How to Think Outside the Box

A Guide to Creative Thinking for Photographers

Taking a photograph of what’s in front of you isn’t exactly rocket science. But training your mind to think outside the box allows you to see past the obvious and into a dream world that only a community of creative minds could otherwise conjure up.

What is ‘The Box’?

Yet thinking outside the box first requires us to understand what actually is ‘the box’? It’s a term we’re all familiar with, but when applied to photography, what are the conventional parameters we want to break?

Of course, the best way to begin is to test our expectations. For example, if we said ‘think of the Eiffel Tower’ what does that visual in your head look like?

Here’s the most popular interpretation(s):

eiffel tower box

• Full height ✔️
• In good weather ✔️
• Well exposed ✔️
• Evenly proportioned ✔️
• Colour ✔️

Doing your own ‘imagination research’ will help you picture easy common conceptions which in turn you can use a benchmark to overturn. Since we know what most people think when they picture the Eiffel Tower, here are some photos that show the photographer thinking outside the box to capture unusual views of a familiar landmark.

Can you see how those popular interpretations are being changed?

eiffel tower box

Tight Crops

eiffel tower box

Night Time

eiffel tower

Distorted Perspective

eiffel tower box

Colour Effects

Top Tip – If you’re visiting a location you’ve never been to before, do some research online to see what the most common viewpoints are. Write them down as ‘things to avoid’. 

10 Ways to Breakout of the Box

But there are still more ways that you can think outside of the box. Don’t waste precious time researching other people’s shots if you’re busy. Instead, simply think about these 10 key questions that you should pose to yourself when taking your photographs.

1. Do you need to photograph the whole subject? Could you crop tighter in and still offer context?

2. Have you tried placing your subject in the background and create a foreground to draw an audience in?

castle through an archway box

3. Go to the extreme with angles. Extremely high and low angles will change a subject’s story instantly and make for a unique viewpoint.

castle through an archway box think outside the box

4. Can you create controversy? Look for 2 competing scenarios that juxtapose each other adding humour, drama or sorrow for instance.

two people walking opposite direction street think outside the box

5. Don’t be afraid of one colour. Many photographers hone in on colourful scenes, as that’s what naturally attracts our eyes. Look past the multiple shades and train your eye to think outside the box and look for the monotones. Shots filled with different shades of the same hue can look well thought out.

two people walking opposite direction street

6. If you can direct your subject, a portrait perhaps, then direct them to do unusual poses or actions with everyday objects – reading a book in a swimming pool or writing a letter upside down. Don’t do the normal things conventionally.

two people walking opposite direction street think outside the box

7. Returning to colour, with a bit of editing it is possible to change the colour of anything with a little bit of Photoshop. Using Hue and Saturation sliders it’s easy to quickly switch green grass to pink building up a psychedelic view of familiar places.

two people walking opposite direction street

8. When shooting with a shallow depth of field it is most common to set the focus point nearest to the camera.

But what would your shot look like if the focus was further away drawing attention to the back of the picture?

two people walking opposite direction street think outside the box

9. Got your horizon straight? Great, now tilt it. Who says all pictures have to be level? Make a decisive decision to add in a dutch tilt making the whole shot more modern and diagonal.

two people walking opposite direction street

10. When it comes to composition, step away from the middle. Create negative space for your subject by pushing it to the side of your frame. Having a blank void offsetting a shot can add mood, drama, interest and space for…..a logo, advertising, headline – who knows!

two people walking opposite direction street think outside the box

Summary

In conclusion, all you need is a process to learn and rehearse every time you pick up your camera.

After a while of thinking this way then you won’t need to review a list anymore, it’ll just be instinctive. You’ll begin to look at subjects and think ‘how can I make you look different?’. 

Once you’ve been thinking outside of the box for long enough it’s time to start sharing those creative approaches with the iPhotography community. Upload them to the gallery.

If you’ve got any other creative tips for thinking outside of the box then get in touch and let us know so we can build up a bigger checklist for other members.

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What is Freelensing?

It’s not freelancing as some get confused with. Freelensing is a very unusual photography trick that not many people try out – and for good reason.

But considering we at iPhotography love a challenge it gives us the green light to try out a little bit of abstract photography.

Firstly, use a pretty basic camera to avoid damaging your expensive kit. The final result of freelensing is to, hopefully, capture some really dream-like, ethereal shots and discover along the way if it is as dangerous as everyone says it is.

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