Are you struggling for new ideas? Do your creative batteries feel as flat and lifeless as a skunk in the fast lane?
Here are 60 ways to breathe new life into your love of photography and re-energize your inspiration.
[update — we wrote a book “inspired” by this blog post — Inspired Photography: 189 Sources of Inspiration For Better Photos]
1. Play with Photoshop
So much of photography these days happens after the shutter release has been pressed. There’s probably a ton of things that you don’t know how to do in Photoshop. Learn something new and see what that does for your photography potential.
2. Read the Manual
It’s not just Photoshop that can do all sorts of things that you don’t know about. Your camera probably has more settings and functions than you know… or know what to do with. You might find a lot of new ideas in the middle of your camera manual.
3. Watch a Movie
Manuals are all well and good, but movies have cinematographers too. There’s not much you can’t learn about landscape photography by sitting back and watching an old Sergio Leone film.
4. Read a Newspaper
Or you can be a little more intellectual and read a newspaper. The Sunday magazines have the best photos but the work by the staff photographers can be great models for creating striking images for amateurs as well as for photojournalists.
5. Visit a Flea Market
Strange objects mean strange shapes, odd shadows and plenty of potential for unique compositions. And you don’t even have to buy anything.
6. Shop at a Farmer’s Market
You never know what you might find at a flea market. At a farmer’s market, you know you can find colors, spheres, people and displays. And dinner too.
7. Check out Some Wedding Photojournalism
It might not be the sort of thing that your clients expect, but the images on display at the Wedding Photojournalist Association’s website might get you thinking about brides and grooms in a whole new way. Instead of the posing and the tripod, you’ll get to blend into the crowd and document the scene. It’s a whole new skill and it could give your wedding photography a whole new lease of life.
8. Hit the Water
You don’t have to be a scuba diver to shoot underwater images. You just need waterproof housing and access to the sea, a swimming pool or even a pond. And once you’re wet, don’t forget to look up as well as down. Some of the most inspiring images can be taken at the point where the light hits the surface of the water.
9. Hit the Streets
There’s a good reason that street photography is so popular: there are so many good things to shoot there. If you haven’t been photographing roads and crowds, give it a go. And if you have, try a different road.
10. Join a Demonstration
Demonstrations are full of flags, banners, placards and crowds. You can lose people in the mass or pick out expressions in the crowd. The only cause you have to support is photography.
11. Watch a Sports Event
The pros have it easiest at sports events with prime positions and lenses longer than your arm. But you can still try something new at your park on a Saturday afternoon.
12. Visit the Zoo
It might not be as thrilling as a Kenyan safari, but a zoo still has the sort of photographic subjects you can’t find anywhere else. Of course, you don’t have to try to squeeze your lens between the bars. Shooting the kids in awe at the monkeys can create some interesting images too.
13. Shoot Fast at a Race Track
Race tracks also give you an opportunity to use a new technique: speed. Fast cars and a faster shutter speed can make for some inspired shooting.
14. Visit an Exhibition
Obvious, really. And yet so often overlooked. Any decent-sized town is likely to have at least one photographic exhibition on at any one time. Take in yours and see what the top photographers did to get on the wall.
15. Browse Google Images
You don’t even have to leave the house to find inspiring images though. Toss keywords into Google Images, admire the good photos that turn up and ask how you would have improved the poor ones.
16. Join Flickr Groups
The pictures in Flickr Groups are great places to see what other people are doing with a theme; the discussions are great places to find out how they did it. And you’ll probably find that the feedback you get on your own photos will give you plenty to think about too.
17. Just Step Back and Watch
For children’s photographers in particular, there can be a temptation to just dive in and get the photos. Sometimes though, lowering the lens, stepping back and watching the subject can reveal whole new sides. That’s true for portrait photographers, wedding photographers, animal photographers… in fact just about any photographer!
18. Roam the World with Flickr Maps
Flickr Maps might be a bit slower than Google Maps, but it comes with Flickr Images built-in. Choose a part of the world with interesting topography and see what photographers have done with it.
19. Change your Angle
Most people shoot an object by placing the lens right in front of it. When David Rubinger lay on the floor to shoot up at paratroopers in front of Jerusalem’s Western Wall during Israel’s Six Day War, he created an iconic image. What would you create?
20. Change your Time
Find yourself shooting at the same time of day each weekend? So break a habit. Discover what the light at dusk, mid-afternoon or early morning can do for your ideas. And it’s not just the light that can make the difference here. Just breaking your routine can often be enough to give you a new perspective and a whole new way photography habit.
21. Browse Stock Sites
You don’t have to be a buyer to check out the images on stock sites. You can be a professional photographer looking for ideas too… especially ideas for commercial images. And the searching is simple. Looking at the top-sellers will give you a good idea of what the market is buying, and browsing by category will show what other photographers are doing with their themes.
22. Write a Blog
Darren Rowse, over at Digital Photography School, mentions how much just writing about photography has helped to improve his picture-taking. It doesn’t matter if no one reads it; just putting your thoughts on the page could give you some new ones.
23. Read a Blog
Of course, reading a photography blog is even more inspiring thing than writing one. Not only can you learn what went into a photo and where the idea came from, you can also discover how to sell it. But then we would say that, wouldn’t we?
24. Buy a Photography Book
You can never own too many photography books, and each one you buy should give you a bunch of new ideas. Although that’s true of both books of photographs and books about taking pictures, you might find that photography guides give you more inspiration than a collection of images. The former will give you techniques to try out, while the latter will show you the techniques the greats have used. Stil, if you’re really stuck, go shopping.
25. Browse a Bookstore
Or save your cash, take a pile of book to the store’s café and sit and enjoy yourself. In fact, you don’t even have to take the photography books with you. Even the dust jackets of the hardbacks can give you ideas for shots, especially commercial images.
26. Step Away from the Magazine Racks
And if book covers can give you ideas, just think what magazine covers can do. These are designed to be eye-catching and stand out on a shelf. They could make your next photo stand out too.
27. Make Friends in the Photography World
Some photographers find it easiest to shoot alone. Others like to shoot as a group. Everyone can benefit from the feedback, discussions and habits of other photographers.
28. Join Photography Organizations
If you’re a professional and you’re not a member of a professional photography organization, you should be. Not only can organizations help with insurance and legal matters, their news, contests, and profiles of other photographers can inspire to make your own splash among your peers.
29. Shoot Yourself
Photography: hen power
When you’re stuck for a subject, always remember that there’s an interesting one behind the lens too. Be brave. Put yourself in the shot for a change.
30. Revisit Your Past
You probably have a stack of old images that you rarely review, including many that you can’t bring yourself to look at. Give them another chance. A shot that failed a few years ago might well be achievable today — and give you ideas for more.
31. Revisit Places You’ve Been Before
And the same is true of locations. Even if you’ve taken a photograph in one location, it doesn’t follow that you’ll take exactly the same image a few days, months or years later. The light will be different, your skills will be different… and so will you.
32. Ask “What if…?”
Some of the greatest artistic answers have come from asking the right questions. A good one to start with is always “What if…?” What if you focused on the foreground instead of the background? What if you changed the ISO? What if you got a flash of inspiration?
33. Leave Constructive Comments
We’ve mentioned that writing blogs can help to give you new ideas, but so can writing comments on other people’s images. Just make sure the comments are constructive. Praise the photographer’s use of shadow, for example, and you’ll be telling yourself how to get similar praise.
34. Join Photo Contests
Everyone and their uncle these days seems to be running a photography competition. And for good reason. They’re a great way to motivate photographers to shoot outside their boxes.
35. Choose a Theme
Photo contests are helpful because in addition to prizes, they also give subjects to shoot. But you don’t have to actually enter a contest to win one of those. You can pick your own theme. You could even use the categories on stock sites as inspiration for subjects.
36. Check out the Big Winners
And of course, taking a look at images shot by the winners of big photo contests, such as the Pictures of the Year, can show how far your image are from those at the top of the profession… and what you need to do to join them.
37. Go Back to the Rules
You probably know the rules of photography. And you probably know how to bend them and when to break them too. So maybe go back to when you were first learning techniques and try working strictly to rule for a while.
38. Just Shoot Anyway
There are always times when you lift the camera, look at the screen and think, “No.” But what would happen if you did it anyway? At worst, you’d waste a bit of disk space. At best, you might surprise yourself and find a new kind of composition.
39. Get a Cause
Few people are more motivated than those who believe they’re working for the common good. So join them. Pick a cause, offer it your photography skills and the end will help inspire the means. You could find yourself shooting all sorts of things from campaign posters to t-shirt images to angry demonstrations. The variety should be as satisfying as the campaigning.
40. Play with Textures
While photographers often pay attention to light and composition, the texture of the materials in the subject can be left behind. Try focusing on touch rather than vision for a few shots and see what happens…
41. Play with Colors
Or be traditional and paint your pictures with bold colors and sharp contrasts. Or try using different tones of just one or two colors and see what that does for yourt results. It might not be original but if you haven’t done it before, it could be time to give experimenting with colors a try.
42. Drop Color Altogether
Of course, you could also be super-traditional and focus on practicing your skills in black-and-white. Do you know which shots would look best without color?
43. Play with Settings
Chances are, once you’ve found a camera setting that works for you, you don’t stray from it too far. So start straying. Play with the exposure, change the ISO, switch the shutter speed. And build on the results.
44. Play with a Point-and-Shoot
When you shoot with a DSLR, you can get used to all the bells, whistles and options that come with an expensive camera. So lay it aside, pick up an instant and shoot on the cheap. You’ll be amazed at what downgrading can do for your creativity.
45. Just Play
The beauty of digital photography is that there’s no penalty for making mistakes. That gives you a free ticket to stop worrying about whether a picture will turn out well or be an embarrassing flop, and just shoot. So try just enjoy taking photographs without thinking too much about the results.
46. Try a Different Specialty
Whether you specialize in wedding, portraits or anything else, try a niche you’ve never done before. You don’t have to do it professionally but just doing it for a while could give you a whole new bag of techniques and inspire new ways of creating your images.
47. Read Forums
We’ve mentioned that Flickr Groups can be good places to find inspiration but so can photography forums. Often, photographers use them to pose questions, but even those questions can get you thinking. The answers can get you shooting. (That can include your answers too. Tossing in your own two cents’ worth can get you thinking about all things you’re not doing — or haven’t been doing yet.)
48. Start a Project
Inspiration might come in a flash but you want it to hang around. Instead of thinking of an idea for one photograph, try thinking of an idea for a series of photographs. If you’d decided to take pictures of lightning for example, expand the concept to include extreme weather as a whole and add photographs of windswept trees and sun-bleached rooftops. That should keep you busy for a while…
49. Take a Photography Class
Photography classes make thinking up ideas very easy. You’ll even be given assignments so that you don’t have to think up subjects at all, just novel approaches to them.
50. Take any Class
But you don’t have to limit yourself to a photography class. A cooking class will let you create photography subjects that you can eat. A flower-arranging class could give you new ideas for floral photography. Even an origami class could provide a pile of new ideas for images.
51. Define the Perfect Image
Do you know what the perfect image would look like? Bet you’re thinking about it now, right? Instead of thinking how good the next shoot would be, try thinking about what the best shot would look like… then find it.
52. Create a Shooting Schedule
One way to cut back on the regular head-scratching is to plan ahead. Pull out a calendar and decide in advance what sort of images you’ll be shooting each weekend for the next few months. And leave room for flexibility.
53. Pick a Different Model
If you always use the same models or models with similar looks go for something completely different: the opposite sex, a different height, a new age group. See what a different subject can for your ideas.
54. Ignore the Silly Criticism
This one won’t boost your inspiration but it might stop it being blocked. Ask people to comment on your photos and you’ll always get someone with something dumb to say. The challenge is to pick out the constructive comments and leave out the smartass ones that can make you think twice in the future.
55. Do Something Totally Outrageous
Ever told yourself “That would never work?” Well, here’s a “what if…” What if it did work? Go ahead, surprise yourself. Shoot what’s under the sofa. Snap the top of your head. Do something outrageously silly… and see if it works.
56. Give yourself Limits
Some of the greatest literature has been written under the strictest censorship. So limit yourself. Close the door and shoot only an object that you can find in the room. Or tell yourself that you have to produce a fantastic image within the next half hour. Take up the challenge
57. Tell a Story
Good pictures always tell a story. So try thinking of a story then go out and create the images that illustrate it. That could be the story of your street, a narrative describing a community or even the progression of a cub baseball team. Find where your story begins then use your camera to follow it through to the end.
58. Print your Pictures
It’s one thing to view your photos on a computer screen but printing them out and holding them in your hand can be something else altogether. Try printing a selection of your photos and see whether they still work on paper… and how you can improve them.
59. Take an Object, Any Object…
We started this list by pointing out that flea markets are full of strange objects to photograph. But there’s a limit to how you can photograph an individual object in a flea market. So take one home or pick something off the shelf and give yourself a whole new set of still lifes.
60. Buy New Equipment
And if all else fails, you can always use cash. A burst of new ideas always seems to come free with a new lens.
[update — we wrote a book “inspired” by this blog post — Inspired Photography: 189 Sources of Inspiration For Better Photos