Tips + Techniques

Photographing Your Way Out of Creative Roadblocks

July 9, 2019

By Angela Marklew

© Angela Marklew

Have you ever fallen into a creative rut? It’s more common than you may thing and can take many forms, including feeling like you’re just creating the same image over and over to feeling completely drained. As a beauty photographer, I feel like I visit this place more often because I can’t rely on things like wardrobe and location to inspire me or add tons of visual interest.

Over the years, I’ve come up with a handful of ways to shoot myself out of the rut so that the visits don’t last too long. Here are my five tips to shooting your way out of a creative rut.

1. Change up your lighting situation

If you’re always shooting in the studio, try going out in the world and using only natural light. If you’re a natural-light shooter, try bringing things into the studio and using only strobes.  

If you’re like me and you tend to use both natural light and studio lighting fairly equally, then I suggest going for a more nuanced lighting switch. If your go-to lighting setup is normally pretty soft, try limiting yourself to using only hard sources (and vice versa). Or dig out a modifier you’ve rarely used (maybe a strip softbox or a snoot) and only use that until you’ve mastered what it can do.

There are always ways to experiment with your lighting approach in any location without breaking the bank.

2. Try out a different beauty team

You know that makeup artist that keeps reaching out wanting to work together? Now is the perfect time to try them out. Not only will it grow your creative network, but they will come to you with new ideas and perspectives. Keep an open mind and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

(And when you love who you’re working with, here’s how to build solid relationships with those artists.)

3. Shoot a different subject matter

Some recent examples of animal portraits and still-life shots (below).

When I’m feeling completely burned out on shooting beauty, I’ll turn my lens on an entirely different subject matter. Recently that’s been still life (which is, admittedly, still in the beauty realm) or animals (which I naturally shoot in a similar way to my beauty images).

This approach serves two purposes—stepping away from my regular beauty photography helps recharge my inspiration, and shooting other kinds of subjects will make you a more well-rounded photographer. An added bonus: I find that shooting these seemingly disparate subjects actually informs my regular beauty work. I might end up using some of the same principles I use when framing, composing or lighting a still life when I next shoot a model.

4. Incorporate props

These are props that I found in my house. From left to right: Using bubbles, shooting into a broken mirror, and incorporating a life-size, fully articulated wooden arm.

On its surface, this can seem cheesy, but a “prop” can be literally anything. Try it and I guarantee you’ll get something you like.

The most common things I use are flowers (simply because they are easily accessible), but I’ll also try incorporating products (makeup) or even things I have lying around the house (luckily, my partner is a filmmaker and collector of all kinds of antique and vintage things).

5. Try manipulating your images

Digital collages (left and middle), and on the far right I used a print and a small machine called a Daylab to transfer the image to two pieces of expired Polaroid film.

When I’m at the point where I simply don’t feel inspired to shoot anything, that’s when I’ll go through my drawer of prints (I often print my images because I like the tactile experience) and just start cutting and/or collaging to see what happens. If I don’t have any prints on hand that I want to work with, I’ll use Photoshop and do my collaging digitally. Sometimes this yields absolutely nothing, but occasionally I’ll come across an idea that will inspire me. The purpose of this exercise is to simply get out of my own head and create without boundaries.

Finding yourself in a creative rut can be really demoralizing, and it’s easy to let the thoughts of “I’m not good enough” come to the surface (especially when social media can make it seem like no one else is having the same creative struggle you are).

Bearing this in mind, remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you shoot. You simply have to make the wheel as good as you possibly can.

It’s also completely okay to take a break and not shoot anything. When I don’t feel like shooting, I use that time to read books, hone my vegan baking skills and try my hand (yet again) at growing vegetables, among other things. Let yourself do other things so you can be reinvigorated when you step into your next shoot.  

Angela Marklew is a beauty, fashion and portrait photographer based in Venice, California. Before she was a photographer, she worked as a chemist testing explosives for the Canadian government.


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