How to Find Creative Ideas During Winter

By Guest Author - 4 min read

Brooklyn-based photographer Ethan Covey captures raw and minimal images, bringing a refreshing perspective on the importance of natural light and composition. Here is his guide to facing the creative challenges that the winter season can bring.

For many artists, staying motivated can be a challenge, and the winter months can be particularly daunting. Where I live, in the northeastern U.S., winter means dull weather and dusk that seems to fall before I’ve finished my lunch. Beyond just the practicalities, finding a collaborative spark can also be difficult, as people tend to adopt a subtle hibernation that often lasts until spring.

As The Seasons Change, So Should Your Creativity

There are, however, a few tips that I lean upon to speed through those grey days. I have found that during the winter months, these five simple principles have been key for giving me the creative motivation that I have needed.

Get out

Travel is forever inspiring. While going somewhere exotic can be a real creative kickstart, most of us don’t have the means to jet off to foreign destinations every time the winter arrives. So if you are staying local, poke your head into parts of town you’ve always ignored. Try hopping onto a train and spending the day wandering a nearby suburb. My eyes open wider when I stray from home, even if just a little bit.

Shoot differently

Take the time to experiment with ways of shooting that are outside your comfort zone. Last winter, I explored the use of strobes for lighting portraits — something I’d never really done before as a photographer I am mainly interested in natural light. This year? Who knows what I will try out. I’ve been contemplating taking up self-portraits. But even if the work never goes anywhere it’s always good to try something new. Maybe somewhere in the digging, your next project will be uncovered.

“Tease out threads of meaning from images that may have seemed unconnected at the time you took them.”

Return to old work

Photographer Henry Wessel, who passed away in this year, used to instruct his photography students to file away new images for a whole year before reviewing them. Although a year is ambitious, I agree wholeheartedly that work often needs space in order to reveal its true depth. I often need time to allow my memories of particular images to fade. The narrative that accompanies an image can be rich to me and others who may have been with me at the time, but ultimately it won’t exist — and doesn’t matter — to viewers. The image must stand alone. And while this lesson may be less true for certain types of work, such as photojournalism, in general, it’s a good one to try. Look back over old work and see what speaks to you. Tease out threads of meaning from images that may have seemed unconnected at the time you took them.

Look elsewhere

Jam some music, watch films, take the time to finally read a long book you’ve been meaning to crack. A good deal of my inspiration comes from outside of photography. This is particularly true during the winter months.

Go easy on yourself

This is the most important piece of advice, so I’m putting it last and keeping it brief. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if motivation seems distant for a while, both during winter or at any time of the year. We all need breaks. So live life, take a nap, hang out with a dog. Be easy.

We all react differently to our environment — a good friend in New York loves photographing during the winter because she swears the light has a quality that’s missing here during the rest of the year. For the rest of us, these tips may help invigorate creativity that has been dulled by the winter season. Good luck and have fun.

Want to see more of Ethan’s outstanding work? Take a look at his online portfolio, or follow him on Instagram.