Thanks to the pandemic many of us don’t have the freedom to travel and explore that we used to. Some of us may have more spare time than we normally do, but the irony is that it can be harder to find inspiration and interesting subjects when you can’t get out as much as normal. So I thought it would be helpful to put together four creative exercises to help you rediscover your photographic mojo.
Of course, you can turn to these any time you’re feeling uninspired or even bored. Each exercise helps you find something new and interesting to photograph. They’re designed to get you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to learn new skills. All you need to get started is a willingness to experiment and try new things.
Creative photography exercise #1: Find a new subject
All photographers have favorite subjects they’re accustomed to working with and others that they photograph rarely, if at all.
For example, perhaps you have spent many years perfecting the art of landscape photography, but have never tried close-up photography.
Part of the challenge of photographing a new subject is that it makes you learn new skills, or learn to use familiar equipment in different ways. You may not even need any extra gear – just the desire and drive to learn a new skill.
If the landscape photographer in the earlier example decided to take up close-up photos, he would have to learn the following:
- How to use extension tubes, close-up lenses or macro lenses to get closer to the subject.
- How to manage depth of field.
- Which light is best for close-up photos.
- How to find interesting subjects for close-up photography.
- How to do more advanced techniques like focus stacking.
Mastering these five points alone could keep you busy for a long time.
Take it to the next level
Once you’ve found a new subject ask yourself the question, “How can I take this to the next level?”
For instance, let’s say you wanted to try some close-up photography.
The obvious approach is to find some pretty flowers to photograph. It’s an easy way to get started even if you can’t travel far because you can buy flowers from a florist or a supermarket at any time of the year.
But once you’ve done this, what next? You can start by going online and looking at what other photographers are doing. For example, photographer Anne Belmont photographs flowers with Lensbaby lenses, Mo Devlin photographs frozen flowers and Jill Wellham makes cyanotypes of botanical subjects. That’s three directions you could go in right there. And that’s before you even start thinking about other potential subjects.
Creative photography exercise #2: Find new light
Let’s say you like making close-up photos in natural light. You like to make photos outside or indoors using window light. You prefer soft light to direct sunlight.
If this is you, it’s time to start thinking about what other types of light you could use.
Could you shoot in direct sunlight? That might not work for flowers, but what about other subjects like rusted metal surfaces, cacti or cutlery? Or could you use artificial light indoors instead of daylight?
For example, I recently bought an LED ringlight that I’ve been using to create photos like this one.
You can apply this to any genre of photography. Think about the type of light you prefer to work in, and then change it around by trying something different. The idea is to take yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Creative photography exercise #3: Use the wrong lens
Earlier in the year I wrote about why picking your favorite images from last year is such a helpful exercise. Another benefit of this exercise is that it highlights the lenses you prefer to use for your favorite subjects. What happens if you try something different?
The idea here is to use the wrong lens for the job, or at least a lens you’re not accustomed to using.
Imagine, for example, that you are a photographer who only ever uses telephoto lenses to shoot portraits. What happens if you use a wide-angle lens instead? How can you make it work?
Or lets say that you’re a close-up photographer with a macro lens. What about using a lensbaby instead? I made this photo with a Lensbaby Sol 45 with a +4 diopter close-up lens.
Again, you can apply this idea to any genre of photography. For example, do you normally use wide-angle lenses for landscape photography? What happens if you use a standard or telephoto lens instead? How does this affect the way you see the subject? This is the type of photo you could start making once you look at a narrow view rather than a wide one.
Creative photography exercise #4: New life experiences
Sometimes new subjects emerge as your life takes a different direction. My son was born a little over three years ago. As a result I now have hundreds of baby and child photos. I even wrote a short ebook about photographing kids. Before he was born I had no interest in photographing children.
New hobbies or life experiences can introduce you to new and interesting photographic subjects. So, if you’re stuck for inspiration, how about having some new life experiences? Depending on your personal circumstances, there are lots of options. For example, you might be able to take up a new hobby that gets you mixing with other people and seeing new places.
But if you’re not in a position to do that right now, you can look at more local possibilities. Perhaps you have a garden, but aren’t a keen gardener. If so, maybe now is the time to start. There are lots of flowers you can plant that will grow quickly and give you something to photograph in a few months time.
Or maybe you’d like to learn to cook or bake. You can easily combine cooking and baking with photography.
You may be wondering why I’ve finished with an idea that isn’t easy to put into action straight away. The idea is to get you to think about the direction your life is going in as well as your photography. It’s also helpful to come up with ideas and make plans for when the pandemic is over.
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