4 Places Photographers Should Look for Inspiration

Too often photographers reside in their own little bubbles. They have their influences, their favorite photographers, the blogs they regularly venture out of their comfort zones. There’s nothing wrong with sticking with what you know, but it’s worthwhile to sometimes take stock of what you’re feeding your brain. Looking to other sources for inspiration on what to shoot, especially if you’re a commercial or stock photographer, can be beneficial to your career. To help in your quest to level up, I created this list of five places every photographer should look for inspiration.

No matter what, you have to be aware of what’s happening in the world today. Too often I see photographers trying to sell images that are clearly from another era—think old mobile devices, outdated fashion, etc.—through their portfolios. Not only is it nearly impossible to sell these images, it also makes you look like you’re not keeping up with the times. With that said, there’s a lot you can learn as a photographer from simply paying attention to a few things.


The Advertising World

At the end of the day, this is who you’re selling your work to. Advertisers, agencies, and brands are the ones looking to license your work, so it’s a good idea to keep your finger on the button when it comes to their tastes. Pay attention to your favorite sites, and the campaigns of your favorite brands. Go to a newsstand or your local magazine shop and flip through every magazine you can get your hands on (I regularly go to the local library to check the newest recipes and food photography trends). Pay attention to what types of photos advertisers are using for their campaigns. If you want to go a step further, use Pinterest to keep idea-boards of themes you come across.

In constantly tracking what types of images are being used in ad campaigns, you’re reminding yourself of what clients are actually buying, as opposed to just what looks cool on Instagram.


Other Photographers’ Work

Avoid the desire to remain in your own eco-chamber, solely looking at and scrutinizing your own work ad nauseam. That’d be like musicians only listening to their own music all the time. While it’s good to have favorite photographers and chefs for your influences, I challenge you to turn to your peers or other photographers who might be slightly more successful than you. Take a page from the book of a photographer that’s getting gigs and licensing work. See who she’s shooting for, what her style is, and maybe reach out for advice.

Be sure to use your Instagram as a way to build your community and network.


Branding and Brands

While fine art photographers might turn to galleries and photobooks for inspiration, commercial photographers should turn to brands. I know, weird analogy. Hear me out though. If you aspire to shoot for a particular brand, you need to know what they’re all about. Take a walk around your house or apartment, look in your closet, your pantry, your refrigerator. What are some of the products you use the most? Now take the time to follow these brands on social media, check out their websites and what content they have on their blogs. What kinds of images are they using? When you start paying attention to their style, you can start thinking how to build your portfolio to fit their aesthetic. You can even take it one step further and find out what photographers shoot for these brands if you do a little digging.

The photography market is changing thanks to social media and the consumption of media in general. Because of this shift, there’s never been a higher demand to produce a constant stream of images. With brands and agencies needing to consistently publish content that includes images, they’re always looking to hire new photographers. If you can plug into what they’re looking for, you’re one step ahead of the game.


Tastes of Art Directors

You can think of creative directors and art directors as the gatekeepers and tastemakers of nearly every advertising campaign or magazine. Want to find out what they like and get inside their heads? Find out who the art and creative directors are at your favorite magazine or agency and follow them on Instagram or see if they have a blog.


In Conclusion

When it comes down to it, a great majority of commercial photography buyers are looking for images that will have an emotional impact. According to the Harvard Business Review, connecting with customers’ emotions is top of mind for brands, and the most popular style of images are the ones that make the viewer feel like they’re in the moment.

What are your sources of inspiration? How do you get your creative juices flowing? Share in the comments below!