10 ways to motivate yourself in photography

10 ways to motivate yourself in photography

Cover photo by Maie Vaks

Stuck in a photo rut? Try these tips to get you creating exciting new work for your portfolio

There are times when we all feel lacking in motivation and inspiration - when the desire to create new photographic work feels like too much effort.

By figuring out a plan in advance, you can usually pull yourself out of a rut, ensuring that there’s always something to motivate you into creating  interesting new work for your portfolio.

That’s not to say that it will necessarily be easy, but most of the tips here are pretty straightforward for most to have a go at. Some might be obvious, but they’re worth reminding ourselves of. Others might be something you’ve never considered before, but all are guaranteed to at least get your brain working in the right direction.

So let’s kick things off...

1 Start a new project or challenge

One sure-fire way to get the creative juices flowing is to funnel your efforts into a particular challenge or project, rather than approaching your photography in an unfocused (excuse the pun) way.

A project could be as small or as big as you like, it could be something you do for a day, a week, a month or for as long as you feel like. If you’re struggling to think of project ideas, set yourself smaller challenges, such as visiting a new location, seeing what you can photograph in a set amount of time, to trying to find a specific object to photograph.

Visiting a brand new location is a great way to motivate yourself to capture some interesting new shots. Photo by Amy Davies

2 Join a community

A fantastic way to motivate yourself is to surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Seeing what they’re up to, sharing your work, discussing new approaches and challenges are all benefits you’ll get from joining a photography community.

These days, it’s super easy to find a community. There are hundreds - if not thousands - of online groups you could join and participate in. Whether it’s something based on location, type of photography, particular types or brands of camera, or another defining characteristic, there’s loads of choice.

If you want to meet face-to-face, that’s possible too. Look for local camera clubs, groups and organisations (they don’t necessarily have to be strictly photographic, walking groups are a good option, for example) to join to meet new people.

Having a friend to push you along is great motivation - joining a community is a great way to find those like-minded people. Photo by imagerisium

3 Restrict yourself

It might sound counter-intuitive, but bear with us. When we’re free to take as many pictures as we want with no restrictions, it can lead to sloppy and work without any precision.

Something you could try is going out without at least your main camera. Take note of every time you might usually be tempted to reach for your camera and really think about whether you’re idly taking a shot or it’d likely create something meaningful.

Next time you head out, take your camera with you and see how this previous exercise has changed your approach.

There are other ways to restrict yourself which might motivate you to get creative too. For example, you might try only shooting with one lens, one focal length, only one one street, only subjects of one particular colour and so on. 

Putting restrictions on yourself can motivate you to try new things. Try only taking one lens, or shooting with one focal length. Photo by Matty Stratton

4 Try a totally new genre or subject

Getting a bit bored of landscapes? Why not try giving portraits a go. With dozens of different genres to try, there must be something you haven’t experimented with yet. There’s macro/close-up, food, travel, sport, action, black and white, street, nature, wildlife, and many more besides - try searching for a list of genres and see if anything leaps out at you.

Pushing yourself away from the unfamiliar is a great way to give you new-found enthusiasm; you might find you absolutely love the new genre, or conversely, maybe you’ll remember why you loved your original genre in the first place. 

Giving a new subject a go can be great for motivation - try something completely different from your usual preferred subjects. Photo by Matthew

5 Books, magazines and exhibitions

Online platforms such as Instagram are undeniably great for inspiration, but there’s nothing like a physical product to really motivate you to produce your own work - or even to get published yourself.

There’s thousands of photography books, no matter what your preferred genre is.  If you’re not sure where to begin, check online lists of inspirational books - and don’t forget about your local library.

Magazines are also a great way to get inspiration. Again, there’s lots of dedicated photography magazines, but other types of inspiration are worth looking at too - travel, fashion, sports - think about how you could get your work in one of these publications.

Exhibitions are again great for both inspiration and motivation. Imagining your own work up on the wall and working towards that as a goal is fantastic to fire you up.

Getting a good look at a set of prints in an exhibition is great  motivation to produce your own one day. Photo by Maie Vaks

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6 Create a ‘prompt jar’

It’s all very well and good promising yourself that you’ll look for inspiration and motivation in a variety of different locations - but actually having the impetus to go out and do it is another thing.

That’s where a prompt jar can be a great tool. When you’re feeling inspired, write down a list of challenges, or ‘prompts’ on scraps of paper. Fold them up and place them in a spare tin, box or jar, and then simply pull one out of the jar the next time your motivation is low.

Not having to think about something on the day you come to shoot is half the battle won. 

Place some challenges, prompts and ideas into a jar. Pull one out when you’re lacking in motivation and get to it! Photo by Sergey Nivens

7 Make prints or physical products

In a digital world, our photographs can often sit languishing on a hard drive barely to be seen.

Getting them printed or made into something else physical (such as a photobook) is a great a motivator to create fantastic work worthy of display.

If you’ve printed some of your photographs in the past, have a think about how you might photograph the same scene again now, and whether you should create some new prints. 

Getting your images printed into a physical product is a great motivator to try out new ideas and produce more. Photo by Jason Kessenich

8 Try some new equipment 

Of course we all know that it’s the photographer that takes the pictures, and not the camera or the lens, but there’s no denying the excitement that comes from trying out a new shiny bit of kit.

If you have the funds, treating yourself to a new lens or accessory is a great way to motivate yourself to create something new or unusual.

For those with a tight budget there’s still plenty of options. Whether that’s swapping with or borrowing from a like-minded friend (see the community tip above), borrowing something from a rental site, or picking up something cheap second-hand, there’s budget-friendly options to try out new stuff all the time.

Having a play with a new toy can inspire you to come up with new ideas. You don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune either. Photo by Wayne Knoeson

9 Create a portfolio 

If you’re not feeling hugely inspired to create new work, don’t worry. Spend some time looking through what you’ve already created. It’s a great way to evaluate how far you’ve come, and reminisce about shoots gone by.

Looking through your past work is a great time to think about putting together a portfolio. You can launch a PicFair portfolio very quickly, which is not only a great way to display your best work, but means you can sell your photographs as both digital files and printed products.

Once you’ve got a portfolio set up - and even better you start making sales - you’ll be motivated to create new work to keep it refreshed and current.

Creating a portfolio will motivate you to produce new imagery to keep it constantly updated. Picfair Store: Marina de Wit

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10 Ask for critique 

Reviewing your own work is very difficult. You run the risk of either being overly critical, or not spotting simple errors that might be obvious to others.

Once you’ve created your portfolio, asking others for critique and feedback is a worthwhile exercise. That could be from friends, family, other trusted photographers in your network, or you could even seek out professional opinions from curators, editors and the like.

Having somebody else look over your work can provide you with a real boost. With constructive criticism, you’ll be able to address any problem areas, or feel motivated to carry on doing what you’re doing - just remember to keep a thick skin and don’t take any negative feedback too personally.

Knowing where you're going wrong - and right - is a great motivator for your future photography. Photo by ikostudio