Getting Out of a Creative Rut
Every photographer experiences creative burnout. Especially these days, when we seem to be submerged in a sea of images – it can seem that everything has been done, that we are surrounded by clichés, that everything looks the same. And in some sense, that’s true. We sift through more images every day than we used to. Instagram and Facebook are a part of our image-saturated lives. When I’ve experienced these periods of creative distress, I’ve made a point of doing a few things to help jumpstart me creatively and get me thinking outside the box for some creative inspiration. Reinvigorating your creative practice by focusing on personal work outside of your commercial business can really bring back inspiration to your photography. Here’s some of the things I do when I’m stuck and know I want to break new ground creatively.
Look at Paintings & Sculpture
I find it eye-opening to look for inspiration in mediums other than photography. And so when I’m feeling creatively overwhelmed looking at the grid of endless images on Instagram, I might turn to looking into other mediums where beauty resides. I always get inspired going to a museum, walking past the painted centuries of landscapes & portraiture. I’ll often take a few notes, so I can keep track of what appealed to me. There’s lighting & posing techniques you’ll see all through the history of painting that can be interesting to bring into your photography practice.
I’ve always found inspiration in cinema. The thing that’s great about looking at movies for inspiration is that stories are told through the images, much like photography. Seeing the techniques of different auteur film directors helps to refresh the creative eye. For instance, watching a Wes Anderson or Ingmar Bergman film might give me some very different ideas for how to approach shooting locations or intimate relationships. Ultimately when you’re creatively blocked you just want to see things in a new way – and I find that going to the movies gets me out of a rut very quickly.
Here’s an exercise I sometimes do. Choose a song that you feel goes well with your photography aesthetic. Sit down, listen to the track with your eyes closed. Let the images flow behind your eyelids. After the song is over, write down what you saw. Usually the story images will be abstract, dreamlike. Now, keeping that in mind, go out and shoot some images that match the tone of the song and your visual inspiration.
Explore a New Neighborhood
Head to a new part of town, a neighborhood you haven’t been to. Now go ahead and explore the neighborhood with your camera. What stories are there? What is the vibe of the neighborhood? If the neighborhood was personified, who would it look like? How can you tell the story of this neighborhood in a way that you’ve never photographed a location before?
Find New Techniques
Make a list of the techniques you see in the work of fashion photographers. What are some of the things they’re doing that you never think to do? Try working with some of those new techniques on a shoot.