The Inspiration Challenge

It is probably not a shock to anyone reading this that I believe toy photography to be a very creative art form that is full of creative artistic people. One of the most blissful times in a creative person’s life is when inspiration hits and creativity flows thru them like a torrential rainstorm. However when inspiration dries up and ideas are as scarce as water in the desert, well, those times are tough.

I believe it is important for a creative type to push thru these dry times, and strive to create new things even when inspiration is lacking. For working professional photographers these dry times can often be survived by pouring oneself into projects for their clients. However as Joe McNally is fond of saying, one needs food for the table, and food for the soul. If you are a pro your clients provide the food for the table, however you still need to find food for your soul in terms of personal projects. If you are an amateur like most toy photographers are, it’s all food for the soul.

So how do you feed your creative soul when the well is dry?

One solution that I have found works for me is to take on photography challenges that have themes.

There are many themeless challenges, for example the 365 or 52 challenges where one takes a photo every day or every week for a year. These challenges can be great exercises to engage in, but I find they don’t really help solve the inspiration problem, because they tend to lack a theme.

The Theme Is The Key

I find that when I am feeling uninspired I am in one of two states of mind. Either I can’t think of anything, or my mind is spinning and so busy that I can’t settle on one single idea. The theme provides that focal point to center my thoughts, and a subject to mentally iterate on.

So if the theme is the key the question becomes: Where can I find a theme based challenge? You are in luck, for I have some ideas. All of them revolve around Google Plus, as that is my social network of choice, so if you use something else, your mileage may vary.

The first place to look is in communities. Most photography based communities I know of have regular challenges and contests that revolve around a theme. The Toy Photographers community  runs monthly challenges that anyone can join.

The next place to look is hashtag based themes. These are daily or weekly themes in the public feed that use hashtags to contribute. Searching for things like #treetuesday #wordlessonwednesday, or one of my favourites, #JoinInDaily (where a theme word is posted once per day), will reveal all sorts of these theme based challenges.

The last place I will mention, is the Chrysta Rae Photography Scavenger Hunt. This is one of the granddaddy’s of theme challenges. Participation is free, but you need to sign up for each round(spaces are limited). If you get in, you are given a list of 7 to 10 words, and given 8 weeks to come up with your best image for each word. For me this specific challenge has been one of the largest influences in my personal growth as an artist.

Having 8 weeks to mull over a word, and every connotation that word may represent, and then turning it into an image is both highly challenging, highly rewarding, and most importantly, a large focal point to get ones inspirational juices flowing. The best way to get in on the next round is by following +Lauri Novak, the current hunt leader.

I was participating in a round of the Scavenger Hunt a couple years ago, and one of the words was “strawberry”. Now, I am not a fan of strawberries. I don’t really like them, I don’t really care about them. So ideas for shooting them were scarce in my rattled little brain. So I let the idea percolate in the back of my mind for weeks.

A Case In Point

One evening I was lying in bed and letting my mind wander, and I remembered I needed a photo for strawberry.  However this time instead of having nothing, my brain almost instantly filled with a fully formed idea. A quick trip to the grocery store later, and I created this shot:

That is one image I would never have come up with on my own, except by being inspired by a theme, and letting my mind iterate on it.

So if you find yourself in a slump, give a themed challenge a try. You may just be surprised what you can come up with.

3 thoughts on “The Inspiration Challenge”

  1. Great post, Dave! I too find a lot of inspiration from contests or challenges.

    Another great one is to look for special, small holidays like “National Cheesecake Day,” or “National Friendship Day,” two recent examples. Those kinds of days practically fall on each day of the month, and can offer quick bursts of inspiration or at least provide a prompt to build off of.

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