How to Remain Inspired as an Image Editor
By Lars - 5 min read
Six tips to keep approaching the job with fresh eyes
We live in a visual culture. And as a photo editor, you are under pressure to not just find fitting imagery but pictures that stand out from the rest. No matter where you work, your job is to surprise and engage an audience with pictures; and it’s challenging to constantly be innovative.
There is a myriad of platforms out there offering pictures. But they all present you with a simple search box – which makes it easy to look up certain keywords, but doesn’t help you find new ideas to push your content forward. In other words: searching can only get you so far if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Make no mistake: There is no easy fix for that. Instead, remaining inspired is about questioning your decision-making and to keep approaching the job with fresh eyes. Here’s how.
1. Question your workflow:
Routines are a useful way to make sure work gets done. But they can lead you to fall into a certain rhythm that unwittingly eliminates new ideas: Sitting at a desk all day not only consumes your attention span, it is also deprives you of chance encounters – whether those are other human beings or an interesting thought you read somewhere.
If you find your workflow constraining, break out of it. Rejig the process you take when looking for visuals by trying out different photo sites. Or browse the archives and search for historical rather than current images. Look for colors rather than subjects. And don’t forget to talk to other image editors.
2. Mind the Filter Bubble
Everyone gets inspired by the work of other people around them. And following the work of others is a great way to get new ideas – unless it isn’t. Because your peer group will most likely share similar tastes and styles, pick out similar images when asked.
This effect is called the filter bubble, referring to the spheres of similar tastes that emerges in a group setting and obstructs the view at the outside world. Pop the bubble by deliberately seeking out people unlike you and following their work: Look around on Twitter or Instagram to find image editors for publications or brands that you don’t usually follow. How do they approach a younger, older, or foreign target group?
3. Be Specific
When you are searching for images, specificity trumps broadness. Say you are looking for images about Italy – rather than searching for the country, look for certain regions or cities, try and find people living there or look up photographers working in the country. As paradoxical as it may seem: being more specific means you will find more variety.
4. Fight the Obvious
We’ve already said that creativity doesn’t mix well with routine. But it can also get diluted by being too obvious. Often, the most interesting images are those that don’t bluntly tell a story but allude to it.
Look for associations to what you’re searching. Think in terms of message and story, not merely about motifs. Ask yourself what will help you convey what you’re trying to say, or even add a new angle to it.
5. Seek New Perspectives
There are many ways to show a given subject. The most obvious is to merely depict it – a building from the outside, a simple portrait of a person, or an object representing whatever you are trying to say. These images don’t tell much of a story, and although they are sometimes inevitable, try to mix them up: Seek out photos taken from different angles, from odd perspectives, or where the subject isn’t immediately obvious.
As long as it’s visually interesting, you will be able to capture your audience’s attention.
6. Think Outside of the Stock Photo Box
Think about how many pictures of smiling families you’ve seen, as happy as they are replaceable. Think of the armies of suited business people representing finance, sales, and everything in between.
These images have become tired clichés, and they have stopped working simply because they are too broad, too readily applicable to any given subject. Avoid the typical look of stock photos showing isolated objects without context, perfectly-lit or impossibly clean shot: Life isn’t perfect, why should photos look like it was?.
Header image by@niethammer