How to stay creative in photography

It is always a challenge to stay creative in photography, when as photographers we tend to go to the same places all the time, taking the same pictures, using the same equipment.

As landscape photographers especially we get (the wrong) idea by looking at photography magazines that “true landscape photography” can only be done in the Southwest in the famous National Parks. Of course this notion is not true because here in the Northeast we have many beautiful places.

Here are some ideas that may be helpful in staying creative in photography:

  1. Use only one lens with one focal length for a week. If you don’t have a single focal length lens (prime lens), put some tape over the zoom ring of your lens to temporarily fix it to one focal length. A couple weeks ago I noticed I was using almost exclusively a 90 mm macro lens. To get a different perspective, I switched to a 28 mm wide angle lens.
  2. If you regularly use digital, use film for a while. Digital cameras are a great learning tool because of the instant feedback, but it also tends to make us less careful about the process, because we can quickly fire off another burst of five images without carefully checking the composition. By using film, we need to slow down because we are limited to a maximum of about 36 images, and we can’t get instant feedback on the image. This means that we create a memory of the image and it is sometimes surprising to see how images on film look when we see them after a couple of days. Don’t get me wrong, I like digital photography a lot and I use digital cameras regularly, but I noticed how I shoot differently with film compared to digital.
  3. Go to a place your regularly photograph and make an effort to make a different image. Use a different piece of gear, or a different lens. Try to get a different perspective by getting on the ground for example.
  4. Print some of your favorite images as contact sheet (i.e. 12 images on a letter size sheet), tape it onto a wall and look at it from a distance. How does the color or texture look from a distance? Do the images look similar or dis-similar from a distance?
  5. Look for photography books for inspiration. Now that gear and books all have to be about “digital” photography, there a lots of inexpensive used photography books out there. For creative inspiration, it does not matter how an image was made, whether by film or digital photography.
  6. If you always make images in color, try b/w only for a week. If you use digital photography, do not “cheat” by recording raw files that can be used for color or b/w images. The idea is to be committed to making b/w images only and to “see” in b/w. With color photography, we tend to see color contrast (i.e. the red tomato in the midst of green leaves). For b/w, many colors are rendered the same tone and we need to pay attention to textures, light, and shadow. This will help enormously with color photography, too.
  7. Take your (or a) camera everywhere you go. If you don’t want to or can’t take you camera with you, your cell phone may have a camera built-in. Look for light in places you walk by. How does light throughout the day affect the way a place looks like?
  8. Take some images every day. A musician needs to rehearse every day. Being a visual artist requires the same diligence. Set yourself a goal, i.e. I want to take at least 20 images every day. Look at them, and delete them, if there is nothing worth keeping. (This is the beauty of digital photography.)
  9. Become an expert in places you got to regularly. It helps if the place is easily accessible, so you can go there regularly. Know how the light throughout the day makes the place look. What images can be made on an overcast day?
  10. Print your own work. While fewer and fewer images are printed every year, and with computers we manage information, there is still something beautiful about a printed image. These days a decent photo quality printer can be bought for under $100. It completes the experience of ‘making’ vs. ‘taking’ an image, when it is printed by the photographer.
  11. Before purchasing new equipment, define what features you expect to gain. What features do you gain that your current equipment does not deliver? Is it worth all the associated costs (new spare batteries etc.)? Remember that it is not the gear that takes images, it is the photographer.  To illustrate this point I wanted to add two recent examples of my equipment purchases (a) A couple of months ago I upgraded my DSLR because I wanted to have better high-ISO performance, and I was not disappointed. (b) Shortly afterwards, I was tempted to buy a 6×7 medium format system to upgrade from my 6×4.5 system. After reviewing the image quality and my investment in lenses I decided against it, because my 6×4.5 system provides already more than enough resolution and the 6×4.5 is more compact and more economic with film use than a 6×7 system. Instead I added macro extension rings to my system to extend its capabilities.

I would love to hear your opinion, or to hear what helps you to stay creative in photography. Maybe we can start a discussion.

Thanks for reading,

Lars Waldmann


3 thoughts on “How to stay creative in photography

  1. I want to grow in my photography skills. Lately I do NOT leave the house without my camera. Maybe I will walk over to J. pond each day this week and practice!!!!

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