As artists and working photographers, we can get stuck within the frame of what we know works and looks great for our clients.
I’m here to share ways to push your commercial work in new artistic directions and ideas of where to draw inspiration. Currently, I am drawing inspiration from the Renaissance and Danish painters. Keep reading to learn step-by-step points on how to find your next big inspiration, how to take moderate risks in your commercial sessions and how to translate inspiration to your voice.
As working artists, sometimes we can lose our passion for creation, get stuck in the rut that we know works and churn out sessions that aren’t bad but are assembly-line similar. It can be hard, especially during busy season, to avoid the burn-out that follows as we cull, edit and deliver session after session of lovely but identical poses and looks.
Your creative soul, your passion, needs to be given a little boost, an outlet that you can safely translate to client work without altering your brand, changing your session flow or taking too big of a risk. Busy season is actually a perfect time to take some moderate risk, get inspired and allow your creativity to bloom!
I’ve put together a little list to kick-start your creative fire. Try one, try a few, or try them all!
1. Find a new well of inspiration.
This is a huge one. Where does inspiration come from?
As artists, we create work about what we know, remember, love, and imagine. Take some time to sit down and write a list of the reasons you chose your specialty. If you haven’t ever thought about it, start. Make a list of what is most precious to you in your life right now. Make a list of your favorite paintings, books, colors and combinations of colors, smells, and moments in your childhood.
These lists can kick start a new path of focus in your sessions. I have always loved the Mary Cassatt painting of a mother bathing her child in a washbasin. It hung at the foot of the stairs in my mother’s house. When I was starting to feel uninspired, I remembered that painting and began to think about how I could begin to include the idea in my work.
It began slowly with remembering to always make a portrait of mama lifting her child in and out of tubs at the one-year sessions. Then it evolved into mother and child bathing together and ultimately opened an entirely new course of work focused on the masters’ painterly light and color ways.
2. Take a technical risk every session.
Set up a challenge for yourself and stick to it during every session: for example, use only one lens, use a creative lens like a tilt-shift or Lensbaby, shoot wide open or close all the way up. What challenge you choose is less important than sticking to it over and over again. The constraint on your technical options will push you to find new images and new ways to make old images, and you’ll grow a new muscle in your creative body over repeated use.
For an entire 3 month summer of sessions, I required myself to use my Lensbaby for a minimum of 10 minutes per session. Lensbaby is unpredictable. It might not create ANYTHING deliverable to a client but it might create something so weird you love it passionately and open a new creative pathway for yourself.
It was very frightening at first for me to pop it on my body and work with paying clients during a limited amount of time and hope I got something deliverable. Ultimately, I loved the work that came out of it and so did my clients!
3. Explore your peers’ work in big groups.
When I was in art school, we had frequent critiques. We’d all see each other’s work, think, comment and reflect together. Inevitably seeing other people’s creative choices would push us all to make new choices in our work.
A creative community is so critical to keep you fresh, excited and pushing your own boundaries. Join a few, pick and choose and make sure you join at least one where you perceive the work is way above your own skill set.
4. Ask for the darkest room in the house.
Technically, this is an offshoot of #2 but it’s so important I think it should stand on its own. If you haven’t already taken Mastering Natural Light Indoors with Megan Cieloha, DO THAT NOW. If you have, really push and practice with restricted light.
I now, as a part of my indoor flow, ask my clients to show me the darkest room in the house that still has at least one window of any size. I then plan a way to make images in that room. Those images are nearly always my favorites, are so unusual, and add excitement to an otherwise run of the mill flow.
5. Do a model call.
Plan a session just for yourself. YES, during your busy season! It doesn’t have to be a styled and elaborate four-hour wonder. It can be fast, weird, and halfway thought out.
Recently I took advantage of a sale on Free People and acquired a few new gowns for my client wardrobe. The day they arrived, my kiddo was being a real patience-tester; I was grumpy and hot and wanted to do something for myself.
I put out a call in a local photography group for anyone who was open to meeting up in the next hour with their kiddo and getting into a fancy dress in a creek. I packed my kid up with some buckets and cups and dragged him along to the creek to happily play in the water while I made portraits of a mama and her kiddo in the creek for about 40 minutes. Those images have set fire to my creative heart and opened a very clear new direction for me artistically.
6. Learn a new skill.
Whether it’s advanced composite work, developing presets, designing albums, or creating Christmas card templates, what matters is that you are trying to teach yourself something new! When your brain works on acquiring a new skill, it actually gets supercharged and starts generating all kinds of new things. Choosing to learn something gives you the push into unknown territory that your brain interprets as “let’s do new stuff” and suddenly you find yourself booming with new ideas.
I recently decided to build my own set of presets based on particular painting styles. The challenge of thinking about color through the eyes of other artists has really made me look closely at color everywhere I go. I shoot differently because I imagine my color differently now.
7. Read a book.
Reading a book is a wonderful way to get your brain working. It doesn’t matter if you choose a photography book, fiction, or a biography. Some favorite books of mine to help with inspiration are: