Here’s a common story: one day you become enthusiastic about photography, and find yourself jumping at every opportunity to take photos and to improve your work. You keep this up for a while, but slowly the enthusiasm you once had starts to fade. You start feeling like you’ve stagnated in your growth, and that you’re just doing the same old thing, over and over again.
Here are 13 tips for keeping yourself motivated in photography:
1. Carry Your Camera at All Times
You’ve probably heard this before, but nothing could help you more. Have at least one camera with you at every waking moment so that whenever you feel inspired or see a photo opportunity you’ll be ready to photograph.
This tip is much easier these days with how ubiquitous camera phones have gotten, but it helps to carry something that will give you more flexibility in what and how you shoot.
Also, make sure ‘everywhere’ really means everywhere. This means taking your camera along to the dentist’s office, the grocery store, or even a short car ride. Seeing the perfect photo opportunity but not having a camera with you is a horrible feeling.
2. Start Your Own 365 Project
Basically, it involves taking one or more photographs per day, every day of the year. The benefits of this are two-fold:
- At the end of the year, you’ll have photographic documentation from every single day that year. What better way to remember your days than through pictures?
- After 365 days of photography, you will have grown in ways you never would have imagined in the beginning and will have tried countless new things that helped you learn and improve.
If you’re looking for a place to host this project, I would recommend either Flickr (the 800-pound gorilla of photo services), Blogger (if you plan on writing as well), or Photoblog (a service geared towards this type of project that I founded).
3. Get Critiqued
Receiving feedback from other photographers can help to both encourage you, and open your eyes to ways you can improve or approach things differently.
I took two photography classes while I was an undergrad at Cal, and one of the main things I learned from them was the value of listening to what other photographers have to say about your work. After each assignment or phase of our projects, we would have in-class critiques where we spent five minutes on each students’ work. These short but meaningful times were instrumental in helping each of us broaden our horizons and improve our craft.
If you don’t have the opportunity to take part in a class or club, think about publishing your work on the web and hearing what visitors have to say about your photos. A great way to do this is to publish your work in an online photographic community (check out the PetaPixel Flickr Group!), which brings us to our next tip:
4. Join a Community
There are a billion different services on the web that allow you to both store your photographs and share them with family, friends, and random strangers from around the world.
Pick one you like, and dive into the community. Build relationships with other people whose work you respect, and give them the type of feedback you’d like them to give you. These other photographers can both inspire you through their work and educate you with their critique.
5. Give Yourself Assignments
A great way to broaden your horizons is to narrow your focus.
Set a goal or pick a theme, and stick to it. For example, you could decide to shoot only shadows or reflections and walk around your neighborhood with that goal in mind. You’ll probably notice many more shadows and reflections when you’re actively looking for them.
Can you tell what my theme was for the following series of photographs?
I was walking around the house looking for things that were in sets of certain numbers, increasing the number by one after finding each one. One thermostat, two stuffed animals, three post-it notes, four legs of a chair, etc…
Here are some other examples of assignments you could try:
- Patterns and textures
- Unconventional angles
- Creative framing
- Choose an object that you find everywhere (i.e. fire hydrants, bicycles, doorknobs)
- Portraits (could be family, friends, or even complete strangers on the street)
If you want a completely original idea, try to think of something you’ve never seen in a photograph or some way of taking pictures that has never occurred to you before.
6. Change Your Location
If you find yourself in the same places day after day, maybe what you need is a change of scenery. This could be something as simple as taking a different path to work or school. Finding yourself indoors all the time? Go out and take a photo walk.
Traveling is another way to change your location, and a surefire way to make your photos more interesting. Take a vacation, bring your camera, and keep your eyes open.
7. Learn Something New
If you feel like you haven’t improved in your technique or post-processing skills in a long time, then it’s probably time to learn something new. If you really know all there is to know about photography, then wow… maybe it really is time for you to take a break. For the rest of us, there’s always something to learn or improve on.
Figure out something you don’t know, and learn it!
This could be as basic as a button or setting on your camera. Do you know every little feature your camera has to offer? Have you explored all the menus? When’s the last time you took a look at the instruction manual? Take a look, and you might come across some fundamental camera feature that you’ve been ignorant of all this time!
If you’ve mastered the basics of photography and know your camera like the back of your hand, then perhaps it’s time to dive deeper into the technical aspects of photography. Cambridge in Color has an awesome set of tutorials that can help you really understand all the terms you commonly throw around but don’t know the boring details of. Do you know the difference between sRGB and Adobe RGB 1998?
If you’re looking for a regular stream of interesting photo links, start following PetaPixel on Twitter. We find all sorts of neat things to inspire and educate you and post the links every few hours via Twitter.
In addition to learning new things, you should also be trying new things. Experiment.
Here at PetaPixel there’s an entire category of posts dedicated to ideas and experimentation. Here’s a sampling of things you could try (examples above):
- Cloning yourself in photographs
- Painting with light
- Using shallow depth of field for portraits
- High speed photographs of water balloons popping
9. Follow Other Photographers
A great way to motivate yourself is to be inspired by the work other photographers are producing. There are obviously many different ways you could go about doing this.
If you have some time and money, make a trip to a gallery or museum near you and check out the exhibitions. If it’s good enough to be shown in a gallery, then it’s probably good enough to inspire you, even if it’s in weird or random ways (some exhibitions I’ve seen have been pretty darn random).
Another way to get inspired is to keep up with photographers online through their websites. Whenever you need a dose of inspiration, just flip through your RSS reader or bookmarks.
10. Get New Gear
Obsessing over gear is futile and foolish, but getting your hands on a new body or lens can give your passion for photography a jump start.
If you always shoot with a wide-angle or normal lens, maybe it’s time to try a telephoto. If you’ve only shot digital, maybe it’s time to try your hand at shooting film, developing it yourself, and making prints in a darkroom. Obviously this isn’t a way to regularly stay motivated, but it can definitely help make photography interesting again.
11. Redesign Your Website
If you have a personalized page where you publish your photographs, redesign it every year or two. A new environment can breathe life into old photographs, and your loyal visitors might appreciate the change in scenery. This will also motivate you to start posting new photos again if you’ve slowed down or stopped since you won’t want to show the same old photos on a redesigned webpage.
If you don’t have the technical know-how to do the redesign yourself, see if you can find a free template for whatever service or application you’re using.
12. Find Beauty in the Commonplace
You don’t need the world around you to change to have your photographs change. All you need is a sharp eye coupled with the right mindset. How often do you actually look at what’s around you carefully enough to notice new things about ordinary objects? Do you pay attention to things like angles, lines, and light in seemingly ordinary locations?
Take time to stop, study, and actually see things.
13. Make Prints of Your Photographs
If you’ve never made prints of your work, then now is the time to start. Whether it’s making prints of your negatives using an enlarger in a darkroom or sending your digital files to a photo printer, printing is a huge part of photography that most people underestimate.
If you think printing is as easy as uploading your images to the website of your local drug store’s photo center, then you’re missing out on all sorts of exciting and painful things. Things like:
- Color management
- Choosing what kind of paper to print on
- Matting, mounting, and framing
In addition to all the things you’ll learn through the process, you’ll end up with tangible photographs that you can proudly hang on your wall, or give to family and friends.
I hope you found (or will one day find) these tips helpful. If you have anything to add, feel free to share it with us in the comments!
A special thanks to @EricBooth, @andiesmith, @jessyel, @kionee, @friskygeek, @edwinmah, @Michandphoto, @dayreiner, and @4strinbass for the tips they provided when I tweeted a request, and thanks to everyone who responded!