As creatives, we often get into situations when inspiration runs dry and we just don’t feel the drive to make anything. Or, we have an idea in mind, but we just don’t know how to execute it. This is when the power of finding inspiration and doing research comes in!
There is a wealth of information on this topic, and my aim with this article is to help you narrow it down to a nice bulleted list you can pull out on a rainy day. Here are my five best tips to get inspired.
1. Continually consume content – and not just on social media.
While social media is a great tool to explore other photographer’s work, it is definitely not the only way! Look at blogs, newspapers, magazines, art, music, movies, travel, nature; the options are endless. Consuming artwork, stories, and experiences in alternative mediums from photography is one of the best ways to strike up new inspiration. Pinterest is also an amazing tool for finding inspiration and can lead you to new destinations.
Start a folder and a list of things that inspire you – whether it’s other photographers work, art, movies, music, you name it. Have a folder on your computer to store visual references of things that you find beautiful and interesting, or just things you are motivated by. This is a valuable tool to come back to when you need it, especially when your creativity isn’t having the best day.
Having a folder of visual inspiration on my desktop has saved me on multiple occasions, when I needed ideas for upcoming photo shoots, or when I was building my portfolio. Inspiration can come from anywhere, so my folder contains photos of everything from clothes that I liked to places that I want to travel to.
A moodboard is an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc. intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept. A moodboard visually represents your idea and communicates it to your client and or/team. It can also serve as a tool for yourself to narrow down your creative idea and make it concise and clear. Whether you are a professional photographer or not, making moodboards can be incredibly valuable to visually bring an idea to fruition. In commercial and editorial photography, a moodboard can also be called a “treatment” or a deck, and it communicates the look, mood, feel, as well as style choices and technical considerations to everyone involved.
- Your idea becomes clear and concise outside of your own mind. Your client and creative team can all be on the same page.
- Allows others to understand the vision you need to execute.
- Determines what other preparations need to be made during pre-production such as lighting equipment, location scouting, model casting, styling, etc.
- Creates a stepping off point for the actionable tasks that need to happen to bring your vision to life.
- A moodboard sets you up for success and encourages you to plan with intention.
- A moodboard gives you direction and steers you to stay “on brand.”
- A moodboard helps show others your ideas and makes the planning process run smoothly.
Why are moodboards useful?
A moodboard is a useful tool to help bring your ideas to life. When I’m feeling stuck creatively, I start with a photo that’s inspiring to me, and search for anything similar. Starting a moodboard can act as the spark to get you started, that fuels the creative process. For example, I found a photo of a really beautiful beach, with white sand, tall green grasses, and a perfectly light blue sky. The energy of this image stuck with me, and so I set out to find other images that evoked the same serene, calming mood. Through searching on Pinterest and in my inspiration folder, I found a collection of images that stood out to me and encompassed the look, mood, feel I was going for. This whole process builds inspiration and helped develop an idea, from just one image that caught my eye. It’s a fun process that can help you bring an idea to life.
Moodboards come in all shapes and sizes, there are no rules! Some moodboards, especially for a commercial brand photo shoot, might include visual references for model casting, posing, hair and makeup, lighting, set design, etc. Some moodboards will just evoke a look or a feeling that you are hoping to achieve in your photo shoot. Things to consider when building your moodboard include visual examples of light, colors, textures, location, model casting, props, styling, and post-processing. This process is very helpful for personal development because it can help you understand what you are drawn to as a creative, and help you find your style. Moodboarding is a great way to get your ideas out of your brain and on paper (so to speak).
3. Mix it up!
Here are a few ideas:
Shoot with a prime lens! Rent or borrow a prime lens (like a 35mm, 50mm, or 85mm) that you don’t usually shoot with. Shoot with this lens (and this lens only!) for a few weeks. It will force you to change your perspective and see things differently and gets you out of your comfort zone. Shooting with a new lens can open your mind to seeing things differently, and will inspire you to shoot from new angles, new places, and new perspectives.
Bring your camera somewhere you wouldn’t usually bring it (Work, the grocery store, on a walk, at a library, etc.) Sometimes you can find inspiration in the most unlikely places. Try carrying your camera with you everywhere you go for a week, and you’ll find something interesting and inspiring by the end of the week. Maybe there’s some amazing afternoon sunlight that streams across your desk at work, or maybe there’s an opportunity to document the restocking process at your local grocery store. You may come across an interesting interaction on a street corner, or maybe there’s some wildlife in your neighborhood that you’ve never observed before. When you go about your week from the perspective of a photographer, you’ll notice light, shapes, lines, and special moments that usually go unnoticed in your day-to-day life.
Do a photography project: Maybe take a photo a day! Sometimes coming out of a creative rut and feeling inspired again comes from challenging yourself to do something new! Try starting a photography project, and commit to it for at least a week. You could shoot a photo a day for 30 days, or try using prompts to get inspired by ordinary things in your everyday life. These longer term projects can build into something unexpected, or can teach you about your own creative process. It can show you what you like to shoot, or more likely, what you don’t like to shoot, which is very valuable to know. Projects can open up new doors to subjects, lighting scenarios, colors, shapes, or textures that you didn’t even know existed until you look at them through your lens.
4. Emulate your photography idols
- Mimic a shoot you admire: Ever seen a photo that just blows you away? Try to recreate it! This can be so much fun and will kick off some creativity in unexpected ways. Exercising a different creative muscle than usual is so helpful in finding new inspiration.
- Mimic an editing style: Study photos that inspire you and try to mimic the colors and tones you see. Play with the highlights, the shadows, the color of the light, and the lightness and darkness. Understanding how to mimic another style can help give you more freedom when editing your own work.
- Mimic a pose: Good photographers build up a library of poses in the back of their minds to use during photo shoots. By trying new ones, you add to the potential ways your shoot could turn out. Try to mimic a pose you saw, then do variations of that and take the pose to the next level! Then try shooting it from an unexpected angle, like from far away, from above; and see how creative you can get!
- Mimic a lighting scenario: Sometimes we see photos that are so intriguing but we don’t quite know why. It’s usually because of the lighting and how it highlights the subject. Light is everything! Take a photo that you love and try to mimic the way it’s lit. Check for cues in the photo that can clue you in to how to start – what do the shadows look like? Is it soft light or hard light? Is it natural light or artificial light? Did they use a flash? Check for a catchlight in the subjects’ eye, or look for any reflections that can give you an idea of the lighting scenario. This whole process is very educational and gives you the knowledge you will need to create what you envision. We tend to not challenge ourselves to shoot in lighting scenarios that are less than ideal or take us out of our comfort zone, but sometimes it can be a huge learning experience.
Remember: Everyone sees differently. How you photograph something is uniquely different to how another person sees it. This exercise is for educational purposes and not at all suggesting you copy someone else’s work. However, picking apart how a photo was made is a great way to spark inspiration and teaches you how to create different scenarios that will expand your knowledge and grow your skills as a photographer.
5. Thinking like a storyteller / Curating a story
Storytelling is a great way to build on inspiration and bring it to life in your photographs. What makes photography such a compelling form of art is that everyone sees through their own lens (photography pun!). There could be three photographers shooting the same scene and all three of them will be inspired by different things and take different photos. Storytelling can be so inspiring because it can be so unique to you, your experiences, your perspective.
When you’re shooting an event or want to get your point across with more than one image, start with the mindset of a storyteller. How are you going to photograph what’s in front of you to show an authentic story? When you approach a scene, I encourage you to first take it in without your camera. Look around and take note of what you see, what you feel, what your senses are taking in. This practice can help you to approach your photography with intention in how you capture the story and how you present it. Seeing a story and finding a way to capture it can be such an inspiring process!
When you’re shooting, think about the beginning, middle, and end of your story. What will be your opening shot that encompasses the idea you are trying to get across? What are the supporting elements? How will the closing image bring the story together? Just some questions to ask yourself when you are building a story.
Approach the scene with the intention of shooting a variety of shots. In order to show your beginning, middle, and end, you’ll need to capture different perspectives, angles, and views of the scene. Often times, storytelling includes the following types of shots:
When you start to think like a storyteller and shoot with story in mind, you can discover a whole new way of working with your medium and building more impactful art.
With these five tips in mind, I hope you can go forth and make your photos with intention. Hopefully these ideas sparked some inspiration for you to open a new door, get out of your comfort zone, and create something unexpected. Literally every single creative person struggles to find inspiration at some point; you are not alone. It’s a process, and all of these tips can help open your mind to the possibilities.
Make art, and don’t forget to have fun!