Editor's note: My Lightroom Classic articles have moved to my new website Mastering Lightroom. Visit the store and get 20% off any ebook or ebook bundle with the code ml20 (valid until midnight October 21). Thanks for reading, Andrew.
It’s a paradox of today’s photography that it’s easier than ever to produce perfect images, yet it’s harder than ever to produce superb images. We could be intimidated by today’s deluge of photography. Together, we produce over a trillion and a half images every year. Add the pressures of modern life and it’s not surprising if we feel our creativity is blocked.
Unblocking photographic creativity
Let’s look at four scenarios that many suffer from and for which I’ll offer remedies. Let’s see which ones work for you!
1. Seeking inspiration
Here’s the problem: you feel little or no excitement about any ideas or projects. Nothing seems to fire you up.
My guess: you’re running low on creative gas; you need a re-fill.
Without regular input of fresh ideas and visual stimuli you steadily deplete your store of knowledge, images and ideas. And by input, I don’t mean scanning pictures on Flickr. What works best is measured, and allowed to soak in. So I encourage you to read voraciously – it can be fiction, or fantasy or non-fiction, history or plays.
The aim here is to soak yourself in ideas that are unfamiliar to you, Or one that you have neglected for some time. This takes you into a new landscape of feelings and thoughts, and this usually has the magical effect of recharging your creative batteries.
You refresh by taking in art that you do not normally consume.
2. Drawing a blank
OK, this sounds like a serious problem. You have no ideas at all. That’s it. Zilch. Nada. Zero. ничтo.
As with any activity, you become more creative the more you practice working at being creative. You may need to overcome an internal censor telling you that your ideas are inadequate, simplistic, or that it’s been done before. So, actually, if you think about it – looking into yourself trying to deal with this – you are likely to see that it’s not that you don’t have any ideas. It’s that a little voice says ‘Boring!’ or ‘That’s been done, and done to death!’ or ‘That’s so weak’.
It is often down to a mind-set: a disposition that you hold that expects certain outcomes from any situation or anything that you might do. And that mind-set is one that is holding you back. One mind-set that gets in the way is that you’re not able to come up with anything new, anything worthwhile.
One way is to work on changing your mind-set, which is your beliefs about yourself and your abilities. One trick is to exploit the power of conscious intention.
Try this. As you go fall asleep, tell yourself ‘Tomorrow morning, I’ll have an idea or two. I will welcome them. I will thank them for showing themselves to me. In gratitude for their appearance, I will write them down.’
Then picture yourself waking up, with these ideas floating down to you. You think this is a bit kooky, a bit crazy? Well, let me tell you it works. It’s how I tackle hard-to-write sections when working on my books.
3. Lacking focus
Now this next one is arguably a good problem to have – if you have to have any problems at all. What you have are lots of ideas but you can’t settle on any of them.
One reason for not committing is the mindset that says you need always to be fully and properly prepared. But you know that you’ll never have all the facts you need. Google all you like, read up, speak to all the experts worldwide and you’ll still be missing crucial data that could make or fail any project.
To find focus for your energy, it’s always valuable to show your work to others, to share your ideas. If you don’t find support, you can change direction, or you can steam ahead. Whatever you choose, you are choosing! And that’s the first step. The rest is up to you.
Remember it’s not necessary to work at only one idea at a time. It’s possible, sometimes a good thing, to work on several projects at once. They can be at different stages of development, and take advantage of different circumstances. For example, one outdoor project needs good weather. On bad weather days, you can work on a indoor project.
4. Journaling or how to pickle ideas
Journaling is something that opens the doors to a whole new world for some…or it just leads down the garden path to the compost pit for others. That’s the truth of it. Journalling works better for some than for others.
Many creativity programs stress the importance of keeping a journal of ideas, but my teaching experience shows that its usefulness varies with the user, and it ranges from pointless to essential. Some like to write and never refer to the journal ever again, but the process of writing helps preserve ideas in some form. Some don’t like to write, it’s a chore for them and they never fill even a thin exercise book. But these same people don’t mind scribbling on the back of envelopes, use the flip side of old photo-copies or even theatre tickets. That’s cool too.
But if you’re not familiar with keeping notes of any kind, either in a journal or bag of bits of paper, it’s a habit worth trying out.
But a creative journal goes beyond this: it not only helps you remember your random thoughts, but the act of jotting down these thoughts can help stimulate more thinking, changing the flavor or direction of the initial thought. The act of writing helps focus attention and dig more out of the mind that may be at the surface. That’s a truly crucial advantage of journaling.
Furthermore writing down all the ideas so you don’t forget them gives them a greatly extended life; they may come in useful years later (hence my flippant title about pickling ideas: you preserve them for later use).
Enjoy a burst of creative flow!
The Creative Photographer
Learn how to be a more creative, productive and artistic photographer with our popular ebook The Creative Photographer.