Photography involves a lot of technical knowledge and skill, but there’s no denying that it’s also an art. Our equipment, accessories, and editing programs are tangible and right in front of us, so it’s easy to get wrapped up in how to use them correctly while neglecting the abstract idea of what we’re using them for.
Sometimes we don’t realize just how much artistry there is in what we do until we experience a creative block. We all run into one at some point, and it can bring everything to a grinding halt. Luckily, artists have been finding and sharing ways to overcome blocks for pretty much as long as art has been around, so there are a lot of things we can try to boost our creativity when it feels like we’ve run out of ideas.
Fight Your Habits
Monotony is the enemy of creativity. If you always do things the same way, in work or in life generally, you don’t give your brain the chance to do new things and be inspired by new experiences.
Change Your Routine
It’s fine to do some things the same every day -- in fact, it would probably be really difficult to live your life if you had to change everything every day -- but being mindful to switch up even minor details once in a while can make a big difference. Take a different route to work or school; read or play games instead of watching TV after dinner; have a phone call with a friend you would normally just text. Just do something different, even if it’s only for a day.
Photograph in a New Way
If you’re at a loss for new sources of inspiration, turn to old ones and just change something about them. Photograph subjects or locations that you’ve often photographed in the past, even ones that feel played out in your work. Change your lens, the angle, the lighting, or anything else you’re able to make slightly (or drastically) different from what you’re used to, and see what happens. Even if you don’t like the photos, the process will help you generate some new ideas.
Take a Course
We often resist the idea of taking a photography course, either because we think we know enough or because we stubbornly want to figure it all out on our own, but it can be a really useful way to get over a creative block.
Even if we did know it all (which no one truly does), hearing another photographer’s take on familiar ideas can cause us to see them in a totally new way. Most of the time, a photography course will offer both some creative inspiration and some new information on taking, editing, or marketing photos.
Change Your Environment
The things and the people you surround yourself with can have a big impact on your creativity; even if you love your stuff, your neighborhood, and your family, things will get pretty monotonous if you never go anywhere or see anyone else.
Spend Time Outdoors
Nature is a classic source of inspiration for artists, but it’s often forgotten in the modern age. Even when we take photos in beautiful natural environments, we plan the session, edit the photos, and perform countless other related tasks from our desks.
Being out in nature for its own sake, not because we have something productive that we need to do, lets us reset after many hours or days of work, hectic schedules, and screen time. Take a walk, ride your bike, or sit on a park bench and read the first chapter of that book you’ve been meaning to get to. We guarantee it’ll do you good.
Okay, maybe vacationing to another state or country isn’t as easy or safe right now as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go somewhere new.
Find a local place you’ve never been or don’t go often, and make a day of it. Visit a state park, a trail you’ve never hiked, or a beach you haven’t visited since last summer. If there are outdoor events coming up in your area, check them out. (And someday, when you can, take a trip to that place that came to mind when we first said “travel”.)
Connect with Peers
One of the most valuable people in an artist’s life is their best friend with the same creative interests. Even if they are “just” a photography friend, and you never talk about anything else, being able to share your creative struggles and victories with someone who understands the field is incredibly important.
It’s quite possible that none of the people in other parts of your life happen to have an interest in photography, so we’re lucky to live in a time when connecting with peers online is an accessible option. Go meet some fellow photographers and join a new social circle; they may be able to inspire you when you need it, and even if they aren’t, they will at least be able to complain with you!
This sounds counterintuitive, but often the limitations faced by an artist are part of what makes their work interesting. Giving yourself projects with arbitrary restrictions also forces you to come up with creative solutions to the problems you encounter.
Creation is Subtraction
In 1960, Dr. Seuss’s publisher bet him $50 that he couldn’t write a book using 50 or fewer unique words. He accepted the challenge and wrote Green Eggs and Ham, one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.
We always choose what to omit from our work and what to include, but we tend to fall into patterns. Omitting things we would normally include means that we can’t default to our regular patterns and have to innovate.
Put a limit on what subjects you can photograph, what equipment you can utilize, how many photos you can take, or how much editing you can do afterward. Don’t back down after you set the rules, and turn the project into something interesting no matter how hard it is or how different it is from your typical process. You’ll discover something completely new in your abilities.
Use Different Presets
You probably use presets already, and if not then you should consider it, but you can use them in a way that doesn’t feel natural as a way to put limits on a project that will force you to be creative.
Deliberately pick a preset and a subject that don’t feel like they match, or randomly select a preset from a pack and make it work with a set of photos whether it makes sense or not. The resulting feeling of the work or the story the pictures seem to tell may be very different from what you would normally do with them.
Create Without Editing
We’re not talking about editing the photos, of course. (That is, you can certainly challenge yourself not to edit at all as a way to find creativity through subtraction, but we don’t recommend it long-term.)
Create without editing your thoughts. Judging yourself for something that isn’t finished and getting in the habit of negative self-talk kills creativity and makes you hesitant to explore impulses, which are at the core of the most honest, personal art.
So when you go out and use these ideas to bring new life to your work, don’t doubt yourself along the way. Dive in headfirst, let yourself grow and save the editing for Lightroom.
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