For professional creatives, staying passionate about work can sometimes be a challenge—especially if product photography is the focus of your business.
When you’re taking photos of products day-in and day-out, finding inspiration can be hard, but these ideas should help.
Try different photography equipment
New toys won’t cure burnout, but they can certainly help. An additional lens, upgraded photography studio lighting, or even a film camera might be enough of a nudge to spark your creativity.
Take some time to research equipment and props you’re interested in — even if it’s not something that you think you could use on a regular basis. Researching and shopping for new gear can tap into numerous emotions, something to keep in mind during your product shoots. Your goal here is to welcome variety, and in turn, inspire some great ideas.
For example, consider giving refraction photography a try. To do so, you’ll need access to a macro lens and a glass ball. This is something you might even be able to incorporate into your product images.
Buy, rent, or borrow
Think of your gear exploration as a treat (and depending on what you choose, possibly a business investment as well). Try to step outside your comfort zone for this. “Find a vintage film camera at a secondhand store, and learn to use it. Rent a new lens, and master it,” suggests photographer Jen Hooks. Similarly, you could do a gear swap within your network of photographers. This gives you a low-cost way to experiment.
Learn something new
Education can be enlightening and inspiring. And depending on what you learn, your new knowledge could lead to business opportunities. Even better, learning skills is good for your mental health and keeps your brain healthy, helping to slow cognitive decline.
For benefits on all fronts, consider learning a new skill that complements your current abilities:
- Video and/or sizzle reels: Sizzle reels are short videos that offer an overview of a service, product or brand. They should be captivating and tell a story.
- Real estate photography: Adding real estate photography to your offered services can be lucrative. And it’s an interesting way to expand your skillset.
- Graphic design: Graphic design can be a great creative outlet. There are plenty of tools to learn and many free resources available.
- Blogging: Along with providing a change of pace, creating a variety of content for your website can help potential clients find you.
Spend time on a passion project
What’s something you love or have always wanted to photograph? Or is there a style you’ve been wanting to perfect? Turn that into a passion project — something stress-free and interesting. For you, this might mean photographing rescue animals, architecture, or even fashion.
For example, photographer Sarah Throop donates her time and skills to local animal rescue groups, capturing personality-filled images of adoptable pets.
Equestrian and lifestyle photographer Kate Kosnoff incorporates social justice into her photography, creatively weaving movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter into her work.
Or take a page from this collective of photographers: The group came together to amplify equestrians of color. Don’t be afraid to collaborate on a project. If you want, you can use your passion project as a way to build friendships and meet other creatives.
Take a fresh approach
Product photography can get monotonous, especially if the bulk of your work is white-background shots. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try something new, especially for non-hero images (think social, web, advertisements, lifestyle):
Experiment with arrangement, lighting and styling. Don’t be afraid to play around with how you present products. If you need some inspiration, here are a few ideas:
Flat lays are useful for numerous types of products — clothing, books, gear, etc. You can use flat lays to add context to a product (think lifestyle) or to showcase it on its own.
Bring life to products by hanging them — and you can get creative here. This works especially well for clothing and accessories. Look at what photographer Justina Reinhart did on her Instagram with apparel photography.
Show the product in action to make it easier for customers to picture the item in their own lives. Sunday Lawn Care uses product photography on their site to show the product in use and attached to a hose. These shots also give shoppers a better concept of the size of the product.
Luggage brand Lojel uses lifestyle shots to show context and help shoppers envision themselves using their suitcases.
These are essential shots for products such as makeup and jewelry. Plan these keeping in mind what makes that specific product unique.
Think about how you’re arranging and photographing your products. Is there any variety? If possible, mix up the composition: font angle, diagonal, group shots, etc.
Go macro and focus on details
Try emphasizing the minute details of the products you’re shooting. It’s a small change you can instantly put into practice.
- Focus on highlighting intricacies such as the texture of a watch band or highlighting detailed stitching in shoe photography.
- Aim for high-quality macro images: crisp, clear and balanced.
- If you’re using your flash for macro shots, consider getting a small diffuser to soften any shadows.
- Play around with the narrow focal plane.
If you don’t have a macro lens, this could be a great opportunity to rent, buy, or borrow some new gear.
Pro tip: Combine this with idea #2: Learn something new about macro photography with a Masterclass.
Not happy with the shadows in your shot? You can learn how to add a natural shadow in Photoshop to fix them in post-processing.
Look to other’s work for inspiration
If you’re struggling to come up with new ideas, browsing at other photographers’ work could be just the inspiration you need.
- Browse photo books, other studios’ portfolios or blogs, or social media.
- Plan a virtual coffee session with other photographers (product or otherwise). Discuss your work, get feedback, and brainstorm ideas with your connections. Don’t be afraid to say you’re feeling stuck.
- Check out photo galleries, university art shows, and the work of contest winners.
Don’t feel like you need to stick to your niche here. You can pull ideas from all types and styles of photography. For example, I find a lot of inspiration for my own work from photographers like Barbara D. Livingston and Beba Vowels.
Lastly, make sure you set aside time for yourself. Whether you want to go for a walk, take a bath, get a massage or go on vacation, it’s important to step away from your photography to refresh.
Find a support group
Create or find a group that you can lean on for support, ideas and advice. For example, Women Photograph has a wonderful online community and they also offer mentorships, workshops and grants.
Your support group doesn’t have to be made up of photographers. Other creatives can offer fresh perspectives as well as sympathize with similar struggles. Groups such as Freelancing Females bring together people from around the country (and beyond) and provide a wealth of knowledge and resources.
Set an out-of-office email
If you feel like you need a mental health day, take one. To relieve some stress, create an “out-of-office” email. Any inquires will get an automatic response so you won’t feel pressured to check your email constantly.
Not sure what to write? At a minimum, your message should include how long you’ll be unavailable and when you’ll return.
Here’s a template to use (and customize):
"Thanks for reaching out. I am currently out of the office and not checking email. I’ll be returning on [date], and I’ll respond to your email as soon as possible after my return."
Talk to a friend or professional
If you’re going through a rough patch, consider talking to a trusted friend or professional. If you’re unsure how to find a professional:
- Go to Psychology Today
- Search for therapists in your area
- Vet few people until you find the one you connect with
Don't feel like you have to pursue the first therapist you find. You may even find that group therapy works better for you. Also, some providers offer a sliding scale for payment. And, if it makes you more comfortable, ask about virtual visits.
Set up a sustainable self-care system
Taking care of yourself should be part of your daily routine. Take regular breaks, get good sleep and make sure you’re incorporating some movement (such as walking the dog or yoga) into your day.
Keep it up
Just like relationships, keeping the passion alive in a long-term career can sometimes take work. If you want more inspiration, check out these tips from entrepreneurs on fueling passion, get product styling ideas from Martha Stewart’s photo stylist, or explore more ways to support your mental health.
Getting out of a rut is definitely possible. And likely, your photography will come out stronger and more creative.