How many times have you been stuck in a photographic rut? If your photo mojo got up, walked out and slammed the door in front of you, there are things you can do to make it come back. It happened to me.
I’ve been having a hard time going out and taking pictures lately. I took the above photo a month ago. Other than meeting the needs of my clients’ commissions, I’ve barely touched my camera since.
Two things hold us back in our creative tracks: motivation and inspiration. If we don’t have motivation, we will invariably not be inspired to take pictures. However, we may be motivated to get out and about with our cameras, but we can’t figure out what to shoot, let alone how to shoot it. That lack of inspiration can then lead to us losing our motivation. The two are therefore intrinsically linked in a vicious circle.
I use different approaches to get me 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 helpful, so I hope they work for you too.
That lack of motivation and inspiration can be the same with any creative activity. Besides photography I write (obviously) and I have had to deal with writer’s block. I also play very bad guitar and sometimes can’t figure out what to play. In the first two creative activities I am contractually obliged to produce work; no one would pay me to play guitar. So even if I’m not motivated to create images or pen articles, I have to do it, not just out of contractual necessity, but also because of the need to get food on my plate.
Besides professional photography, I still shoot purely for fun. However, when it is not necessary to use my camera, it can sometimes become much more difficult to get going. While I know I love being on the beach or strolling through the harbor at the crack of dawn, it’s really much harder to set my alarm.
Get my photo Mojo back
Some of the greatest minds have come up with their best ideas in their sleep or daydreams. Einstein’s theory of relativity came to him this way. JK Rowling got the idea for the Harry Potter books while he was trapped in a delayed train. The melody of the Beatles song “Yesterday” appeared in Paul McCartney’s sleep. Inspiration can come from daydreaming. That’s why I sometimes get inspired by my subconscious.
Have you watched the Netflix series or listened to Neil Gaiman’s excellent Audible adaptation of The Sandman? Without giving away spoilers, in one episode there is someone whose brain is working overtime to create ideas. We do that all the time. If we don’t focus on something special, our subconscious mind has fleeting thoughts that appear and disappear in a flash, about 60,000 a day. Like dreams, we don’t remember most of them, but by writing these thoughts down, they can be saved for later use. To do that, we no longer need to carry a notebook with us, as smartphones can all take notes. Capturing an idea is easy.
Finding inspiration in this way is a habit that must be learned carefully; forcing doesn’t work. Sitting and demanding your brain develop creative thoughts will worsen creators’ block. But walking in a park and watching the people stroll by with the sunlight glinting through the trees will spark ideas. Likewise, being by the sea or through a forest, climbing a mountain or cycling will stir up creative juices. Not all of those ideas will be good, but some will. It is imperative to write down or record your thoughts in a note-taking app on your phone. Otherwise you will forget them.
Referring to these notes creates new ideas for photography.
Inspiration can also come from exploring the work of others. Looking at photos can give you ideas to build on. I’m not just suggesting duplicating others’ images; that’s plagiarism. But creativity works by taking different ideas, mixing them up, and coming up with something new.
In a recent article I said we should photograph what we know. However, we can quickly run out of ideas. As a seascape photographer, I love being alone on the beach in all weathers. Setting the camera to capture that moment evokes an extremely special feeling and captures a great memory. Each new image is an advancement of what I’ve taken before. But sometimes I get the “done that, got the t-shirt” feeling. Then I decide to do something completely different. Sometimes just moving to a different environment can both motivate and inspire.
Recently I had a series of clients asking to learn more about abstract photography. It’s strange how it works when different people just happen to ask for the same thing. That was lucky for me, because it inspired me to go back and do abstracts. The world seems to work like this: things come our way and come at just the right time.
Photography is so often a solitary activity. Nevertheless, coming together with other photographers allows us to exchange ideas. However, you have to choose the right people to be with. Surrounding yourself with people who encourage 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 to the same standard as quality paper prints. However, thrift bookstores often have photo books on the shelves for a fraction of the original retail price. I have found some real gems this way and my bookshelves above my computer are overflowing with old photo albums.
Music is another source of inspiration. Whether you’re rocking along with Queen, listening to Bob Dylan’s surreal lyrics, or relaxing over a Chopin nocturne, the images evoked by music can evoke ideas and feelings that you can translate into a photograph. Other art forms can also work in the same way; a painting by Caravaggio first got me experimenting with tranquil chiaroscuro images.
I also set goals for myself. It’s tempting to have a big goal, and it’s worth reaching for it. However, setting smaller goals that are easier to achieve increases my sense of achievement and helps me move on to the next task, especially if I reward myself with every success. I put a little money in another account, saving up to buy the next lens.
Fear is a major motivating barrier for many people. Everyone from beginners to professionals has expressed fears about publishing their work in a gallery or on social media. I think it’s like stage fright. The only way to overcome that is to do it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?
Finally, to overcome my lack of motivation, I schedule my photography. I write appointments in my calendar to take pictures, and I commit to keeping them. Inviting someone else means I have to come.
Do you have any secret tips or tricks to motivate or inspire yourself to take pictures? It would be great to hear about them in the comments.