Fix Creative Fatigue

I’ve been having a blast writing this column for Digital Photo for many years, offering mostly technical tips on digital photography and digital image processing. In the future, I’ll continue to talk tech, but for now I’d like to offer some tips on a quick fix for those who have creative fatigue—photographers who feel as though they’re in a slump and need some inspiration. Believe me, having been a photographer for more than 40 years, I can honestly say, "Been there, felt that." I hope the following photography and digital darkroom tips help you get your creative juices flowing again.

1. Play with plug-ins and apps

Plug-ins and apps, which offer creative effects at the click of a mouse, can help you awaken the artist within. Adjust presets with sliders, and you can create one-of-a-kind images.

Left is the original image from which I created the opening image for this column. I used a vintage effect in Nik Software’s Snapseed to create a more artistic image of the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, N.Y.

2. Follow only one photography tip one weekend

Pick a composition tip and try to take lots of pictures that illustrate that one technique. For starters, try "The name of the game is to fill the frame." After that, try "Always look up." Or, make up your own.

An add-on to this idea is to use only one lens in one weekend.

3. Challenge yourself with HDR and go manual

Sure, you can put your camera on automatic-exposure bracketing for HDR (high dynamic range) images. In very high-contrast situations, however, that won’t cut it. If you don’t capture the entire dynamic range of a scene, you’ve defeated the purpose of HDR. So the idea is to find a scene with a very high-contrast range and capture the entire dynamic range.

Set your tripod-mounted camera on manual-exposure mode, set your aperture and adjust the exposure with the shutter speed. In many high-contrast situations, you may need to take five, seven or even nine exposures. Keep taking underexposed images until you have no "blinkies" on your camera’s LCD display. Keep taking overexposed images until you can clearly see into the shadows on the display.

After I created my HDR image in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro, I added the Dark/Ghostly effect in Topaz Adjust.

4. Learn lighting—from the master painters and by yourself

You can learn a lot about lighting from studying the work of the master painters. Observe how the masters used shadows and highlights by examining the main lighting elements in every painting and photograph. Try to re-create a masterpiece in your home. That’s what I tried to do with my Girl with a Pearl Earring photograph, which was inspired by Vermeer’s paining Girl with a Pearl Earring.

By the way, you don’t need a fancy studio or lighting equipment for great lighting. I took my Girl with a Pearl Earring photograph in my office using one Westcott Apollo 28-inch softbox. A Canon 580EX II Speedlite was placed inside the softbox and triggered with a Canon ST-E2 wireless transmitter.

5. Think like an artist

A few columns back, I wrote about thinking like a painter. Well, you can think like an artist, too. For this image, I thought like M.C. Escher, who was known for—among other cool and mathematical graphic techniques—drawing images in which stairs were going up and down at the same time.

Here’s how you can create this type of mirror image in Photoshop.

• Open a file.
• Select All and copy the file.
• Create a new document and drop in the file.
• Now you have two images that are exactly the same opened on your monitor.
• On the newer file, go to Image > Rotate > Flip Horizontally (or Vertically).
• On the newer file, double the Canvas size in one direction: Image > Canvas size. Now, you have a document that’s half blank and half filled with your image.
• Go back to your original file and copy and paste it into your newer file. Align the images so the inner edges match up for a perfect mirror image.
• Try rotating the image, as I did, for different effects.

6. Go for a walk

If all else fails, go for a walk to find creative inspiration. After all, as Raymond Inmon said, "If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk."

Well, my friends, as always, I hope you have enjoyed these quick fixes. I’ll see you all here next month at "Quick Fix."

Rick Sammon teaches photography, Photoshop and Lightroom around the world. You can visit with Rick at his website,

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