It’s a well-documented ‘fact’ that writers encounter writer’s block. Photographers also run into that creative wall and it can be very discouraging if you can’t seem to get back on your feet after a while. Stay in that same spot for long and you could even begin to doubt if you ever had any hope in the industry at all, so do avoid it as much as possible!
Here are 5 ways to find a new topic for a photography project:
1. Revisit the Past
In the age of digital, one way you can stand out is by bringing back something a lot of photographers nowadays know nothing about: film. Dig out those old film scans and figure out what you can do with them.
Do you scan them and share as is, or would it be interesting to recreate your past work but with a modern twist? How would your SOOC film shots look when processed in today’s digital darkrooms? Better yet, dig out some photos from your ‘reject’ pile and try to salvage them in Photoshop. The result could turn out to be something useful after all.
Young Mother Carrying A Child On Her Back In The Market, Hong Kong Island [c1946] Hedda Morrison [RESTORED] by ralphrepo, on Flickr
Photo restoration is a time-consuming process, but it could be a way for you to practice your editing skills. Even if you end up scrapping the photos altogether, going through the process of restoring a photo can be a relaxing activity to help pass the time.
2. Consult the Hat/s
Some people work well under pressure, while others simply like to follow directions. This technique is a simple but effective way to give yourself something to do without having to bend over backwards trying to come up with a new and exciting concept.
For a totally random combination to shoot, prepare 3 hats.
In hat #1, drop slips of paper with general photography terms written on them. Things like portrait, still-life, landscape, nature, macro and long exposure are just a few you can start out with.
In hat #2, drop slips of paper with different colors written on them. The usual red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet are good enough, but you can also include an “any color” option to give yourself a treat.
In hat #3, drop slips of paper with different textures or shapes written on them. You can include terms like bubbles, water droplets, out of focus lights, shiny and rough.
So let’s say you picked out macro, blue and water droplets, you’ve got yourself a photo assignment!
3. Do something For Someone Else
Ask someone what you can photograph for them. It could be your neighbor, your mom, your mailman or your nanny. Choose someone, anyone you’d like to do something for. Your own mind could be so filled with ideas that you could have a difficult time narrowing it down to a few, so by having someone else give you your assignment, it cancels out having to choose a theme for yourself, not to mention it’s also a golden opportunity to use your craft as an act of kindness to others.
4. What Are Your Interests?
Are you a fitness buff? Do you spend a lot of time experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen? Are you a workaholic who barely leaves the office? Are you obsessed with breakfast food? Your interests could easily dictate your next photography project.
It doesn’t have to be an elaborate setup that takes days and thousands of dollars to arrange. If you love going to the gym, why not document the wear and tear of the weights over time. Or if you’re willing to be a bit of a creeper, you can always document the different “grr” faces people make as they struggle to lift the weight. Photograph every single post-it that goes on your wall, or the stacks and stacks of paperwork in the storage room.
Begin with something that you love doing so that your photography won't feel like work. Make it so that you're simply documenting something you enjoy.
5. What Do You Do or Have in Abundance?
Do you cook pancakes everyday? How many times do you go to the post office to send or pick up a package?
Hoarders, you are in luck! Do you have a collection of pens? Do you secretly have an extensive collection of herbs in your backyard? Do you keep receipts of everything you purchase? Do you have a drawer full of old coins?
Photography projects do not always have to be uber creative. If you’re interested in selling stock photos, anything you have in abundance is an excellent place to start. This way, you don’t have to purchase or borrow anything before shooting.
BONUS: Spin the Wheel!
Make a simple spin-the-wheel project with all 5 of those ideas and spin every once in a while to add even more controlled spontaneity in your photo projects. It's unpredictable enough that you'll be challenged, but at the same time straddles the line between your comfort zone and beyond it because you still cannot predict where the dice will fall.