Staring through the lens of a camera isn’t unlike staring down at a blank page. The possibilities for what you can create, the narratives that can take shape and how you’ll tie everything together are endless – which is exactly why developing photography ideas can be so difficult. These tips will nudge you toward the right mindset to fill the frame.
We’ve all been there. No photographer goes though life without getting stuck for ideas at least once – and usually many more times than that. Fortunately, when it comes to generating concepts for your next photographic project there’s always a way to get your creative juices flowing again. From experimenting with creative uses of lens adapters to delving into personal projects or simply asking questions and finding new collaborators, we’ve put together some simple steps you can take to help you get yourself back on track.
“What generally makes projects so great is that they’re grounded in a personal connection.”
Make it personal
Interesting photography ideas are hard to come by. It can be easy to fall into the trap of poring over the work of photographers you admire and asking yourself “why didn’t I think of that?” The thing is, what generally makes those projects so great is that they’re grounded in a personal connection.
There are endless examples, from Kikuji Kawada’s seminal series Chizu (The Map), which examined societal trauma in post World War II Japan – where he grew up, to more contemporary works like Turkina Faso’s decade-long project Me and Them: Back Home with Alice, in which Turkina uses her younger sister Alice to loosely reconstruct and twist the reality of her formative years in Russia.
These are projects that simply wouldn’t have made sense without the photographers’ close relationship with their subject matter. Try looking into your own life and thinking about how experiences you’ve had have shaped either yourself or those around you. Often there will be something worth exploring further.
“Take a step back from the overall narrative of your work and simply play with the aesthetics of your images.”
Experiment with your kit
When you’re at a complete loss for new photography ideas, sometimes the best thing to do is take a step back from the overall narrative of your work and simply play with the aesthetics of your images. Forget post-production editing tricks and see what you can discover by getting a little unconventional. Experimenting with creative combinations of camera bodies and lenses using lens adapters is a fun way to do this.
There are countless unique optical results and shooting options that can result from mixing and matching various cameras and lenses with the help of a quality adapter. Whether it’s one of NASA’s vintage, super wide-angle space contraptions, an old-school quadrascopic camera, or any number of vintage finds from your local second-hand stores, you never know what cool effects you might discover or how they might inspire your next work. Check out Mathieu Stern’s Weird Lens Challenge series on YouTube, and Mette Colberg’s mind bending lens creations for some extra inspiration.
“Closer partnerships are also invaluable.”
Expand your circle
In the eternally wise words of American rapper Vanilla Ice, you need to “stop, collaborate and listen” because some of the best creative photography ideas come from having in-depth conversations with people. This can take many forms. Simply talking with friends and asking them about what’s been going on in their lives can provide unexpected insights or shake loose something in your brain that will inspire you.
Closer partnerships are also invaluable. Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb are both respected photographers in their own right, yet when the creative duo choose to work together they’re able to combine their varying ideas and strengths to create something as multi-layered as Violet Isle – an engaging, complex portrait of Cuba captured through their dual street photography.
“There’s always something exhilarating about heading into the unknown.”
Of course, collaboration doesn’t have to be between photographers only. Jess T Dugan’s To Survive On This Shore would never have come about without the help of professor and social worker Vanessa Fabbre, who spent five years travelling throughout the United States with Dugan to create nuanced portraits and narrative representations of older transgender people.
So, if you’re experimenting with portraits, talk to your models. If you’re exploring documentary photography, don’t shy away from different opinions, seek them out. If you’re lucky enough to have other inquisitive minds around you, see if any of your interests align and try making something together. After all, there’s always something exhilarating about heading into the unknown. You just have to take the first step.