How many times have you been stuck in a photographic rut? If your photo mojo got up, walked out, and slammed the door in your face, then there are things you can do to get it to come back. It has happened to me.
I've recently been finding it hard to get out and take photos. I shot the above picture over a month ago. Apart from meeting the needs of my clients' commissions, I have barely touched my camera since.
Two things stop us in our creative tracks: motivation and inspiration. If we lack motivation, we will invariably not be inspired to take photos. However, we may be motivated to get out with our cameras but can't think of what we should shoot, let alone how to shoot it. That lack of inspiration can then lead to us losing our motivation. Thus, those two are intrinsically linked in a vicious circle.
I employ different approaches to enthuse me. They are not of my invention, but my interpretation of proven techniques that I have adapted to work for photography. Other people I have 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 have faced writer's block. I also play guitar very badly and sometimes can't think of what to play. With the first two creative activities, I am contractually obliged to produce work; nobody would pay me to play guitar. So, even if I am not motivated to create images or pen articles, I must do it, not only out of contractual necessity but also because of the need to put food on my plate.
Besides shooting professionally, I still photograph purely for enjoyment. However, when it is not imperative to use my camera, it can sometimes become much harder to get going. Although I know I love being on the beach or strolling through the harbor at the crack of dawn, actually setting my alarm and doing it is much harder.
Getting My Photo Mojo Back
Some of the greatest minds have come up with their best ideas in their sleep or daydreaming. Einstein's Theory of Relativity came to him this way. JK Rowling got the idea for the Harry Potter books while stuck on a delayed train. The tune of The Beatles' song "Yesterday" appeared in Paul McCartney's sleep. Inspiration can come from daydreaming. Therefore, I sometimes allow my subconscious to inspire me.
Did you watch the Netflix series or listen to the excellent Audible adaptation of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman? Without giving away spoilers, in one episode, there is someone whose brain is working overtime creating ideas. We do that all the time. When we are not concentrating on anything particular, our subconscious minds have fleeting thoughts that appear and disappear in a flash, around 60,000 of them every day. Like dreams, we don't remember most of them, but jotting these thoughts down can preserve them for later use. Doing that no longer requires us to carry a notebook, as smartphones all have a note-taking capacity. Recording an idea is easy.
Finding inspiration this way is a habit that must be acquired gently; forcing it doesn't work. Sitting and demanding your brain develop creative thoughts will aggravate the creators' block. But walking in a park and watching the people stroll past with the sunlight glittering through the trees will bring ideas. Likewise, being by the sea or through a forest, climbing a mountain, or riding a bike will stir creative juices. Not all those ideas will be good, but some will be. It is imperative to write your thoughts down or record them in a note-taking app on your phone. Otherwise, you will forget them.
By referring to these notes, new ideas for photography appear.
Inspiration can also come from exploring others' work. Looking at photos can give ideas that you can build upon. I am not suggesting just 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 mentioned that we should photograph what we know. However, we can soon run out of ideas. As a seascape photographer, I love being alone on the beach in all weather. Setting up the camera to capture that moment evokes an extraordinarily special feeling and embeds a great memory. Each new image is an advancement of what I have taken before. But sometimes, I get the "done that, got the t-shirt" feeling. It's then that I decide to do something entirely different. Sometimes, just going to a different environment can both motivate and inspire.
Recently, I had a string of clients asking to learn about abstract photography. It's strange how it works like that when different people ask for the same thing entirely coincidentally. That was lucky for me, as it inspired me to go back and shoot abstracts. The world seems to work like that: things come our way, arriving at precisely the right time.
Photography is so often a solitary pursuit. Nevertheless, getting together with other photographers allows us to bounce ideas off one another. You must 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 time to read about photography can both motivate and inspire you, too. Books are expensive, and e-readers don't show photos to the same standard as a quality print on paper. However, secondhand bookshops often have photography books on their shelves for a fraction of the original selling price. I've found some real gems this way, and my bookshelves above my computer are bulging with old photography books.
Music is another source of inspiration. Whether it's rocking along to Queen, listening to the surreal lyrics of Bob Dylan, or relaxing to a Chopin nocturne, the imagery evoked by music can bring ideas and feelings that you can translate into a photograph. Other art forms can also work similarly; a Caravaggio painting first got me experimenting with low-key chiaroscuro images.
I also set targets for myself. It's tempting to have a big goal, and it's rewarding to achieve that. However, setting smaller objectives that are easier to reach boosts my sense of achievement and helps me to move on to the next task, especially if I reward myself with each success. I move a little money into a different account, saving for buying the next lens.
Fear is a significant motivational barrier for many people. Everyone, from beginners to professionals, has expressed terror at publishing their work in a gallery or on social media. I guess it is like stage fright. The only way to overcome that is to do it anyway. What's the worst that can happen?
Finally, to overcome my lack of motivation, I schedule my photography. I write appointments in my diary to take photos, and I commit to keeping them. Inviting someone else along means that I must turn up.
Do you have any secret tips or tricks to help motivate or inspire yourself to take photos? It would be great to hear about them in the comments.