If you are a photographer or do something that involves you to be creative you probably have encountered a “Creative Block” of some sort. During this block you may feel uninspired and or unmotivated which can greatly affect the way you perceive your art or work. Anybody who makes photographs know how sweet it feels to be inspired, in the zone making photographs left and right that you’re happy with. But when those blocks come it could very much be one of the worst feelings ever especially if you are very passionate about what you do.
This is where I want to focus my attention today and hopefully by the end of this article you can take away something to help you get out of that rut. Your creativity when looked at in retrospect can give some people peace of mind or confidence that they are going in the right direction. But you also have to accept that EVERY creative artist will encounter a creative block. Within this article I will be sharing some of my personal experiences. I’ll talk about my situation at the current moment of writing this and hopefully by the end of this you’ll be on your way of breaking this creative rut and go back to creating like you’re used to.
1.) Accept and Embrace
The first thing in getting over anything is to accept it. YES! Tell yourself, right now I am not creating to my full potential. Take that into consideration when looking at your recent photos. Once you’ve accepted your rut, learn to embrace it. Don’t blame everything on it but at least try to convince yourself that this is only temporary (because it is). Everybody at some point will break out of this rut and it all comes with the proper time and healing. It could take some people a day or two but for some people it could take them a couple months, or even a year! It does sound pretty scary but if you follow along the next couple of steps, you will break out of it quickly.
2.) Take a break man
Once you’ve accepted your creative rut, the next step is to take a break. NO! Do not put your camera down. I encourage you in this time you keep on shooting BUT rather than shooting the same ole same ole you switch it up and try something new. Even if you don’t know any other genres of photography, learn them. Stepping away from your usual not only free’s space to grow but it also can bring your creativity back. Maybe you were too routine with your photography and it just got boring. Switching genres up can introduce a whole new dynamic to the way you look at photography.
When I get bored shooting street photography I like to take my camera and go explore landscapes. Shooting things that usually don’t interest me puts me in a position to be more creative. And so I encourage you to do the same! For the last month I’ve put the Leica away for a bit and shot mostly on my Pentax 6x7 photographing the Golden Gate bridge. I even tampered with the idea of going on a couple of road trips and set up a camping expedition mid fall in Yosemite! Stepping away from your norm can influence other sources of creativity you may not know you even have! But remember the golden rule, DON’T STOP SHOOTING.
3.) Practice Optimism
One of the major issues that contributed to my creative rut was that I was working in a very specific project looking for very specific photos. This is challenging because there will be days where you won’t be able to capture the ideal image you envisioned in your head. So rather than going out and looking for very specific photos, go out with the mindset of photographing anything. This concept was brought to my attention by Nick Mayo (@Nickexposed) when I asked him how he’s able to shoot upwards of 10+ rolls of film while shooting in NYC. On a good day for me I struggle finishing two rolls! So asked him how he has such a high output and what he told me BLEW my mind.
Nick said, “Treat the area like you know nothing about it” and with this he’s suggesting practicing optimism. This way you can go out there and actually explore and consider that you have no idea what to expect. When you set expectations in your head it’s very hard to fulfill those in a way that makes you happy. So rather than go out there looking for specifics, the next time you go out tell yourself you won’t confine your creativity to one specific image type.
4.) Disconnect from Social Media
Another factor that can contribute to a creative rut is commonly related to social media gratification. You know how good it feels when you get a new high number of likes on your most recent instagram post! What does that mean to us photographers? It means the photo we made AWESOME and people are enjoying it. And so we try to photograph and create at that same level or even better JUST so we can get that gratification. And there’s your problem.
Let’s say a week later your photograph something you think is pretty good and so you post it up on instagram with the expectation to get that same feedback. Then the photo doesn’t get nearly as many like as your other post and you’re completely DEVASTATED. And so you question yourself searching for answer on why this didn’t get as many likes. And ultimately we may come to the conclusion that WE ARE NOT PRODUCING QUALITY WORK. This may be one of the bigger contributing factors to creative ruts and we need to stop this cycle NOW.
The likes on your photo doesn’t justify anything other than an interaction from a business. Yes if you get a like from someone it means they “like” your photo BUT what a lot of us don’t realize is that Instagram, facebook etc are platforms that have algorithms. And when you follow the algorithm that they want you to follow, they reward you with exposure by making your photo pop up at the top of everyones feed. Or you story is always the first on everyone’s timeline which in return gets your more likes. Now tie that in with how likes make you feel about your photography.
It’s OKAY if you don’t get as many likes. If you look at someone like Joel Meyrowitz on instagram his following is about 1/3 of someone like Peter Mckinnon. So please for the love of your creativity and your mental health DO NOT let instagram likes control your perception on your photography.
Creative blocks are tough and can be caused by anything. Maybe it’s stress from your day job, stress from life whatever factor that contributes to hindering your creativity try your best to identify it and control it. Take a break from your norm and explore other areas. While exploring these areas carry a high level of optimism and don’t expect anything when going out to photograph because expectations are HARD to fulfill. And most importantly, don’t let instagram likes justify your photography whether it’s good or bad. There are celebrities who get tons of likes on their iphone photographs on instagram just because of their following. Don’t let likes control who you shoot for! And lastly, embrace you creative rut and understand that you will eventually snap out of it. These periods suck, but it’s the bitter taste that these ruts leave us that remind us how good inspired creativity can be!