Have you ever felt like creating some new images but just lacked the drive or vision? That sunrise shoot keeps getting pushed back week after week and those raw files on the computer are still sitting there where you left them a month ago. No doubt, one of the challenges we can face as photographers is dealing with a lack of inspiration.
Being inspired is like having a revved up engine and a full gas tank – you’re ready to get out there and be productive but so often I hear from people who have lost their inspiration, the gas tank is low or the engine just isn’t firing. We’ve all been there, caught in this frustrating cycle with seemingly no way out. If this is you right now, rest assured there’s hope.
I must admit, I’m one of those annoying people who don’t commonly have this problem, I’ve always felt driven to do what I do. So, I’ve asked myself why, what keeps me hungrier than ever for photography, after more than 7 years of shooting on a weekly basis? I’ll share a few insights below, which may help you out as well.
I envision inspiration as being a fire within us, which can be raging or sometimes just dull glowing embers. Either way, a healthy fire needs two primary things; fuel and oxygen. When I’m camping and make myself a fire, the first thing I do is gather my fuel, kindling and dry wood which will build up in layers. This can take some time but it’s worth putting the initial effort in to gather up enough fuel so your fire lasts longer. Upon ignition, the other key ingredient is oxygen, which is all around us but often needs to be blown directly into the base of the fire to really spread the heat. So where am I going with all this? Well, inspiration is manifested two ways, externally and internally. The problem is, sometimes we might not have the combination right, just like trying to start a fire without enough wood, or having plenty of wood but no oxygen.
External inspiration is sourced outside of us; seeing the work and achievements of others and then being driven to get off our butt and do something ourselves. External inspiration can be drawn from many places, it’s everywhere (just like oxygen) however it doesn’t get us far without glowing embers and a decent supply of wood. External inspiration may assist you short term but it commonly needs to be topped up, you have to keep searching, which can be tiring.
For me, the key to staying inspired all this time is from having a motivation and drive that begins from within. Photography has led me to become a better, healthier person. It’s expanded my knowledge on the natural world and helped me see beauty and positivity in a society that thrives on negativity and drama. Looking at life through a lens has greatly aided my mental health and allowed me to better understand who I am, who I was and who I want to be. It’s these thoughts and emotions I experience in nature that are expressed through my photography. The cycle essentially begins and ends within myself.
For many, inspiration is heavily sourced externally from shallows wells such as social media. The problem with this is that this motivation can very easily turn into comparison, and that’s when joy is robbed and inspiration is lost.
In my opinion, one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and your creative drive is to diversify your sources of inspiration. You need to mix things up and get the balance right again. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results.
So, where do you turn? Well this will vary for each person but there’s no shortage of sources to draw from. Firstly, I suggest cutting back your screen time. Removing apps from my phone (such as Facebook) has really helped me stop being non-productive. I’m also big on leaving my phone at home or in the car when I go out. We’ve been moulded to think that everything needs an instant response or that if we disconnect then we might be missing out – but this just isn’t the case.
I also enjoy reading books on my kindle, listening to a variety of music, regularly exercising, going out for a good coffee as I watch the world pass by and I try eating healthy (most of the time). All these things effect you mentally and can definitely help you stay uplifted and inspired. My greatest advice however is to just get outside, unplug yourself from technology, leave the camera, phone and every other distraction at home and surround yourself in nature. Whether the salty smell in the air along a jagged coast line that has survived the relentless elements, the sound of a river meandering through a valley, the bird song that echoes from a canopy of tress or gazing up at a mountain peak that catches the morning light; as a landscape photographer, I don’t think there’s anything more important than having a love and reverence for our subjects. After all, we wouldn’t be doing this without them.
Through looking at paintings and studying nature when I’m outside, I’ve been able to learn what it is I like and find appealing in art. This makes photography more exciting for me as I begin to envision the final result and begin to go about creating it. The thought of ‘what if?’ has always motivated me. What if today is the day that all the elements align for the magic moment in time? One thing I’ve certainly learned over the years is that I’ve never regretted heading out for a shoot, even if I come back empty handed. The moments of solitude and contemplation do just as much for me as photography.
Nature is both powerful and delicate, constant yet changing. It’s a healer and a place where we connect with something much greater than ourselves and in these times we can develop and grow as individuals. Before long, the flame will begin to re-ignite as you see how endless the possibilities are.