If you constantly struggle to come up with new ideas for your photography work, then your career could be in serious trouble. Try one of these seven strategies to help you get that next big idea and keep those creative juices flowing.
I love to proclaim to anyone that will listen that it's the photographer that takes the picture and not the camera. While it's ok to occasionally get excited by what new lens or camera has been released, the amount of time and energy invested into this side of the industry should always be kept to a minimum. Just like in many other creative mediums, the idea behind the work is vitally important and should always be at the root of what is made. A good idea will actually get us most of the way to making a great photograph. Ideas come in many different shapes and sizes, but all start with an initial moment of inspiration. The real question is how do we get from having nothing in our heads to getting that spark of an idea?
Here are seven approaches that I use to keep the ideas flowing.
Start With a Person
If I'm approached by actors or models to work with, I always have a good look at what they have previously done beforehand. This not only helps me to get a good idea of what their capabilities are, but it can sometimes send my imagination down a rabbit hole. If they don't have much previous work or it isn't very exciting, I'll talk to them about their life. You'd be surprised at what interesting stories people have waiting to be unearthed. Secret hobbies or passions they have can instantly become the springboard for a shoot. I always ask people I'm working with if they have any random connections to people or places that might make an interesting location to shoot at. By asking questions, you may just find the most perfect ready-made ingredients for a really interesting shoot.
Visit a Possible Location
Sometimes, I can go to a location without anything in mind for a shoot, and by the end of a visit, have a fully formed idea in place. Both Google Images and Maps can really help to get the cogs turning, but being physically in a spot can be so much more inspiring. Quite often, you may find something insignificant at a location that isn't documented online that is the thing that inspires you the most. Even if a particular location isn't right for a shoot immediately, the visit will still plant a seed in your mind and inspire future work. Things will always resonate more when you experience them in the flesh.
This was one occasion where I was looking for something and found something completely different. This old mine location was like a forgotten movie set, and each corner of it told a hundred different stories.
Use Music to Get Inspired
I recently talked about the various different ways music can be used to your advantage while on a shoot, and the suggested playlists I mentioned can be equally useful when trying to get inspired. While it's all too easy to listen to your own faithful music collection when trying to be inspired, those well-trodden paths could actually be doing more harm than good. By breaking out of your regular music habits and listening to something different, you stand a much better chance of achieving that spark of inspiration. I personally like to produce period pieces in my work and try to hunt out soundtracks from the relevant era to listen to. Music has a special way of inspiring like no other medium and could be just what you need to jumpstart the thought process.
Use a Prop to Kick Things Off
When I'm dreaming up ideas for my fine art work, it's quite often a prop that gives me that initial spark of an idea for a shoot. While I love to visit various thrift stores and secondhand markets, eBay is the place I buy many of my props from. The great thing about using props as the starting point for a shoot is that you have so much freedom to attach your own ideas onto them. You may also get an idea for a shoot when browsing for a prop and not actually need to buy it. Sometimes, just the exposure to random objects can be enough to get the ball rolling.
I saw a chair in a junk shop that had interesting arms and a high back to it. Several adjustments later, and the tired piece of furniture was transformed into some kind of electric/psychiatric chair. I don't think this picture would have been made without seeing that chair for sale.
Keep Inspirational Folders
Just like the props mentioned above, I also collect images both offline and online. We are constantly bombarded with images daily, and while many won't speak to you, the occasional one will. It might not be the whole image but part of it which you like. Things like a pose a model is doing or a color scheme a photographer has chosen to use may catch your eye. By collecting all these images, you have a place that you can visit when you are in need of inspiration. Quite often, I will flick through these folders when I have a fully formed idea in place, but something is still missing. A cutting I have made may feature the most insignificant detail, but being exposed to it at that very moment may just give me the last piece of the puzzle I was looking for.
React to an Event
One starting point I sometimes use when trying to come up with an idea for a shoot is to put myself in the shoes of an event that has happened. These events could be current affairs, things that have happened way in the past, or even fictional ones. The exercise here is to get out of your own head and think differently. The events can be important occasions or even small and insignificant ones. By being pinned down to an event, it gives you something to focus on without restraining you too much.
I made this image after seeing a documentary on Elvis' death. While very few would ever connect the picture and the event together, it was by putting myself in the shoes of someone that experienced the event that I was inspired to make the picture you see.
Don't Look at Photography
Sometimes, looking at more photography is the last thing you need when trying to come up with your next big idea. I'm far from the first person to suggest this, but looking at different art forms like painting, sculpture, or even just nature itself can be a great place to find the seeds of your next shoot. Ever had a name on the tip of your tongue but a mental block stopped you from saying it? It's not until you think about something else that the name in question comes freely. Idea generation can be a lot like that when you're bombarded with the hundreds if not thousands of images you see every day. Looking outside the box of photography quite literally helps you to think outside of it.
So there you have it, several different approaches I personally use to help encourage that spark of inspiration along. There really are an infinite amount of ways to get those juices flowing, and I hope some of my suggestions will be of use if you find yourself stuck in a creative rut. What's great about having multiple approaches to generating ideas is that if you find one avenue isn't working for you, there are many other options that can be tried out instead. These methods can also be used in conjunction with each other, which can really help to build interesting ideas with depth. While it's hard to predict what the future will bring for the role of a professional photographer, one thing that will always be important is the generation of good ideas. Invest plenty of time and energy into getting inspired ,and the rest of your photographic practice will flow much more easily.
Over to You
How do you get ideas for your photoshoots? Ever find yourself in a creative rut? We'd love to hear your ideas and strategies in the comments section below.