In photography, it’s easy to drop into a state of stale complacency with our image making. I called it the “What’s worked for me lately” factor. You come up with new technique or approach that gives you great looking results, and you throw it in to your bag of tricks for the next time. And the next time. And the time after that. And so on…
Eventually, your imagery begins to get stale, because you’ve shot nearly everything for the few months with the same approach. You soon find yourself running low on inspiration because as good as it was, you soon grow tired of the same old method.
That’s when you know it’s time to break out and try something new! Here are 20 ways to jumpstart your creativity and propel your photography into a whole realm of awesomeness.
1. Shoot with the lens that you use the least.
For me, it’s my 50mm lens. I know I keep talking about how much I’ve grown to love my nifty fifty over the years, but the truth is that it’s still my least used lens, so every time I pull it out of the bag, it inherently makes me see things a little differently.
2. Head out the door with only one lens.
Most of us have so much gear and glass in our camera bags that we sometimes get caught up in deciding which lens will be the perfect one to use for any particular shot. Much of our creative blocks in life are due to the fact that we simply have too many choice. Narrow them down one and you’ll take away that block.
3. Try using flash.
Even adding the light from a single flash can add life to your subject. Of course, if you’ve never used flash, it can be a little intimidating. Start simple. Shoot what you were going to shoot anyway and then stick a flash a few feet off to the side. Blast away and see how it looks. If it’s too bright or dark, dial the flash up or down accordingly. If this still doesn’t make sense, check out my eBook Going Fast With Light, where I explain this stuff in very simple terms and show you how to apply flash to outdoor photography.
4. Shoot while lying on the ground.
Varying your vantage point is one of the best ways to break out of your rut. Think about this: 99.9999% of the photos taken in the world are shot from a vantage point of between 5’4″ and 6″ above the ground, looking straight ahead. Get away from that and you’re well on your way to creating something original.
5. Shoot while looking straight down.
Remember what I said above? Exact same thing applies, except instead of lying on the ground and shooting low, you’re looking straight down. Extra Credit: Stand on top of something and look straight down.
6. Clamp your camera to something.
One of the most useful little gadgets is the Manfrotto Super Clamp. This ingenious device lets you clamp your camera (or a flash) to just about any kind of post, bar, rod, stick, small tree, door frame, etc… I’ve used to to attach the camera to bikes, vehicles, small trees, and when I get brave enough, I’ll use it to attach it to the wing strut of my little Cessna. Add a Manfrotto Variable Friction Arm, and you have even more options for placing your camera where it doesn’t normally go.
7. Shoot a time lapse.
There is some astoundingly good time lapse photography out there- This is one of my favorites. It can be as simple or as involved as you want to make it, from shooting the same subject over multiple hours, days or seasons, or doing full blow, motion control camera work that involves special gear, tracks and lots of time for editing and post production. Try it. You might find that you love it.
8. Get completely out of your comfort zone.
I’m not a city guy. At least not anymore. I used to live in Boston and have visited NYC a number of times over the years when I first started out with photography. Lately, though, urban scenes are just not my regular thing, so whenever I get back to the land of big pavement, I’m faced with stuff that I don’t normally see very often. That forces me to use my eyes and camera differently, which stretches my creative muscles.
9. Try using Pocket Wizards.
You can do some really cool things with PocketWizards. They let you stick your camera in places that might be dangerous or impractical to hand hold, they let you shoot self portraits, which is great when you want to try out a new technique when you’re by yourself, and they let you trigger remote, off camera flashes. They’ve gotten a lot cheaper over the years- the new PocketWizard PlusX Radio Triggers are only $99 each. Get yourself a pair and start experimenting. I know you’ll come up with some really cool stuff!
10. Reverse engineer a recent photo that you saw.
This is one of the best ways to learn new techniques and expand your skills. Try to recreate the feel of an image that you particularly like. Don’t worry about copying it exactly, just go for the same feel. Study it, break down the elements that you recognize and then make something similar, using your own creative spin, gear and techniques.
11. Try shooting at night.
Night time photography is very different from day time photography. Cameras see and respond to the world differently in the dark. You have inherent limitations with regards to shutter speed and color shifts, and of course, any kind of lighting creates a much different, and often dramatic effect. And, if it’s dark enough, you might even have stars and northern lights. Instead of going to bed, head out the door with your camera and see what you get.
12. Shoot Motion.
There are a couple ways to do motion in photograph, both of which require using a slow shutter speed. You can either pan your camera along with the subject, or you can hold your camera still and let the subject move through the frame. And nothing says you have to always pan side-to-side; I often like to pan front-to-back, by following my subjects as they move through the frame. Experiment with different techniques and subject matter.
13. Shoot still life or studio.
I’m an outdoor action photography guy, but you probably already know that. However, sometimes when I’m feeling antsy, I’ll try doing some studio and still life photography. Since it’s way outside of my regular style, this forces me to slow way down and look at things in a totally different way. I usually come up with something cool.
14. Shoot in inclement weather.
Some people call it bad weather, but when it comes to photography no weather is truly bad, it’s just different. In fact, some of the best photos are taken in what some people would call the worst weather. Next time the skies open up and blast you with wind, rain, snow and dark clouds, grab your camera and head outside. I guarantee you’ll come up with some great photos.
15. Ask a stranger if you can take their portrait.
This definitely takes some courage, but once you muster it up, it can lead to some incredibly rewarding photographs. Do it once, and it gets easier the next time. Alaska photographer Clark Mishler makes a point of shooting a portrait every single day, and most of the people he shoots are strangers. He’s gotten many wonderful shots over the past few years, and the project has driven his inspiration and creativity to new heights.
16. Start a personal project.
Seems like a good place to stick this one in. Clark Mishler’s project is shooting a portrait every single day. I’ve been shooting cyclocross every week in the fall. What do you want to shoot? What do you love? What really drives your excitement in life? Take a few minutes away from everything else and think about a subject that you’d love to explore on a long term, in depth basis. Personal projects are food for the photographic soul and they inspire you to create your very best work. Come up with something and then get out there are start shooting!
17. Get a new piece of gear.
Expanding your creativity doesn’t always require you to buy stuff, but let’s be honest here. Nothing renews your passion for photography like getting a new lens or a new piece of camera gear. Awhile back, I got a Lensbaby and went crazy with the thing, coming up with all kinds of new and original images. And nothing says you have to buy something, renting is a great way to try out different pieces of gear and give yourself short bursts of motivation. For one cyclocross race last year, I rented a 45mm tilt shift lens and shot some really cool images.
18. Focus on the details.
A good photograph isn’t a perfect reproduction of the subject, it’s an interpretation of the subject that inspires the viewer’s mind to imagine the rest. Only show part of your subject and you’ll engage your viewer’s brand and give them an active role into the photography process. Next time you’re out, try shooting the details. Show just enough to suggest the greater scene.
19. Get up early.
Photography is all about the… class?… Bueller?… C’mon, you know this one. It’s all about the light. Put yourself in awesome light and you have the potential to make awesome photographs. Want to be inspired? Get your ass out of bed and drag it out into the world in the pre-dawn hours so that you can experience those rays of gold, pink, yellow, purple, magenta and red that will make your images sing.
20. Do something completely new and different.
Take a trip. Pay for an aerial scenic flight. Visit a new place. Try and photograph a new sport. Shoot a subject or activity that you’ve never shot before. Shoot only in black and white. Shoot only in color. Shoot without looking through the viewfinder. Shoot while riding your bike. Use a tripod. Don’t use a tripod. Spend a half hour brainstorming and come up with some ideas for how to break things up. Get a piece of paper and write something down. Now write the next thing that comes to mind. Continue. Keep going until you’ve got something really good. Pick up the camera and go make it happen.
Extra Credit: Combine two or three of these ideas and see what you come up with. There. Now go have fun.