2020 has been a year like no other. Never before has the world been so connected–connected by the same crisis, sharing the same problems, and fighting the same demons. But at the same time, all of us as individuals have had to disconnect. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us to be stuck at home, self quarantined and isolated from our friends and family.
Photographers have been just as isolated as everyone else. Significant events are canceled, socially distanced get-togethers are harder to shoot. Photographers used to working with new people and models may be feeling like they're stuck in a bit of a rut, unable to continue with their normal workflow.
So much time alone can be used in a few ways. Many creative individuals might spend their time looking for ways to be, well, more creative!
What is Creative Photography?
There's no tidy and agreed-upon definition of what constitutes creativity in photography. Unlike other forms of art, a creative photo is one that has some original artistic touch added to it. Creative photography is not, however, an excuse for bad photography. For a photo to be considered creative, there must be an intent to say something. All photographs should tell the viewer a story. The creative part should only help to do that.
The cool thing about adding some creativity into your images is that you can do it to any genre or type of photography. The absolute best images are the ones that are calculated and creative. So wherever you are and whatever you are shooting, putting yourself into a creative mindset helps you up your photographic game.
How to Be More Creative in Photography
Being creative in photography requires coming up with new ideas and inspiration. But don't limit yourself to only photography–creativity takes many shapes and forms. One of the best ways to get more creative is to try something new. Try drawing, sketching, or painting for a change. Get creative with a pen and paper first, and start storyboarding what you'd like to shoot.
You can also spur creativity by changing things up. Maybe there's an old camera body in the bottom of your equipment bag you seldom use or an old prime lens that's getting dusty. The point is that you need to mix up your routine and see where it takes you.
Getting inspiration from other photographers through their online photography portfolios or social media posts only goes so far. Because it's a passive process that your creative mind is disconnected from, it's hard to make the leap from admiring other people's work to actively making your own. It's a starting point, but you've got to make the biggest leap from there.
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Children are, by far, the most creative individuals among us. Spending some time with kids is a great way to relearn what it means to be creative. Physical activity and play can also help you harness a little creativity, but in the end, it is a mindset. All too often, adults get themselves firmly planted into a way of thinking or a way of life. Shaking it up a little and forcing your brain to problem solve more is the only way to recapture that child-like mindset.
25+ Creative Photography Ideas and Techniques
Putting something on the end of your lens and shooting through it is a fun way to mix up your photos and see what you get. There is no cost to snapping some trial and error shots in the age of digital photography and trashing them. Create your own artistic filters with cellophane wrap, also called cling film, from your kitchen drawer. That will add a blurred or foggy effect. You can warp or shape the plastic to reduce or increase the look. Search around the house and find other types of clear or translucent materials that you could shoot through. Many different plastics can make star-light effects and even colored blurs.
You can also hold items out and away from the camera, and include the item as part of the composition. Glass globes or photographic glass spheres have become popular in recent years because the sphere creates a distorted image of the world around it. You can also pick up other types of lenses that can be held out. You can also shoot through your glasses or sunglasses, which add a cool framing effect. If your glasses are colored or polarized, all the better.
Playing with the lighting in a scene is a fundamental way for a photographer to learn to become better. Photography is, after all, painting with light. You can do it a few ways. You can move lights around and play with the types of lighting your use. Everything from everyday candles and flashlights to photography-specific mini LEDs and speedlights can be used.
You can also modify those lights. Lighting gels are colored filters that fit over the lights to create different effects. You can make gels with clear or colored pieces of translucent plastic.
Play With Your Still Lifes
Let's go ahead and admit it. Many of us haven't done a real still life shoot since art class in high school or college. Giving the artists control over all elements, from the subject matter, arrangement of subjects, composition, and lighting, still lifes are an excellent way to spur creativity.
So do you take a bowl of fruit and start shooting? You can, but try to get creative! What kind of story can you tell? Is there any way that you can make your still life into an entire dramatic scene?
Get a New Perspective
Playing with perspective is a quick and easy trick many photographers like to use when they want to up their creative photography ideas. You can change your perspective as you take the picture or change what the viewer sees.
To change your perspective, you need to move around. Getting down low and shooting while looking up are great ways to see the world from different points of view. Or, consider shooting straight down from above. If you've got a drone, now's the perfect time to go flying.
Forced perspective is the manipulation of visual cues in the composition in an attempt to fool your viewers. Have you ever seen a picture where a huge person appears to be holding the moon in their hands? That's an example of forced perspective. Using a telephoto lens and zooming in on the person from a distance, you can frame the photo to make small things look large against big things made to look small. Read this article for some great tips on forced perspective in photography.
There's a whole genre of photography that revolves around creating fantasy worlds in your image frame. Small action figures or other toys are excellent subject matter. Legos are really popular.
Another fun and creative thing to try is making an entire landscape out of something else. Many photographers have found food works great with this, but it could also include toys or the subjects mentioned above. Broccoli trees sprouting from lettuce fields, with fruit rainbows in the sky. Go wild!
Focus Your Lens on Your Kids or Pets
Many people are seeing more of their kids, pets, and other family members, which is one positive outcome of 2020 for some. Why not turn your camera to subjects at home? Look for inspiration in their daily lives, and shoot from their points of view.
One creative exercise from art class is to pick a color for a day and focus entirely on that one element. Include compositions in monotone or limited color palettes. Look up the complementary colors and use them. Hunt around for design ideas. Just for the day, think about your photography in terms of design rather than the camera and the tools you use.
Built Your Own Background
Shooting still lifes and portraits of your family around the house is bound to creatively run dry sooner or later. Spice things up by creating backgrounds that can be fun and dynamic. Many photographers use large chalkboards. Draw out the scene you want your subject to star in. Plan it out, and then incorporate your living subject into the drawn-out scene. Have your subjects help make their own backgrounds.
Of course, that's only one example. If you're doing macros or still lifes, you could use a cardboard box and create a lightbox and background. You could paint a background on an old board or a piece of artist's canvas. Use old fabric and sew up something unique. The possibilities are endless!
If static still lifes are getting you down and your family has returned to their devices, try your hand at splash photography. You'll need a fast shutter speed and your camera up on a tripod in burst mode. You can spill things, drop things into water or other fluids, or dribble water out of bottles. Get creative with the background, as above, or combine into one of those fantasy worlds you created.
Sit Down and Learn Something
If there's one thing we can agree on, it's that it's easier to learn new skills than ever before. YouTube and online education websites are chockablock full of excellent tutorials in post-production techniques. Some of them are beyond creative–they're nothing short of genius. It doesn't have to be anything far out and artistic, either. You could spend the afternoon learning how to do focus stacking or texture overlays. How are your HDR skills? Or maybe you'd like to learn how to simulate the look of tilt-shift lenses for that distinctive tiny world effect.
You’ve Got the Time
Long exposure photography is one thing that many people know how to do, but few dedicate the time to doing it. Now is a great time to play with long exposure photos, both indoors and outdoors.
If you've never used an ND (neutral density) filter for long daytime exposures, it's an excellent tool for creative photography. They add a moody and dramatic feeling that really can't be achieved in any other way.
Panorama stitching is easy to do in any photo editing software, but many photographers rely on using their phones' built-in automatic functions for the purpose. Next time you're out admiring a fantastic vista, grab your tripod and take a real panorama. How many megapixels can you squeeze in?
Reflections are incredible tools in photography. They create symmetry and force the viewer to alter their perspective. You might want to read this article on symmetry in photography. The best thing about reflections is that photos make us admire them more. In real life, we're so used to seeing them that we put them out of our minds. But when they're used well in photographic composition, they make the whole image pop.
Try Free Lensing
Free lensing is the technique of holding your lens off-camera and shooting through it. To get the aperture to work, many photographers purchase broken lenses off of eBay and use them. Why go to all of this effort? Free lensing creates some unique images right out of the camera. The extra light entering the sensor from the opening creates neat washouts and softens the focus. As you get better, you can control the angle like a tilt-shift lens.
Embrace the Blur
Blurry photos don’t have to be bad. In the efforts to be creative and perform some trial and error, work on emphasizing blur. Look for moving objects that you can capture motion blur on, or try some whip pans with the shutter open. Zoom blur is fun, too, when you move the lens zoom in or out during the exposure.
Use shadows in your composition to help tell your story. Here are a few great photography composition tips and techniques to help you get started. Have a model interact with their shadow, or tell an entire story using nothing but shadows.
Blow Some Bubbles
Play with bubbles. They reflect and refract light in unique ways, often with colorful oily films.
Take a Dive
Are you near the beach or even just a neighborhood pool? Experiment with underwater photos. You don't have to have your best camera in expensive housing. You can pick up underwater cases for point and shoot cameras on Amazon or eBay reasonably cheaply. Your subjects can range from kids at the local community pool to exotic coral reefs in the South Pacific. It's fun and challenging, and there's a lot to learn.
Try using printed photos as elements in your picture for a picture-in-picture effect. You can modify the picture with paint or materials to create a mixed media artwork.
It's also an excellent time to look at all the ways you can have your work reproduced. Check out the latest laser-etched metal photos or classy canvas art wraps available from online printers.
Blow Off the Dust
Spend a day with a piece of equipment you never use. What is in the very bottom of your camera bag that is collecting dust? A fisheye lens, super-telephoto, or an old point-and-shoot? What about those speedlights that haven't gone off in a few years? You could also scour eBay and your local used camera shop for bargains. Find a $20 old-school vintage lens and buy an adapter tube for your camera.
Paint with Light
Light painting is the act of moving some illuminated object around in a long exposure photograph. Sparklers are common, but some people make their own with steel wool and wire whisks. Flashlights and lanterns work. Even remote controls work since the infrared light they use is visible to the camera's sensor.
Light It Up!
While you're thinking about light, think up some creative off-camera lighting positions. Put your flash inside objects or backlight your subjects.
Bonus Creative Idea–Use What You Hate
Do you have a pet peeve? What gets your goat, photographically speaking? Take some time to ponder what bothers you about it, and learn to embrace it. You don't have to have a change of heart, but why not perform an artistic experiment and embrace things you usually hate. Lens flare is a classic example that many photographers loath. How about over-the-top HDR images? Soft focus or out of focus images can be used well in the right context. Whatever bothers you the most, think about why that is and ask yourself, if I worked out a way to use this, what would it look like, and what kind of story would it tell?
Getting creative with photography isn't a challenging task as long as you have the time to have fun with it. If it's always a chore or part of your job, it's sometimes difficult to relax and enjoy the process. But only by stepping out of your comfort zone and making some playtime will you rekindle that creative spark that made you love photography in the first place.
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