Photo Walking at the Watershed

Getting Out: Inspiration for Local Travelers

The year I started my 365 Project (one photo a day for a year), was a lean year for my travels. I didn’t take a substantial trip for almost six months. Most of us only get to travel once or twice a year so it’s important to stay inspired as a local travel photographer.

I use a couple of tricks to keep myself motivated and exploring when I’m at home

Photo Trees in Snow
First snow of winter. Photos like these are enough to get me out of the house on a cold, snowy day. If I remind myself of the beautiful photos to be made, I’m more likely to put on my boots and brave the winter.

Photo Challenges as Inspiration

In my article “Local Traveler: Finding Photo Ops,” I gave some tips on finding interesting places and events in your local area. But some days I need inspiration before I even leave the house.

Photo challenges are one source of inspiration that help me think creatively and sometimes led to interesting finds. Many websites like Digital Photography School run photo challenges and there are websites like Viewbug and Gurushots devoted to challenges. I also belong to a number of Flickr groups designed around challenges.

It’s not really about the challenge itself, but having a theme and usually a deadline for posting an image. Some challenges allow previously taken photos, others require a new photo made for the challenge. Making photos specifically for a challenge is the best for motivation – and sometimes impose this limitation on myself – it forces me to get out and make a new photo with the theme in mind.

The photo below was made specifically for a Viewbug competition that I entered “From Afar: People” Photo Contest. I do not photograph a lot of people so this was a challenge for me on a couple of levels. It was a gray day, but I was determined to get the shot. To brighten up the gray day, I grabbed the brightest umbrella I had on hand.

I chose the closest nature area and went for a walk – literally. That’s me in the photo!

And for those of you who are worried about submitting to competitions because you feel that your gear is inadequate, this photo was taken with a point-and-shoot Sony DSC-HX90v.

Photo Walking at the Watershed
This photo was taken specifically for a photo challenge “From Afar: People”. It made the finals. The weather was foggy and rainy, but I went out anyway grabbing the most colorful umbrella that I owned. I used the delay feature on my camera to capture me walking along the boardwalk at a local nature reserve.
Sony DSC-HX90v 4.1 mm 1/25@f7.1 ISO100.

Challenges helped me to think differently about where I live and send me on an explorations – albeit ones close to home. Finding places that fit the contest theme is a challenge within a challenge.

Regardless of whether you are competitive or not, these challenges can provide inspiration. The important thing is to use challenges as a motivators and not get invested in WINNING the competition. The photo made for the Viewbug competition “From Afar: People” worked well, it made the finals, but this is a rarity. Sometimes competitions can be a bit — well, competitive — so I have a couple of other motivators that aren’t so high-pressure.

Random Photos

The 365 Project website that I use to post photos includes a “flashback” feature that throws up a random image I’ve posted sometime in the past. I’m not sure what other photographers use this feature for, but I when I was low on inspiration, I’d click the flashback button and up would come a blast-from-the-past.

When I clicked this button today, this photo popped up….

Photo A Railroad Runs Through It
Railroad tracks running through Cliff Cave State Park, Missouri on a cloudy day.
Sony A7II 31mm 0.4sec@f16 ISO100

This photo reminds me that I haven’t been back to Cliff Cave State Park for a while and the day I was there was rainy, thus the moody photograph. It’s time to go back for another photoshoot at this location and see what different photos I can make.

Road trip! — well a short one anyway.

My style and technical skill has likely changed and hopefully improved since I took this photograph and I may be focusing on different compositional elements. This return trip also allows me to continue my exploration of the area.

Or maybe I can focus on the content of the photo and re-create it elsewhere. There are other abandoned railroad tracks that I can photograph maybe some in places in my local area that I haven’t yet visited.

I choose random photos through my 365 Project, but I can also get random images from my Flickr account through Flickriver. I’m sure there are other ways to select a random photo on other platforms, but if all else fails, choose a random date instead and find out what you photographed on that day.

Random Inspirations

As part of the 365 Project community, I had access to a number of inspirational resources designed to help photographers think of something to photograph each and every day. This can be a challenge during a 365 Project!

I created my own Random Photography Inspiration Generator that cycles through hundreds of possible themes.

Photo Random Inspiration Generator

Some of the ideas from the Random Inspiration Generator are concrete (“Photograph a local landmark”) or based on a photographic technique (“Photograph negative space”), but others are more amorphous and designed to engage creativity.For instance, the inspiration, “Photograph time passing” can be interpreted in many different ways. Clocks are obvious subjects and a search of historical or interesting clocks around town and can lead to a lot of local exploration. Alternatively, photographing a clock around the house in an interesting way also works. Photographing rust or other decay might also work as a metaphor for time passing as is a generational photo of a family. Or this inspiration might be the perfect time to play with long exposure or time lapse photography. These are just a few ideas – let your imagination take over!

This photo of Big Ben at Westminster shows a the famous clock, but also uses long exposure to show time passing.

Photo Big Ben Long Exposure
Westminster Bridge. Long exposure of tower of Big Ben in London.
Sony A7II 54mm 30sec@f16 ISO 100

Many of the inspirations (there are nearly 500 currently in the program!) are designed to give me inspiration for local travel photography. Some inspirations may work best for certain types of photography like architecture or street while others can be interpreted through the lens of a portrait or wildlife photographer. For travel photographers most inspirations will work for inspiring photos in London or in small town Colorado.

Mainly the inspirations are designed to help jump start my creativity and open my eyes. Once I start looking for something – say the color red – I start seeing it everywhere.

The following photo “Intersection” could have been inspired from many different ideas:

  • Photograph the color green
  • Photograph horizontal lines
  • Photograph rectangles
  • Photograph parallel lines
  • Photograph looking down
  • Photograph repeating patterns
  • Photograph strangers
  • Photograph city life
  • Photograph the end of the road
  • Photograph the journey home
Photo Intersection
Intersection in downtown St. Louis shot from the top deck of a parking garage.
Sony A7II 50mm 1/100@f6.3 ISO 100.

Feel free to use the Random Photography Inspiration Generator any time you need a bit of a motivational kick!

But no need to faithfully follow the inspiration and change the given inspiration to suit. If one idea doesn’t inspire, click the button to get a new inspiration – but before you do this, give the first inspiration a little thought. Sometimes our brains throw up the most interesting ideas.

These inspirations are not designed to have a time limit. I sometimes use these inspirations for one day or one photoshoot or sometimes they inspire a long-term project. For instance, I have an ongoing project entitled “Artists at Work”. I’ve photographed visual artists in a studio, street musicians, and dancers on stage.

Photo Dancers at Work
Dancers at Work.
Sony A7II 90mm 1/320@f2.8 ISO 1600.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, can a 1000 pictures be inspired by just one word? Let’s find out!

Weekly Photographic Inspiration 
Photograph middles

Use the comments below to tell us about what inspires you to get out and about and post photographs inspired by the Weekly Photographic Inspiration.


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