Finding (or Rediscovering) That Creative Spark
Sometimes, you know what you want to photograph. Sometimes, you don't. If you ever find yourself fresh out of ideas, here are a few ways to spark your creativity.
Everything has its ups and downs. Maybe you've had a lot going on in your life of late. Gosh knows we all have. If you've been away from photography because of circumstances or merely found it weighing on your mind, you may only need to change things up a bit. Here are a few ideas for unblocking your creativity.
At some point, it happens to most of us. Maybe you've been shooting so much you wind up burned out. Perhaps you haven't been shooting enough and need a bit of a push to get back out there. Or maybe you just can't find anything that strikes your fancy one day. It doesn't matter the reason. The result is the same. Good photography is a creative art, and a creative block can get in your way. Fear not. All you need is a bit of inspiration.
Try Mounting a wide-angle lens on your camera. Set it on fully automatic, and hold it close to something. Without looking through the viewfinder, move the camera around aimlessly while occasionally pressing the shutter release. After you've taken what seems like a good number of images, stop and review your results. When something looks interesting, set up your camera on a tripod and explore that idea more seriously. If you didn't end up with anything that looks promising, move on to a different subject and try again.
If you're feeling burned out on ordinary subjects, maybe you'll find something that looks more interesting when seen in a way that isn't so ordinary. With a fisheye lens, explore the world around you, being careful not to trip or run into anything. Get as close as you can to what you encounter. Look up. Look down. The world can look as if seen in a circus fun-house mirror with a wide-angle lens. Go with it. Caution: objects in a fisheye lens are closer than they appear.
Stop trying so hard. Find some place out of the way, perhaps by the side of an infrequently used trail or in the middle of the forest. Just make sure you don't get yourself lost and be respectful of the environment. Sit down and get comfortable. Feel the wind and the sun on you. Don't be in a hurry. When you notice something curious that stands out for you, gently explore it without reaching for your camera yet. Look at it from all angles and get to know it. When you're sure you are ready, set up your camera and create some images that will introduce your viewer to that subject. Let them see what you see. Introduce them to your new friend.
Look for the details. Mount the longest lens you have and scan the area for the small slices of life that easily get lost in the clutter. Zero in on abstract details without regard to what they actually are. Find patterns and shapes, not objects and things. You can do the same thing with closer subjects if you insert an extension tube between your camera and telephoto lens. Even a short tube will allow you to focus closer. Use a tripod to stabilize your rig and see what you can find. Advice: don't settle for objects seen in a telephoto lens being as far away as they are. Let them be more than just in the viewfinder. Let them be here in this moment, with your experience a part of it, too.
Try picking a subject and then photographing it in as many ways as possible. When you think you've exhausted the possibilities, push yourself to find another. And another. When you think you've hit your limit is when creativity strikes. Go beyond your limits.
Lay down on the ground and investigate the private world of macro. If you don't have a macro lens, look into inexpensive ways to get into close-up photography. Teleconverters and diopters (close-up filters) can work well, depending on the lens you intend to mount it on. Macro photography opens up vast landscapes of flora and fauna you probably rarely photograph, if at all. And if you're a professional macro photographer who's stuck in a rut, set aside that close-up lens for a while and try out a different perspective. Landscape photographers can try their hand at wildlife, too, and vice versa. Everybody has old habits that deserve to be disrupted now and then. Just don't ask me to photograph your wedding.
Shoot anything at all, even if it doesn't seem that interesting. If you carefully look at the results, you may surprise yourself. Somewhere in that random jumble of images may be the inspiration you are seeking. When you find the essence, use it as a template. Try to make the best version of that idea you can. Work out where you need to be and how you need to shoot it best. Make a project out of it.
If you normally look through the viewfinder with your right eye, try composing with your left. If you're accustomed to using your left, see what the world looks like with your right. Optic nerves cross over and connect to the opposite hemisphere of the brain from where they started, connecting the right eye to the left and vice versa. Find out what all this left brain/right brain thing is all about. Vision may come from the input our eyes provide, but most ordering and processing happen in our brains. Let this be as a novel experience as if you've never looked through a viewfinder before.
Or, if that's not radical enough for you, try looking through the viewfinder upside down. A tethered monitor will make this a lot easier, but who am I to judge? Whatever sparks your creative genius. Or try squinting so that all you can see are the outlines of light and shadow.
Maybe you just need a good night's sleep? Have something special for dinner and take a break from photography. Relax, and wind down. Things can look different and hopefully better in the morning. Have a little patience. This pursuit of photography is supposed to be fun, after all.