Four Ways to Unblock Your Photographic Creativity

Four Ways to Unblock Your Photographic Creativity

Editor's note: This month only – check out our brand new Creative Assignment Cards (all 250 of them) for just $19! Click here to learn more. Thanks for reading, Andrew.

All photographers run into times when it’s hard to be creative. Sometimes it’s difficult to find inspiration, or something new and interesting to photograph.

The good news is that there are steps you can take that help you rediscover the creative muse and unblock your photographic creativity. I have four ideas that I’m going to share with you in this article.

The last one in particular is very powerful.

1. Get creative with new equipment

I understand that not everybody can afford to buy new equipment. And that some readers will be looking for tips that don’t involve spending money. But there’s no getting away from the fact that sometimes what you really need to reinvigorate your creativity is new gear.

I’m a firm believer that you should only upgrade a camera when you’ve outgrown its capabilities, or need a better tool.

My suggestion refers to other equipment, such as lenses.

Lenses are important. They are like the eye of your camera. A new lens gives you a new way of seeing.

For example, a few years ago I bought a Lensbaby Edge 50 Optic lens. This unusual lens is a bit like a short telephoto (on my APS-C camera) tilt-shift lens. I’ve spent hours playing with it, exploring the unusual effect it gives you.

Other lenses I’ve bought that have helped me see things in a new way are an 8mm fisheye, a 14mm fisheye and a 100mm macro.

There are a few photos from the Edge 50 below.

How to unblock photographic creativity
How to unblock photographic creativity
How to unblock photographic creativity

Another example, if you just have zoom lenses, is to buy a prime lens with a wide aperture, such as a 50mm f1.8. Use it wide open and see what you can do with the bokeh. Again, it’s about giving yourself a new way of seeing as inspiration to take new photos.

This is one of the first photos that I made with a 50mm prime lens.

How to unblock photographic creativity

Do you have an old camera body that you don’t use any more? Then why not have it converted to infrared? I don’t like color infrared, but it works beautifully for black and white.

How to unblock photographic creativity

Learn more: Why I Did an Infrared Conversion to My X-Pro 1 Camera

Buying a drone is yet another example, as it gives you another viewpoint of the world that could be all you need to kickstart your creativity.

This isn’t just about buying new gear for the sake of it. There’s something a little deeper going on.

Buying (or borrowing or hiring) new equipment gives you a challenge. It pushes you to learn new techniques, and not settle for the knowledge you already have.

It makes you think, and is an excellent antidote for boredom.

2. Learn creative new developing techniques

You can also get creative with photos you have already taken. You’ll need to learn how to use your developing software in new ways.

Experimenting is an ideal rainy day or winter activity. It’s quite nice to settle down with some good music and play with developing in the long winter evenings.

Here are some ideas on how to do that.

  • Download or create some Develop Presets for Lightroom Classic.
  • Learn to emulate the style of other photographers. Find the work of a photographer you like who develops their photos in a distinctive style, and see if you can figure out how to do it in Lightroom Classic (or your software of choice).
  • Download the trial version of a Lightroom Classic plugin or two and see if the new software gives you different tools and a new way of developing your photos.
  • Learn new techniques by reading photography books and articles or watching videos.

For example, I developed this photo in the DxO FilmPack plugin. It allowed me to experiment with texture overlays, something that you can’t do in Lightroom Classic.

How to unblock photographic creativity

Another use for plugins is to emulate analog printing processes, like cyanotype. If you have a printer, you can then print out the photos onto a good quality textured paper. You’ll be surprised at the quality of results you can get, and how satisfying it is to make a fine art print. Here’s a cyanotype I created in the Exposure X plugin.

Black and white cyanotype

3. Go to new places

I once read a book on writing in which the author said that it’s important, as a writer, to put yourself in a new environment at least once a week. Being somewhere new heightens the senses and makes you more aware of details you might miss in places you are already familiar with.

The same applies to photography. It’s helpful to plan your year so that you can visit new places. The most obvious example is going on vacation, during which you can hopefully build in some time for photography.

But you can also think about days out and short breaks to places that are relatively close to where you live, but you normally don’t get to see.

For example, here in the UK my wife and I purchased a membership which gives us access to historical buildings and natural landscapes owned or cared for by the National Trust.

It’s been a great investment as it’s encouraged us to go out and explore nearby its properties and the surrounding areas.

I made these photos at a National Trust property in Cornwall.

How to unblock photographic creativity
How to unblock photographic creativity

4. Start new creative photography projects

If there’s just one idea that you act on in this article it should be this one – start working on photography projects.

Projects give you a reason to go out with your camera. They are also a great reason to get in contact with people you might like to photograph and ask if they would be interested in taking part.

Projects can be grand, complex and expensive. A good example is the Jimmy Nelson’s Before They Pass Away – a project that involved traveling to remote locations across the world to photograph tribespeople.

But they can also be as simple as photographing flowers in your own backyard, like photographer Mandy Disher does.

An even simpler idea is to start a project exploring different ways you can develop your photos. Earlier I mentioned the idea of using the Exposure X plugin to emulate the cyanotype process. That’s something you could turn into a project. How many of your old photos would look good converted to a cyanotype? You never know where this might lead to. You might decide to the cyanotype process itself. Need some inspiration? Search Instagram for “cyanotype” and see what comes up.

Here’s are a couple more examples of old photos developed in Exposure X using cyanotype emulation presets.

Black and white cyanotypes

Further reading

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About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer with a camera. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He lives in south Devon in the UK and is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.

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