Tips to always have a bunch of ideas.

Inspiration is the key to good creative work, not only for photographers but for anyone working mindfully. It's what gives your creations the spark of magic that makes them stand out from the crowd. Where to find inspiration? How to stay inspired when feeling creatively blocked?

In this blog post, I'll share some of my personally tested tips for finding inspiration.

Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro who needs only a little reminder, I hope you'll find some helpful tips in this post. Let's get started!

Retro-inspired lunch of canned fish, rustic bread, pickles and vodka.
Retro-inspired lunch of canned fish, rustic bread, pickles and vodka. A reference to Eastern Europe's pre-digital era.

Finding inspiration is like building the house of the third pig, of bricks, not straws. Collect your bricks and build strong walls to rely on them.

The first rule: Don't run against yourself. That will frustrate you and won't inspire you.

When I started developing my food photography and building my portfolio, I tried a lot of different styles. My Instagram feed was full of recipe developers and content creators. I wanted to shoot beautiful setups like them, style food like Michelin chefs, bake cakes and invent the new super salad or cereal breakfast. The problem is that I'm not a chef. I like cooking for my family, but I throw ingredients in the pot to feed them, not to make it beautiful. It is nothing to take a photo of it. I don't enjoy decorating cakes but making them look beautiful in pictures.

Taking photographs is my passion. 

Working with skilful people who know how to decorate cakes or cook the best steak allows me to concentrate on the photo process.

Moving the lights around is more fun for me than baking. 

I love making things fly. Even more, I love to think about how to make things fly. 

And I love playing with colours. 

For most of my life, I’ve worked with graphic design, and part of it was making posters. I build many of my photos like posters.

And I decided to turn to what makes me happy rather than chasing something that is not me. 

Levitating strawberry on pancakes with dripping honey
Levitating strawberry on pancakes with dripping honey, a photograph that doesn't require cooking.

Now I know what will inspire me.

  • Reading my favourite children's books with my children. They are still at the perfect age for that. We took it by Alice in Wonderland like a storm. It's finally time to finish the stories about Pippi. I couldn't do it when I was a child and now is the second perfect time.
  • More paintings than photography. After so many years, I realise how little I know about art and how much I have forgotten. And there is so much inspiration in any style period.
  • Watching good movies. European cinema may not be for everyone, but there are still plenty. Here are some titles popping in my mind at the moment: Big Fish (Tim Burton), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, don't miss that name!), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I have to admit, I can fill a list only with Tim Burton’s titles), Sin City (Frank Miller), In the mood for love (Wong Kar-Wai), Closer (Mike Nichols) and many more. They have one thing in common, being a visual feast.
  • I cleaned up my feed and added people I wanted to learn from. It's not personal if you're not involved. There is a possibility that I simply missed you. I took that task seriously. If too many straws cover the brick, would be difficult to find the valuables. My Instagram’s purpose has always been to be business-oriented rather than personal.
  • Turning to memories. It doesn't matter your age, as we all have memories from yesterday, the last vacation, childhood, or that moment when the sun flashed in the glass of water.
  • Collect references to others' work. Something that caught your attention, a detail, light setup, colour combination, whatever grabbed you.
  • Make notes and write down those ideas that flashed in your mind before they disappeared. You can build your treasure for the gloomy days.
Cat in a scene of roasted pumpkin with wallnuts
Cat in a scene of roasted pumpkin with walnuts, inspired by the Dutch classic painters.

When the above is not working, here are more tips to keep work running:

  • Copy, but don't copy the other's work. Take someone's photo and recreate it with different objects and different backgrounds. Make it your way. Then move something, add something, and take off another. Improvise.
  • Turn back to those of your photos you wanted to create differently. I know there are always some. When there are no fresh ideas, it is the right time to improve the old ones.
  • Take a break to refresh. Change the desk view with a walk in the park or something you think is not related to photography. Ease your mind, and it will gift you back some fresh ideas. If you are diving into burnout, you can’t be creative. It is time to step back.

The second rule: There is no failure if you prepare well.

The professionals always deliver to the client. Sometimes the work is just a well-executed work, and that is enough. The inspiration is more for the personal portfolio to prepare for a future task. (See my previous blog post about Personal and Test Shots.) It is to fulfil the artist’s heart to create. I know many professional photographers, highly paid, who are good only in the technical part of their job and never had the spark of creativity. They build the same image every time and deliver for the task. Every professional photographer knows how to do a well-working photo. So there is always a plan B for those grey days, and it comes with the experience, not the inspiration.

L'appetit vient en mangeant.

It is difficult to impossible to get that amazing photo while being a couch potato. Get up and turn on the camera. Start building a set, something simple. Then twist it, and improvise. It might get a result or not, but it is certain, there wouldn’t be a result without action.

And here we come to my favourite game.

Play like a child

To get creative in my food photography, I would challenge the usual.

I love turning the world upside down. If the object is short, I will make it tall, if it is heavy, I will make it look light. Creating such a setup is a process to enjoy. I turn to a kid playing with food.

Wine splashes drop down on pyramid of levitating various cheese blocks
Wine splashes drop down on a pyramid of levitating various cheese blocks, challenging the gravitation.

A kid's imagination is boundless. They see the world differently, and they're not afraid to experiment. Why should we stop as adults and miss the fun?

A creative mind is born from experimentation. Take a risk and try new things. Have fun, enjoy the play. A little mess at the end is always worth it.