Dealing with Creative Block as a Photographer
Expressing creativity and staying inspired.
When I was first getting into photography, I would take photos every single day after school. I would procrastinate from doing my homework and find things to take photos of instead. It did not matter what the photos were of. They could have been of anything as long as I was being creative. Maybe the way the light reflected and shimmered off the kitchen window, or maybe a macro image of bees in the garden. I found myself in love with taking photos. Photography became my favorite thing to do – a complete addiction.
About 14 years later, my passion for photography is still here and strong. But over the years, I have run into so many creative blocks and times where I have felt uninspired. I know that most other photographers have experienced this at least once. When you dedicate your career and entire life to something, even something that you love, it is hard not to get burnt out.
I am no expert on staying inspired, but I have been through many creativity ruts. As such, I would like to share some different ideas I have about how to battle them.
I think the first thing that I find helpful is to identify exactly why I feel uninspired. This may seem obvious, but during my first true creative rut in College, I had no clue why I felt uninspired; I just did. Helping to narrow down the reasons helped me come up with some solutions. Here are some of the reasons I have been uninspired or unmotivated.
- Feeling like my work is inadequate, or feeling like I am not a good photographer.
- Feeling lazy and unmotivated to go out to shoot and make an effort. I love every minute of being out in nature shooting or on a trip but sometimes if I am just doing office work and post production, it is hard for me to motivate myself to get out there and shoot.
- Feeling burnt out on what I am shooting; not having enough variety of new things to explore.
Maybe these solutions will help, as they have helped me in different ways.
Sometimes as a landscape photographer, the most simple thing to do is to get out there and force yourself to shoot. I generally find that when I do have a camera in my hand and I am actively taking photos, that it makes me feel better. Sometimes, the biggest thing is just getting the motivation to pack the camera bag and head out. There is always that little period of time when you are laying in your bed early in the morning – you had an alarm set for sunrise but you just can’t seem to find the motivation to get out of your warm bed or sleeping bag to catch it. It is so tempting to just stay and not get up. But some of those moments where I have pushed myself to just get up and do it have resulted in some of my most rewarding images.
It is important to have a concise body of work. However I think it is also important to shoot a variety of things to stay inspired. For a long time, I boxed myself in and only shot Milky Way Photography. It was fun for a while, but I got bored of only shooting at night and the subject matter became too comfortable. To the point where I felt as though I was no longer challenging myself. It is important to get out of your comfort zone and try to do things to spark your creativity. Even if it is not something that will eventually go into your portfolio, at least you are getting your creative juices flowing and keeping things fresh.
Stop thinking about photography for a moment and just live life without the camera. I know this is literally the exact opposite advice to my first point, but I find that the further away from my camera I am, the more eager I am to get back to it and start taking photos again. Oftentimes I will go on hikes to places without my camera. Leaving the camera behind can take away the distraction of wanting to find a composition and can allow you to become inspired by the landscape naturally, without force. For example I hiked down to a beach by my house not too long ago and started watching the waves. Normally, when I get out to shoot seascapes, I focus on wide-angle long-exposure photography. But something about just sitting on the cliff, staring at the backlit swells crashing against the rocks made me want to get out there with a telephoto lens and focus on short exposures. The next day, I packed up my bag and tried some out. Were they the best images I have ever taken? No, definitely not. But it was really fun to try out something new and express my creativity, making me want to get out and shoot more.
Give yourself photo assignments with your smartphone. Ok, this one sounds like a weird school project but I find that it works really well for me. You could also do this with your regular camera if you wanted to. But here is an example of what I mean. There are days at home in San Francisco where I have had to spend the whole day running really boring errands. This can be super uninspiring, as you would imagine. One day, I had to get my car serviced amongst a bunch of other random things. So I dropped off my car and walked around the city to do my other errands. The task I made for myself was to find as many abstract compositions as I could in front of buildings, but each image had to relate to each other and transition to the next image.
This was just a quick example of some cell phone shots I took during a foggy walk in San Francisco.
View other photographs and other art outside of photography. Study paintings, listen to music, watch some movies. Get inspired by art within photography and outside of photography. Many of my concepts or ideas for photographs/videos have come from late night drives, while listening to music.
The last thing that helps is talking with other photographers or artists. Everyone goes through this and everyone can relate. Sometimes, it helps to message a friend and just have a conversation about the creative rut. Ask your friend if they have gone through it and what it took to get out of it; I bet they will be happy to share. We are lucky to be part of such an incredible community of artists who are willing to help each other. If you have a story about staying inspired or how you got out of a creative block, I would love to hear it in the comments below.