Inspiration is something we all wrestle with as creatives. Where do our ideas come from? Why can’t we simply come up with them on the fly? Why do we wake up at three o’clock in the morning with the perfect shoot planned out? How can we get more of these kinds of ideas? Let’s look at a few things that I do to keep myself inspired and ready to create.
Before we begin, there is one thing I want to stress: these things work best if practiced regularly (I’m hoping most of you shower regularly, anyway.). The more you open your mind to ideas by letting it wonder, the more you will find that ideas come to you.
A Long Walk
Sometimes we think so hard while trying to come up with ideas that we just need to get out and clear our heads. Strangely enough, it is this space we give ourselves to breathe that often gives us the very ideas we were after.
I find myself drawing inspiration from everything around me, even if not always consciously, as I take a walk outside. It can be the way the light hits the trees or the splashing of the carp in the stream by our house. It can be something I hear a passing stranger say, or a scene unfolding as friends share a drink at the local store. Perhaps it’s the reflection the city lights make on the road after a rain shower. All of these things provide stimuli that I don't get by sitting around staring at the four walls of my office.
I try to take at least one of these walks a week to clear my head and get ideas circulating again. If I take a camera on these walks, it is likely to be my Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a 35mm f/2 lens. As I said, these walks are to let my mind rest, so I’ll often leave the house without anything at all.
Perhaps it’s the cleansing of the day’s grit, or the steamy air, but a shower is another place to find unlikely ideas. Drifting around your mind in this space of your own allows you to clear away the clutter of the outside world and hone in on things that you wouldn’t otherwise have the mind space to think about.
I keep my phone close at hand for the times that these ideas strike. Quickly drying your hands and making a note in your favorite app will ensure you don’t forget.
Staring into Your Morning Coffee
This happens to me all the time. I’ll be in the grip of drowsiness as I pull myself out of bed and, as if possessed, flick the switch on the kettle. As the aroma of coffee fills the air and I sit at the table waiting for it to cool, my mind is still not really my own. As if in reverie, it jumps from topic to topic and tries to focus on something meaningful. Then it will strike something. Something I wasn’t expecting will jump out at me and I’ll scramble for a piece of paper or my phone so I can make a note before this moment of brilliance seeps back into the ether.
An Unrelated Conversation
One of the great things about working as a freelance photographer is being able to set your own schedule. I’ll often use this to set coffee meetings with friends who have time off during the week. This gives us nice quiet coffee places to head out to and shoot the breeze. Sipping on a delicious brew and letting the conversation wind where it wills gives us the space to let ideas percolate.
It is usually in a random burst of laughter relating to one world leader or another that ideas drop. As simple as that. One moment we’re laughing louder than we should be and the next, we're writing down the ideas we’ve just had.
Not only this, but in a crossing of ideas, one can often find a new project or idea. One such example would be the "Gentlemen of Jongno" series that my friend Marco Devon and I are working on. It came from his love of street photography, my love of dramatically lit portraits, and a mutual love of the disappearing gentlemen of the city. All this began over a cup of coffee, just like that.
Shooting Something Else
This is a big one for me. It is such a great source of inspiration because I’ll be concentrating hard on light and composition, but on a different subject. For example, I find that I come up with great ideas for my couple sessions when I’m photographing a family. I’ll see a different composition in the frame that I’m currently shooting that would lend itself to a couple embracing in the light.
This is also why I advocate scouting an area with no intended shoot type in mind. It gives you a chance to think about compositions and light, and store that information in your mind for later use. It will come back to you, I guarantee it. You’ll be planning a shoot in a couple of months time, and find yourself locking in compositions within the location you scouted to shoot simply for what it is.
Keep Your Ideas
Now that you have all of these ideas and thoughts, you have to remember them. If you’re like me, that may not be easy for you. I use Dropbox Paper to organize everything that I do, from shot lists to writing my articles for Fstoppers. It syncs instantly across devices like all the good note-taking apps, and I find it works really well for quick and simple note taking on the go. So, open up your favorite app or notebook and create a specific place for your ideas to live.
These are five of the places I draw the most inspiration from. You may have noticed that each and every one of them is unrelated to the thing I’m trying to draw inspiration for. It is also focusing, or not focusing, on something else that offers the space for each of these things to happen. By allowing your mind to wonder, and feeding it with other inputs, you will be able to draw on these things when required.