Using monotony to spark creativity

Hi there, and thanks for stopping by today!  If you have been here before, you will probably know that my normal mode on the blog is to share a photo that I took somewhere, and tell you a little about it.  I plan to keep doing that, because I enjoy it.  I hope you do too.

But things change over time, and I too have been wanting to make a few changes.  So today I have a bit longer post to share with you.  I enjoy writing longer-form blog posts that include a bit of my ramblings, and plan to write a few more of these and share them here.  I hope you enjoy them.  Feel free to let me know in the comments.  


Using monotony to spark creativity

First, let me get this out of the way:  I love to see and shoot new things.  I enjoy a change of scenery - it’s part of my DNA I guess.  I grew up as an Army brat, and as a result have become used to moving around a lot.  To borrow a phrase from my Mom, I have “itchy feet”.  But, this article isn’t about that.  This article is about developing your vision by shooting the same subject over and over again.  Let me explain...


While my work does take me a lot of places, which affords me some great photo opportunities, I do find that I shoot in a similar fashion each time I go somewhere new.  I look for the same sorts of scenes I have shot in different towns.  Of course the scene is physically different, and looks different, but in many ways I am repeating myself in new places...shooting similar things that just happen to be in different places.

While this is fun, I find that I do not learn to get as creative, because the scenes are my thinking doesn’t have to be.  New stuff just presents itself to me as I wander, so I don’t “need” to get creative.  Does that make sense?


It’s as if my creative thinking goes out the window, because I keep getting new, exciting stimuli in the form of a new scene.  So, this is problematic for a photographer, because being creative is what this whole photography thing is about.

I have heard folks say that their creativity is “stuck” because they don’t get to see new stuff, and thus they are “uninspired”.  I totally get that, and honestly think that I might feel the same way if I never did travel.  But, I am choosing to think of it differently.  


I travel to San Francisco a lot for work, but don’t always bring my gear because I don’t have time to shoot there.  Sometimes, I can just shoot with my iPhone.  But every time, regardless of gear, I try to take a photo of the Bay Bridge, because it is near my office and hotel (and it's awesome).  Monotonous?  Maybe to some.  But I want to flip that thinking on its head and have you consider this:


You can enhance your creativity by focusing on the very thing that is making you feel stuck: having no new material.  Instead, pick a subject that is interesting enough to you, and consider taking on a personal project to shoot it in creative ways.


Things that might “make the cut” in terms of good subjects: an interesting or beautiful landscape (a mountain or river scene, perhaps?), a cool bridge, a train station or other architecturally-oriented subjects (a church?), or even a derelict old building.

Here are some ideas on how to stretch yourself in new, creative ways:

  • shoot at sunrise
  • shoot at midday
  • shoot at sunset
  • shoot at blue hour
  • shoot with a wide angle
  • shoot with a zoom lens
  • shoot with a prime lens
  • shoot only a portion of the structure
  • shoot only at a fixed aperture
  • shoot it with your iPhone
  • shoot it with the plan to convert every image to monochrome
  • shoot it under different weather conditions (sunny, stormy, snowy)


That list has 12 different things you can do - while shooting the exact same subject - to spark your creativity and get your creative groove back.  And if you think about each one, they each require a different “skill set” or approach to the subject.  There are light changes, weather changes, equipment changes - lots of factors which will impact decisions you have to make in the field.

Here is what will happen in the process:

  • you will begin to develop your vision for the scene, likely before you even get there, because it is familiar
  • you will begin to consider your processing choices for the shots as you take them, instead of when you sit down at your computer later
  • you will find that your creativity has just shifted because you are purposely not going to repeat yourself


Bottom line - I don’t believe that you have to always see new things to get inspired.  You can get inspired while shooting the same old stuff.  Go find something interesting nearby (or in a place you travel to frequently), and shoot it all sorts of ways.  

You don’t need a lot of free time, you just need an interesting subject and some imagination.


I included a selection of differing photos of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco in this little article.  I love it, and even if I only have 30 free minutes, I try and get in a couple of shots.  I always come home with something different.  And most importantly - I look forward to seeing and shooting this bridge on every visit!  The monotony of the subject is overshadowed by the challenge of getting creative!