Breaking Through Creative Doldrums: Tips for Photographers

Creative blocks and lack of motivation for picking up the camera happen to the best of us. While there are times it is best to just embrace the downtime and wait for inspiration to strike, more frequently, it is better to take active steps to push past the doldrums. It's important to find methods that work best for you, but there are a handful of tricks that I have found to be successful over the years. 

Go for a Walk

This may sound silly and oversimplified, but sometimes, all you need to do to get inspired is go for a walk. Don't worry if you aren't a natural person or don't have access to remote places; even a walk in a mall could be the ticket! The key here is to expose yourself to different sounds, sights, and maybe even smells. You never know what you will see while out and about that may trigger some new idea for your work or inspire you to pick up your camera. Depending on your comfort level, you may even bring your camera along on an occasional walk and just casually snap away. Sometimes, accidents can lead to the biggest creative breakthroughs! 

Surround Yourself With Creativity

One of the easiest ways to spark renewed creativity is to surround yourself with it. I have found that when I am lackadaisical with reading, talking about, and of course, looking at art, that is when my biggest creative blocks hit. Surrounding myself with creativity almost always gets the ideas flowing. So, how do you surround yourself with creativity? Luckily, the digital age makes this very easy!

Follow social media accounts that inspire you in your preferred genre and beyond. Watch visually innovative movies (there are lots of lists out there). Listen to photography and film-related podcasts. Subscribe to photography or art newsletters or blogs and actually read the articles. Read books of any sort of topic and genre, but throw in some photography-related ones every once in a while. Even technical books may give you ideas, so don't feel as though you have to stick to creativity-based ones. Go to museums or galleries (even online ones) and simply look at lots and lots of images. Connect with other photographers and artists and talk about photography.

Inspiration for photographs may even come from mediums other than photography, so don't be afraid to invest time looking into other art forms! While you shouldn’t copy the work of others, you may find new ways of composing an image, editing colors, or get an idea for a photoshoot that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of without spending time looking and listening to creative sources.

Try Journaling

Surrounding yourself with creativity is a great (and important) step, but journaling takes things even further. Taking the time to sit and reflect on the things you are watching, seeing, reading, and talking about can help you dive even deeper and could spark even greater creativity. Take notes after watching a film and jot down what you connected with in terms of visuals. Maybe even roughly sketch out some movie stills or things from a walk that stuck with you. If something really resonated or even had you questioning things in a podcast or an article you read, write it down and try to expand on it. If you saw a piece at a museum that really impressed you, jot down some notes about what it was that stood out. Writing out thoughts about your own work can help greatly as well, so don't forget to reflect on that!

Using your journal even just to make lists of things that inspire you on a regular basis can also help you identify patterns and narrow in on things that most spark creativity. This could help you keep motivation and inspiration flowing in the future!

Take on a Photo Challenge

Sometimes, you just need to force yourself to create to get past a creative block. This is where photo challenges can come in handy! Whether it be a photo a day (a 365), one a week (52-week project), or even just one photo a day for a month, focused projects are a great way to force yourself to think outside the box and push past a lack of motivation. You can take on a themed project with specific prompts (there are lots of pre-made ones out there) or just commit to taking photos on a regular schedule, no matter what they are. I have done four 365s at this point and can say from experience that while there will be days that you really do not want to pick up the camera and end up taking something mundane and uninspired, forcing yourself to think even a little bit creatively on a regular basis is huge and can spark some big improvement and ideas.

Set a Goal

Lastly, set a goal! The key to this is to be specific and have something measurable. Saying you want to get better at photography is very broad and isn’t going to give you much to directly work towards. How are you going to get better at photography? Is it your compositions that need to improve? Do you need to understand shutter speed better? Do you want to learn how to creatively edit images? Find something more specific to work towards and break that goal into even smaller milestones. Having smaller steps outlined that lead to a bigger objective makes the goal more attainable and is more likely to help keep you on track. It also gives you something to actively measure your progress by, which makes working towards your goal a lot more fun and exciting! 

How do you like to break through creative blocks? Share your tips below! 

Log in or register to post comments

3 Comments

Caitlyn Brimberry's picture

All these tips are great! I’ll definitely be trying some of these the next time I need inspiration!

Hailee Hutt-Lavigueur's picture

I definitely needed this article right now! I haven't picked up my camera for almost a week which is very unusual for myself, so this has definitely helped me figure out what I need to do to help get some motivation back. Thanks for the great tips, Abby!

Abby Ferguson, MFA's picture

I'm so glad it helped! Don't forget though, sometimes the downtime from photography is good and helpful as well. It is okay to embrace that from time to time!