Photographic ruts: We’ve all been stuck in them, and it’s a subject I’ve discussed before. These are the times when the ideas just aren’t flowing. All the good photographic locales that you normally visit in your free time feel so well traveled that you can’t possibly come up with images that you might want to create when you get there. There are all kinds of ways to help pull yourself out of these creative ruts, some of which I’ve covered in earlier blog posts, but you can never have too many tools at your disposal when the photographic doldrums set in. So, let’s take a look at random acts of photography as a way to get you creating again!
Planned Creation Versus Unplanned Photographs
First, it helps to draw a distinction between the two types of creation. Planned creation happens when you have a destination or an objective in mind, and you go take those photographs. In other words, you wake up in the morning knowing that today, you will return home with a series of landscape photos or photos of a particular subject that you planned to spend time with that day. You’ve got it all figured out, from the lighting to the equipment you will take a long, and maybe you even have a shot list or a small notebook with some inspirational thoughts written down. This is something that you’ve thought about for a long while, and you are reasonably certain that you’ll come home with images that can be turned into art.
And then there are the unplanned photographs. These are the “random acts of photography.” They might pop up when you’re out on a shopping trip and you happen to whip out your camera to take a photograph that struck you just right. Or you stopped on the way home from work to capture an unusually moving sunset. There was no thought, no planning behind it. The image just happened, you happened to be there to capture it, and now you have a beautiful negative to take home for post-processing.
These random acts of photography can also happen in the midst of your carefully planned photo excursions. You could be on your way to a shoot, but you get sidetracked by something you spotted along the roadside and you stop to snap the photograph. Or you could be out on a trip with a photo buddy, and he’s stopped at one of the places that he wanted to visit, even though you had no particular plans for this area. Nevertheless, you get out of the car and explore — and invariably, you surprise yourself by finding a few things worth photographing.
Using Random Acts of Photography to Jumpstart Creativity
These unplanned images are a great way to break out of those uninspired lulls that we sometimes find ourselves caught in. When a photograph comes out of nowhere, it’s like jumpstarting the brain. It’s something that gets us thinking along different lines, breaking our usual trains of thought, and when we start thinking differently, we see differently — we see more than we did before.
So that begs the question: Is there a way to simulate this randomized experience? Of course, you could always hang a local map on a dartboard, throw darts at it, and then go to the place you hit to take a few photographs. But for those of us who aren’t into throwing darts at a dartboard, there are other ways to randomly pick a destination or to put yourself in situations where these random experiences might just happen.
For example, you can get spinner apps for your smartphone. These are just like the big spinner wheels that you see on game shows, but you can program the slots to feature whatever you like. Feel free to program one with your favorite locations, then use the app and go to whatever location it chooses. Or, you can input different subjects, different lenses — if the app chooses a macro lens, then see what kind of new macro images you can create. Whatever you can imagine, create a spinner for it and use that to randomize your photographic experience.
Another thing you can do is set up photo outings to be purely time or distance based. So, drive thirty minutes in one direction, or drive exactly ten miles, then stop. Wherever you are, get out of the car, take out the camera, walk around and get to know this new place. Chances are, you’ll see things that you never noticed before. If you spend enough time in an area, you’ll start noticing details rather than the sweeping landscapes, and sometimes, the best images are in those details.
If you’re really stuck for places to go, then check out Google Maps or Google Earth. Both of these apps have a satellite view that lets you explore your region from the comfort of your phone or computer. What’s interesting about this is the aerial satellite view gives you a whole new perspective on an area that you normally see from eye level. If something sticks out to you, then drop a pin on the map and start driving. You may find interesting images on the trip. And don’t forget about Street View. Google has documented many, many roads across the United States, even backroads, so if you find yourself pressed for time, use Street View to do a little pre-scouting to make sure that the location you’ve picked out has potential.
However you go about it, it’s all about adding a random element to your photographic process. Find a way to pull yourself out of well-worn creative routines so that you can add some vigor to your creative mind and see things in new ways. Not only will you get some interesting new photographs out of these endeavors, but you’ll have some new perspectives that you can apply to your usual photographic haunts.