Do you ever feel stuck in a rut, creatively speaking? You've got all this great gear at your disposal but you're simply not inspired by your surroundings? That's an unfortunate side effect of the human condition – we start losing appreciation for the things (and people?) we see on a daily basis. Even the extraordinary can seem mundane if we see it every day.
Aside from taking a vacation and enjoying the benefits of exploring a new place (providing an excellent source of inspiration), there are several things you can do right in your own hometown to help quell the "been there, seen that" blues. And many of them require little to no investment in new gear. A common (and useful) technique is to limit yourself to shooting with a single focal length. But as that approach has been covered by just about everyone, let's look at other ways to inspire your own creativity.
1. Multiple Exposures
One particularly intriguing camera feature that has trickled down from high-end bodies in the past few years is the Multiple Exposures feature (found in the EOS 1D X, 5Ds/5Ds R, 5D III, 6D, & 7D II). A multiple exposure is just what it sounds - a single exposure created by combining two (or more) individual shots. The possibilities for creative multiple exposures are limited only by your imagination, and forcing yourself to think about your multiple exposure before capture is an excellent exercise in creative thinking. Using Live View in Multiple Exposure mode enables you to preview the result you can expect after capture. If you don't have a camera that features Multiple Exposures, you can easily recreate the most common multiple exposure effect in Photoshop by layering one image over another and setting the top layer's blend mode to "Lighten" (that's exactly what I did for the image above).
2. Long Exposures
As photographers, we're used to capturing the world in split seconds. Movement is frozen in when our shutter speeds are short enough and our images are sharpest. Capturing an image that spans seconds (if not minutes) can completely change the dynamic the scene. A tripod and 10 stop neutral density (or even more dense) filter can allow water along the beach to appear as flat as a sheet of glass or can aid in reducing the evidence of people when photographing in a crowded place (think architectural photography).
A neutral density filter isn't necessarily required for creating long exposures. If shooting at night, you can easily use just a tripod (or other means of support) to help capture light trails left by passing vehicles.
Shooting in infrared is a great way to help you break out of a creative slump because it allows you to experience the world in a whole new way. Suddenly, drab and familiar landscapes become intriguing when capturing the typically unseen wavelengths.
There are a couple of ways to capture infrared shots. The first and least expensive way is to purchase a filter that blocks visible light but allows IR light to pass through. When using the infrared [passing] filter, your exposure times will be very long (sometimes minutes). That's because your camera has a built-in infrared blocking filter that prohibits most of the infrared light from hitting the sensor. The infrared filter on the front of your lens allows you to create an exposure out of the trickle of IR that makes it through to the camera's filter. For these shots, a tripod (or other stable shooting platform) is essential.
Keep in mind that with the IR filter in place, you cannot see through the viewfinder (and you'll see very little if anything in Live View). Therefore, you must frame and focus your shot before placing the IR filter on the camera. And since IR light focuses at a slightly different point than visible light, you'll want to shoot at or near hyperfocal distances with a narrow enough aperture to compensate for focus shifting.
Another piece of gear helpful for capturing images with an infrared filter is the timer remote. The timer remote/intervalometer will allow you to shoot exposures longer than 30 seconds without having to continually hold down the shutter button (as in Bulb mode). Some newer camera bodies – like the 7D Mark II and 5Ds/5Ds R – feature an in-camera bulb timer and will not require the remote timer accessory.
If you'd like to dive into infrared photography head first, you can have your DSLR converted to an infrared camera. The cost will vary depending on your camera body and filter option, but the conversion will likely be in the ballpark of $300.00 (or more, depending on camera model and options). One big benefit of an IR conversion is that your exposure times will closely mimic your exposure times for visible light, meaning a tripod isn't absolutely necessary. However, you will need to compose and focus using Live View because visible light no longer passes through to the viewfinder.
If you only have one camera, I wouldn't suggest an IR conversion. Converting your camera to infrared means that you can no longer capture visible light with your camera. However, converting an older DSLR to infrared after upgrading cameras is a great way to extend the useful life of your likely-to-be-neglected equipment (assuming you don't need a backup camera). That was the motivating factor for sending my rarely-used EOS 7D to Life Pixel for an infrared conversion. With my newly converted 7D in-hand, infrared photography has never been more fun and inspiring. The image at the top of this post was created with my EOS 7D modified with Life Pixel's Super Color IR conversion.
As a general rule, I see the world in a 2x3 ratio frame. But even I know there are times when a wider, theater-like view is required to truly experience what it's like to be standing in a specific spot. Maybe you need a wider angle lens but just don't have one. Or maybe you just want to squeeze every pixel of detail out of a scene. No matter the reason, panoramas force you to think about your composition differently. It gets much more difficult to hide "distracting" elements of a scene when you force yourself to capture everything that's in front of you in all its glory.
There are many different ways to create a panorama. The easiest way is to simply stand in one spot and point your camera in different directions and stitch the resulting images together in post. Unfortunately, this may not always work well because of parallax errors caused by not rotating the camera body at its no-parallax point. That's exactly why I built my own panning rig for creating 360-degree panoramas. Another way to create panoramas while avoiding parallax errors is to use a tilt-shift lens to capture images at widest extents along the shift plane.
No matter what method you use to capture your images, you'll need a decent photo editor to stitch them into a seamless panoramic image. Photoshop CC is a full-featured, reasonably priced option; Hugin is free and open source, but the learning curve is [in my opinion] relatively steep.
One way to inspire creativity is to throw another variable into the mix – the element of time. We generally try to capture images that attempt to tell a complete story in a single frame. Time-lapse photography gives us the ability to illustrate changes that happen over time and require a completely different approach to planning and capture.
Creating a good time-lapse requires patience, planning, dedication and a fair amount of post-processing. Preparing for time-lapse capture means that you have to consider what elements in your scene will change over time, how to protect your equipment and how to compensate for changes in exposure thoughout your time-lapse.
To create time-lapses you'll need a solid support system (a tripod is likely best, but any stable platform will do), a timer remote (if your camera does not have an interval timer built-in), and patience.
Shown above is the time-lapse I created when evaluating the Triggertrap Mobile Dongle. The Mobile Dongle (paired with a smartphone) not only allows you to create a time-lapse, but it allows you to adjust the timing and exposure values during capture so that you can be even more creative with your time-lapse.
If you already own a macro lens, then you already have everything you need to explore the wonders of your own back/front/side yard. If you do not own a macro lens (and even if you do), using extension tubes with your current lenses will help increase the maximum magnification possible by shortening the lens' minimum focus distance.
The flower seen above is located about 6 feet from my backdoor in a small flowerbed. Tip: Plant flowers around your home. Not only will they provide you with ample opportunities to shoot beautiful macros, but your significant other will likely enjoy displaying them in your home. And just in case you forgot a special occasion, being able to pick flowers from your yard may help you avoid the ramifications of your lapse in memory.
Is the weather not conducive to venturing outside? Try macro photography with objects around the house. Many everyday objects become much more intriguing when viewed up close (salt, peppercorns, etc.)
So that's our top 6 ways for inspiring your own creativity. Do you have other suggestions? Let us know in the comments!