How to Kick the Clouds Away – Photography Inspiration Tips & Tools

It’s a new year and wintertime in Chicago.

So far, that combination has cast clouds over our New Years resolutions and stuck our feelings of new hope in the debris of the curbs. We’ve all heard it enough to gag: “Gray days are great for photography.” We’ve also heard “Everything in moderation.”

Polar Vortex, Chicago 2019

Unlike the same month one year ago providing oodles of photographic inspiration for those brave enough to explore the icy effects of the Polar Vortex, the entire month of January 2020 was blahhhhhhhhh. The only accomplishment of mention was to become the third gloomiest month in Chicago’s recorded history. Thank God that month is over! 

Another accomplishment from January: it wreaked havoc on people’s inspiration. Thirty days of gloom makes one feel stuck for ideas. The good news: January 2020 is now over and it’s time to get unstuck, move forward, feel hope again!

If you struggle to get up again, grab that camera and get outside, I have some tools and tips how you can get your photography year back on track.

Tap Your Own Photo Library

Anytime you’re stuck for inspiration, your own collection of photos should be one source you tap into to get started again. When you’re really struggling, it’s helpful to review your photos with purpose. 
Using the following ideas can give you purpose and begin to clear the clouds out of your mind:

  1. If you’ve catalogued your photo collection, do searches to find commonalities. If not, find a photo and begin to catalogue by adding tags, keywords, folders, collections…whatever system that works for you. In doing this, you’ll find commonalities that may lead you to ideas of doing a monologue, an ebook, a print exhibit, a personal photo essay.
  2. Another useful outcome of reviewing your own photos is to find missing stories or photos. I’m sure I’m not alone when thinking I’ve taken a photo of a particular subject only to find I hadn’t or the one I had was crap either from wrong light or weather, or it was just a quick photo to document and return. Maybe you have a series of photos that would tell a compelling story but you’re missing a key piece. Place this desired photo on a list.

Create a List

My favorite tools for digital notes are Evernote and my phone’s Notes app, but you can use whatever works for you. It doesn’t have to be digital, as long as it’s something sustainable that you can add to and keep for future. I like to have my notes with me on my phone whether I’m out doing photography or running errands.
With my tool, I have created the following lists:

  • Photos to take – My photo hitlist includes those missing photos 
  • Places to check out – This may be an address, intersecting streets, a section of neighborhood, etc
  • Photos to retake – I have them. I don’t like them. Or it was the wrong light, season, the scene has changed or I want a different perspective

Use Social Media – As a Tool

If you’re truly stuck for motivation or inspiration, social media is a good source. We all use social media for our own reasons – to share, to market, to copy others. Personally, I’ve shifted from Twitter to Facebook to, almost exclusively, Instagram as my business has a visual focus (all puns intended). For this reason and purpose of this article, I’m going to reference Instagram.How can Instagram be a tool to inspire you? Well, there’s the obvious: Scrolling photos of what others are posting. I’m going to take that a step deeper to give you a tangible tool to make Instagram useful to your photography.

How can Instagram be a tool to inspire you? Well, there’s the obvious: Scrolling photos of what others are posting. I’m going to take that a step deeper to give you a tangible tool to make Instagram useful to your photography.

However ‘Gram savvy you are, I recommend making this little symbol your friend. Instagram’s “Favorite” or “Save” flag is a perfect tool because you can add collections then add and organize photos similar to my list in Evernote.

My favorite collections are:

  • Do
  • Go Find
  • Resources – How-tos or locations in the city
  • Graffiti (or any specific subject you want to focus on)
  • About – I place photos here when the poster has included background or a story I find as useful for backstory

Once you have lists and flagged photos, you’ve unwittingly begun a plan for your year!

Your next step will be to review these lists and flags to find what you can pair up – by location or time of year, etc. Your final step: Grab that camera and go!

I hope you find my tips and tools helpful and will share with me your results.