Facebook Pixel 5 List-Making Exercises to Improve Creativity in Photography

5 List-Making Exercises to Improve Creativity in Photography

We’ve all made lists before: shopping lists, to-do lists, Christmas lists, and more. List-making can be a valuable asset to photography, too. In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of list-making, how it can improve creativity, and some effective list-making exercises.

improve creativity list making drawing

The benefits of list-making

List-making can improve creativity in a number of ways. For example, many of us tend to remember tasks that need to be done better than we remember the tasks we’ve completed. This can generate a feeling of being overwhelmed, which can lead to something called task paralysis. Making lists provides a visual reminder of our progress over a period of time, inspiring creative momentum and a sense of accomplishment.

In addition, a recent study has shown that the simple act of jotting down a list of to-dos is enough to ease the anxiousness brought on by incomplete tasks. List-making also encourages brainstorming, a pillar of the creative process. By creating an accessible layout of tasks and ideas, lists give goals a certain tangibility, facilitating active steps towards a positive creative outcome.

improve creativity
List-making isn’t restricted to pen and paper. There are plenty of useful apps for making and reviewing lists, too. Android apps pictured: Notepad (left); Habits (right).

List #1: Things I don’t know (and how to learn them)

I’ll admit that a things I don’t know list sounds a little pessimistic at first. But identifying areas you know little about is the best way to target gaps in your own practice.

Take a bit of paper, use a list-making app, open a Word document, or select a page from a notebook (whatever works), and start listing the facets of photography you want/need to know more about. You can list anything, from art theory to photography tricks to post-processing techniques. Next, pair your points with a few words about how you might actively bridge these knowledge gaps.

Here’s an example:

improve creativity

You’ll see that I’ve added timelines to each point on the list, too. Adding a timeline helps bolster your commitment to incorporate the listed tasks into a creative routine.

Naturally, the time you assign to each goal will depend on your daily habits and the goal itself. Just remember that any dedicated length of time invested in your practice is far better than investing no time at all. If you aren’t sure about your timeline, start small and make adjustments incrementally.

Put your list somewhere visible as a reminder of your goals. As you progress, make additions or amendments to your list; your plan should always be open to change. You could even create a checklist to help improve creativity and to map the trajectory of your creative growth.

List #2: Subjects I want to photograph (but haven’t yet)

We all have subjects we would love to photograph, but haven’t yet. Making a list of subjects you aspire to photograph is a productive way to set goals that will broaden and improve creativity.

To start a subjects I want to photograph list, first type/write out some realistic subjects that you would like to photograph in the short and/or long term. Next, add some necessities that will facilitate these goals. Will you need particular equipment? Additional experience in the field? A passport? Savings? Research? List anything that comes to mind. Here’s a quick example:

improve creativity

Note that I have added research to each individual goal. Solid research is fundamental to most photographic undertakings. To tease out what particulars you might need to research, you can use the things I don’t know list!

Once you have your outline, you’re free to break down your list into more detailed segments. For example, you could plan a budget for acquiring suitable equipment. Some goals will be more long-term than others, but having a list will enable you to take decisive steps toward successfully photographing your dream subject.

List #3: Creatives that inspire

There are many artists that inspire my creative practice. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to keep track. That’s where list number number three comes in.

improve creativity
Inspiration drawn from other creatives can reveal new approaches to your own photography. Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II with extension tubes | 1/125s | f/3.5 | ISO 500.

Making a thoughtfully curated list of creatives that inspire and motivate your practice is a great way to maintain momentum and stimulate ideas. From recording your favorite photographers in an alphabetical Excel spreadsheet to noting the names of impactful artists in a visual diary, creating a list of inspirational creatives provides an accessible point-of-reference that can improve creativity in a lull.

List #4: Photography goals

Making a photography goals list is a lot like making a subjects I want to photograph list. The idea is to lay out goals paired with actionable steps to achieve a desired creative outcome. Here is a quick example:

improve creativity

Again, you can break down your actionable steps even further by creating checklists, budgets, or timelines. List-making rewards persistence while focusing and improving creativity; it also emphasizes the value of each step toward an overall creative objective. Keep your list somewhere you’ll see it regularly and use it as a compass and a source of inspiration when goals seem far away.

List #5: Why I love photography

Like most things, photography has its ups and downs. When things go right and inspiration flows, it can be smooth sailing. But when things go wrong, you can start to feel the pressure of creative fatigue. Fortunately, lists are a great way to help ease the burden of a creative dry spell.

improve creativity
Photography will take you to amazing places, and it can all start with a simple list! Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 24-105 mm f/4L IS USM | 1/200s | f/6.3 | ISO 100.

The why I love photography list is an opportunity to reflect on what it is that makes you do what you do as a photographer. What made you fall in love with photography in the first place? How does photography inspire you? What do you love about your favorite subject matter? How has photography positively impacted your life? What drives you to make your next shot?

There are so many reasons people fall in love with photographic image-making, and listing them creates something concrete to draw upon when needed, helping you to improve creativity and clear the fog of artistic fatigue.


Lists aren’t just great for remembering things; they’re an opportunity to improve creativity and expand creative practice. Lists give order to chaos, they provide a plan to work through, and they supply proof of what has been achieved.

By making lists, we can reinforce ideas, formulate goals, and track sources of inspiration and success. Happy listing!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Megan Kennedy
Megan Kennedy

is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications. More of Megan’s work can be viewed at her website or on Instagram at MK_photodiary.

I need help with...