 or 36 exposures by design, preview/review screens are obviously out of the picture, they come with focus screens for enjoyable and successful manual focusing, and aperture is (usually) set by a ring on the lens, so you can just set it and forget it.

    Plus you get that rewarding sense of anticipation after you pick up your prints from the lab.

    It works for me...

  • Hector September 9, 2011 03:53 am

    Thanks for this article. It was helpful and contains great ideas. An old photography instructor used to give an assignment in which we were instructed to start with a roll of 36 exposures and find a subject. He told us to take 36 exposures of that subject. It sounded like a weird assignment but I grew to really like doing it. He said the best images usually are between numbers 17 - 22. I found that to be true, most of the time.

    Thanks again.

  • Robbie Fry September 9, 2011 02:47 am

    Regarding 'The 1 Roll Rule': I recall a Canadian photographer how had gotten too snap happy; so packed himself off to the wilderness for a photographic jaunt with the only proviso to make only one image per day. There's a challenge!

  • David Toub September 9, 2011 01:48 am

    Shooting with manual focus is a great idea but difficult to do with many Digital SLRs. Although your lens may allow manual focus, camera viewfinders often lack the focussing tools, such as microprisms and split image areas, that were standard on most pre-autofocus cameras. The result is that sharp manual focus is hard to achieve. Furthermore, the camera manufactures often don't offer interchangeable focussing screens.

    There are third parties such as Katzeyeoptics (www.katzeyeoptics.com) that offer such screens for a number of the more popular Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony, Samsung, Leica, Olympus, Fuji, and Panasonic models. I've been using one of these on my Nikon D40 for a couple of months now. It has not only allowed me to manually the lenses made for my camera, but also older lenses which cannot couple with my camera's auto-focus system.

  • Rekha September 9, 2011 01:45 am

    Great tips! I think I 'm going to try #2. #3 is going to be really hard to resist. But definitely worth trying. Thanks for the post!

  • Alex September 9, 2011 01:25 am

    The suggested methods or re-enlivening one's interest in photography just dont work for me#
    as recommendations.

    What I would suggest is getting a whole different subject matter to photograph.

    If one has been photographing live subject, go for some inanimate photo projects.
    Think about a macro project (but please please stay away from photographing insects
    as its been done to death in macro - ).

    The subject list is endless and my view is to photograph them with the camera and settings
    that suit that subject best.

    happy snapping !

  • jerrymat September 9, 2011 01:25 am

    I would like to respond to the idea of focusing manually.. The great 35mm SLR cameras of the last half of the 20th century offered a focusing aid that was composed of a split prism on the ground glass. (At least until they thought of electronic focus) It was a precise device that allowed focusing on an eye or the edge of a collar or whatever. Digital cameras offer no such device, providing a poor substitute of overall focus (if you do not use the electronic focus) As I get older and my vision is no longer as good as it was, manual focus is not a good choice for me. What I have to do is adjust the pattern of electronic focus to a single dot or patch in the center. I focus, then while holding the shutter button half-way, take the picture. A second picture, rapidly taken after the first triggers the automatic focus and is ruined. I know one can turn the auto focus off, but the button is always on the lens, not on the camera body where it should be.

  • Sweet Ronit September 9, 2011 01:24 am

    Such great tips! I only use fixed lenses (in fact, right now, I only have two lenses - minimal gear can help you be more creative too), so I love the first suggestion - it also forces you to look at a shot from many different angles.

    I heard Seth Resnick speak recently, and he suggests creating an invisible circle of 10 or 20 feet, and only shooting within that circle.

    Photographic projects can also inspire creativity and give a focus. I created The Other Portland over a year ago to show another side to my now trendy city:


  • Lavanya Photography September 9, 2011 01:24 am


    I agree to your "2. The 1 Roll Rule"

    but i do it other way round. I have a CANON 1000 D which takes almost 600 - 650 shots between charges.

    I always target to get atleast 500 good shots. The shoot many not be in 1 day.. but I would not charge the battery untill its exhausted.

  • MattB September 9, 2011 01:23 am

    I like to force myself to go to a place or event that I wouldn't normally attend. I shoot a lot of landscapes, cycling, skiing, and that kind of outdoorsy/adventure thing. So a fancy event, a school dance, or a rodeo offer some very different cultural experiences and photo opportunities. Or a trip to a big city - all sorts of sights I don't get in my little town.

    As for manual lenses, they certainly have their place. One thing I like about shooting the Pentax system is all the great old glass available at reasonable prices. Focus can be challenging and I wouldn't typically go manual for action sports (although I have - it's hard) there are some good tricks to using manual focus lenses on modern dSLR bodies besides installing a focus screen like some do. I like to set my AF point to a single centered point, and with manual focus do a focus and recompose relying on my focus confirmation (light or beep) to know the center point is indeed in focus, and then recomposing the shot. Another one if you have time is to use Live View and zoom in to confirm focus. Use a loupe if necessary so you can see your screen. This method is best for static subjects because it can take a little while.

  • tipsyweasel September 9, 2011 01:03 am

    The problem with the suggestion about manual focus is that it assumes the photographer's eyes are sharp enough to get the focus right. I probably should invest in one of those eyepiece enlargers, but until then, I can't guarantee that I'll get good manual focus.

  • DJROWELL September 9, 2011 12:56 am

    My biggest struggle is with the auto focus vs manual because of my vision. Distance is fine but close up is not so yanking readers off and on to read my dials is a pain. If I wear bifocals or even readers, then the camera eyepiece is still another adjustment to make to balance with the glasses. I have tried a contact in just the eye I use for reading close up (dials, etc) but contact wearers know that can be a headache trying to adjust your eyes to monovision. So.... autofocus is the way I go most often unfortunately unless someone else can come up with another alternative that I have overlooked.

  • Edmis September 9, 2011 12:54 am

    great ideas, but why there is no "+1" button :)

  • Carel September 9, 2011 12:54 am

    I am also very new at photography, although I have had my camera (Canon) and macro lens for about a year now. Recently I brought a flash and tripod and I decided that the only way to move beyond amateur was to "Kick Start My Photography".

    I decided to join the 365 project (http://365project.org/). It is like a commitment challenge where you are encouraged to take a photo each day and upload it to the project web site.
    This forces one to take photos. The last few days inspiration was a problem as well as time to take photos. But I am pushing through and already seeing the fruits of this type of commitment at only day 17. (I am shooting on full manual mode now, no more Av and Tv for me)

    I will definitely use these tips to further increase my skills. What also helps is to browse through the photos of other people and then trying the things they get right.


  • Mr Uku September 8, 2011 11:12 pm

    I like that these ideas can be mixed up to make things even more interesting. Fixed focal length/manual focus/single aperture choice would certainly force me to think before I start snapping away.

  • Grzesiek September 8, 2011 10:48 pm

    Seriously, this is some of the best advice on photography I have ever found on the Web. Thanks for sharing.

  • Heather September 8, 2011 10:21 pm

    Thanks for the ideas. When I get stuck in a rut I like to give myself a photo assignment for the day. It gives me a purpose and sometimes that's all I need to get inspired.

  • Adam Cherry September 8, 2011 09:52 pm

    I set up a Flickr group with some friends about a year ago with the aim of getting up snapping more and also helping with creativity.
    We used the following random word generator to create a fortnightly theme. Everyone uploaded their shots to the group, at the end of the fortnight we each decide as a group who took the winning shot.


    here's the group: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1391227@N20/pool/

  • Adam Cherry September 8, 2011 09:43 pm

    This is really useful. I haven't really taken any shots since May as my free time has been eaten away with triathlon training until now. Sadly the weather in the UK is just turning and I'm finding it hard to find inspiration to go out.

    I agree that using manual focus is good to help with creativity - even though a lot of people commenting appear to disagree. I try and experiment with focal planes by looking through live view.

    As another suggestion to kick start photography again, and this is what I've just done: Go and buy some nice photo frames and leave them out in the house in plain view. It's a constant reminder that I need to go and take some decent shots to print out and hang up on my wall.

  • Ric Shinnick September 8, 2011 03:23 pm

    @Chang Yang:
    I know you're just kidding, but the logic is sound. As I musician (well, a drummer, at least) I sometimes find myself in the same creative rut that affects any artist from time to time. My solution: change something. Leave a drum out of the set up. Change the order of toms around the kit. Don't set up all the cymbals. By taking myself out of my comfort zone I'm forced to pay more attention to what is going on and how I'm approaching any particular situation. Switch off the auto-pilot and engage with the subject.
    It's at times like this that our best creative efforts occur. Full expression of the synergy between intellect and instinct, science and art.

  • Archideos September 8, 2011 03:08 pm

    Thanks for the great tips.. more power to dPS.. Just by reading dPS is an inspiration to me as a newbie..

    Well, as all for the comment and suggestion. Think for the brighter side why you buy a dSLR camera. Why they developed and improved the Camera if you will go back for the old days just to inspired yourself in photography.

    For me, just by looking my 7D camera is an inspiration already because i save a lot of bucks to buy one.. For a newbie like me, always bring your camera and you'll be inspired to have a click..

  • Matt September 8, 2011 02:34 pm

    Yeah, I actually use manual focus a ton, but that's probably because the only lens I have that is NOT manual-only is the lens that came with my pentax K-x. The rest of them are old lenses designed for film cameras (My 135mm lens doesn't even have auto-aperture! The horror!)

    I'll have to try the rest of them (except 5, I need to clean the dust off my sensor, and unless it's fully open, you can usually see it)

    Thanks for the ideas!

  • Craig A. Mullenbach September 8, 2011 01:18 pm

    I often go out with one lens for a day. I really helps in learning the characteristics of that lens and forces me to think. It's also liberating because it's suddenly pointless to think about changing lenses for a shot.

    How about only post-processing one image off your memory card? Delete everything else. Might make you think more about what you show the public if you can only show one shot from the day.

  • Chang Yang September 8, 2011 10:32 am

    While these ideas are all good and often quoted, I find it rather amusing that the whole article can be summarised as: To expand creativity, try to limit the focal length, number of shots, review of photos, auto-focusing, and aperture.

    Sounds like all the convenience and features of modern DSLRs are hindrance to creativity. Now you only need to add "limit ISO choices", "limit megapixel count", "limit dynamic range", and "limit optical quality" to complete the grand advice :P

    (Just kidding of course)

  • Scottc September 8, 2011 09:57 am

    I'm not a big believer in the manual focus inspiration myself, but thats mainly because it's more accurate than my vision.

    During a slump some time ago I came up with a project, in this case a single subject, and made an exercise out of finding a good location and light and photographing it in a planned way. That was very inspirational.


  • Commercial Photographer Directory September 8, 2011 08:50 am

    I like the idea of the "1 roll rule". Work on seeing and making the magic in the lens instead of just picking the best of the lot in post.

  • Wendy September 8, 2011 08:03 am

    Very good tips! Limiting to one roll of film though...yikes! Not sure I could do that one.

  • Madeline Houston September 8, 2011 07:16 am

    I love all of these tips, but I would most like to like to spend a session with one focal length or aperture setting. I have used manual focus a bit. That would be fun to limit yourself to as well. Limiting is an interesting way of looking at how to get inspired.

    My suggestion would be to keep a notebook of ideas. You might get an idea for shooting a place or style or using a piece of equipment, etc. while reading articles, seeing something that triggers your interest or just something that pops into your head. If you later need inspiration, look at the notebook and start a new project based on one of your ideas.

  • Alex September 8, 2011 06:14 am

    My best advice for such cases is to go somewhere you haven't been. Another part of the same city will do, another city/town will be even better. When you are in the environment you are not used to, you pay much more attention and can see things that would otherwise slip past you.

  • Lynn Likens September 8, 2011 06:07 am

    Thanks for the great tips. I don't think my eyes are good enough to manually focus, but I look forward to trying the other ideas. I also look forward to hearing the other ideas you had!

  • narratore September 8, 2011 05:04 am


    You've completely missed the point of Ken's great suggestion - which is use a smaller capacity card to mimic having 1 roll of film. I have tried this approach using a 256MB card and yes it does make you think about what you shoot and how.

  • orange county wedding photographer September 8, 2011 04:43 am

    Great inspirational tips. Any other inspirational tips as far as lighting is concerned?

  • swampwitch September 8, 2011 04:35 am

    I never use the screen to shoot-I love my viewfinder. And I never look at my pics til I get home(dont know why.) I do make lots of shots but I am oftern doing critters and birds so Its just better to follw the path of the critter and fire away. I also do a lot of manual focus-love the control. My rebel will let me manual focus the lense and auto at the same time which comes in hansy with critters. But I really need to work on the apeture thing- I tend to not change it much as I am often out in the sun. But on a cloudy day or at dawn and dusk I think my shots might be a lot better If I did change it.

  • TrentReznor September 8, 2011 03:55 am

    @ken s

    Yeah... 16 or 32 MB... that gets me really far. I could shoot 3 images with the 32 MB card. If that's not gonna make you think about your picture before you shoot it, I don't know what will. Great idea... not.

  • Janne September 8, 2011 03:40 am

    I've felt exactly the same as lacking ideas and always shooting same subjects. Spend almost a couple of months taking no photes. Then suddenly I had ideas for couple of projects. Those are fun and I can use my creative side more than just shooting same scenery/objects over and over again.

  • christine September 8, 2011 03:22 am

    great ideas! sometimes i pick up my old film camera because it incorporates a lot of those ideas without me having to make the choice to do it.

  • Dan Domme September 8, 2011 02:31 am

    I agree with Martin. The autofocus cameras of today (even some of the later film cameras) make it extremely hard to adjust your focus manually. I wish they still had split screens and microprisms in the SLR viewfinder.

    Anyway, you can take advantage of rules #1–#4 simply by picking up and using an old-school film SLR or rangefinder, especially since the prices are stupid cheap these days. Give it amonth and you'll be taking better pictures.

  • Marcos September 8, 2011 02:30 am

    I bought a full frame sensor DSLR, the 5D Mk II recently and rediscovered the joys of cheap --- small and light --- primes, such as the Canon 35/2.

    Just read Adorama's article "f/8 and Be There" about using f/8 and manual focus for 17 feet to get acceptable sharpness from 9 feet to infinity. Given the really small size of the 35/2 (i.e., it takes a 52mm diameter filter), sounds like a fun combination for street photography.

    I also thought about buying one of those cheap Holga lens, but, figure using cheap primes that are really small and light would be more fun for now.

  • Fuzzypiggy September 8, 2011 02:21 am

    Go out without the camera!

    Stupid I know but when I am stumped I find that if I just leave the kit at home and go to a nearby beauty spot or town and just walk a few miles just looking at scenes and lighting. Try to imagine what I would do if I had my camera, that's enough for me to think about. I'll come back a day or two later and see what I can do with my ideas.

    I try these days to stick to your point 2. I used to fire off shots by the dozen but I try hard these days to get it right and really limit the number of shots as too many makes sorting them later a real P.I.T.A.!

  • Adin Softic September 8, 2011 02:00 am

    I made pinhole camera (with matchbox) and there are still film in roll. Besides composition and subject there is also pretty much thinking required for exposures depending on available light.
    I don't want to waist film and also it's very hard to wait weeks to see first photos from film (when the film is empty I'm heading right to lab :) ).
    Anybody here with experience using pinholes?
    Camera specifications:
    ISO 200 (36 mm film)
    focal length: 12mm :)

  • Nikos September 8, 2011 01:56 am

    Great article!
    I live by the 1 Roll Rule because it greatly decreases the post-process time too!

  • Jeff September 8, 2011 01:52 am

    I also like to take pictures with a narrow depth of field. I often find myself trying to compose pictures with a good sharp subject and a nice soft bokeh behind them, like this picture of a dragon statue (SOOC): http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeff_levitt/5779352436

  • Stephani September 8, 2011 01:49 am

    This article was so helpful to me. I am going to try all of these. I have dedicated two hours each morning on Saturday to get out and practice my photography. All of these sound like great ideas, and I smiled when I read #3. I remember the days of waiting anxiously for your photos to get developed (back before the 1 hour photo developing places). When I was a kid we would drop our photos off at the drive-through Fotomat booth and come back several days later when they were ready! Anyway, I think it would actually and informative to shoot without being able to review. Each idea sounds challenging and fun! Thanks again for some most helpful tools!

  • Dewan Demmer September 8, 2011 01:37 am

    Interesting, I know I sometimes feel lacking inspiration or just the simple drive to pick up the camera and do. For myself I have forced myself out the door with camera in hand and simply take pictures almost randomly , and as the time goes on I notice my pictures have focus and with the renew focus I notice that the photos just get better. This pays off long term aswell.

    A recent mention on this site inspired me to by a 50mm/1.8, and I am loving it ! The lack of focus has made it very interesting, since I cannot just zoom in or out, I am the zoom and it great, its making me take better measure of distance, and the photos are coming out great.
    Here is a snippet of some photos I took using only the 50mm.

    The 1 roll rule I like, especially since I always seem to take more shots than I need of my subject, this is defiantely something I am going to implement, I can only see it helping make me better at paying attention to my subject.

  • Shane Kelly September 8, 2011 01:30 am

    I like these suggestions, and I already do number 3 as I find it is distracting to keep looking at the LCD - I figure if I haven't got the shot I was going for, then no amount of looking on a lo-res LCD will help :-) - also, I often stick to a prime lens for a shoot, especially if I know I am going to be indoors, in a studio or in another "controlled" environment.
    @Martin - manual focus is perfectly possible - all you have to do is practice.(a lot!)

  • Martin September 8, 2011 12:50 am

    I like all the suggestions except #4. If your camera has manual focus _at all_, chances are pretty good that it's still so heavily designed for automatic focus it's barely usable in fully manual mode. Any old SLR without autofocus came with focusing patterns on a matte screen. Simply judging freely what is sharp and what isn't doesn't really work. Rangefinders too use a specific system for _helping_ you find the correct focus.

    While manual focus might be great on digital SLRs with live-view magnification while taking shots of things being perfectly still, any other situation would just make your shots be 99% crap.

    I'm using a 6x6 TLR on the side, and even with that HUGE viewfinder AND a flip-out magnifying glass, I still can't get the focus perfectly right half the times. How on earth would I fare any better on a tiny dSLR viewfinder with no extra magnification?

  • Ken S September 8, 2011 12:43 am

    As a variation on the "1 Roll Rule", remember that old 16MB or 32MB SSD card that came with your Canon point-and-shoot a few years ago? Using that's a good way to enforce the rule.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck September 8, 2011 12:20 am


    I mlike the suggestion to pick an aperture setting and stick with it - I love to shoot wide open like in this Trash The Dress shoot over the weekend!