If you’re like me, you might have a hard time staying inspired in your photography. Here are 7 tips that have personally helped me.
1. Shoot in “boring” places
One of the problems I have is that I always blame the location of where I live from preventing me from making great photographs. For example, I’m currently living in suburbia (Garden Grove, Orange County, California) where there are literally no sidewalks. I use this as an excuse that there is nothing “interesting” to photograph.
However, living in a boring place actually forces you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and find interesting things in “boring” places. Embrace the “boringness” of where you live, and push yourself to be more creative.
For example, some of the best photographs can be in the least likely places. One of my favorite photographs was shot in “In and Out”—a burger joint that me and Cindy love to go to. I have also seen lots of great street photographs made in Costco, grocery stores, liquor stores, and other unlikely places.
Perhaps you can work on a “boring” project where you intentionally only shoot in boring places. That would be an awesome project.
2. Enter places you’re afraid of
Whenever you’re out on the streets and you see a place or establishment you are interested in, don’t hesitate—just enter and say hello. Often a lot of our photographs are shot on the streets. But sometimes the most interesting places to photograph can be indoors.
For example, for this photograph I saw an interesting dive bar next to Cindy’s family restaurant (Long Hai Restaurant in Tustin, CA). I entered, chatted with the bartenders (wearing bikinis) and ended up making this photograph.
Fear is one of the best things we have. Fear drives us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
My rule for myself: photograph what I am afraid of. This generally leads to interesting images.
3. Make social commentary
As “street photographers” we are dependent on people, but what if you live somewhere that isn’t interesting? Then what can you photograph? My suggestion is to know you don’t need people. Rather, you need a critical eye. Try to make social commentary through your photographs.
For example, in this photograph I saw the “out of order” sign for a job-application machine at a grocery store. How can you expect people to apply for jobs (and criticize their “laziness”) when the socio-economic structure doesn’t support them?
I also suggest you don’t be a moderate when it comes to your social commentary. Be opinionated. Share what sort of social criticisms you have through your lens. Be a “street sociologist”—make statements through your camera.
4. You don’t need people
It is easier to make interesting photographs with people. Why? Because as human beings, we are interested in other human beings.
My suggestion: try to make interesting photographs without people. Look for urban landscapes, objects, or scenes that have emotion. Look for scenes that have a sense of abandonment, longing, loneliness, or misery. Photographs without people should show some sort of “humanity” that we can connect with.
5. Look for “beauty in the mundane”
One of the problems that a lot of photographers have is that they think they need to travel to “exotic” places to make “interesting” photos. In reality, when you travel to India or anywhere else in the East, all your photos may turn out to be the same cliche Steve McCurry/National Geographic wanna-be photos.
And trust me, I’m totally guilty of this, too.
Rather, I suggest making the best of where you live. Make inspirational images based on your daily life. Look for beauty in the mundane or ordinary. I think that is what “true beauty” is.
6. Shoot during your commute
If you take public transit, this is the best time to shoot. Photograph people on the bus, subway, or the train.
If you drive, (safely) take photos while you’re stuck in traffic. Use your car window as a natural frame. Many photographers have done this, even a taxi driver made a project called “Drive By Shootings” that he shot from his Taxi window.
Rather than complaining about our situations in life, make the best of them.
7. Shoot from your heart
If you want to stay inspired in your photography, the simplest advice I can give is to shoot from your heart. Don’t worry about making “interesting” photos; focus on making emotionally-significant, personal images.
Also, know that you don’t need to always be shooting. Sometimes the best way to stay inspired is to just put down your camera and see the beauty of life in other places. Find the beauty of life through the laughter of friends, family, good food and drink, and make your camera a tool for capturing love.
Just be authentic to yourself and photograph what feels natural to you—be merry, happy, and joyous when making images.
About the author: Eric Kim is an international street photographer who’s currently based out of Berkeley, California. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his photography and writing on his website and blog. This article was also published here.