How many times have you been stuck in a photographic rut? If your photo mojo got up, walked out, and slammed the door in your face, there are things you can do to make them come back. it happened to me
I’ve been having a hard time getting out and taking photos lately. I took the above picture over a month ago. Aside from fulfilling my clients’ orders, I’ve hardly touched my camera since then.
Two things keep us on our creative track: motivation and inspiration. Invariably, when we lack motivation, we will not be inspired to take photos. We may be motivated to get out there with our cameras but can’t figure out what to photograph, let alone how to photograph it. This lack of inspiration can then cause us to lose motivation. Thus, these two are inextricably linked in a vicious circle.
I use different approaches to get excited. They are not my invention but my interpretation of tried and tested techniques that I have adapted to work for photography. Other people I’ve shared them with have found them helpful, so I hope they work for you too.
This lack of motivation and inspiration can be the same in any creative activity. Besides photography, I write (obviously) and had writer’s block. I also play guitar very badly and sometimes I don’t know what to play. For the first two creative activities, I am contractually obliged to perform the work; Nobody would pay me to play guitar. So, even if I’m not motivated to create pictures or writing, I have to, not only because of contractual necessity, but also because of the need to get food on my plate.
Besides being a professional photographer, I still take pictures for pure pleasure. However, when it’s not absolutely necessary to use my camera, it can sometimes get a lot harder to get going. While I know I love being on the beach at dawn or strolling through the harbor, it’s a lot harder to set my alarm and do it.
Getting my photo mojo back
Some of the greatest minds get their best ideas in their sleep or in their daydreams. This is how Einstein’s theory of relativity came to him. JK Rowling got the idea for the Harry Potter books when she was stuck on a late train. The melody of the Beatles’ song “Yesterday” appeared in Paul McCartney’s sleep. Inspiration can come from daydreams. That’s why I sometimes let my subconscious inspire me.
Have you seen the Netflix series or listened to the excellent Audible adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman? Without spoiling spoilers, one episode features someone whose brain is working overtime to come up with ideas. We do that all the time. When we’re not concentrating on anything in particular, our subconscious has fleeting thoughts that appear and disappear at lightning speed, about 60,000 of them every day. Like dreams, we don’t remember most of them, but writing these thoughts down can save them for later use. We no longer have to take a notebook with us, since smartphones all have a note function. Recording an idea is easy.
Finding inspiration in this way is a habit to be acquired gently; you can’t force it. Sitting and challenging your brain to develop creative thoughts will exacerbate creator block. But walking in a park and watching the people go by while the sunlight shines through the trees gives you ideas. Also, being by the sea or through a forest, climbing a mountain or riding a bike will stimulate creative juices. Not all of these ideas will be good, but some will be. Be sure to write down your thoughts or jot them down in a note app on your phone. Otherwise you forget them.
By referring to these notes, new ideas for photography emerge.
Inspiration can also come from exploring the work of others. Looking at photos can provide ideas to build on. I’m not suggesting just duplicating other people’s pictures; this is plagiarism. But creativity works by taking different ideas, mixing them up and coming up with something new.
In a recent article, I mentioned that we should photograph what we know. However, we may soon run out of ideas. As a seascape photographer, I love being alone on the beach, whatever the weather. Setting the camera to capture this moment evokes an extraordinarily special feeling and embeds a great memory. Each new image is an evolution of what I’ve done before. But sometimes I have the feeling: “already done, got the t-shirt”. So I decide to do something completely different. Sometimes just going into a different environment can be both motivating and inspiring.
I recently had a number of clients asking to learn about abstract photography. Funny how it goes when different people randomly ask about the same thing. This was lucky for me as it inspired me to go back and shoot abstracts. The world seems to work like this: things come our way and come at just the right time.
Photography is so often a lonely pursuit. Nonetheless, getting together with other photographers allows us to exchange ideas. However, you must choose the right people to be with. Surrounding yourself with people who encourage you and respect what you do makes a big difference. Negativity can destroy your creativity.
Taking the time to educate yourself about photography can both motivate and inspire you. Books are expensive, and e-readers don’t display photos to the same standard as a high-quality hard copy. However, second-hand book shops often have photo books on their shelves for a fraction of the original retail price. I’ve found some real treasures this way, and my bookshelves above my computer are full of old photo books.
Music is another source of inspiration. Whether you’re rocking along to Queen, listening to the surreal lyrics of Bob Dylan, or relaxing to a Chopin Nocturne, the images evoked by music can evoke ideas and feelings that you can translate into a photograph. Other art forms can function similarly; A Caravaggio painting made me experiment with restrained chiaroscuro images for the first time.
I also set goals. It’s tempting to have a big goal, and it’s rewarding to achieve it. However, setting smaller goals that are easier to achieve increases my sense of accomplishment and helps me move on to the next task, especially if I reward myself with each achievement. I transfer some money to another account and save for the purchase of the next lens.
Fear is a significant motivational barrier for many people. Everyone, from beginners to professionals, has expressed fear of having their work featured in a gallery or on social media. I think it’s like stage fright. The only way to overcome that is to do it anyway. What’s the worst that can happen?
Finally, to overcome my lack of motivation, I plan my photography. I write appointments in my journal to take photos and I commit to honoring them. Inviting someone over means I have to show up.
Do you have any secret tips or tricks to motivate or inspire you to take photos? It would be great to hear about it in the comments.