Get Out of That Photographic Rut. There are times when photographers draw blanks when it comes to the productive process of creating a photo, either through the lack of inspiration, passion, or imagination. I like to call it the photographic “rut,” or a state of mind that causes photographers to shoot pictures, not photographs, yes, there is a difference. So, I’ve decided to share some photography tips that can help you stay out of this rut.
1. Create a “graveyard” photo album in your smart phone to store photos or ideas when you stumble onto something, some place, or just some other artists idea in your normal everyday life, capture it with your camera phone then place it in that album for future reference. Yes, artists often are inspired by other artists, the key here is to take what you captured and refine it to your photography style, don’t steal the original concept.
2. Make a list of things that catch your eye, whether it’s s catchy phrase, quote, or comment you hear, read or stumble upon. I love to do this on my iPhone in the “Notes” application. While item number one above is a visual reference, your notes are a written reference. Both are helpful if you find yourself in a photographic rut.
3. Often when I’m bored, I play music off my iPhone. Most photographers know music relaxes models during a photo shoot, but many forget that music in itself is very inspirational especially if you listen to the lyrics, not just the beat. It’s not uncommon that the lyrics tell a story, as great music comes from passion and like photographers, musicians are artists too. Artists inspire other artists.
4. Go after one or two rules of photography, such as the “Rule of Thirds,” or “The Angle of Incidence Equals the Angle of Reflection” and focus on perfecting that rule. Once you’ve perfected the rule in various scenarios, then learn how to break that rule effectively for impact.
5. Focus on one specific lighting technique. My favorite is Rembrandt lighting. Try to create Rembrandt lighting with both natural and artificial light sources. Again, place your subject in different scenarios for a variety of artistic challenges. Think of it as an assignment with a deadline.
6. Have an open mind about things, not a closed-minded attitude. A great way to look at this is to ask yourself, questions — open-ended questions. Close-ended questions result in only “yes” or “no” answers while open-ended questions require an explanation. It’s in these explanations that you’ll start to form ideas, or photographic concepts. As an example, don’t ask yourself, “Is the sky blue today,” instead ask yourself, “How can I change the color or saturation of the sky?”
7. If you’re not into iPhones, iPads, or some smart digital device, then carry a traditional note pad, the kind that fits in your pocket or pocket book. That note pad not only becomes your analog graveyard file, but it’s your creative sourcebook, so keep it for creative topics and ideas only.
8. Just get away. Start driving down roads that have no yellow or white lines. Make notes in your graveyard file, stop and take photos along the way, perhaps you’ll stumble upon some future shooting location you didn’t know existed. If that doesn’t work, go see a movie. Movies are created by artists too and often spark creative ideas. In fact, study the cinematic style of the movie. If that doesn’t work, then read a magazine at Starbucks. The basic idea, get away from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and your computer.
9. Feeling tired during this boredom or rut? Then break out your latest brew of tea or coffee, sometimes that caffeine jolt can do the trick. And if you don’t drink coffee like me, then Red Bull does wonders, though I seriously doubt you’ll grow wings, but it will jump start your day.
10. Call someone. You don’t need a quarter anymore as practically everyone has a cell phone, just go down your contact list until someone answers the phone. Heck, sometimes reliving memories with people in your contact list can create an inspirational spark.
11. Get a bunch of photographers or creative people together. It’s often said to surround yourself with successful people if you want your own success, well in artistic genres, creative passion and ideas often flow when a group of artists hang out together — musicians often do jam sessions, why not do a photographic jam — everyone shoots the same subject and compares their work to get it perfect. Learning from each other is the objective beneath the inspirational goal.
12. While it’s not easy, find a “muse.” A muse is someone that inspires you. Trade time for photographs — don’t confuse this with models that do “time for prints.” A muse is a consistent subject, someone that works with you frequently on ideas and projects, including joint, self-promotional projects for each other’s portfolios. Muses do exist and sometimes they find you first.
13. We often start projects we never finish — I’m very guilt of that one. So, find your project or project you never finished and get on with it. There is no better time than like the day you’re feeling uninspired. A word of caution, don’t force it, just do it with an attitude of pride.
14. Scour the Internet, look at other photographer’s online portfolios. I’m sure you’ve stumbled across something so brilliant, but yet so simple and said to yourself, “Why didn’t I think about that, it’s so simple?”
15. Pick a word out of the dictionary and create an idea around it. As an example, I knew a photographer once that was assigned to photograph an accountant for a financial magazine and rather than just making a traditional portrait, he purchased raw beans and made a mound of them flowing right up to the subject’s desktop. The concept, accountants are often referred to as “bean counters.” Want to know what I asked myself when I saw his amazing image? You guessed it, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
16. Go to your local bookstore, especially if you’re not using an iPad, purchase a few photography magazines, including those from other countries, then take them home and flip through them. There are always photography tips, ideas and inspirational articles that you could focus on for a photographic self-assignment.
17. Find an animal to photograph. If it’s not your own pet, then go to the zoo. Animals don’t require model releases and they will almost always do something funny. This keeps your hand-eye-mind coordination sharp as you’ll have to capture them as they move. I’ve written about this in a few of my books and call it “Quick Reaction Timing,” or QRT. In the U.S. Army, we had to qualify with our weapons every year to keep our shooting skills sharp, it’s no different with photographers, you’ve got to shoot, shoot, shoot.
18. Force yourself to use only one lens. This teaches you to “see” the world in one perspective—a different perspective than normal, thus helping exercise your mind photographically.
19. Stop and brainstorm. As ideas come to your mind, write them down. Break out that yellow pad or your smart phone notes application and just write ideas down as they come. Don’t worry about correct spelling or grammar as these are “bullet” thoughts. Take your bullet idea and fire it through your lens barrel.
20. If any of the above photography tips aren’t helping you get out of a rut, then go through your photos on your computer, pick one that you felt didn’t quite have the “oomph” to it, then play with it in Adobe® Lightroom, export it into Adobe® Photoshop, then use filters like those from Nik Software and do some manipulation, or as I like to call it, digital deviations.
Now these are just 20 photography tips that hopefully will inspire your creative mind should you ever experience that photographic rut. Mark my words, every photographer that takes photography serious will find that rut someday in their lifespan — just don’t let it discourage you, act upon it passionately with determination.