5 Experiments to Develop (or Refresh) Your Creative Vision

11/14/2019

Feeling stuck with your photography? Try an experiment! Whether you are a new photographer or seeking to jump-start your creative practice, the following ideas may help.

illustration of author's fix steps

1. Be an archeologist 

Gather images from the top 3 to 5 photographers you admire. What elements do you love about their work (composition; lighting)? What are any common threads? Devise a list, then aspire to shoot like your favorites. As Austin Kleon says in Steal Like an Artist, you eventually “move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing.”

Woman in profile at sunset

2. Curate Your Own Work

Look at your own collection of images. Which are your favorites? Why are they your favorites? Be specific: what qualities or characteristics draw you in? Which images induce strong emotions? Notice what speaks to you—colors, shapes, moods, subjects—and record your findings. Chances are you will see themes emerge.

3. Loosen Up

Sure, it’s important to have respect for your art—but try not to take it too seriously. Sometimes, our self-imposed tyranny in attempting to make a “perfect” image paralyzes us. If you feel stuck creatively, try this: attempt to do the opposite of what might be paralyzing you. If you are struggling with grief, for example, then shoot something joyful. Let go of all expectations and simply shoot whatever pleases or intrigues you (p.s. It’s OK if it’s crap: you can edit, or toss it, later).

Picture of writing on wall that reads "you'll be fine"

4. Run Away From Home

Sometimes a change of scene can shake loose your creative impulses. Even when we do find a rare chunk of time to create at home, there may still be an endless to-do list (or other distractions) vying for our attention. Cheryl Strayed—author of the bestselling memoir Wild, and a busy wife, mom, writer and teacher—has declared she is a “binge-writer.” She checks herself into a hotel a few blocks from home and writes in 14-hour blocks. Do whatever you can to create the right conditions where you can reach your own creative sweet spot, and remember: your art is worth it. 

5. Make Dates With Yourself

This experiment involves consistently making your creative work a priority. Schedule time to shoot or revise your images, and actually put it on your calendar. Choose a monthly theme to work on and assign weekly or daily deadlines to yourself. No one will make you do your art, so remember, as Rumi said, “what you seek is seeking you.”

*Photography by author

**Illustration by Josh Qucik

Gail Overstreet: author head shot
Gail Overstreet (Guest Blogger)

Gail Overstreet is a photographer, writer, and teacher, living in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California where she draws inspiration from the natural world. A former college writing instructor, her photography has appeared in gallery shows in New York City, California, and other venues, while her writing has been seen in The Best American Essays (Notable), Orion, National Geographic: Sierra Nevada Geotourism, Delmarva Review, and elsewhere.