As we start the New Year I’ve already listed a number of projects that I want to start and/or complete in 2022.

I once heard a University Professor ask the audience “Where will your next ideas come from?” This is a great challenge for anyone but particularly for photographers, film makers and writers who can often spend more time searching for an idea than they do executing it.

Creative thinking is different for everyone and there are some fortunate people who are just wired up in a way that means creativity gushes forth with every thought they have. I, on the other hand, have spent too long bogged down by process, budgets, timelines and corporate branding, so these days I have to try harder.

What I’ve found that is that I need to stimulate my thinking little and often. Rarely is there a thunderbolt moment but over the years I have understood that the ‘creative moment’ is when several points of reference come together. This might be the moment I’m walking for a train and suddenly an image I’ve seen, combines with an article I’ve read and video clip I’ve watched, to present the germ of an idea. It’s a bit like learning to dance – you learn the steps for the opening, then the chorus and then the close but they are all separate until at some point you bring it all it all together into a dance routine. Creative ideas are often the result of bringing together different elements, for example, the iPhone was the bringing together of a phone, a music player and a web browser.

Here are the five ways that I use to stimulate my creative thinking:

  1. Read. Read fiction, read magazine articles, read about subjects that don’t immediately appeal to you. If you think visually, by reading you will imagine and discover new ways to visualise. Over the years I have found that old classic fiction is more descriptive than modern fiction, probably because it pre-dates TV and mass cinema, but equally news stories that have few or no images can also be very descriptive.
  2. Write stuff down. Thoughts, phrases, ideas, put them in a book that you can skim through periodically. I try to write down thoughts several times a week, sometimes just a phrase, sometimes it’s a list, other times it might be a quote. I never try to make sense of what I’m writing or justify it. What I have is a collection of thoughts that are themselves a form of creative stimulation.
  3. Look at a picture. This could be a work of art or photography but instead of appraising what you see, imagine if elements of the picture were different and how it would change the overall impression. I often start with the weather – how would this picture come across with clouds in the sky? Swap the gender of figures, change the colours, move the point of view. Imagine, imagine, imagine.
  4. Watch a classic film. How you define classic is up to you but watch a film and regularly pause it to deconstruct the composition. For street photography, I find that the Film Noir is particularly interesting to look at light, shadows, camera angles and movement. High contrast is not new.
  5. Walk. I do my best thinking when I walk. No headphones, no camera, just me and my thoughts. An hour of walking is not just good for you physically but it seems that the motion of walking helps to unblock the thought process and allow ideas to fall into place like a game of Tetris. This is usually when something you’ve read combines with something you’ve seen and a note you made weeks ago, to form the idea for a new project.