It happens to every photographer, sooner or later. And, usually sooner, as well as later — the well-spring of ideas just seems to dry up and you’re left wondering “What can I take a photo of?”. This happens to everyone. People go through periods of extreme creativity and arid dry spells. Writers call the dry periods “writer’s block”, but it happens regularly to just about everyone who creates — in any medium — writing, painting, music, photography, you name it. What you need is some creative photography ideas for beginners… and pros, alike.
I remember my first gig working for a stock agency — after about just two years of doing it, I hit a major creative block. I needed to keep adding a constant stream of new, fresh photos to my catalog with the agency in order to maintain and build sales so that I could put food on my table. Every day I needed new photos — every day I had to get out there and get ‘something’. After about two years my catalog had grown to well over 5,000 images being handled by the agency. And, it really felt to me as though I had taken photos of just about everything I could take photos of.
I remember getting up in the morning and thinking, and thinking “I need to get some images today! Where am I going to go? What am I going to do to get those photos?”, and just coming up completely blank. I thought about where I could travel to each day that might provide some opportunities for salable photos. But, after two years of working hard and steady, it really, really seemed as though I had literally taken a picture of absolutely everything that could be photographed within a day’s drive from me. It seemed as though getting new photos just couldn’t be done without planning out a days long expedition to some exotic, far away place. And, of course, I couldn’t do that every day.
Of course, it wasn’t true. I hadn’t photographed everything — not even close. I couldn’t — no person could exhaust every, single good photo opportunity that exists within a one-hundred mile radius of them in any human lifetime. A great photographer once said (and, it’s true) that wherever you happen to be standing, there are at least ten good photos waiting to be taken within ten paces from where you are, you just have to learn how to find and see them. And, if that’s true, imagine all the places you could stand just within a twenty minute walk from your house. There’s enough good photo opportunities, just within one-hundred miles of you right now to last more than a lifetime. So, the problem isn’t that there isn’t anything interesting to photograph — the problem is that you’re just in a state where you’re having a hard time recognizing them.
With me, I was just in a rut. I was experiencing the photographer’s equivalent to writer’s block. The opportunities were all around me, but I’d been working so hard for so long that I was burnt out. My creativity had been depleted. It happens.
So, what does one do when one runs out of ideas? What does one do when one runs out of inspiration? What does one do when the fountain of creativity runs dry?
The trick is to find a spark — a small spark of something fresh and new. And, if you can do that, that spark will likely kick-start you back into a creative period and the ideas will start flowing again… until the next time you burn out, of course. And, that’s something to keep in mind — it will happen. Creativity ebbs and flows. It always does. It’s a roller-coaster of sorts — there are high-points, where the ideas come so fast and frequent that you wont be able to keep up with them. And, there are low-points where absolutely everything seems old and stale and done to death, and new ideas just aren’t there — inspiration just isn’t there.
So, learn to roll with it. Don’t stress about it. It’s going to happen — deal with it. Understand and expect that it’s going to happen — that you will go through these creative dry spells — practically everyone does from time to time. And, when they do happen, stop looking for photos to take. Look for a spark that will jar your brain out of creative-dormant mode and kick it back into getting the creative juices flowing again. Look for methods of taking photos of which you’re not currently aware. Try to focus on doing things differently. Try to step outside of what you’re familiar with.
If you’re primarily a landscape photographer, try photographing models — ask family members to sit for you and try and get some good portraits. Or, vice-versa — if you primarily like shooting people, take a drive out through the country, or hike a nature trail and try to get some interesting landscape photos. Do things differently. It doesn’t matter if you have no interest in ever photographing landscapes again, or people, or whatever. The goal is simply to get your brain back into a state where ideas are flowing. And, doing that requires subject your brain to different, unfamiliar things.
Here’s one of the great creative photography ideas for beginners I’ve used in the past when it felt like I had run out of things to photograph. I asked my wife to pick four things entirely at random from our house, our yard, the garage — anywhere on our property. The only stipulation being that the objects she picked must be easily movable/transportable. The idea being that, not knowing what she would pick, I would try to create an interesting still-life from them. Once she had picked them, I could add one more thing to the arrangement — anything at all, of my own choosing. My challenge was to use what she gave me, plus the thing I picked to create as good, interesting and cohesive photograph as possible.
On one of these occasions she brought me an old glass pickle-jar from the garage that was full of old paint-brushes, a hand-carved wooden goblet, a desk lamp and an old cowboy hat. I arranged them on a table in my basement photography studio in a manner which I felt provided an interesting visual composition. I also had, from a previous shoot, a gigantic pile of small, artificial flowers. I picked that pile of flowers as my one thing to add to the photos, and I spread them all over the objects pretty much randomly — so it looked sort of like the mass of different colored flowers had rained down on the table and objects. I lit the scene in a very dynamic chiaroscuro style, and shot the photo.
It was a fairly bizarre and somewhat interesting photo. But, it looked as though, with a little finesse, I could make an even better photo. I began playing with the arrangement of the objects and flowers and adjusting the lighting. I took more photos.
I don’t think anything I ended up getting would win any prestigious photography prizes, or anything, but just doing this got my creative juices flowing again. In thinking about how to adjust things in this photo, it snapped my brain out of its dry-rut. Thinking about adjustments I could make to this photo began sparking ideas for other photos I could take. In working on this bizarre photo-session, I began to see things: “That looks cool — how those flowers, with those colors, fell into that arrangement. What if I brought in a model and placed them that way…” etc., etc.,
Throw a party and invite all your friends. Tell your friends the them is a “weird photography party.” Have food and entertainment, and all the normal party things. But, tell your friends that the theme of the party is to wear the weirdest clothes they’re comfortable wearing. And, in order to attend, they must agree to having their photos taken. Set-up a photography area in your house or apartment, or wherever the party is going to be held. Either pick a space where the party will be that provides an interesting background, or construct a little set using backdrops and set-pieces. You could even just throw-up a length of colored seamless. Or, just hang a muslin backdrop. But, if you can, try to construct something that provides some background interest.
Throughout the night, photograph your party guests one-by-one. Get them alone and in groups. Have a selection of props for them to hold and interact with. Try to make the poses and expressions as weird and humorous as possible. #1) People will love it. They’ll have fun, and have wonderful, goofy photographs to remember the night by. And, #2) it will spark ideas in you an pull you out of your rut. By seeing this going on in front of you — your friends all posing, carrying on and mugging for the camera, the odd wardrobe they’ve chosen to wear, and by working the photographs, you’ll likely notice things — “wouldn’t it be cool if…” And, that’s usually all it takes to bump your brain out of the rut its in and get the stream of creativity flowing once again.
Or, if you’re not used to working with models, hire a professional model and spend a couple of hours just photographing them. Do it in your backyard, your basement, the local park — wherever. Professional models will have a repertoire of poses they go through. Let them know that you have little or no experience photographing models and you usually do other types of photography and you’re currently trying to extend yourself into new territory in order to break out of a rut and expand your photographic chops. Decent, experienced models who aren’t big names are not usually expensive. If there’s nothing too involved about the shoot, and there are no special requirements for the models, $60 to $80 is a fair price for a couple of hours with a good model. And, by working with someone else who knows what they’re doing in an area you’re not familiar with it can bring a lot of freshness and really work to spark ideas.
Go out for a walk around your neighborhood and try your best to get lost. Bring your camera with you. When you come to a choice of turns you can take, take turns you normally don’t take. Take turns at random. Go down alleys and streets you’ve never been down before. All the while that you’re doing this be looking for anything that might make an interesting photograph. Promise yourself that you will not begin to return home until you’ve taken fifty pictures, or one-hundred, or whatever you’d like.
Extend yourself. Do things differently. Sail into unchartered waters. Don’t be afraid to fail — your goal isn’t to make astounding images, it’s to get the creative juices flowing again. If all the pictures you take in so doing turn out to be terrible and boring, who cares? Are you getting new ideas now that you’ve gone through the process of getting those terrible and boring photos? If so, it’s a win, not a fail. You want fresh ideas, so the idea is to do fresh things — doing fresh things will spark fresh ideas.