How to Get Inspired as a Photographer

How to Get Inspired as a Photographer

Being an artist isn't easy, especially when the world is against our way of life and creation. The artist life is discouraging for sure, and every once in a while I still have days where I just want to lay in bed. I have learned that you can't let yourself have many of these days if you want to be great, there's always someone else who's pushing through it. Whether you're a professional or just a hobbyist, being uninspired sucks. Luckily there are so many things you can do to beat the gloom and keep on creating.

In the first couple years that I started taking my photography seriously, I had unlimited energy to work. I was shooting every day, editing all night, and pushing my social media every minute in between. After a few years of working my way into the industry, I began to realize how hard it was, how much dedication it truly took to succeed in photography. I felt discouraged here and there, but I learned how to remedy these feelings by staying inspired to work and create every single day. Here are some things I do to keep me from giving up or slowing down.

Photo by Gabrielle Colton, model Mallory Mims

I took this image in a neighborhood down the street from my house. Model: Mallory Mims.

Just Shoot Something

One of my favorite things about photography is that every photo is different, each time you pick up the camera it's a completely new experience than the last. When I'm feeling unmotivated, the first feeling I have is the desire to shoot something, so I make it happen. This is where creative friends are very helpful to me. If I don't want to plan something serious I'll get together with a friend or family member and take photos of them. Sometimes I will even walk around close to home and take some landscape or street photos. When I don't know what to do creatively I also like to photograph random people on the street, this reminds me not to obsess over perfection in the planning of my work. If you absolutely can't bear the thought of being around other humans, take a self-portrait. 

Photo by Gabrielle Colton

I took this image at a time I felt uninspired. This is the front porch of my previous condo building and styled with some clothes I had laying around. I didn't even leave my building to take these photos, but I fell in love with them and regained my confidence with the results.

Learn New Techniques

When you feel like you've hit a creative wall, break through it by learning something new. Whether it's shooting something different than usual or trying a different editing technique it will make you want to create new work to use these new skills in. Try using a new color pallet, background, light set up or even a different camera. You can even learn something outside of the photography world. When I'm feeling uninspired I pick up a canvas and paint every once in a while. Creating something that isn't related to photography at all helps me clear my head, and reminds me why I'm a photographer and not a painter. I also like to create wardrobe or other photography props when I need a break from the camera. Creating items for photos is a great way to find inspiration because you can actually use what you make in an image.We can all use a break from technology, even as photographers it's such a relief to change it up and create something in another artistic medium. 

Photo by Gabrielle Colton

In this image I tried a color pallet I had never used before.

Browsing Other Artists' Work

When I'm in need of inspiration I will scroll through Pinterest, Fstoppers, or Tumblr. I save images to an inspiration folder in my phone that I like and want to pull ideas from in future shoots. Doing this always gets me excited about creating and planning. Browsing other photographers work also makes me realize how much work I have to do to reach my own full potential and fills me with the desire to make something new. A few months ago I opened Pinterest to find some inspiration and saw a portrait with beautiful wallpaper in the background, I went to a thrift store and picked up a bunch of $1 rolls of wallpaper. This one idea from the web alone turned into 5 or so shots where I designed sets with wallpaper and other props. 

I don't recommend doing this for too long or too often because it does have the potential to discourage you or influence your work too heavily on others. Look at other peoples work in moderation so that you can still find your own unique style of shooting. To make sure you don't get overwhelmed with all of your inspiration images, pinpoint one or two elements of the images that you want to see in your own work. This way you can narrow down what you're inspired by and make it your own, rather than attempting to recreate a whole image, that never ends well.

Exploring abandoned buildings. Photo by Aleister Cardwell.

Get Up and Get Out of Your House

One of the most important steps to feeling better and regaining your creative flow is getting up, getting off your phone and going outside. You can go for an adventure, or you don't have to go far at all, you don't have to spend any money, you don't even have to get in the car if you don't want to. I can rarely get inspired by my house unless I'm doing crafts, getting out is essential. To refresh it always helps to take my poodle for a walk or even just sit outside for a while and observe everything around me. I highly dislike the mall and other stores, but walking by the beauty and fashion ads in stores gives me hope somehow. 

Portrait by Gabrielle Colton. Model: Teena Thomas.

Remembering All the People Who Want to See You Fail

Seriously, it helps. Don't think about them too long though, because they likely don't deserve much of your attention. As artists, we aren't seen as very "normal," this usually means judgment and disbelief in our craft, especially as a career. These judgments used to bug me, I wanted everyone to see that I was doing the right things with my life. My reassurance didn't work and to this day there are still people close to me who don't believe in my art. But I turned their words into positive motivation to work harder, it sometimes motivates me even more than any amount of appraisal because it feels so good to prove the world wrong. When discouragement does get to you, luckily there are thousands of other artists feeling the exact same discouragement whom we can turn to for motivation.

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19 Comments

Boy did I need this today.

Honestly, a lot of the reason I have found I stopped shooting was a lack of inspiration.

If it wasn’t something I’ve never seen before, I’ve seen it too much, is what I surmised.

I’ve been removing myself from Facebook a lot more, and seeing it had a huge effect on my lack of will-power. I’d go on there, and it just made me hate everything.

What actually pushed me back into it was being an admin in a Facebook photography group, and one of the folks in there violated the pinned post rules.

I brought it up in a comment, asking her to edit the post(It had multiple images, and the group requires only one per post).

She told me she couldn’t, due to her M.S., and it just set me back in my chair.

This has lead to me helping her and a few others.

So literally, the reason I am inspired again, is to help others

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Beautiful, I am definitely inspired most by helping followers as well. I try to post a lot of positivity attached to my photos and people respond really well to it. That goes into a whole other topic than these simple inspiration tips, about adding me on Facebook! I am the same, when I scroll too much It's depressing but I do share and check out what other artists are doing.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

So glad I could be there when you needed it, that warms my heart! Keep creating!!

Nicole York's picture

Getting out of the house is a big one! Sometimes being constrained can sap your energy and creativity and destroy your motivation. Being outside always helps me feel better, and feeling better definitely leaves the door open for more inspiration.

Mark Holtze's picture

From a photography perspective I don’t think there has been a better time to want to pursue the craft. There is so much great info out there today thanks to social media it’s almost overwhelming.

I’ve always been mindful of turning a hobby into a profession. It’s wonderful to be doing what you love all the time, but it can also incite burnout and frustration. Part of the creative process is time away. Things inspire you outside of thinking non stop about your photography.

Just discovering my grandfathers old slr lens collection inspired me to jump back into the photo world.

Learning how to adapt the lenses, seeing the results these fast primes of yesteryear can shape my frames. It’s cool to know those Same lenses were used for my parents wedding photos.

Also because I’m an editor (film/tv series) I spend a lot of time at a desk putting a complex puzzle together that incites emotion....the photographic element brings a sense of kinetic and dynamic adventure. Also forces me to look for beauty where I wouldn’t normally try to find any. Just going for a walk with a camera is an experience for me.

I suspect this comes from the fact I pursue it as a traditional hobby. Not pushing the social media aspect, not comparing to other photographers...just doing it for my own love of the craft.

I suspect I’m also a minority in this, but there you have it :)

Great article by the way, I enjoyed it.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I was just thinking today how it's a beautiful time to be a photographer. It definitely takes a HUGE amount of commitment to turn this into a career ( and craziness lol ). But thankfully the tools and info are right here in front of people do do it fairly painlessly. I admire artists like you who just do it because they love it, it takes away a lot of pressure which I feel every day.
Thank you so much for reading and sharing your story!
Keep creating!

Mark Holtze's picture

My pleasure Gabrielle. Pressure probably exists pretty much everywhere...but given photographers are almost exclusively self employed it ads a whole wack of pressure onto that. Running a business is a second full time job really if you want to grow it. There's the business side and the craft side....sometimes it's hard to mix up those words I'd imagine.

Anyway keep up with the great content! Appreciate your contribution and your engagement in the convo.

Michael Holst's picture

"Browsing other artists work" I plan on making a career our of this. I can spend hours and hours discovering new photographers and it never gets old. It's always the strongest source of inspiration for me.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Same here! Fills me with creativity and motivation, I don't know if I'd be an artist if it wasn't for the easy access of this on the web! It's an amazing thing we have at our fingertips, endless inspiration.

Michael Holst's picture

It makes the masterpieces of old seem that much more impressive.

Robert Nurse's picture

I actually like doing this. Taking apart why their photos work is very helpful and enjoyable!

Joshua Kolsky's picture

When i get in a slump i like to watch movies that are hailed for their amazing cinematography. It's a great way to see things in a different perspective from the best in the industry.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I do this every once in a while too, even though I don't shoot video yet, really visually appealing movies get me motivated. What are your favorites?

Joshua Kolsky's picture

Driver, Lawrence of Arabia, Godfather 1&2, There Will Be Blood, just to name a few. There are so many. I like to study them for their lighting also. It amazes me how good/convincing lighting can be in movies.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

These are good ones! Have you seen the Revenant? Unreal lighting, they used all natural the entire time!

Davion Washington's picture

Gabrielle !!!! Thank you so much for this amazing article ! This has to be the greatest/strongest article I've ever read on fstoppers ! I'm slowly getting out of that discouragement/broken stage cause I didn't feel like my work was worth it, or finding the right clients, how will I make it if I was to go FULL TIME photographer or my portfolio was not strong enough. I just wanted to give up.

Thank you for the motivation to create more and do better. And I agree with Mark's comment, "From a photography perspective I don’t think there has been a better time to want to pursue the craft. There is so much great info out there today thanks to social media it’s almost overwhelming."

The internet opened up alot of doors for me to learn new skills and continue to learn more. Gab your steps are PERFECT. I stay looking for inspiration everywhere. ARTSTATION.com is my number 1 place. And I stay learning skills to combine with my photography like Digital Art. So thanks again. I've never been more encouraged in my life.

I'm gonna SHARE this ASAP !

Robert Nurse's picture

One problem I have (to me anyway) is all my shoots have to be these super-planned, well choreographed, all inspiring projects. Pulling the people and places together can be energy sapping especially when all the pieces can't come together when I want them to. This shows that joy can be found in simple, uncomplicated shooting. Thanks!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Hey Robert! It's great you like to plan carefully, I was actually the opposite a year ago and my work was lacking because of the lack of planning I did. Might be interesting to let go for a shoot or two and see what happens when you don't plan! Remember you don't always have to be in love with the images if they don't turn our, which I'm sure they would anyway! it's always a learning process. Since you're so used to planning you never know, not planning might turn out good anyways because you know what you want.

Robert Nurse's picture

THAT would be refreshing! I'm going out this President's day and shoot. The only planning, LOL, is the location. I passed it just this morning coming in to work. My next portrait shoot will be unplanned!