Let’s talk about it. It’s a struggle and something that pretty much every creative I’ve ever known has experienced at least once in their lives.
Well, I’ll take a step back.
I spent the first handful of years on my photography journey learning the fundamentals of what it takes to create an image and how to work a camera. Shutter speed? Check. ISO? Check. Aperture? The whole big-numbers-means-less-light thing was a bit confusing at first, but check.
Then, I started to learn about composition. At first, I was a strong believer in the rule of thirds, then I started to get a bit creative with where I positioned subjects and objects within a frame.
And light, how could I forget!
But then something interesting happened that books and videos didn’t really touch on – I didn’t really want to shoot anymore. I wasn’t interested in getting in the car and driving to spots around the city, or going on hikes to see what landscapes I would stumble across.
Days slowly turned into weeks, and my camera found itself keeping a spot on my shelf very clean.
Let’s talk about what I mentioned earlier – creative ruts. Writer’s block (for photographers). Whatever you want to call it, it sucks. The smallest silver lining is that everyone experiences it at some point or another, but that doesn’t do much to help in the moment.
At first, I thought it was a comment about me, or about needing to improve my skills or experience as a photographer. I was failing. Maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. My motivation was shot, and I really had no desire to pick up my camera.
That mental cycle picks up speed and can spiral out of control very, very quickly before you know it.
The positive here is that you’ll come out of it. I did, and every other photographer I know has as well. It may take time, but you’ll come around. Here are a few things that helped me get out of my creative rut and get back to photographing.
1. Always Bring Your Camera, No Matter Where You Go
I thought it sounded inconvenient to lug my camera around everywhere I went. Who wants to have a heavy camera around at all times?
Turns out, that was more of an excuse than anything.
For me, one of the biggest challenges when facing a rut is the overwhelming feeling of… well, not feeling creative. That often leads to leaving your equipment aside, as you don’t have the urge to use it.
Bringing my camera everywhere* forced me to experience the unexpected. Who knows what you’ll come across, even in situations where you think things are or will be familiar.
Anything can spark a new sense of interest in a new type of photography or new subjects, but that’s hard to naturally uncover with your equipment at home.
*And yes, I mean everywhere. I tend to find a lot my inspiration and opportunity while walking the dog.
But at a certain point, it felt like my relationship with Portra had somewhat run its course. There are only so many coastal sunsets and San Francisco cityscapes I can shoot with the same color profiles and dynamic range.
I remember being out with a handful of fellow photographers at Ocean Beach when I popped CineStill BwXX into my camera for the first time, and it instantly felt like a brand new experience. I had no idea what my images would look like, but I was excited about the possibilities.
I started going back to other familiar locations, but with a different film. It was like seeing it through new eyes.
3. Get Up Really Early
This hardly sounds like advice, but it’s another one to spice things up a bit.
One thing I started doing out of convenience (and laziness) was going out to shoot after work or whenever I was bored. While that’s great, it meant I experienced the same scenes and same light frequently.
I forced myself to get up early one day for a shoot with a couple of photographers for sunrise. It wasn’t something I ever did… because who wants to wake up at 5am for anything? But the world was almost completely empty and the light was coming from a completely new direction. The normal spots I’ve been to before looked different with new light and new colors.
Yes, it seems like a simple suggestion and one that many people have likely already tried. But for me, flipping my schedule around felt like a completely different shooting experience.
4. Actually Try the New Type of Photography You’ve Been Talking About for Months
Okay, maybe I’m just talking to myself with this one.
I had been telling myself I wanted to try out portraits for a while, but I kept pushing it off because I didn’t want to spend the time or money to learn how. I also didn’t feel like I could ever live up to the work I’ve seen from so many other incredible peers of mine.
But after feeling like I had shot most of the landscapes nearby (and the only other locations were hours away), I decided to finally change it up and see what shooting something new could do.
Portraits were so fun and a challenge I really enjoyed. There was so much for me to dive into and learn, from posing and angles to lighting of all types.
While I’m months down the road from this, I’m still reading new articles and watching videos to learn more.
5. Get Off of Social Media
This section will be short. It’s probably the most important tip of all, too.
Log out of Instagram.
I got so caught up in looking at everyone else’s work that I forgot to work on my own. There’s a difference between looking for inspiration and falling prey to impostor’s syndrome.
If you take nothing else from this article, remember this.
6. Find a 30 Day Challenge
If you’ve never tried a 30 day photography challenge, they are great ways to force yourself to get out and shoot.
Sure, some challenges don’t seem all that interesting or challenging, but they really force you to go back to basics and take on a new subject every day.
This can be a really good way to get out of your comfort zone and try new techniques that you haven’t tried before or shoot things you’ve never thought to.
For example, one recent challenge I did was to find a set of images I would want to hang on my wall and to try and recreate them myself.
I think we have a tendency to punish ourself for taking a few weeks or months off when things just aren’t clicking. Especially with the social media grind and push to post everyday, people don’t want to take time to reset for fear of losing out.
There’s nothing wrong with taking however much time you need to reset. Your work may not always be perfect, and your photography may fluctuate. Everyone has ups and downs, but that’s nothing to fear or hide from.
I’m in the midst of some time off right now, and it’s given me some great time to find new inspiration and creative outlets, but I’m already planning my next shoots.
Just remember – taking time off doesn’t make you any less of an artist or photographer or creative. It means you’re human, just like the rest of us.