Every day, that email with a prompt comes from the 365 Picture Today Team. And every day, we decide what we are going to do with that prompt - follow it, ignore it, or make it our own. What is your relationship with the daily prompts?
By profession, I am a professor of music theory and composition. I find that there are two types of students when it comes to teaching composition - those that hope for a textbook that will guide them through the process of writing music and those who feel that following someone else’s exercises and “rules” will stifle their creativity. My experience with peoples’ attitudes surrounding the daily photo prompts is much the same. There are some who follow the prompts to the letter and become creatively paralyzed without them and then there are those who do their thing with no concern at all for the suggestions prompt. Both of these approaches are perfectly viable. Where are you on this continuum?
The daily prompts have two primary purposes: to offer inspiration and to spark creativity. They are not meant to put you and your photos into a box. That said, because the prompts are written to appeal to a wide audience, it is inevitable that there will be some prompts that you are drawn to and some that you definitely are not. That is the nature of the creative beast. If you liked every single prompt that comes your way, then it is quite likely that there would be another someone out there who was not inspired by any of them. The reality, then, is that it is inevitable that for each of us there are days that we are truly inspired by the daily prompts and days that we are not.
What do you do when you are left totally uninspired by the day’s prompt?
Following are six things you can do to broaden your thinking and approach to the daily prompt.
When you find yourself completely uninspired by a particular prompt, ask yourself, “Why?” Often times when we have a negative or flat response to a prompt, it is not because the prompt is uninspiring; it is because it challenges us in a way that makes us uncomfortable. Food photos come to mind here. Many people dislike taking them. The truth is that it is much more difficult to take an aesthetically pleasing photo of a loaf of bread than it is a brilliant sunrise, but much can be learned from photographing both. It is in confronting challenges head on that we conquer new skills and ultimately grow as artists.
That said, there are going to be prompts that just don’t resonate with us at all, this having nothing to do with being resistant to a challenge. They simply do not speak to us in a way that offers us a means of creative expression. For me, this is flatlays. I have tried. I have practiced. They still leave me feeling...flat. (The pun may be intended.). I say this, however, after practicing them and thinking about why I am not moved by them.
In the end, it is not about liking every prompt; it is about knowing why you respond the way you do and making sure you don’t miss an opportunity that might help you to grow as a photographer.
Keep an open mind when it comes to forming an opinion about a prompt too soon. You may read it at the beginning of the month or in the daily email first thing in the morning and feel that it is “not for me.” Don’t dismiss it too soon as lacking inspiration. Live with the prompt throughout your day. Keep it as a “sticky note” reminder in your mind. You may be surprised at how the idea weaves its way into your day and helps you to see details of your life that may have otherwise been overlooked.
If it doesn’t...
Think Outside the Box
We all have days where we “just can’t make the prompt work” for us. This may be due to schedule constraints, weather, illness, or simply lack of motivation. These are the days to challenge yourself to think creatively, to put your own twist on the prompt, to think outside the box. Creativity is at its best when we think that we are at our “worst.” Don’t be surprised if some of your “last ditch effort” photos become some of your favorites.
To fully appreciate a prompt you may need to send your critical adult mind away for the day and embrace the childlike spirit of play. Play with camera settings. Play with light. Play with perspective. Play with lenses. Play with editing. Don’t worry about the final product. This is about the process. If you abandon your inner critic, chances are you’ll create something wonderful and unexpected. In the off chance that you don’t, you had fun along the way...and probably learned something, too.
Break the Rules
Well...break the figurative rules. The only real “rule” that comes with this daily photo project is to make it your own. Your photos should reflect your day, your year, your life, YOU. That means that if the prompt doesn’t work for your day, don’t follow it. It’s as simple as that. There will be days when things happen that you need to document for which no prompt will ever be appropriate. Take that photo. Call it your picture of the day. Don’t worry about what the prompt says.
The Three P’s - Practice, Patience, Progress
When we undertake a project that asks us to engage in a daily discipline, we will have good days and bad days, creative days and not-so-creative days, beautiful days and dark days, inspired days and boring days, challenging days and easy days. That’s the rhythm of life. Each time we take a photo, no matter our thinking at the time we press that shutter button, something positive can be gained. If nothing else, we have practiced our skills. We have perhaps learned patience. And, every now and then we can revel in the realization that we are seeing progress in our technical skills as a photographer and our creative skills as an artist.
Think about the prompts as you might a good friend - they are there to support and encourage you when you need them, but not to stand in the way of you being true to your authentic self.