Photography can be an interesting profession. If you are a creative shooter as most of us are, at some point you run out of ideas of what to shoot. I can see this being an issue whether you shoot landscapes, street photography, or in a studio setting. After a certain amount of time you start to feel like you've shot the same shot, the same setup, the same subject. The question is how do you keep it fresh? How do you stretch your abilities and push yourself into new creative endeavors? I think the answer varies for most people but very often includes personal projects. The goal is to shoot the things and projects that you like and you find interesting. It's hard when you are in the same location to keep it fresh but even if you can't travel to a new location do something different. Model Mayhem is a great site that matches models with photographers. Most models work for free in exchange for copies of the photos you take. If you are in a rut hire a model and shoot for an afternoon. Get out and go have some fun. This time of year is especially tough because it's so dark and so cold. It can be difficult to be cooped up all winter but consider moving inside and setting up a small macro studio. You'd be surprised how interesting some of the small things around your house look with a macro lens. Even if you don't have a macro lens pick up a 50mm f1.8 lens. It's not quite a macro lens but it works fairly well. I've got a nice little set up that allows me to shoot models in my house. I bought a 9 foot white paper roll from Calumet Photo and a backdrop mount that I can put up in about 15 minutes. It's a great way for me to get my fix in the winter months. The set up was relatively inexpensive and I can buy more paper and different color paper if I decide to go that route. The set up also works great for pets too.
I love Google+ because there is a vibrant and flourishing community of photographers that share a ton of work. Yes Facebook is the 800 pound gorilla, but Google+ arguably gets better interactions and feedback than Facebook. This is especially true now that Google+ rolled out communities. Google+ communities are a great way to participate in a semi-private circle where only the members can interact. You can have multiple treads with different topics such as critiques, discussion or gear. I currently participate in 4 communities (Long Exposure Photographers, Chicago Photographers, Landscape Photographers, and Sports Shooters). I've found that in these communities the interactions and feedback is even better than the general Google+ feed and you can hone in on particular topics that interest you. Communities are a great way to get your work out there and share it with the photography world. You can find pretty much anything you are looking for from sports shooting to food photography and everything in between. I find myself spending 10-15 minutes a day just looking through all the great shots that are in my communities and my Google+ feed.
I also have found that there are some great e-books out there on photography that help inspire my personal work. I personally love Digital SLR Magazine I know it's not an e-book per se but it is available in iTunes and I tend to read it on my iPad. I also love to read Chicago Social Magazine. They have great photographs and product shots that get me thinking of what I can shoot around the house and how I can stage my next model. Some of my other favorites come from Flatbooks which I believe is owned by Trey Ratcliff. Craft and Vision also has some great e-books that teach you the technical skills you will need but also offer some inspirational images.
One of the websites that I read pretty much daily is FStoppers. They put up some great articles on the technical aspects of photography and do a lot of great behind the scenes (BTS) videos with experts from all over the industry. Some of my favorites are behind the scenes videos of Vogue shoots or some of these extreme sports shoots. It's definitely a site worth checking out and visiting often.
I think the final key to growing and progressing is shooting when you have the muse. For all your Timothy Ferris followers out there you know what I'm talking about but for those of you who haven't read The 4 Hour Work Week the muse is shooting when you feel inspired and in the mood to do something. It's the worst when shooting becomes a hassle or a job that you don't like. If you are like me this is the hardest part of being a photographer because I feel that if I'm not doing something that I'm not moving forward. When the muse is around I tend to do my best work and feel the happiest about what I'm doing. Hope this post gave you a few ideas on how to keep motivated this winter and whenever you are feeling in a rut. Let's hope for an early spring so we can all break this house arrest and get out and shoot.