Photo Todo Lists: A Source of Self-Inspiration


This was a bucket list photo that I checked off when I borrowed an ultra-wide-angle lens.

Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with photo ideas.  It’s one thing when you’re planning a photo excursion or a day trip somewhere specifically for photography.  But those in between times, your hunger for photography will rear its head and you need to satisfy it somehow.  What do you do to fill the time in the absence of inspiration?  Well, for me, there are two lists that I keep:  A Photo Bucket List and a Photo Theme List.  These lists help me to identify viable subjects and photo opportunities when I’m out and about (you carry your camera with you always, right?).  Now I’ll be honest, I pretty much have my lists committed to memory.  But it’s important to write them down so that you can pull it out every once in a while and refresh your memory, maybe kickstart a new idea.  And of course you’ll want to append to it occasionally.  Personally, I keep my lists in an app on my phone so that I have it with me always (I use a program called Evernote).  But you can keep it in your notebook that you carry just fine (I used to do that as well).  So what goes in these lists?  I’ll speak in greater detail below:

The Photo Bucket List

A Bucket List is generally a list of things you’d like to do before you die.  These are usually big ticket items like skydiving, seeing the grand canyon, etc.  A Photo Bucket List is much the same, but of course involves your camera.  It’s essentially a list of photos that you’d like to take.  The items could be a subject, location or even a specific setup.  Maybe you want to photograph all of the bridges of New York City.  Put it on the Photo Bucket List.  Maybe you want to create a portrait of all your living relatives.  Photo Bucket List.  Or maybe you simply want to capture sunset from a specific point that means something special to you.  Yeah, that’s on the Photo Bucket List too.  In fact, I checked off one such item recently:  A shot of the sun casting through the columns at Philadelphia’s Fairmount Waterworks.  The shot has eluded me for years as I was never in possession of an ultra wide-angle lens at the right time, or the light just wasn’t right.  But recently, when I was reviewing the Sigma 8-16mm Zoom, everything finally fell into place:  I had a wide angle lens, and the sun was just right.  I’m really proud of the shot and I think it turned out well.  Here’s to patience, and here’s to the Photo Bucket List.

The Photo Theme List

A Photo Theme List isn’t unlike a Photo Bucket List, except that it’s a static list of things that you find interesting.  For example, one of the items on my Photo Theme List is misplaced shopping carts.  Shopping carts in the woods, on the side of the road, broken in a parking lot.  It’s a silly theme, of course, but it gets my creative juices flowing when I happen upon such a subject.  To date, I’ve collected a couple dozen photos of misplaced shopping carts.  Another common Photo Theme is letters of the alphabet.  Some photographers try to capture every letter of the alphabet on signs or otherwise.  Maybe they prefer to work in succession, or just isolate specific letters out of an interesting font or sign presentation.  I’m sure some have several full alphabets by now.  I met another photographer once who liked to focus on Red Doors – some church doors, private doors even closet doors.  If they are red, she’s going to capture it.  The point of a theme list is simply to have specific subjects to look out for as you wander about your day.  In part, it gives you something to work on – an ongoing photo project of sorts – and the results can be quite inspiring.  Many have decided to publish their theme projects into books for sale to the general public (and some have gotten quite successful).  But it also helps to train you to look around.  If you’re always on the lookout for red doors or shopping carts, you’re going to notice other things as well.  And maybe that something else will make for great photos as well.

Final Thoughts

The thing I like about keeping lists as a source of inspiration is that they’re all my own ideas.  I add to the lists whenever I get the idea – part of the reason I now use an app on my phone – and I can take from it at any time.  Some of these ideas, especially the ones on the bucket list, will come to the front of my mind from time to time, and I think about how I would prepare for and set up such a shot.  So when the opportunity appears, I have already planned out the shot to the best of my ability, and I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll do.  Of course it’s always great to have lists like these to give you something to work on if you can’t think of anything else to do.  Shopping carts anyone?


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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