How do you keep creating when you feel uninspired? This is one of those questions that plagues photographers at all levels, at some point in their lives. Here are a few tried and true tips that have prevented some from giving up.
1. Start a project
At some stage in your shooting life, a photography project is highly recommended. When stuck in a creative rut, setting yourself a clear and defined focus or theme helps. Projects require a commitment out of you and are a great way to push yourself.
Depending on the magnitude of your project you can either set a timeline or forego it. Some timelines are built into a project, for example: a 365 project with a common theme or a 52-week portrait challenge. Other projects can be life long, such as shooting long exposure beaches in different countries or a specific location over a number of years.
The best part is that your project can be as small or big as you want – ranging from strange and faraway places to the comforts of your back yard. There are endless possibilities.
During the course of your project, do not forget to challenge yourself often. If you find your project is getting routine or mundane, this is an indication that your progress/learning has stopped or is slowing down. If this happens you could very well end up back in your previous uninspired state. Make your project challenge you, while keeping it fun and celebrate your skill and knowledge progression.
2. Do something outside your comfort zone/genre
One of the greatest things about photography is that there are so many genres, with different skills to explore. Landscape photographers and studio portrait photographers have distinctive skill sets. Street photography versus macro photography, each comes with their unique challenges.
When you love capturing moments in time, traversing an area outside of your norm can help you see things anew. Even within the same genre, each photo experience can be diverse. In landscape photography, for example, you have sub-categories such as long exposure, astrophotography, nightscapes and seascapes to name a few.
If you have hit a creative wall in your genre, try learning something new to you. Creating new work encompasses shooting outside of your comfort zone or even editing differently.
As a creative, you can even try another artistic avenue other photography! It may sound unrelated, but doing something else like painting or drawing can give you a whole new appreciation for light (or maybe it will just remind you why you shoot and not draw or paint).
3. Consume less, do more
Inspiration is everywhere. Looking at other people’s work in person (exhibitions) or online (photography websites, social media) is a great way to probe yourself. Asking questions like, “how can I do a version of that?” or “what will it take to recreate that lighting?” Save anything that inspires you with purpose. Images that get you excited about creating or planning a future shoot. Browsing other people’s work can be a double-edge sword though.
On the plus side, you can use it to gauge either how far you have come or what is left for you to learn. It can inspire you to try something new and challenge your skill level. The recommendation is to do this in spurts and not too often for too long, as you can start comparing yourself to the point of getting discouraged. Consume enough so that you are inspired, move to the planning stage and execute. More doing/creating is what will actually move you to a better place mentally.
Once inspiration starts to overwhelm you, take a step back. Reference the images that you want to learn from and actually attempt it. In this case, failure is an option as it shows you that you need to read, research and try again until you get the final output that you desire.
Important note: while you can learn from your attempts, do not set yourself up for failure. Too often trying to recreate the entire image can be senseless. A better approach may be to determine what about the image inspires you (lighting, subject, processing). Choose one or two elements you want to experiment with and make it your own.
4. Get constructive feedback
Posting your images on social media might seem like the best place to get feedback – it is not. While it may be a great way to share your image (and boost your ego), it is not the place where you will learn what you can do to improve. If you are feeling uninspired, constructive/positive feedback will do you good. Keep in mind that in order to improve, you have to also be willing to deal with critique.
On most photography forums known for good feedback, you will find that the other members here know how to give feedback in a non-offensive, positive way since they also seek feedback for themselves. Additionally, you can also streamline what you ask for. Is it the lighting? The composition? Exposure techniques? These questions will help your viewers hone in on the area you are having the challenge with.
If you find yourself at a plateau with your creative work, there is no right time to try to come out of it. Make the effort to break out of that uninspired space by committing to do something different. Challenge yourself outside your comfort zone or start a project.
Looking at your peer’s work can definitely be inspirational, but more than that, do something today and get feedback on it. These are great ways to push through the mental blocks.
Share with us something that has worked for you on your photography journey in the comments below.