How many times have you been stuck in a photography rut? If your photo mojo got up, walked out, and slammed the door in your face, there are things you can do to bring it back. It happened to me.
I recently had a hard time getting out and taking pictures. I took the picture above over a month ago. Other than fulfilling the needs of my customers’ orders, I haven’t touched my camera much since.
Two things stop us in our creative paths: motivation and inspiration. If we lack motivation, we will invariably not be inspired to take pictures. However, we may be motivated to go out with our cameras but we cannot think of what we should be shooting, let alone how to shoot it. This lack of inspiration can then make us lose our motivation. Thus, these two elements are intrinsically linked in a vicious circle.
I use different approaches to get excited. They are not my invention, but my interpretation of proven techniques that I have adapted to work for photography. Other people I’ve shared them with have found them useful, so hopefully they’ll work for you too.
This lack of motivation and inspiration can be the same for any creative activity. Besides photography, I write (obviously) and I’ve faced writer’s block. I also play the guitar very badly and sometimes I don’t know what to play. With the first two creative activities, I am contractually obligated to produce a work; nobody would pay me to play the guitar. So while I’m not motivated to create images or articles in pen, I have to, not only out of contractual necessity but also out of necessity to put food on my plate.
In addition to photographing professionally, I still only photograph for fun. However, when it is not imperative to use my camera, it can sometimes become much more difficult to start. Although I know I love being on the beach or strolling around the harbor at dawn, setting my alarm and doing so is much more difficult.
Recover my photo mojo
Some of the greatest minds have found their best ideas in their sleep or daydreaming. Einstein’s theory of relativity came to him that way. JK Rowling had the idea for the Harry Potter books when she was stuck on a late train. The tune to the Beatles song “Yesterday” appeared in Paul McCartney’s sleep. Inspiration can come from daydreaming. Therefore, I sometimes let my subconscious inspire me.
Have you watched the Netflix series or listened to the excellent Audible adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman? Without revealing any spoilers, in one episode there is someone whose brain is working overtime to create ideas. We do this all the time. When we’re not focusing on anything in particular, our subconscious has fleeting thoughts that come and go in a flash, about 60,000 of them every day. Like dreams, we don’t remember most of them, but writing down those thoughts can save them for later use. It doesn’t require us to carry a laptop anymore, as smartphones all have note-taking capability. Recording an idea is easy.
Finding inspiration in this way is a habit that needs to be learned slowly; forcing it doesn’t work. Sitting down and asking your brain to develop creative thoughts will make creator blocking worse. But strolling through a park and people-watching with sunlight glinting through the trees will bring ideas. Likewise, being by the sea or through a forest, climbing a mountain or riding a bicycle will stimulate creativity. Not all of these ideas will be good, but some will be. It is imperative to write down your thoughts or record them in a note-taking app on your phone. Otherwise, you will forget them.
Referring to these notes, new ideas for photography appear.
Inspiration can also come from exploring the work of others. Looking at photos can provide insights that you can build on. I’m not suggesting just duplicating other people’s images; it is plagiarism. But creativity works by taking different ideas, mixing them together, and coming up with something new.
In a recent article, I mentioned that we should photograph what we know. However, we may soon run out of ideas. As a seascape photographer, I love being alone on the beach in all weathers. Setting up the camera to capture this moment evokes an extraordinarily special feeling and embeds a great memory. Each new image is a step up from what I’ve taken before. But sometimes I have the feeling “it’s done, I have the t-shirt”. That’s when I decided to do something completely different. Sometimes just going to a different environment can both motivate and inspire.
Recently I had a string of clients asking to learn more about abstract photography. It’s weird how it works when different people ask for the same thing just by coincidence. This was lucky for me, as it inspired me to go back and shoot abstracts. The world seems to work like this: things come our way, arriving at precisely the right time.
Photography is so often a solitary quest. Nevertheless, getting together with other photographers allows us to bounce our ideas off each other. You have to choose the right people to be with though. Surrounding yourself with those who will encourage you and respect what you do makes a huge difference. Negativity can destroy your creativity.
Taking the time to read about photography can both motivate and inspire you. Books are expensive and e-readers don’t display photos at the same level as a quality print on paper. However, second-hand bookstores often have photography books on their shelves for a fraction of the original sale price. I’ve found some real gems this way, and my shelves above my computer are full of old photography books.
Music is another source of inspiration. Whether it’s rocking out to Queen, listening to the surreal lyrics of Bob Dylan, or relaxing in a Chopin nocturne, the images evoked by music can bring ideas and feelings that you can translate into photography. . Other art forms can also work similarly; a painting by Caravaggio first made me experiment with discrete chiaroscuro images.
I also set myself goals. It’s tempting to have a big goal, and it’s rewarding to achieve it. However, setting smaller, more attainable goals enhances my sense of accomplishment and helps me move on to the next task, especially if I reward myself with each success. I transfer some money to another account, saving for the purchase of the next lens.
Fear is a significant motivational barrier for many people. Everyone from beginners to professionals has expressed their terror at the thought of posting their work in a gallery or on social media. I guess it’s like stage fright. The only way to overcome this is to do it anyway. What’s the worst that can happen?
Finally, to compensate for my lack of motivation, I schedule my shots. I write appointments in my diary to take pictures, and I promise to respect them. Inviting someone else means I have to show up.
Do you have any secret tips or tricks to motivate or inspire you to take pictures? It would be great to hear about it in the comments.