Photography Ideas Inspired from Instagram

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Looking for another way to get your photography juices flowing? I’ve recently discovered the marriage of two principles that keep me inspired to take new photographs; Instagram + stealing. Stealing?! Yes, stealing ideas from other artists to emulate and learn from. Okay, okay whoa. Before you break out the pitchforks and torches, hear me out. 

Austin Kleon, who I learned of at SXSW 2014 during our #uberLIVE event, offers an interesting suggestion to summon creativity to your beck and call. In his excellent (as well as inspiring, creative, fun, and quick-read) book, Steal Like an Artist, he suggests you continuously seek out ideas that are worth “stealing”. 

But how do you use Instagram to find ideas for inspiration? Instagram has three incredible build-in tools that will get you started and moving in the right direction. Hashtags, location search, and exploring posts.


I find that hashtags are especially useful for finding inspiration when I already have an idea of what I want to shoot, but the idea may need some fine tuning or sprucing up.

I start with this leading question: What do I want to shoot right now?

Are there clouds in the sky? I hit the magnifying glass at the bottom of the app and type in #clouds in the search bar.

Am I stuck inside on my couch and I’m just dying for a reason to go outside? I search #outside. Look what I found using #outside. Light painting! This search gave me a creative goal to pursue.

light painting
Photo: Matt McMonagle

Don’t let yourself get too lost in hashtag land. Remember, the most important part of this process is to #justgoshoot.

Location Search

Location search verifies that there are beautiful things around you, regardless of where you are in the world. Using this tool can help you find interesting subjects as close or far as you are willing to travel.

You can search your state, city, neighborhood, or in many cases, even your nearby coffee shop.

For example, I live in San Francisco so I’m going to type “San Francisco” into the Instagram search bar. The work doesn’t end here, though. I am specifically looking for photos that pique my creative side. Like this one! I can’t wait to take my version of this photo!

Here are some more results that I got from local searches. This literally took me less than 3 minutes to get 3 photos to draw inspiration from. That’s time well spent! The less time it takes to find inspiration, the more time I can spend using it.

A photo posted by Adrian Narvaez (@anarvz) on

Creative Photography Challenge

Explore Posts

The explore posts function might be the easiest way to find inspiration with Instagram. It finds images that you might like based on photos that you’ve “liked”, people that you follow, and popular searches from other Instagram users. I like to let the curated content take me down the rabbit hole until I run into an image inspiring enough to emulate.

To explore posts, click on the magnifying glass on the bottom of the app and just scroll down to take a browse through photos that Instagram thinks you will like. And then click on the next thing that catches your eye. And the next. Remember, you are on a trek down an intentional rabbit hole. Keep clicking and scrolling until you find something that really get’s your gets your creative juices flowing.

Here are a few of my favorite accounts which I highly suggest following.

Sunset illuminating Half Dome in Yosemite National Park #california Photo: @lastlightbender #wildernessculture

A photo posted by Wilderness Culture (@wilderness_culture) on

Another photo from one of my favorite places to explore. Martins Beach, California. ??

A photo posted by Michael Shainblum (@shainblumphotography) on


I’m still early enough in my photography career that my inspiration to shoot rarely wanes, but in the rare cases that it does I use these three tools to kick it back into high gear. Here’s my Instagram creed: Hashtags are for when I need to develop an existing idea, location searches help me capture the wonderful world around me, and exploring posts is especially helpful when I just want to wander.

Go out and steal like an artist! But don’t forget to thank the source of your inspiration.

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Matt McMonagle is an outdoor lifestyle photographer, a lover of living on the road and CreativeLive’s special snowflake.