Here’s How to Be a Creative Photographer During the Pandemic

All photos © Susan Stripling

(Editor’s Note: Exploring Light is a monthly Shutterbug column featuring tips, tricks, and photo advice from professional photographers in Canon Explorers of Light education program. This month's column is by Susan Stripling on how to remain creative during the Pandemic.)

2020 wasn’t the kindest year to photographers, and particularly those of us who derive most of our income photographing weddings. Cancellations, dates rescheduled (sometimes more than once!) and the overall uncertainty of just about everything made the year a difficult one on many levels.

As an educator as well as a photographer, my Facebook group would raise the same question over and over again: How do you stay creative? This is a general artist’s question that gets tossed around in normal years but it took a very different tone and meaning during the global pandemic.

After surviving this past year and redefining what being an artist means to me, I wanted to share my favorite tips on staying creative, even when times are tough.

Take a Short Break
First of all, it’s okay to take a break. I know it sounds counterproductive to being creative, but I find that if I force myself to do something, I start to resent the process. I didn’t pick up a camera for three months last summer, and it was the best thing that I could have done for myself.

Sometimes you simply have to take care of yourself and your family, eat well, sleep a lot, and reset your brain. It’s okay to not feel creative or productive all the time. You’re caring for yourself and setting the groundwork for your future endeavors.

Experience Other Forms of Art
As a photographer, I assumed that being creatively influenced meant that I had to follow the work of other photographers. This could not be further from the truth. As I continue to mature as a person, I find myself inspired to create more and more. I watch movies, read voraciously, garden, watch classes about interior design, and try to educate myself on industries and mediums that I don’t frequent. Almost all of my greatest creative ideas came from experiencing other forms of art.

Carry Your Camera Everywhere
used to reject this idea because it felt like bringing work with me, and for a while that felt true. Last year I started walking in a beautiful local cemetery, and carrying my camera allowed me to capture what I saw. From there I became enthralled with the changing seasons and started only documenting my walks with my macro lens. This led to the creation of a coffee table book based on those images.

Experiment with Personal Projects
These are things you’ll create for you and only you —they don’t even need to see the light of day! I ‘ve started working on a series of self-portraits in my studio that I just recently began to share. I’ve also tried other personal projects that I ultimately abandoned because they didn’t fulfill me in a way I had envisioned when I began the project. But that’s okay!

These experiments are great because you’re making for yourself only, and you can stop and start the process whenever you want. You don’t have a client dictating what you do, the artistic expression is entirely your own, and it’s enormously beautiful and gratifying to simply create for the love of creating.

Try Other Art Forms
I became a better photographer when I started painting last summer. Composition, lighting, shadow, and depth: it’s all universal. As I learned to create with paint, I became better at creating in camera. Who cares if you’re terrible at it, Try! Buy some watercolors, draw stick figures with pencil, and indulge your inner artistic child.

I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me over the past year. Art is a beautiful process, but it can be hard to move forward when you feel stuck. Good luck, and happy creating!

Susan has been photographing weddings, portraits, and theater for almost 18 years. She is an active member of Canon’s Explorer of Light program and has won multiple awards at the WPPI 16x20 print competition including the Grand Award in Wedding Photojournalism, the Grand Award in Weddings, and she holds the prestigious Grand Master status. Susan has been an educator for Photo Plus, WPPI, PPA, Mystic Seminars, and Creative Live. She is also the founder of The Wedding School, which strives to bring real, honest education to wedding photographers worldwide.

You can see more of Stripling’s work at the links below: