How to Boost Your Creativity in Your Own Town

It can be the most difficult surrounding to photograph. Out of nowhere, you may find yourself stopped in the tracks of creativity before you even know what hit you. Or, it may hit you right away. You may walk, or drive, for hours looking for something to take pictures of, and return home with nothing.

This place is—the town you live in.

Fear not, though, for there is hope. A town, city, village, metropolis, etc. that you’re familiar with can be one of the most challenging environments to take pictures in. And, I say, “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Traverse City, Michigan
Camera: Leica M6/ Kodak Portra 400

After all, if you’re familiar with a place, there’s no visual stimulation. There’s nothing that ‘wows’ you or perks your brain. Being in new surroundings is exciting but we’re not all able to travel from new place to new place, constantly exposing ourselves to new surroundings. For many of us, our environment is routine and stale.

Here’s the trick: it’s not routine or stale.

If you feel like you’re in a creative slump, try to step out of yourself and your familiarity and look at your surroundings from a fresh perspective.

I live in the town I grew up in. It felt like there wasn’t anything to photograph nearby because I’d told myself that, “Nothing new is out there.” That’s where I was wrong. Not only are new photographic possibilities out there, but those possibilities are always changing because there could be a small added element to the scene, or the light could be different.

Normally, when I’m trying to come up with ideas for places to photograph, my location ideas are far away. I know they’ll be a little more unfamiliar to me and that will make them more interesting. However, more recently, I’ve been concentrating on places that are closer to home. It all comes down to the ‘Work Smarter, Not Harder’ adage.

Traverse City, Michigan
Camera: Leica M6/ Kodak Portra 400

So, on a cloudy day—this is my favorite light—I set out to photograph my hometown. As if a familiar surrounding isn’t enough, it was also post-autumn/ early winter, so the leaves had fallen and it was that time of year when everything takes on a color that is simultaneously gray and brown.

Two blocks away is an auto repair shop. It’s an old building and there are usually some interesting vehicles in the parking lot there. I pulled in and found some great subject matter. Since the time of year is often drab in color, I chose to seek out pops of color.

Traverse City, Michigan
Camera: Leica M6/ Kodak Portra 400

For anyone feeling weighed down by their surroundings, look no further than the work of William Eggleston. His work is proof that there is something to photograph anywhere and everywhere.

So, go out into your neighborhood or main street. It could have buildings or it could be a dirt road.

Photograph it.

What you take pictures of may be familiar to you, but it’ll be new to someone else. And you’ll be producing art.

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