Photographers, like artists in any medium, constantly struggle with how to keep their creative juices flowing. All of us, at any and various times in our lives, enter that period of time when it seems impossible to come up with something new and sometimes seem to lack the inspiration to even take our camera out of its bag.
The photographer and blogger Erik Kim has written a whole (free and open source) book on the subject of photographers block which you can download here. In that book Kim suggests a number of things for overcoming photographers block. Here are a few of the best ones.
Give yourself a new challenge.
You don’t have to wait until you go to that exotic location you’ve promised yourself you’ll visit one day. Instead look for the mundane and everyday in your local town or city and do what you can to extract images out of these places. Remember, photographers like Martin Parr have made a whole career out of photographing the mundane and the every day.
Shoot a ‘roll of film’ every day for a month.
Back in the days of film cameras several photographers instigated projects to shoot a roll of film everyday for a week, a month, a year. Given the logistics and cost of buying film and getting it processed a roll (or 36 exposures) was probably about as much as what was possible back then. However 36 images a day is probably a good number to aim at, especially if you want to download and do some level of processing on them as well. Sometimes working under constraints like this can help regenerate our creativity.
Don’t separate your photography from the rest of your life.
Instead integrate the two together and always have some kind of camera with you (even if its your phone). I travel a lot on business and always try to carry a camera with me. You never know when you are going to get an interesting shot.
Don’t worry about the outcome.
Instead of fretting about getting that one “keeper” image from a days shooting concentrate more on the process of photography. Go for quantity not quality. Sometimes just doing something is better than not doing anything and enables you to get back into the flow.
Give yourself a constraint.
Sometimes we have too much choice in the equipment we use. Which camera should I take out today? What lenses should I use? Should I take additional lighting? What bag should I put everything in? For a change spend a whole week shooting with one camera and one lens. The fewer options you give yourself, the more creative you have to be.
The Fujifilm X100T is a great camera for doing this with and has the advantage of fitting in your pocket so you don’t even have to think what bag to us!
Look at photography books rather than just browsing Instagram.
There’s something about a photography book that is more inspirational than the relatively sterile process of clicking around on the web. Holding a physical object in your hands, the slow turning of the pages, the smell of the print and the rendition of the colours as the photographer wanted it (not as your screen displays them) are all rather special. Spend some time with your favourite books, even if it’s in a bookshop, to look at some inspirational images.
In addition to Eric Kim’s challenges for overcoming photographers block I’d like to suggest a few of my own.
Don’t keep looking at the latest equipment.
This ones a real killer when it comes to creativity. Not only is it a complete waste of time; time you could better be spending out shooting or editing images you have already captured, it also leads you to a feeling of inadequacy. If only I had that new model of camera, lens, light I would be a much better photographer. Guess what, you wouldn’t. What you already have, right now in your camera bag, is technically orders of magnitude better in terms of quality than anything most of the great photographers of the 20th century ever had access to. Just go out and use it!
Live outside your comfort zone.
As much as we all like to be comfortable in our lives, living in our comfort zone is not where we are likely to learn anything or make new connections. To combat this we need to spend as much time as possible getting out of our comfort zones and into uncharted territory where we’ll maximise our chances of learning new ideas and techniques and creating something original and different. The learning zone is where you’ll be feeling uncomfortable, maybe a bit out of your depth, and have to use your wits and knowledge and experience to push yourself to get that great shot. Try to live in that learning zone as much as possible.
Start, or revisit , a photography blog.
I really believe that on those days when you absolutely cannot get out there and photograph, for whatever reason, you should at least write about photography in some shape or form. As I’ve written elsewhere blogging is a great way of helping you think and reflect and is a worth while exercise even if you don’t get thousands of followers. Try starting a blog if you don’t already have one and giving yourself a challenge like making at least two posts a week. Earlier this year I set myself the challenge of creating my 200th entry in this blog by the end of 2016. I’m almost there and hope to make it. I’ll let you know on 1st January if I made it.
Collaborate with other creatives.
Working with other creatives is a great way of learning something new, collaborating and having a bit of fun along the way. If you want to practice your portrait of fashion photography join and put out a casting call on a site like Model Mayhem and book yourself a shoot with a model or makeup artist and do a bit of “loose jamming”.
Rediscover the joy of printing.
Remember when we had to wait 2-3 days before we saw our images or had to slave away in a darkened room for hours on end before we did so? Now in the days of Instagram and Flickr when was the last time you printed an image to hang on your wall or make into a photo book? Probably some while ago. Why not buy some frames and get some prints made to put in them or create a small photo book or a box of postcards even. There’s nothing quite like seeing your images printed out or even better hung on your or someone else’s wall.
Learn to concentrate and “get in the Flow zone”.
The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness he called ‘Flow’. In this state they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this “optimal experience” they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”
With photography, like any other activity that requires a bit of creativity, it helps to get into “the zone”. Try to remove all distractions and focus just on getting some images, keep your gear as simple as possible and spend time, as much time as you can, getting out there and into your own ‘Flow’.
Hopefully some of these tips will help reactivate your creativity if you’re feeling a bit lost at this somewhat bleak time at the end of very bleak year. Let me know what you think and share any of your own tips here.