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Photography Motivation - 10 Strategies For Boosting It!
Motivation is definitely something that comes in waves. Although I always enjoy taking pictures, I don't always have that burning desire to go and create something special. Some days I hate myself for setting the alarm to 5.30am for a dawn shoot, other times I spring out of bed raring to go!
I'm pretty sure you'll be familiar with this whole issue. Every photographer, from pro to amateur, grapples with it. So I decided it would be well worth sharing the best strategies that I use to boost and maintain motivation levels. I think you'll find these helpful...
1) Make a list of targets
No, I don't mean a hazy mental list of vague locations you'd quite like to shoot one day. I mean a real, written list of locations/subjects that you mean to target over the coming weeks/months.
How to come up with the list? Well, you know your area, start with some interesting locations that you've never shot at. Whether it's landscape, documentary of portrait work, imagine some nearby locations that you think would be really good.
Next, go online and research photographers in your area. You will find plenty, with differing styles and approaches. Loads of ideas and motivation will flow from this exercise. It really will. Think about the shots you'd like to emulate, interpret and create your own versions of.
It's really important not just to have a physical list of places, but a mental image some of the pictures you really want to create. Then just start visiting the locations and ticking them off your list.
2) Make photography friends
This is a big one. It's a bit like having an exercise partner, only more fun. Join photography clubs in your area and find online photography groups that run meet-ups.
By shooting with friends you'll learn a lot and gain confidence from good feedback. In some situations it's also much easier to be in a group. Sometimes when shooting street scenes I much prefer to be with a group of people who are obviously photographers, rather than just a random bloke on his own photographing strangers.
Plus, there can be a little bit of subtle competition! I know that's not what photography is about, but when you see your mate has just captured the most jaw-droppingly brilliant image, the desire to go and achieve the same yourself is notched up a bit!
3) Plan a schedule
In addition to having a list of target subjects, a written schedule can be great. For most people it's pointless being too precise about scheduling, by planning shoots to the day, to the hour, weeks in advance.
But it's well worth writing one of your target locations in your calendar/diary for a given week. If you can do one proper shoot a week, that you've planned for, I think that's a good effort for most enthusiastic amateurs.
4) Look at great photography
This might be an obvious suggestion, but it's an important one. Nothing makes me more desperate to get to places and take brilliant photographs than seeing the work of master photographers. It's really exciting to know what can be done with a camera if you put the time effort and creativity into it.
If you don't own any photography collections, there are loads of brilliant websites you can explore. The world's great landscape, fashion, documentary, sport, wildlife and portrait photographers share their images online for all of us to see.
It's a good exercise to try to work out what technical processes went into certain great photographs. Study the composition and think about why it works. I guarantee that 10 minutes in the galleries of someone like Steve McCurry, Irving Penn, Yousuf Karsh, Joe Cornish or Richard Avedon will boost your motivation!
5) Put your camera where you can see it a lot of the time
It might sound a bit of a crude idea, but simply keeping your camera somewhere you see it all the time is quite important. Don't store it away somewhere whenever you're not using it, because you're more likely to forget about it and lose motivation.
When your camera is right there in front of you, there's no excuse not to pick it up and start shooting. It's a constant reminder for you, and stops motivation levels from drifting downwards.
6) Don't forget about your compact/phone cameras
Photo opportunities often emerge when you least expect them. So it's great to have your DSLR nearby at all times, but, clearly, that's quite a lot to ask. Don't remove your photographer hat entirely, though, when your DSLR has been left at home! Compact camera and even phone cameras are increasingly able to produce top notch captures.
Even if your compact/phone camera is of pretty dubious quality, still use it. If the subject is interesting enough, and shot at just the right moment, the significance of technical quality becomes pretty small. So as long as there is something capable of taking pictures about your person, be on the look-out for opportunities.
7) Take on specific photography projects
This is a bit different to my first suggestion of listing target locations/subjects. This is all about picking a very specific themed project, which you can tackle in any way you wish. By limiting the parameters within which you can shoot, you force yourself to be creative and original.
So, for example, you could give yourself 2 weeks to create 5 portraits of people close to you that really capture something of their personality. Or, how about picking a colour? Create a little red gallery, then a blue gallery, with interesting subjects that feature those colours.
Try out black and white landscapes, or photographing 10 random passers by in the street, or examples of decay in the natural/man-made worlds. More challengingly, photograph an abstract theme for a week, like separation, shock, joy or loneliness etc. Here are some more photography project ideas.
8) Create a pack of personalized cards (warning: this gets addictive)
The end result of photography is a physical object. A printed piece of artwork in some format. In the age of digital, it's a little frustrating that the process of photography doesn't always come to full fruition. Seeing pictures on a computer screen isn't as satisfying as holding them in your hands.
So, set about creating specific printed items - like personalized cards. This has lots of great secondary gains too: interesting birthday and Christmas cards for people! I love having a stash of personalized greetings cards with my pictures on the front. I never run out of cards to send people and it's way more interesting when they feature your own work.
Plus, I even do fairly well each summer by selling them from a dozen or so local stores (only takes a day or two of actual work, and the extra income is nice!) Here's a full, detailed account of how to sell your digital photos as cards. A bit of extra money is always good for motivation.
For personal use, and for gifts, don't stop at cards. A year long project could be to create a monthly calendar, with a main image for each month. You could even order some framed prints of your photographs to give away as Christmas prsents.
For printing cards, I only use one company now - moo.com, they're ace. Here is a list of the 5 top printing companies I've used (including moo), with mini reviews.
9) Pick a competition to enter and plan an image
Pitting your best work against other really good photographers is a great way to find motivation. There are lot of competitions running all the time, from National Geographic down to holiday companies, to your local photography club. It's not hard to find ones with great prizes if you search around.
Plan a shot that you're going to enter, and set about making it happen. Choose the location, think about the time you'll need to be there, whether you'll need any props, what equipment and lenses you're going to need, and so on. If you really focus your attention on having one amazingly successful shoot, that could yield a competition winningly awesome photo, you'll find that both motivation and quality of work jumps up.
10) Get some new kit
Ok, this is arguably the lamest of my suggestions, but I stand by it. I'm not referring to anything as drastic as a new camera, or even really a lens, just something. We all have a wish list. Equipment plays a big role in photography, despite the importance of artistic vision, timing and originality. In my experience, buying something as simple as a filter can increase my desire to go out and experiment with the effects it has on my shots. It really does boost motivation in a fairly big way.
So, what's on your wish list? ND filters, a remote release device, a better tripod, off-camera flash, perhaps a better quality lens? The longer you leave that list the bigger it's going to grow. So try getting something from it this month. Order it online and by the time it arrives you'll be desperate to try it out and see what you can do with it. Really, you will.