There are times when we don’t feel like taking any photos. You see a great scene and go ‘meh, I’ll pass.’ I know that feeling because I’ve suffered from it over the years. Finding inspiration for your photography work can be hard at times. I don’t believe in forcing creativity at all but what I believe in is creating a situation where inspiration finds you!
Here are 33 tips on how to find inspiration for your photography. I’ve organized them based on their categories and I hope to add to this list over time when I find more to share. If you find this post useful, please share it on social media.
Physical Activity ¶
The first set of inspiration generators that I wanted to share is something that you wouldn’t normally associate with finding inspiration, it’s exercise. Getting the blood pumping helps focus the mind and it helps me be more creative afterward.
Any type of exercise helps get my creative mind going. I just returned from a swim to finish this article. Whenever I regularly exercise my creative juices flow and inspiration seem to hit. Sometimes it takes a few days of regular exercise to focus the mind but when it does, you’ll generate a lot of great ideas and photos!
- Go for a Walk
A simple low-impact exercise is walking. I like walking around a lot because you are slower than a car and more attentive to what you see around you. Walk around your neighborhood, visit your parents and walk around their neighborhood. Just walk around but make sure to take your camera. It doesn’t have to be a big DSLR, it could be your mobile phone. Just walking around outside can help inspire you to take a photo.
- Go for a Bike Ride
Another great low-impact exercise is biking. The best part about biking is that you could a lot further than walking and ride to some interesting places. Make sure to take your camera with you, preferably a light one. I took this shot with my phine while on a bike ride in Cape Cod.
I would’ve never taken this shot if it wasn’t for me riding my bike around there and being inspired by what I saw.
The next category is traveling. You don’t need to travel far, you can walk to it, bike to it, drive to it, or even fly to a new location. No matter how you do it, you have to leave your house and go somewhere else. Just a change of scenery can inspire you to shoot more.
- Go to the next town over
One of my favorite things to do is just go over to the next town. There are different shops and buildings to look at it and possibly shoot. I’m a big fan of closed or abandoned buildings, I’m pretty sure every town has some. The way the town and buildings are laid out might give you opportunities to catch interesting light. The best part? Your neighboring town isn’t that far away, hop on your bike and head over.
- Visit the nearest city
One of my favorite things to do is get a group of people together and go on a photo walk in the nearest city. My nearest city happens to be New York City but I’ve visited smaller cities like Minot or Williston North Dakota. There’s a ton of things to see and shoot if you just head over to their nearest city.
- Visit the countryside
If the city isn’t your thing, then maybe the countryside is. I live in New Jersey so there’s a strong farmland component to several parts of the State. I come across old barns, rolling fields, and abandoned grain silos. There are a lot of things to be inspired in the countryside, just grab your camera and head out there.
- Go camping
Want to get away from all the crowds and get closer to nature? Try camping. Some of my favorite personal shots were when I was camping out in the desert, woods, wherever. Sleeping under the stars, being a bit uncomfortable, and waking up in a new place can be inspiring. If you’re going camping that’s accessible by car you can bring more camera gear or you can go light by bringing a point and shoot with an extra battery.
- Go backpacking
Another extreme to the camping theme is going backpacking into the backcountry. You can visit places that only people dream of and you might see things that no one has ever seen. That, right there, is inspiring to me. Just make sure to carry only the camera equipment you need because backpacking 10 miles with a lot of gear, your tent, food, etc can get heavy!
- Visit a new country
A more expensive way to get inspiration is to go visit a new country. It doesn’t matter where you go just that you go and see new things. Visiting Rome with unadulterated eyes can give you a shot of inspiration over the everyday Roman person living there. Just make sure to take extra batteries and ensure your equipment, thieves strike everywhere!
- Go Vagabonding
Vagabonding is the method of traveling around countries and places for an extended time. Usually, when we visit a foreign country it’s because we’re on a holiday or vacation. We’re there for 5 days or 10 days and we don’t see all the non-tourist stuff. I find that the good stuff is usually where the everyday people live and work.
Just visiting the backways or off the beaten paths of a place - if you have a month to spend there - makes for great inspiration. I highly recommend read Ralf Pott’s Vagabonding book (affiliate link) to learn how to travel the world on a shoestring budget.
- Take your camera everywhere
Take your camera everywhere, you never know when a great shot appears in front of your eyes. Ricky Powell has something to say about that around the 3-minute mark of the video. The more you take your camera with you, the more you’ll find inspiration AND get the shot.
- Rent or buy a new camera
Shooting with a different camera can be inspiring in itself. There are new settings, different technology, etc. I like shooting with different film cameras in different formats. I love a clunky old medium format film camera that can give me a 6x7 image.
- Rent or buy a new lens
The same applies to renting a new lens. Maybe you live near a park and want to try a 500mm lens to photograph the birds in the trees. Or you could try a lens that gives you great bokeh for portraits. Sometimes the lens (and camera) will drive your inspiration to try something new.
- Try film (analog) photography
I learned on film and I still love this medium. Nowadays digital photography is the norm and so is post-processing images after you capture a RAW file. With film, you have to do a lot of upfront thinking and minimal post-processing afterward. This could be liberating for some but also inspiring because of the different film looks you can get automatically! Try analog once or twice, it might get your creative juices flowing!
OPA - Other People’s Art ¶
- View Other people’s Work (Instagram/Flickr)
I’m a big fan of looking at other people’s art (OPA) or photography work to get inspired. Sometimes to can make derivatives of their work, for instance this image inspired me to make this image.
There are tons of great photographers sharing work on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr. Spend some time on those sites and you’ll be sure to find something that’ll inspire you.
- Borrow or buy photography books by the Masters
I’m a fan of buying books by well-known and not-so-well-known photographers. I’ve bought PDF books from street photographers, a treatise on the Road to Seeing (affiliate link), and much more. The best part is that you are supporting the local photographer if you buy directly from them.
- Copy the photographs from the Masters
Similar to what I did with this this image, I copied someone I admired to learn how and what they were feeling when making it. I then personalized to how I was feeling back then. If you’re a fan of Bresson, try to copy some of his photos but with your twist to it. You’ll not only find a ready source of inspiration but might make a great photo too.
- Read Photo Blogs
Part of keeping your creative juices flowing is to feed your head. Read photo blogs (like this one), read books, do whatever you can to feed that brain of yours so it can start making neural connections to inspiration!
- Change your perspective
Instead of shooting portrait or landscape style with perfect focus, try blur and shake. Tilt the photograph, forget perfect focus, just take the photo! Get on your knees and get low, try climbing a tree and getting above it all (safely). Changing the perspective on how you see things and scenes can inspire you.
Mix different Arts together ¶
Everyone has that song that puts them in a good mood, makes them crank up the volume, and sing. Some people feel deeply connected to written words, poems, sonnets, or even stories. Other people look at paints and feel moved. Whatever other art moves you, look to it to inspire you.
- Complimentary Work
Often when I work or go out to take pictures I listen to my favorite artists. Sometimes I like to take a song lyric that has a meaning to me and make a photo of that. Someone else’s inspiration rubbed off on me and that’s a great thing to feel!
- Write poetry, haiku, gogyoka
I like to write poetry, especially haiku, haibun, and gogyoka. When I pen a new piece I think about an accompanying image that I could create to compliment the written word. Other times, an image I take inspires me to write a poem!
- Listen to music
I wrote about it above but listening to music is my number one way of getting inspired to shoot photos. Just listen to the lyrics and how the song makes you feel. If it’s loud and angry my photos tend to be daring or dark. If it’s peaceful and mellow then my images tend to turn out that way too.
Photo Groups ¶
Taking photos can be a solitary event or even a big social event. Granted the Covid19 pandemic killed a lot of social gatherings and prevented a lot of my shutterbug friends from getting together too. Now, with vaccines, things will be different in the summer of 2021 and onward, fingers crossed!
- Join a photo group
I’m active on Flickr, which is by far the best photo-sharing website out there. Sure Instagram and others are popular now but Flickr has the best groups. You can 100’s of groups that cater to your interests and interact with people there.
I’ve made many friends that have inspired me to become a better photographer. I routinely meet up with fellow shutterbugs and do photo walks. Join a group and meet new people that will inspire you.
- Take part in a photo challenge
One of the great things about Flickr groups and meeting people is the random photo challenges they have. I’m currently in American Photographer where each group thread is a subject that anyone can post to, like a game. For example, the New York City thread is all about New York City whereas Joker’s Wild builds on some similarity from the previous photo, and so on.
- Join a voting game
A great but defunct Flickr group was F/64. Whenever a new game was to start, photographers would sign up and you’d be randomly paired with another photographer.
There would be a theme and you had 24 hours to submit a photo on that theme. Your opponent did too. Then people would vote and whoever got the most votes would move on to the next round. This kicked your inspiration out the door.
- Organize or Join a Photowalk
Joining or organizing a photo walk with a bunch of shutterbug friends is extremely fun! Most of the time these happen in cities or at a studio, but it’s a great way to get inspired by other people shooting photos. Plus, you make it a social affair too! Photowalks have always inspired me to take more and better photos.
Get out of your Comfort Zone ¶
We all get comfortable and tend to shoot the same type of subject with the same camera settings over and over again. Here are some tips on how to switch things up and get inspired by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.
- Try a different genre
Do you shoot landscapes or portraits? Why not try street photography? Scared to shoot a model, get together with a friend and hire one for outdoor lifestyle shoots. Try a new genre and it might inspire you to shoot some great new photos.
- Put yourself as the subject of the photo
This one can be scary but instead of you always being an external view of a scene, why not put yourself into it? I’m a big fan of Rebbekka’s work where she puts herself in her photos.
- Make a personal project
If you start thinking to make work on a project your inspiration will automatically kick in. Want to make a personal project about your dog or cat? You can start shooting where they sleep, how they interact with people, etc. The ideas will become endless. Just think of something close and dear to your heart and make it a project. The inspiration will flow!
- Create a photo documentary/essay
Likewise with the personal project above, creating a photo essay or documentary about something that you find interesting from a historical perspective could be inspirational. The historic NJ canal system, which was built during the Revolutionary War, exists in my area. I’ve always wanted to trace the original path and photograph what it looks like now. It’s been abandoned and some parts still exist, but making it a documentary would be pretty cool.
Another idea to get your creative juices going is to volunteer your expertise for a cause. I know a friend that helps take photos of shelter dogs and cats for adoption. Her ability to make the animals look great has increased the adoption rate at the shelter, a win-win for her and the animals!
- Create a website or blog
Another great tip is to start writing and posting your thoughts with your photos on a website or blog. This way you start thinking about creating content and what images you need to support your
- Take Your Camera Everywhere!
Taking a camera everywhere is easier than ever. We have smartphones in our pocket and the best camera is the one you have on you. If you have a point-and-shoot (P&S) camera (mine is the Ricoh GRD or Canon G11), even better. You get better battery life and IQ from point and shoots, although the iPhone is starting to surpass a lot of P&Ss now.
You never know when you see a funny scene or something that makes you go “I should take a picture of that!” If you had your camera with you, you could.