A friend of mine once described the most important part of the photography process by using the “ABC” technique. In art, this stands for “Always be creating.” As creatives, we want to constantly produce work in order to grow our creative portfolio. However, this is almost always easier said than done. In today’s article, we’re going to take a look at the things that get in the way, and ways to help us to regain our love for the craft.
The Causes of Staleness
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gone through a phase when producing art was difficult. Even the most seasoned of creatives can hit a wall when pushing out creative work seems impossible. Let’s take a look at some of the things that cause us to freeze up when producing artwork.
Creativity has a certain amount of inertia associated with it. It takes “x” amount of energy and time in order to get started in the creative process. When life taxes us and we lack this time, our creative process slows. As a full-time student and freelancer, the balance of time is a delicate one that I rarely find to be in balance the way I wish.
When Art Becomes Work
I have been through times when I was working as a photographer far more than I wanted to. If you make any type of living as a photographer, you’ll probably experience times when you’re booking more than you really want to take on. (However, taking on as much work as possible is often a necessity in order to pad your pockets for times when the phone isn’t ringing)
Working as a photographer is an exciting, rewarding career but it may sometimes drag us away from what we love to shoot. Photo by dicktay2000
The problem is that for most photographers, there are two types of photographic work: what drives them, and what pays their bills. Enjoying photography is about trying to make those two as close as possible, but we all know that’s not true.
It’s hard to find someone who will pay for street photography, for example. If street photography is your passion and what drives you, then it is a basic premise that you need to do a certain amount of street shooting in order to stay inspired and continue to enjoy photography.
An Occupied Mind
If we get caught up in other pursuits, our minds become clouded. We lack the time to plan and create plans for our next big project, and soon creation falls by the wayside.
Creatives have a different process of thinking, and it differs from one artist to the next. One of the most important things you can ever do is some self reflection to determine what works best for you. What situations foster you to be the most creative? Understand these scenarios and place yourself in them as often as possible.
Don’t worry, all is not lost. The truth is that if you ever had a love for photography, it probably needs only a little awakening to get you back on track. Let’s take a look at five cures for your creative stonewalls.
Speaking from my own experience, I know that photography gear is simultaneously the biggest help and hindrance to the creative process. When we are getting started in photography, we desire to have the latest in greatest in gear, thinking that it will propel our work to the top.
A simple SLR with a 50mm lens is a classic, simplistic setup that removes gear from the list of things to worry about. Photo by lemuelinchrist
Sometimes, photographers who spend time chasing gear get so caught up in buying gear that they lose sight of the creative process. They devote their energy to trying to get that next piece of gear that will surely turn them into the world’s top professional.
They look at a shooting situation and say “I’d shoot that, if I had that brand new lens or latest camera body.” This is a fruitless pursuit that will leave a hole in your wallet, and your creative energy drained.
If you currently lack the ability to create as many photos as you desire, try stripping down to the bare basics of your gear in order to isolate the creative process. It may seem backwards, but to reduce your gear and limit the amount of options available to you is a freeing creative experience.
For me, there are few things that help me return to my roots as a my full frame SLR and a 50mm lens. This was a perspective that I’ve learned to love from the beginning and mirrors a gear choice that photographers have turned to for decades.
Similar to the above gear suggestion, a personal technique of mine is to switch to shooting film. Enjoying film warrants an article of its own, but for me, there are several things that make reverting to analog photography so enjoyable. The first of these factors is a limitation to how much we can shoot. Each roll of film has a limited number of exposures. This simple limitation encourages me to be a precise creator, and causes me to slow down in the image creation process.
Additionally, film is simply a different experience with each roll that we load. Each roll has its own personality and way of rendering scenes. The uniqueness of each roll of film is a huge departure from digital.
Finally, if you choose to shoot film and learn the development process, you have the power to reach the highest form of creativity. You can learn to shoot film, develop it, and with a scanner, convert your captured images to the digital format. The ability to control the creative process from start to completion is a freeing experience that is hard to match.
Each roll of film is a limited experience that has its own personality. Photo by BentleyCoon
Picking up a film camera is usually inexpensive. You can often find a fine film camera that accepts lenses you already have for under $100, and film is on a “pay as you go” basis. The film experience is a freeing, inexpensive process.
Find Shooting Buddies
At one point in my photography career, I was feeling a bit isolated. Although I was reading dozens of blogs and participating in online communities, I didn’t feel like there were people close to me that had the same interest I did in photography.
The truth is that even in my small-town hometown area, there were dozens of people with a drive for photography similar to mine. Getting out and joining camera clubs, talking to other photographers you see, and inviting others to shoot with you will build a rewarding creative circle.
One thing to remember is that it’s okay if others aren’t as interested as we are in photography. I had to overcome the fact that photography wasn’t as much a priority for everyone else as it is for me. Once I got past that, I found I enjoyed casual shooting with friends and enjoying photographing passing moments.
More importantly, finding friends to shoot with improves our life as a whole. Some of my closest friends are those that I shoot with. Even now after weeks of grinding at work, they remain valued creative friends.
Having friends to bounce creative ideas and concepts with is invaluable. Collaborating and building creative projects together is the height of creation in my humble opinion.
The greatest creative service you can do is making someone else interested in photography. I’ve taken friends who had no interest in photography or art in general and helped spark an interest. I think that one thing we all forget is that everyone truly has the power to be creative, and many have mistaken their inability to draw or paint as a lack of creative ability. Introducing friends to photography is a “gain-only” experience for all involved.
Shoot Something New
Are you a sports photographer? Take a road trip to check out the landscapes of your area. Portrait photographer? Venture out into the city to capture some fine street photography. You might be surprised at how well your current skill translates to a different discipline.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone has countless benefits. First of all, you’ll train yourself to examine things in a new light. Returning to your past area of photography with new insight and techniques will teach you new ways to explore your former craft. These learning experiences are huge lessons that grows your creative power.
An image I’ve shared before, this landscape I made last Fall was well outside my element of portrait and wedding photography. Photo by Andrew Childress.
Exploring various photographic disciplines is a no-risk experience that can help us to break out of our creative slumps. We can find new interests to photograph, or new ways to photograph old interests. Expanding outward and photographing everything possible is a way to ensure that creative deadlocks don’t hold us back from creating at our peak levels.
Take Time Off
Sometimes, a break from the everyday demands of photography is just what you need. I’ve found that you sometimes have to leave what you love in order to remember what drew you to it in the first place. Photography is one of my passions, but when it becomes stale, I step away to remind myself that having my camera in hand everyday is what drives me as a person.
If you step away and don’t find yourself missing photography, it might be time to move on to other interests. Although photography is a lifelong pursuit for many, it is also a passing interest for many others. As a photographer, I certainly encourage everyone I know to stick with it, but the truth is that we are busy people.
Time spent on photography is time sacrificed on other activities, and if you don’t prioritize it, other hobbies and pursuits can be just as rewarding for other people. While I’m definitely not encouraging you to leave photography, the truth is that interests change.
Every photographer (and artist in general) experiences up and down periods of creation. At times, you’re producing your best work and things move quickly. Other times, droughts are experienced when finishing good work feels distant. Using some of the techniques above can be shortcuts to getting past your creative blockades and returning to producing great work.
How have you dealt with your creative droughts? What do you think triggered them and how did you break out of a slump? Let us know in the comments below.