If you’re struggling for motivation or inspiration, you want to be a more creative photographer, or you just don’t feel that your photos are as good as they could be, then this article is for you!
The reason that some photographers (not to mention artists, writers, and artisans) are so good at what they do is that they understand the creative process. They know where to go to find inspiration, how to develop ideas, and how to take action and turn those ideas into bodies of work.
The solution is to deepen your understanding of the creative process. The process has power, and you can harness it to become a better photographer.
Let’s explore some of these ideas further.
#1 – Gather your influences
An influence is a photographer whose work you admire.
Your influences can include both historical and contemporary photographers from any genre. You might even be influenced by creatives working outside photography, like painters or graphic designers.
Here are some of the reasons that influences are an important part of the creative process.
They show you the possibilities. Let’s say you’re a landscape photographer. Then amongst your influences could be other landscape photographers who do the sort of work that excites and inspires you. Looking at their work motivates you to go out and explore the landscape with your camera.
Earlier in the year, I came across the work of photographer Anne Belmont, who uses Lensbaby optics to make close-up photos of flowers and plants. Her work opened my eyes to possibilities that I hadn’t seen myself and inspired me to try something similar. You can see a couple of photos that I made as a result below.
You can also have different influences for different genres. You don’t have to specialize. You can work in as many different genres as you like. If you enjoy making landscape photos, portraits, and close-up photos then you can have different influences for each of these genres.
You should study your influences well. This is more than just somebody whose work you happen to like or that you follow on Instagram.
That person is a good influence when you’re familiar with their body of work. You know what they’ve done and where they’ve been published. If they have a blog or website, you follow it and keep up to date with their experiences and latest thoughts. You’re interested in the way they think and see as well as their photos.
#2 – Generating ideas
One of the reasons that studying your influences is an important part of the creative process is that it helps you generate ideas. If you get stuck for inspiration, go back to your influences and study their work.
What photos have they made that excite you?
What themes run through their work?
What ideas come to mind as you look at their photos?
If you do this regularly (and make notes) you’ll end up with far more ideas than you can ever put into practice. That’s good because it forces you to curate your collection of ideas to find the ones that suit you best at any given moment.
For example, one of the things I’ve become interested in this year is doing photo collages. I’ve discovered the work of several photographers who do collage, and it’s given me lots of ideas to try out for myself.
Here are a couple of photo collages I’ve made as a result of that process.
Just like my example above, it’s important that you also remember to take an idea and put it into action.
Author James Clear has written about the difference between passive and active inspiration.
Passive inspiration is where you do things like reading articles about photography and looking at the work of other photographers, but don’t do anything about it. You absorb ideas, but you don’t take action.
Active inspiration is where you do something with what you’ve learned or discovered. In photography, it’s about acting on the ideas you generate and making new photos.
Active inspiration leads to long-term passion and enthusiasm. The process of gathering influences, generating ideas, creating, experimenting, and making mistakes drives you forward. It helps you grow and evolve as a photographer and a creative individual.
#3 – Make bodies of work
One of the important mental shifts that happen as you become a more creative photographer is that you think less about making single images and more about making bodies of work.
What is a body of work?
A body of work is a collection of photos that work together. They look as if they were made by the same photographer, working in a consistent style.
This collection can be simple, like a set of photos made linked by a theme and developed in a similar way in Lightroom Classic (or Luminar AI or your software of choice).
My collection of photos of old cars in South America is a good example of this.
It can also be more complex, something created over time as a result of a long-term project. My photos of artisans at work are a good example.
Multiple bodies of work
All photographers build up multiple bodies of work. Even if you’re only interested in shooting landscapes, you can still divide that into different themes (forests, seascapes, mountains, etc.) and projects. The distinctions become even clearer if you work in several genres.
Note from Darlene: You can see this in my own gallery of photography as well. Look at the various categories on my main gallery page: Travel and Events. Go deeper and you’ll see that each of those has various subcategories and galleries as well.
Like all artists, your bodies of work show your progression and evolution as a creative photographer.
The painter Pablo Picasso had many periods as an artist, each resulting in a different body of work. Yet each body of his work is recognizably his – how can you not recognize his style? Seen together they show the evolution of his style, technique, and creative vision.
It works the same way for you as a photographer. As the years go by you might use different lenses, change camera systems, or learn new techniques. Each of these changes can lead to a new body of work.
Thinking in terms of bodies of work has many benefits . . .
- It make your image presentation stronger. They look better when they seem to belong together. That applies to photos published on a website, on Instagram, or in a photo book.
- It reinforces the idea of working in themes and projects. You start to look beyond producing single images and producing groups of photos that work together.
- It helps you think about what types of photography you want to do, or what types of subject you’d like to photograph. In turn, this helps you plan out your year and make time to pursue your creative projects.
- Creating bodies of work gives you direction and depth. You learn more about your subject as get deeper into it. This can be as rewarding as the photography itself.
More creative learning and exploration
Hopefully, these ideas have given you an insight into the creative process and how it can help you to be a better and more creative photographer.
If you’d like to learn more about creativity and the creative process then take a look at my new course called The Creative Image.
How much do you know about the creative process? Would you like to develop your creative powers in 2022? Get started on your creative journey now and enroll in The Creative Image Email Course.
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NOTE: It is open for enrollment until the end of December.
It’s time to make 2022 your most creative year yet. Join me and let’s get started!