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Ahh, the dreaded creative rut! How much we photographers hate you. You sap our energy, take away our motivation, destroy our will to press the shutter button and leave us feeling frustrated, angry, depressed and without hope. Before I threw myself into my 365 Project, I was in such a bad rut that I almost gave up photography entirely. But fear not, dear reader! Get ready to rock a smile on that dial, because we can pull ourselves out of any rut with a few simple ideas!
Keep a Notebook of Ideas and Inspiration
A great way to deal with ruts is to keep a backup of ideas and inspiration in the form of a notebook. There are quite a few free digital notebooks which let you save photos, notes, links, videos, audio, etc – Evernote is by far my favourite. I’ve also heard good things about OneNote and Google Keep. Or you can always use a trusty pen and paper (or parchment + quill, if vintage is more your style.)
So, what do you put in this notebook? You could store a collection of your favourite photos from other photographers to give you a creative boost when you need it. Or you could snap a photo with your phone every time you see something inspirational, such as a beautiful sunset, an interesting piece of architecture, a pretty flower, maybe even your favourite cafe – anything that gets those creative juices flowing! Perhaps you could keep a list of locations you plan on visiting one day, and then actually go there whenever you’re in a rut. Or keep a list of photographic techniques and creative ideas you’d like to have a crack at – for instance, long exposure photography, macro photography, conceptual photography, playing with flashes, bokeh shape kits, playing with flour/talcum powder, being a kid again by having fun with bubbles, etc.
There’s a million different things you could keep in your notebook, and it’s an absolute godsend to have when your creative juices have dried up.
Visit Your Favourite Locations
Fantastic locations often lead to fantastic photos and the best part of going back to a favourite location is you already know it’s photogenic! Visit your favourite places and see what ideas come up. Alternatively, you can go through your archives and look at old photos you’ve taken and places you’ve visited. Everybody loves nostalgia and it’s a great catalyst for creativity and motivation!
Visit Somewhere New
One hobby my girlfriend and I share is picking a random suburb we’ve never been to and just going there to have a look, with absolutely no idea or expectations of what we will find. 9 times out of 10 we fall in love with that place and boldly declare, “This is our new favourite spot!”
So go somewhere new. Take a vacation. Visit a foreign land. Go to some place new in your hometown or city. Go on a road trip. Jump on a random bus/train and see where it takes you – hop off as soon as you see something interesting. Pull out a map of your city and pick a suburb with a funny-sounding name and go there. Venture beyond the streets and locations you’re familiar with and go on a crazy adventure. It’s almost guaranteed you’ll be inspired to shoot some awesome photos while you’re there :)
Try Something Totally Different
Photography is supposed to be fun, right? So when you’re in a rut, it can often help to take a step back and try a totally different photographic style from your usual stuff. Experiment with different techniques. Play with light (check out my 3-part lighting series for some creative ideas!) If you usually just shoot landscapes, try shooting some portraits of a friend. If you’re a street photographer who loves capturing candid moments, maybe try planning out all the details and shooting a conceptual self-portrait. Go to the zoo or a park and try shooting some wildlife. The world is your oyster – you can try absolutely ANYTHING – so go nuts!
I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve just played around with my camera or Photoshop and ended up with a happy accident. The best part is you can pretend you actually meant to do it when you boast to all your friends ;)
Check Out Other Artists
Checking out other people’s work is a fantastic way to get that creativity and motivation back; for me, nothing is more motivating than seeing the fantastic photos other people come up with! There’s a great book called Steal Like an Artist, which encourages people to mimic the styles and techniques of other artists in order to grow and develop themselves.
It doesn’t have to be just photographers either; listen to music to get yourself excited about photography again, check out paintings/drawings of famous artists, go see a play. Heck, even read a children’s book! Sometimes just immersing yourself in the creative work of others is enough to get you back in the zone.
Channel Your Emotions into Your Photos
Last but not least, if you find yourself feeling unmotivated, or down, tired, etc you can always channel that feeling into your photos. If you’re mainly a portrait or conceptual photographer, take a sad photo or a very simple photo. If you shoot landscapes, take a photo of something simple like the peaceful ocean or the cloudy sky. A simple photo is always better than no photo at all. If the creative rut you’re in is making you feel frustrated, go out and find something to express how you feel – a stormy sky, an angry sea, a dark alleyway, a dead flower. The process of shooting something that mirrors the emotions you have inside can be extremely cathartic; not to mention you often end up with photos you may otherwise have never taken.
Being in a creative rut can be frustrating but it can also be a great motivator if you’re willing to work at it, rather than sitting around just waiting for the motivation to return. We all fall victim to the dreaded creative rut… but that doesn’t mean we have to stop taking pictures because of it!
Have you ever been in a creative rut yourself? How did you pull yourself out of it? Would love to hear some ideas from other people – after all, photographers helping other photographers is why we’re here!