Looking to Your Own Work for Inspiration

Using your own portfolio to get new inspiration for your photography

I sat at my desk and did something I haven’t done in a long while. I started looking back through my older work. Not last year’s work, or even the year before that. No, these were images from six years ago that haven’t seen the light of day in at least five years.

These images flooded my screen and brought tears to my eyes. I was immediately struck by the emotion in the images. No, they weren’t technically perfect. I had only just purchased Lightroom and begun my foray into editing. But still, they captivated me. 

And in that moment I knew I had lost something vital. I had gotten caught up in the “industry” of photography and lost the heart. I have honed my skill over the years but does that make my images better? Maybe, but not necessarily.

I’ve lost a lot of clients over the past two years too. Many moved away and personal crisis had me avoiding my business so I didn’t invest the effort to replace them. When I finally picked it back up again, things were different. I was different. I blamed the lack of clientele on the poor economy, the over-saturated market, a high military turnover rate in my area and frankly, people’s unwillingness to invest in custom photography.

But what if I was the problem? What if they saw the light go out of my work? What if I just wasn’t producing the emotional imagery I was capable of? Ouch. Talk about a punch in the gut. The truth is a hard pill to swallow sometimes and this was no exception. 

But I don’t want this to be a big sob story! Once I got over myself, I continued to look through picture after picture and found great inspiration in my own work! I may have lost my original vision amidst the constantly changing landscape of photography but I knew I could find it again. If you’re feeling anything like me, then I think you’ll find this really helpful. Here are a few ideas for finding inspiration in your own work.

Tips for Finding Inspiration in Your Work

  1. Go through large chunks of work from any given timeframe so that you can recognize overall patterns and styles you favored when your eyes were fresh and your vision was clear.
  2. Keep notes on the things you things you did well (exposure, sharpness, posing, etc) and the mistakes you made. (We often learn more from our mistakes than our successes).
  3. Try to hone in on your artistic vision. What did you tend to photograph most? Did you tend to fill the frame with your subject or always include more of the environment? Which method do you prefer now and why? Note the patterns in your work.
  4. What do your images make you feel? When I was looking through my work, I was struck with such emotion! Nostalgic, joyful, tender - these were some of the words that came to mind as I was scrolling through my work. Keeping track of which emotions correspond to your work can really help with branding your photography business, if that’s something you’re working on.
  5. Try to avoid focusing on your editing style as this isn’t necessarily indicative of your artistic vision. We all go through editing “phases” but just because I used a horrible Lightroom standard cross process preset, oversaturated to the max, doesn’t mean the image has no merit. (TIP: use Lightroom’s sync feature to convert all the images you’re viewing to b&w temporarily so that you’re less distracted by the editing you performed.

All too often, we look outside ourselves for inspiration for our work. We pour over other photographer’s images, secretly comparing ourselves to them, and the experience leaves us feeling empty. Maybe you’ve lost the joy you once had in photography. Maybe you feel burnt out. I encourage you to remember why you started and if needed, start again.