Lost your creative mojo? Struggling to find photographic inspiration? Lee Frost suggests some ways to put some oomph back into your images
It happens to us all at some stage. We head out with a camera, fully intent on taking some great photographs, only to return home with an empty memory card feeling deflated and confused. It’s the photographic equivalent of writer’s block. The light’s okay, the location is interesting, you were feeling keen when you set off earlier that day, but then it’s like someone flicks a switch and your inspiration drifts away on the breeze and try as you might, you can’t seem to get it back.
Some photography enthusiasts see this as a sign that it’s time to find another hobby and hang up their cameras for good. But when you used to be passionate about something and that passion fades, there’s usually a simple explanation and a simple solution. In many cases it’s down to boredom. If you find yourself shooting the same subjects or locations month-in, month-out, chances are you’ll eventually run out of creative steam. You’ll stop feeling inspired, your ideas will run out and the photographs you do take will just make matters worse!
Tip 1. Find a photo friend
Photography tends to be a solitary pursuit, but that also means it can get lonely at times, and if the creative juices aren’t flowing, it’s easy to pack up and head home. One solution is to go out shooting with other keen photographers, so that you can bounce ideas around, compare images, learn from each other and enjoy the company of like-minded souls.
Joining a camera club is a good way to meet other photographers. Alternatively, try booking yourself onto a photo workshop where you can spend a few days immersed in photography with other enthusiasts and have an expert on hand, too, to offer help, advice and inspiration.
Tip 2. Buy a film camera
It may sound totally bizarre, but taking a backward step, technologically, could be just what you need to breathe life back into your digital photography – especially if you’ve only ever taken serious photographs with a digital camera. Take a look on eBay – you’ll find loads of unwanted film cameras on sale for peanuts. Buy an old 35mm SLR with a 50mm standard lens, or a Holga ‘toy camera’, order a few rolls of film and start shooting. Film photography is fun. It’s everything digital isn’t – quirky, unpredictable and you have to wait to see the results because there’s no small screen on the back! There’s a thriving analogue movement still out there and you could become part of it. For inspiration, check out www.lomography.com where as well as buying weird and wonderful cameras you can also see what folk are doing with them!
Tip 3. Use your smartphone
Leave your heavy DSLR kit at home and spend the day only taking photographs with the camera in your phone. It’s lightweight, liberating and fantastic fun. Modern ‘smartphones’ from Apple, Nokia, Samsung and other manufacturers are capable of producing amazing results. Even better, there are loads of apps that customise the camera to produce images with a specific look and feel so you can create the lo-fi look instantly. I use an iPhone 6 and my favourite app is Hipstamatic as it has loads of lens and film combinations available, all creating a different look. The images are automatically cropped to a square and processed in-phone, so you don’t need to do any further work on them. I mainly use the John S lens with Blanko, Blackeys, Ina’s 1969, Supergrain or Claunch 72 Monochrome films. The images have the character of photographs taken with vintage or toy cameras. You’ll be amazed just how good the results can be – and all you have to do is point and shoot!
Tip 4. Break out of your comfort zone
If you only ever shoot the same subjects, visit the same locations or practise the same techniques, chances are you’re going to hit a creative dead end eventually, because what you do no longer challenges or stimulates you and you stop improving. The easiest way to get over that is by pushing yourself creatively. Try a subject you’ve never photographed before – sport, nature, still-life, nudes; basically something that’s as far removed from your usual subjects as you can. That will force you to think differently, use different techniques and develop a whole new set of skills. Before long you’ll be feeling energised and inspired, and wondering what the fuss was all about!
Tip 5. Set yourself a project
Finding a purpose to pick up a camera can be difficult at times, especially when photography is a weekend pursuit. Setting yourself a project will help to overcome this problem. It could be anything – to document a specific location to work on a theme, to photograph local landmarks, to shoot a particular sport or regular event. Establish an end goal, such as producing a portfolio of images, creating a photo book or organising an exhibition of the project work so you know what you’re aiming for and there’s a timescale. Then once you’ve completed one project, start another one. It needn’t involve travel or even leaving home either – you could decide to produce a set of images of household objects, flowers, favourite possessions or anything else that comes to mind.
Tip 6. Take creative risks
In the days of film, when every click of the camera’s shutter cost money, photographers tended to play it safe. Those days are long gone now, though. Digital photographs are free, which means you’ve got no excuses not to take risks. I’m a more experimental photographer now that I used to be and it has definitely kept my passion alive.
I was slipping into a creative rut a decade ago, but switching from film to digital changed that massively and I’m more inspired now than ever before.
Tip 7. Black & white or colour
If you only ever shoot colour, start converting your images to black & white using Photoshop, Lightroom or software like Nik Silver Efex Pro. Similarly, if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool monochrome photographer, ditch black & white for a while and work in colour. Either way, it could give you the creative kick-start you need.
Tip 8. Buy a Big Stopper
Have you jumped on the long-exposure bandwagon yet, using a Lee Filters Big Stopper or equivalent ‘extreme’ neutral density filter to record blurry skies and turn moving water to milk? If not, you really, really must, because even though this technique has become mainstream in recent years, the images look amazing and if they don’t inspire you, well, nothing will!
Tip 9. Try digital pinhole
Digital images can be too perfect and clinical, so why not try something totally different? Like pinhole photography, where instead of a lens, a tiny hole punched in a metal plate projects an image onto a light-sensitive material. No glass, no fancy optical design, just the action of light. Pinhole images lack sharpness, but image quality is still high considering how they were created. You could buy a pinhole film camera, but a quick fix is to have a pinhole bodycap made that you attach to your DSLR instead of a lens. Just send a spare bodycap for your camera and £35 to Pinhole Solutions and within a week you’ll take delivery of your bodycap drilled and fitted with an etched pinhole ready to create fascinating digital pinhole images, like this one below.
Tip 10. Book a city break
Too many photographers spend too much money on new gear and not enough time using it, so instead of splashing out on a new lens, use that money to fund a city break. Go off to Venice, Paris, London, Valencia – anywhere you’ve never been before – for a few days and spend your time taking photographs. It’s amazing how your creative juices start to flow again when you’re in an inspiring place.