5 Photography Tips to Keep Your Creative Juices Flowing

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Stay connected to nature and see your space with fresh eyes during social distancing.

I’ve caught myself daydreaming about long trails, sweeping vistas and mountain breezes more than a few times during the last month I’ve spent physically distancing. As a travel photographer and the host of the REI video series, In Our Nature, I’ve been lucky enough to observe and photograph many beautiful places.

Nature photography is something I’ve loved since I was a teenager. When done mindfully, it brings me into the present moment, connects me to the outdoors and helps me see my environment with fresh eyes. If you’re like me and you love taking photos, you might be missing the chance to step outside with your camera or smartphone. Remember: Even during social distancing, you are still creative.

One way I’m trying to remind myself of this is by bringing my outdoor photography into my home. You don’t need to be a professional photographer or own an expensive camera to do this. Want to give it a try? Here are five ways to practice outdoor photography indoors.

Create miniature outdoor scenes

A tiny figurine stands above a canyon made of pancakes

The pancake canyon from the author’s #ErinsGreatIndoors series. (Photo Credit: Erin Sullivan)

Let me ask you something a bit quirky: Are there outdoor scenes you can imagine right now? What if you could create them using objects in your home? And what if you did just that, then photographed them? That’s exactly what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks, and it’s brought me so much joy. I’ve created a pancake canyon, an icy river with pillows, and a gelatin lake complete with asparagus trees. You don’t need figurines like mine to do this—I’ve seen tons of creative iterations. Check out the hashtag #OurGreatIndoors on Instagram for inspiration from creators around the world.

Take a self-portrait with your gear

I’m not sure if this idea is funny, genius or both. Early in my blogging career, I wrote a post about my favorite outdoor products and covered myself in gear for the Instagram photo. I looked incredibly silly, but it was a fun exercise that let me show off my personality. The point of this photo isn’t to brag about how much gear you’ve accumulated—not at all. It’s to surround yourself with the tools you use to do what love outside, and possibly meet others like you. I recommend using a tripod for this, if you have one. If not, a smartphone or handheld camera is great, too.

Try light painting

Light painting of a palm tree in the desert at night

With light painting, you don’t need to travel to Morocco to create a nighttime desert scene. (Photo Credit: Erin Sullivan)

How about a nighttime activity? Try light painting by using a long exposure on your camera. To experiment with this, find the darkest part of your home or yard and set your camera on a tripod or prop it up on something stationary. Next, grab a headlamp, flashlight or other light source. Change your camera settings to a long exposure (aka slow shutter speed), like 10 or more seconds. Then, hit the shutter and jump in front of the camera to paint something with your light. Some phones will let you set a long exposure—a quick internet search should reveal if yours is one of them.

Tune into the details

It’s easy to miss the details when you’re photographing a grand outdoor scene, but staying home offers an opportunity to pay attention to what you might normally miss. And there are tons of details to notice in your house or apartment building: water droplets on your plants, the look and feel of soapy bubbles, your cat’s eyes. Do a quick scan of your living space: Are there colors, textures or patterns you can photograph? Notice the unique wood grain on your kitchen table, the lines in your own palm or the shadows that form as the light shines in the window. Zooming in on your subject is just one way of abstracting it. What other ways can you practice abstraction in your photography?

Set up a tent indoors

Camping from home is a great way to keep kids entertained. Snap a photo or two to keep your own creative juices flowing.

Spending long hours indoors can be really challenging. But why not bring the camping spirit into your home by setting up your tent inside? Arranging an indoor camping scene can help you maintain your creative spirit and bring delight to an otherwise dark time. Consider using photos from previous camping trips as inspiration and taking that classic shot of the view from inside your tent.

Are you finding ways to stay creative while at home? Tell us how in the comments below.

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