This year has taken a number of different tolls on people. For us photographers and videographers, one casualty for many has been creativity. Here are five ways you can keep creative during this testing period.
Earlier this month I asked our community how the pandemic has affected them (and you're welcome to engage in that discussion). Unsurprisingly, many people have struggled with their businesses, having shoots postponed, canceled, or pipelines dry up. I had areas of my own photography which were growing healthily up to March 2020, then vanished entirely for the best part of six months. But one of the issues I struggled with the most — and it's something I touched on in the above article — was creativity.
I've never struggled for inspiration before, finding it from a wealth of different channels, primarily through natural sparks I don't seek out. However, lockdown really tested that to the fullest. There was a period of three months in which I didn't see another human being, I didn't leave the house for longer than 20 to 30 minutes, and I certainly didn't travel. With this shock to the system, I found myself in a rut that I let myself stew in for too long. Once I realized the potential long-term damage it could cause, I decided to do whatever it took to get me creating concepts for shoots again.
Over the last few months, I've narrowed down a few ways that have served as useful tools for me, and I want to share them in the hope that it can aid anyone else suffering from low creativity during a bizarre and unpleasant period of our lives. If you have found any of your own, please leave them in the comments and I — along with the readers, no doubt — will give them a try.
There are many fantastic documentaries, in categories like travel or nature, which can inspire you to no end. Trying to collate any sort of list of inspiring documentaries would be an endless task. However, one particular genre has more of an effect on me than others, and that's documentaries specifically about photographers and their work. In 2016, I created a list of the top 10 photography documentaries and their trailers, and my selections haven't changed much since. So. if you're looking for specific suggestions, click that link and enjoy! Here's the trailer for one of my favorites:
I'm very fortunate when it comes to educational material, as not only do I have access to Fstoppers' own staggeringly good library of tutorials, but I regularly get asked to view tutorials and courses for other organizations. Whether you're a veteran in a particular genre or you're looking to dip an initial toe into new waters, properly produced and thorough online courses are tremendously powerful. Not only can they teach you techniques and methods for creating better images, but seeing how other people work can inspire ideas of your own.
Wherever you choose to learn — and biases aside, our tutorials really are superb — it can be more valuable now than ever before.
Edit Old Shoots or Trips
I wrote recently about how I often shoot a lot on trips, but then never edit or even look at the thousands of resulting images ever again. It's a bad habit, born partially out of my lack of experience editing landscape and cityscape photography and partially through time constraints of paid work having to take precedent. Nevertheless, I recently decided to try to face that habit head-on. I found that by using different editing suites like Luminar, creating specific sets of images, and editing for print, I was reinvigorated.
Another branch of editing older work that can be valuable is applying your better techniques to work you have edited. Some of my earliest portrait shoots, in particular, were poorly post-processed but had two fortunate features: a general understanding of what makes a good shot and the great decision to shoot in raw, even back then. This had me approach old shots that I liked but that had aged poorly in a completely new light. Not only did this provide me with better images, but it worked as inspiration to take another swing at older concepts I now think I could improve on.
Ah, the cardinal rule of writing about photography: you don't need the newest gear. That's true, almost absolutely. There are very few occasions in which a new lens of the body is required to push on with your work. That doesn't mean buying new gear is always a poor decision, and it's not always a financial one to begin with. If you're in a creative rut, a new piece of equipment — particularly something singular to your kit bag — can work wonders. You don't need to spend a fortune either. To acquire some new, inspiring equipment on a budget, look at vintage lenses and an adaptor; this is something I have wholeheartedly enjoyed since my first year with a camera, and I still do.
If you can treat yourself, however, perhaps look at getting a lens unlike anything you've had before. Alternatively, take on a new perspective, which is what I have done this year. For an upcoming project, I was going to have to rent a drone. Knowing that the project would likely be ongoing and wanting the opportunity to practice, I ended up buying a drone and learning how to fly it effectively. This has me getting up at the crack of dawn and rushing out at the sight of a nice sunset again; I've not been that motivated to shoot the countryside where I live for the best part of a decade!
Most photographers would regard shooting on film as something everyone ought to try. It's indisputable that digital photography is resoundingly better than film in almost every regard, but those few areas it cannot touch are where all the value in the medium lies. I was in Costa Rica earlier this year, and I was shooting the best part of 2,000 photographs per day. If I saw an interesting bird (I'm from the U.K., so everything north of a pigeon is interesting in my book), I would gladly fire off 50 or more shots of the creature in the exact same position. With storage cheap and write speeds quick, why wouldn't I?
Film photography offers such a jarringly enjoyable change of pace, it really is worth your time. When you know you've only got 28 shots, suddenly, that funny-looking house you would usually photograph extensively even though you were quite sure you'd never look at the images again isn't worth your time. The philosophy behind the composition of your shot is no longer "I wonder what this will look like... rubbish, ok. Let's try something else." You slow everything down and put real thought into what you're creating, as you know you have to get it right the first time, or second at a push. That's before we arrive at the bizarre enjoyment to be derived from delayed gratification in seeing your work.
If you want to learn more about shooting on film, I'd suggest the articles of our writer, James Madison.
How Have You Stayed Creative?
Have you managed to stave off the general malaise that comes with lockdown and travel restrictions? How have you kept your creative gland pumping? Share your methods in the comment section below.