On January 1 of this year, I started my fifth 365 project. The biggest reason why people tell me they can’t finish a 365 project of their own is because after the first couple of months, they don’t know what to shoot. Sometimes it catches them off guard and sometimes they know that they’re losing steam way before they burn out. Either way they feel helpless when it comes to doing anything about it. The things is, when you pick up your camera everyday for years, you get really good at finding inspiration everywhere. It’s kind of a chicken and egg problem, really. You need to do something that requires inspiration and motivation in order to find more inspiration and motivation to do that thing you wanted to do. And that’s where I come in.
Since I’ve already been through it, I thought I’d share with you some of the main sources of inspiration I’ve found when shooting gets boring. I wanted to start off this series with something that we all probably use for inspiration already: Milestones.
Is this point too obvious? Maybe, but it’s true. One of my biggest motivators in photographing my family’s daily life and keeping up with my 365 is being able to remember big and little events with more clarity. Look at your milestones and start by asking yourself what you want to remember about them.
You know those days when you wake up feeling like you’ve done absolutely nothing with your life? Imagine being able to flip through a folder on your computer and be instantly reminded about even just a handful of things you’ve achieved. Do you have babies or little kids who run your life? I can’t tell you how many times looking back at pictures of their milestones have made me feel like less of a failure. Small milestones that your kids reach can be huge mood lifters.
Speaking of kids, most of them will need some help to remember these days, even if they’re hugely important. They’re so busy learning about the world that their little brains clear out memories to make room for more info. Having pictures of the important moments will ensure that they can retain at least some memory of those days. If your kids are younger than four or five, they probably won’t remember much of anything from right now when they’re older, but the images will still serve as a powerful illustration alongside your retelling of the events.
This one is big for me. As a military family, we’ve never lived close to family and we’re constantly making and leaving friends. Without photos of the milestones in our lives, no one except for us would be able to experience them. If you’re running low on motivation, think about your people who live far away and what pictures of an important event would mean to them.
And on the flip side, sometimes everyone is together during a milestone. Because this is might be a rare occasion, grab your camera and shoot away! Sure, everyone is present for the event, but won’t they (and you) also love to have reminders of everyone being together?
Do you know what can turn a super boring picture into something that you can’t stop looking at? Emotion. We’re social and emotional creatures which means we’re drawn to displays of emotion. What happens during milestones? People burst with joy. They cry. They hug. They celebrate. There’s so much big emotion during milestones, don’t let any of it go to waste!
This point ties back to the first one. When you feel like you’re losing perspective, take a look back at pictures from your graduation, from your first born’s first birthday, from that day your preschooler learned how to ride a bike or Christmas morning ten years ago. We have the fantastic ability to adapt to changing circumstances, but that also means we can lose sight of what’s really important. When we can remember our milestones, we can better asses our growth and changes.
Birthdays are fantastic milestones to photograph. Since they happen every year, they’re a great time to reflect on how someone has changed. How do you celebrate your birthday or your kids’ birthdays? Do you hang out at home with a couple of friends or do you go all out with a Pinterest party? Document the changes over the years in the way you celebrate. Take pictures of the decorations to remember a favorite character or color. One year it was dinosaurs and the next year is was superheros. Photograph the gifts, not to remember exactly what was given, but to remember what made that person light up. My son loves the most bizarre and ordinary objects so he got a flashlight, a stopwatch and some pens for his birthday one year. The gifts a person gets can show a lot about them (and the person giving them).
Anniversaries don’t have to be only about your relationship with your partner. Anything that happens annually offers a great opportunity to reflect on your growth. Think about what has changed in a year and try to find a way to document it visually. Physical changes might be pretty straightforward to photograph, but there are also bound to be some emotional changes worth documenting. Use what you know about composition and lighting to emphasize a particular mood to help capture those emotional changes. How do you celebrate your anniversaries? The bigger the occasion, the bigger the celebration will likely be. Documenting the details and people that were a part of that celebration will help you remember how great it felt to reach that anniversary.
I love photographing holidays, mine and yours. Most of the bones of the holidays are pretty universal; if you celebrate Christmas, you likely put up a Christmas tree and open presents on Christmas morning. But a lot of the details are so unique to each family. Do you put your artificial tree up right after Thanksgiving or do you cut your own tree down and put it up in December? Do you open one, all or none of your gifts on Christmas Eve? Do you bake a specific holiday treat each year? Watch a certain movie? Document these traditions! It’s so easy to let them slide over the years until they’ve been completely forgotten. If you don’t keep up with them, your kids might be inspired to restart them when they’re older after they see the pictures you have. Look at all of the big and little holidays that pop up throughout the year too!
If you’re really running low on inspiration, trips (they’re not vacations if you have kids with you) are great for getting out of photography ruts. Focus on the details that are unique to the place you’re visiting. What amazing food did you get to try? Take pictures of your kids experiencing something brand new. Even day trips can be great for finding inspiration. Also, pictures are cheaper than souvenirs.
Big family reunions count as milestones. Those ones you see in movies where over a hundred people get together for a long weekend full of games and food and absolutely no fighting. But other reunions count too. Picking up your partner from the airport after an extended work trip or deployment. Your family meeting your new baby for the first time. Coming back home after a trip overseas. What happens at these reunions? Big emotions! Connections! Hugs. Smiles. All of the things that make you feel good when you look at pictures of them, unless you’re dead inside.
Don’t know what to shoot today? Do you have kids? Take a quick inventory of anything they’re close to mastering. Walking, tying shoes, trying a new food, reading. What is something that your kids have done recently that they couldn’t do last week? With little ones, Firsts happen all the time and they are all pretty exciting to witness. Pay attention to what they’re close to mastering and start documenting the process. The tumbles as they learn how to walk and the hilarious reactions to new foods. For older little ones, think about things like first days of school (each year is a new one!) or first days of a new activity. If you have pictures from any firsts, then you know how gratifying it can be to look back and see how far your kids have come and how far you have come as a parent. And if you have no kids, what new things have you done?
The last type of milestone that I’ll touch on for this already-too-long blog post is accomplishments. Think about promotions, awards, ceremonies, competitions. Take pictures of the moment your loved one is celebrated for their achievements. Take pictures of the room full of people cheering them on. Take pictures of them beaming with pride! Also consider documenting when someone learns a new skill. Is your child close to learning how to ride a bike? Are you getting ready to run your first marathon? Capture the moment of celebration when you meet your goals but also look at the process to get there for photographic inspiration.