Out of ideas? Copy others!
Every creative goes through them - creative blocks. Times where we want to create new work, but have no idea what that new work should actually look like. Then, the harder we try to force ourselves to come up with new ideas, the less inspired we become, which can leave us feeling frustrated and defeated. Sometimes, it can even make us put our camera (or other creative tool of choice) down for a while. We blame ourselves, and start doubting our abilities. This is such a shame! Insecurities and creative blocks are a necessary part of the creative process - for me, facing and breaking through them has in the past led to some of my best work. Over the years, I’ve acquired a few personal ways of doing this facing and breaking, and one of them is by copying others. Obviously, I’m not talking about blatantly copying the exact work of someone else and presenting it as your own -that would be theft-, but rather using the ideas of others to draw inspiration from for new work. Personally, I’ve used this a few times in the past half year, and I’ll go over some examples in this post.
Last year was my last year at university, and things got so hectic that I barely had the time or energy to create any (non-commercial) photography work. Because of this, I had been really excited for Summer - finally, I would have the time to take photos again! I day-dreamed of my future obligation-free self, publishing new projects in record time, overflowing Instagram feed, each photo better than the next… But when I finally graduated and Summer came around, all I felt was tired, stressed, and empty. Three years of university had taken a toll on me, and I first needed to recover, which I for a large part did during my Women Alive women’s retreat in Poland (which I wrote a little about in my last post). Although I felt renewed and inspired in many ways when I came back from this week, when it came to photography, I still felt blocked. Having been out of practice for a while, I had lost touch a little with my creative side, and it felt like I needed to woo her back, one “date” at a time. So I did!
Over the next few months, I worked a lot on getting back in touch with myself, the ideas I want to share (having to prepare a TED Talk definitely helped with this), and the ways in which I want to do this - which also led me to the creation of this blog! As part of getting myself back into photography more, as well as expanding my photography business, I decided to take the leap and get a small in-home studio for Christmas. Eager to try it out, I was ready to take some photos - but I didn’t know what of. I had some ideas, but they were all rather grand and on-location, and at the moment I just wanted to do some “simple” portraits. So, to gather ideas, I went onto Tumblr.
While I was searching for inspiration, I came across some photos using flower petals that I liked, so I started looking specifically for portraits using flowers in some way or another. Ultimately, I ended up with the two above photos as inspiration (unfortunately, the original artists were not mentioned so I can’t credit; if you know whose work this is, let me know!).
For the first portrait, I wanted to combine the flower face idea of the left photo with a bit of the color scheme of the right one, and create a somewhat editorial, clean shot. I loving challenging gender norms and portraying “radical” and strong women, but for this shot I wanted to do the opposite and celebrate the beauty of feminine innocence. For the other portrait, I did want to take the gender-bending route, much like the original photo does, and create a soft portrait of a guy with a petaled beard. Here are my favorite two final shots:
As you can see, there are definitely elements of the original photos that can be found back in mine, but they are completely different; I took a basic idea from each of the photos, and used them to create my own. Now, I wouldn’t call this my most creative work - it definitely feels different from coming up with an idea first, and then doing further research to develop it. Nevertheless, I do love how these photos turned out, and doing these shoots led to new ideas as well. They got me out of my rut!
I also want to highlight another way in which I sometimes draw from other photographers, which is more exact copying; To improve my skills and get to understand better what it takes to take certain photos or create certain effects, I sometimes challenge myself to try to take photos in the style of another photographer. I did this somewhere last year with a photographer I really love - Brandon Woelfel. He takes photos of fashionable young women in urban settings, and uses a lot of (fairy-)lights and bright colors. I still want to do a more elaborate attempt somewhere in the future, but my beautiful best friend Michelle was over one night, and we decided to grab some fairy-lights and give it a try:
Of course, I also let myself be inspired by the work of others when I don’t have a creative block. Our work is influenced by our lives and views of the world, and the artists that we look up to are very much part of those. I often use example photos by other photographers to create mood boards for shoots I’m planning, and different elements from different photos will often show up in the final photos. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and your ideas having to always be 100% original - there isn’t such a thing to begin with. Every new idea comes forward from the integration of infinite other ideas. Your work should be about YOU, about the things that YOU want to express, and as long as that’s where your focus is, you’re creating authentically and beautifully. Keep going.
In that same spirit; if you’re a creative reading this and you showcase your work somewhere online, please let me know in the comments - I’d love to check you out! Also, if this post has inspired you to take some ~inspired~ photos of your own, tag me in your posts and I’ll share them on social media.
Some more photos from the shoots featured in this post: