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Are you feeling uninspired? Perhaps you’re stuck in your photography practice and feel like you’ve reached the best of your abilities? Don’t worry, we all feel like that sometimes. In most cases, all you need is to get out of your comfort zone to find new and exciting challenges. Here are some tips to get you out of your comfort zone for photographic inspiration.
All of us have a preferred focal length either because it’s the only lens we have, or because it’s the fittest for the kind of photography that we do. So the problem is not that you have it, it is that it impacts a lot of your photographic behaviors as well. You might think it’s not a big deal, but it’s vastly different working with a fixed focal length than a zoom lens, or shooting with a wide angle lens than a telephoto lens.
The focal length you use affects the physical distance you need between you and your subject. With a telephoto lens, you can be further away and still get close detail. A wide-angle lens allows you to fit in a bigger scene even if you are closer to your subject. Making this change means you walk around your subject to get the shot, which helps you find new perspectives and points of view. Sometimes you can’t get closer or further away as you may need, forcing you to reframe and rethink your entire image.
Another thing that changes when you modify the distance between your camera and subject is the Depth of Field. Depth of Field depends on the Aperture (f/stop). If you take two images with the same aperture but one of them is with a wide-angle lens, and the other is with a telephoto, the latter will have a shallower depth of field. If you’d like to understand this concept in more depth, I recommend you read my article How to Use Still-Life to Understand Focal Lengths. In any case, the results of your images may be different to what you are used to, and this inevitably pushes you out of your comfort zone.
One of the beauties about photography is how versatile it can be. You can photograph practically anything. I don’t mean that any photographer can do every kind of photography. Each one needs its own set of skills, and that’s why I recommend this exercise.
You can be a wedding photographer, a landscape photographer, or a food photographer – it doesn’t matter. There is always another type of photography you can try. For example, if you’re a portrait photographer, used to dealing with people, go and shoot some architecture photography or any subject you can’t move or control. If you usually do macro or abstract details, go wider and try to compose a scene from urban photography. You’ll be amazed at how changing what you see also changes the way you think. It opens your mind to new possibilities.
As a photographer, no matter what your specialty, you are working with light. However, it most certainly different working with studio lights doing a still life than natural light while shooting a landscape. One is not better than the other, nor is it easier. They are just different and as a result, require different skills. Studio lighting means learning to set everything from scratch. You create the amount and type of light you want.
However, natural light means learning what time of the day is best, dealing with weather conditions and so on. It also means having the right equipment. I’m not suggesting that you go and spend a lot of money on something you may not use much as there’s always a way to adapt and improvise. This is also part of going out of the comfort zone.
Expanding your creativity can be done by changing a small thing from your photographic routine. Change the time of the day that you go out to shoot, go back to a place you visited in a different season, or walk the opposite way when you go out the door. New conditions or new places spark new ideas.
I already mentioned focal length, but the lens is not the only thing you can change to challenge yourself. Try a different camera. I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy an extra camera. You can try renting for a day or exchange cameras with a friend. You can switch from your camera to your phone and vice-versa. The composition is different when shooting full-frame and crop-sensor. It’s challenging to photograph a maximum amount of photos with a film camera instead of the (almost) limitless and immediate result of digital. However, it doesn’t matter what you use (more or less professional than your regular equipment), what matters is that it’s different.
There are many ways to push your photography and creativity further. Try some of these tips or come up with some of your own. See where it takes you. One last piece of advice: don’t be afraid of doing bad photos. There is a reason why your comfort zone IS your comfort zone. You’ve mastered it, you like it, and you create great images. Expect that you won’t achieve the same results when you change photographic genres – that’s all the more reason to try it!