I am finding myself in a transitory stage with regards to photography. I haven’t picked up my camera with a decisive thought or the motivation to go and photograph something in a few months now.
Everybody hits a wall at some point. I am only five years into my photographic journey, which is not much in the grand scheme of things, and yet in this time I have begun to see a trend: I may be having a good streak, where photos are coming out as I imagined them and I’m feeling like I’m settling into a good routine, but every year for around four months I lose any and all momentum and my camera sits on a shelf collecting dust. I never gave it much thought since I always managed to get back on my feet, but as I find myself in the doldrums once again I have begun to ponder my coping mechanisms.
So here is how I attempt to overcome one year’s photography block.
Step 1: Allow yourself to be inspired
I find that by the time I realise that I am in a rut, I have already stopped consuming photography. It takes me all too long to notice that I have not picked up a photobook in months, or watched a film with beautiful cinematography, or at the very least, opened social media to check what my favourite photographer is posting. But, once I do, it changes my whole outlook, and all of the sudden I find an urge to go outside and to photograph something, anything.
Note: I have only recently begun to build up a physical collection of my favourite photographers’ work, and while it is not a lot, it is better than nothing. I am not at the stage where I can wholeheartedly recommend you buy the biggest and best collection, but I will say that even small paperbacks with mediocre print quality are better than seeing images on a screen.
There are many other ways to get inspired. Check museums in your area, maybe there’s a photography exhibition on the weekend, or a photowalk being organised by a local group. I know this is a lot more case-dependent but it is worth a mention.
Printing your own images is another way of getting inspired; you are seeing your work in a new medium, likely in a larger size than before, and it can provide insight into what you like about your style or what you would like to change/experiment with.
Step 2: Go outside
This, for me, is the more difficult part. Hopefully the momentum of being inspired is enough to push you out of the door and into the world; however, if that is not the case, here is what tends to help me out.
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Set small goals
I will tell myself that my task for the day is to capture, for example, interesting shadows. Simple as that; shadows are everywhere, and time of day and your location will bring variety to your images. You can sit on a bench at the park and photograph the same shadow of a tree throughout the day if you don’t feel like going too far. For me, this essentially removes any decision paralysis, it brings me outside, and it has me pressing the shutter while still being able to practice working with light and composition.
Make it a group effort
I tend to rope in the people around me into a photowalk, whether its my siblings when I’m at home or my new flatmates. You set a time limit, such as an hour, and you go for a walk around the neighborhood and capture what you see. You can bounce ideas off of them, teach them a bit of photography if they are new to it, and when you get the images back you can compare the results. They don’t have access to a film camera? Phones work just as well. I tend to give them my Olympus XA and let them have a blast.
Leave the camera at home
Every time I go out I have my camera with me, and I am currently testing out a theory that this can be equally detrimental to one’s photography (or at the very least mine). I find that after a while I start feeling disappointed when I don’t take a photo on a day out, which in turn can be very demotivational. Go out for a walk and take in your surroundings, perhaps even visualising potential photos without relying on a camera. At the end of the day this is a more personal one, but for those that go through similar thought processes this may be helpful.
At the end of the day, the important part is that you get outside by any means possible. Indoor photography projects have their own place, but I find that going outside clears my mind and allows me to reset.
Step 3: Reject stagnation, embrace routine
That might sound a bit paradoxical but bear with me. The important thing once you start getting out of a photography block is to start a routine. Modify your initial routine from before the block, maybe incorporating an aspect you were missing beforehand; for example, taking some hours out of your week to go through some photography books at the library.
I think I want to be more consistent in creating write-ups to accompany my photography since it allows me to reassess my images in a new light. Some of the photographs featured in this article I have not seen in almost a year, and I have gained a new appreciation for them, seeing what I would like to incorporate or remove in my photography today. Tying in to Step 2, I’m setting myself what I consider to be a realistic goal of updating my blog at least once a month from now on.
If it isn’t clear yet, I wrote this article just as much for myself as for anyone experiencing something similar. I don’t pretend to have all the solutions but the ones listed have worked for me; if you have ideas, or tried-and-tested approaches of your own, please do add them in the comments below! And if you find yourself in a photography block now, I hope this post is the push you need to get back out there.
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I’ve been in a similar rut for the last 3 years. I’ve shot plenty of film in that time, but had no inclination to develop it. I had a backlog of 23 rolls, but lacked any desire to see the output.
To get over the block I decided to do….nothing. I wallowed in it. I basked in it. I picked up my film cameras and regularly dry fired them, just to hear the shutter open and the mirror slap. I looked at photography books, regularly perused blogs like this and swiped thru thousands upon thousands of instagram images daily.
Then I watched a Youtube review of the movie The Lighthouse that I’d seen a few years ago. I remembered been awestruck by the tones and the shadows and the framing, and it all came flooding back.
Tonight I started to develop the film. I’m 7 rolls in and I can feel the desire to get out and shoot starting to burn inside once again.
Sometimes you don’t need to force it, just let it come back on its own.
I’m glad to hear you’re back in the thick of things! Three years of block sounds frustrating. I had a similar reaction when I watched The Lighthouse a few weeks back, it is visually stunning and gave me a new direction for my B&W shots.
Inspiration is just an excuse to avoid work! For true creativity is work. Everyone gets “blocks”: photographers, engineers (yes, it happens), writers, anyone trying to do something creative will occasionally hit a wall.
The answer to feeling blocked is to recognize that it’s just a feeling and then get started anyway. The rest is easy. Well, it will get easier after you’ve written four chapters about your cat or spent an hour photographing your closet. You’ll probably delete what you created but you’ll be past the block.
I feel like I would have agreed two years ago but recently that has led to more frustration, at least with my photography (although it is different with my writing where I fully agree). Also with the current cost of film and being on a student budget I can’t afford to shoot through a block (although that’s just an excuse as I could shoot digital until I’m through it). At the end of the day everyone goes through it differently and with this post I’m trying to provide what I would have appreciated reading a few years ago.
Thank you – perfect timing for me… I find that closing down any articles in my browser about photography (except Emulsive (-: ) and not deep diving into all the photography info which comes our way – classes, gear, blogs, etc. helps prevent me from feeling overwhelmed with photography. Looking toward other art forms often brings back the photographic spark, the enthusiasm, and joy we all felt when first starting out – beginners’ mind.
I agree; seems I neglected to mention other forms of art as inspiration. When I think about it, a beautiful film does wonders in inspiring my photography; I feel like it contextualises my work and brings back that ‘spark’ that you mention.