How often to do you pick up your camera and head out for an afternoon of shooting around your hometown, only to return with a still-empty memory card, and dashed hopes?
For most photographers, this is guaranteed to happen at some point. For some hobbyists, it might even be the point at which they decide photography simply isn't "for them," which is truly unfortunate.
So, how do you avoid such a creative stalemate? How do we as amateurs and professionals alike keep a constant flow of imaginative ideas going, so we always have a bevy of ideas to pick from? We escape.
Escaping, getting away. Getting outside. Seeing new places. Doing new things, even if they aren't at all related to photography. All of these help stir the creative pot. It really is easier than you might imagine. There's no minimum amount of time, it doesn't need to cost money, and the returns will always be worth it.
Now, when considering things to do, you also have to consider when it might, or might not be beneficial to to bring your camera along. Carrying a camera, or sometimes even having one available to us in a nearby backpack can be both a blessing and a curse. Sure, you might be able to get a fantastic photo should the opportunity arise, but you might also spend more time straining your creative muscles, rather than letting them relax and unwind for a bit.
Here's some ideas on what you can do to escape:
- Go camping for the weekend
- Drive/bike/walk to a place you've never been to before
- Read a new book
- Sit in a park and watch the people go by
- See a play at your local performing arts center
- Watch a movie, old or new
- Visit a dog park, play with the pups
- Go to a bar with fellow photographers or friends, many studies have shown light consumption of certain alcoholic beverages (such as beer) to promote creativity
- Visit a state or national park for the afternoon, drive or hike
- Go outside in weather you normally wouldn't
- Exercise, it too has been shown to promote creativity
- Go out and eat some food you normally wouldn't
- Take a nap. It might seem counter intuitive, but personally some of my best ideas have come while dreaming in one form or another
- Head to an outdoor market
- Visit a local gallery or museum, but be careful with this one. Don't look for ideas, else you simply end up copying someone else. Instead, look for the message behind someone's photography, look for their personality and reflect on how it compares to your own. You'd be surprised how well this yields new creative direction.
These are just a few examples, the list is limited only by your own imagination. You might find something at simply works time and time again, or you might need to continuously mix it up.
Personally, I enjoy short road trips or biking to my local Arboretum here in Davis, CA. Walking through orchards or day hikes has always been a reliable source of inspiration, often providing insight into photographic concepts I would have never thought of before. Some of my best photos routinely come to mind in the most unlikely of locations.
Lastly, when you get that photographic idea that pops into your head, that rush of creativity and curiosity at what your image might become, don't sweat the small stuff! Nothing ruins a perfectly good concept more than burying it under a mountain of "how would I?" and "I don't have the gear for that" statements. The most important thing at this point is to simply write down your idea, and leave it at that. It is for this reason that no matter what, I always carry a notebook in which I can scribble down ideas (sometimes even draw out photos) as soon as they come to mind.
Inspiration is a fickle thing. Place yourself in an environment that fosters creativity, and be ready to capture it when the moment comes.