As artists, we go through stages of extreme inspiration, and stages of no creative drive. I’ve had my fair share of highs and lows, and I wanted to share my no fail tips for getting out of a creative rut.
The first step is to define the problem. With the many aspects of life happening, we often find ourselves in a creative rut for various reasons. Once you clarify your specific issue, you can work towards solving it.
Reasons You are in a Creative Rut:
1. You are overwhelmed. This often happens in the beginning stages of your photography journey. The road ahead looks long, and sometimes impossible, when you think about what you want to learn. Not only do you need to learn the basics of shooting in manual, but you also need to improve your composition, figure out posing, and learn the in’s and out’s of an editing software (or two).
2. You have no time to shoot for yourself. Whether you have kids, a job, a booming business, or a million other events happening in your life, there will be phases in your hectic schedule that you realize you haven’t picked up your camera for fun in weeks (months?!) If you haven’t had this happen to you personally, be patient, it’s inevitable.
3. You are simply uninspired. For me, this has most recently been the case. I have cycled in and out of the overwhelmed and busy stages, and find myself in the uninspired phase now and again. I have mastered what I wanted to master in photography, I have free time, but I just don’t have the same drive to pick up my camera like I used too. Sound familiar?
Once you have determined the issue(s), you can move on and find your solution. Some solutions will make your problem worse, so be sure to think through what is going to truly help you out of this rut. For example, if you are overwhelmed by the amount of photography skills you want to learn, DON’T try to learn another new skill.
1. Start a Creative Project. This can be as easy or difficult as you want to make it. It can be short term, long term, or have no time limit what-so-ever. The key is to pick a project with guidelines, and stick to them, whether you feel like it or not. Here are a few examples to get your wheels turning:
- Let the Kids
- 30 Days of Black & White Images
- A Day in the Life
- A Week of Faceless Images
- 365 Project
2. A Personal Challenge. This solution can fall into a number of the other categories, but I thought it deserved it’s own point. Think of your personal work and where you would like to improve. Do you need to get better with your flash? Challenge yourself to use it everyday for 14 days. Are your black and white conversions lacking depth? Tell yourself that you are going to edit 20 different images with varying black and white edits. I recently did a last minute project where
. My only rule was to push myself creatively. I love the way the images turned out. Pick a weakness and make it a strength.
3. Take a Class or Workshop. There is nothing more inspirational than striving to improve yourself with a group of other go-getters. Is there an online class or book that you’ve been meaning to dive into? Just do it. There is no better time than when you are in need of a boost. My go-to resource for classes is
4. Focus on Improving a Skill. Have you been drooling over a friend’s freelensed images but can’t get the same look? Or have you been meaning to finally get tack sharp images with that macro lens? Picking a single skill to grow and improve may be the ticket to getting yourself out of a funk. If it’s something you’ve tried in the past, but haven’t been successful with, try again. Overcoming an obstacle is the ultimate confidence boost.
5. Learn a New Skill. Yes, this is different than improving a skill you already have. Pick something you know nothing about and commit to learning it. This solution really helps those that are in the uninspired age. Us seasoned photographers often get in a funk when we run out of things we want to try or improve. The great news is that we will NEVER be great at everything, so the list of skills to learn is virtually unlimited. Next on my list of new skills is film photography or videography.
6. Find Inspiration Outside of the Industry. YES! I cannot tell you how many times I have watched a music video, or paged through a children’s book, only to be completely inspired and ready to pick up my camera and shoot away. Being an artist means we have the skills to find inspiration anywhere. Don’t pigeon hole yourself with the photography industry.
7. Ask for Help. Not sure where to go next? Get critique! If I never asked another photographer what I needed to improve, I would still be using Sepia ;) Giving and receiving constructive criticism is one of the best ways to improve your photography. And if you are feeling overwhelmed, a push in the right direction may be exactly what you need to buckle down and focus on your next move.
8. Try Out New Gear. Don’t take out your credit card just yet. While I love getting a new, creative lens as much as the next person (anyone else drooling over the Lensbaby Velvet?!), it’s not always financially feasible. Some affordable options include renting a lens or flash, or purchasing something cheap, like a reflector, gray card, or wireless remote. My $75 nifty fifty has been changing the way I feel about focal length! I used to be wide angle only, but now I am really enjoying still life with my 50mm 1.8. Playing with something new is exciting, no matter how much it costs.
9. Shoot a New Subject. I highly recommend this exercise for those who photograph children 99% of the time. Oh man, those guys can be challenging. One of my favorite things to do is to pick a flower from my backyard and go to town! When you shoot a moving subject all the time, it quickly becomes frustrating when you are trying to improve skills like composition, or focus! Change it up to give yourself some creative wiggle room (and to keep yourself sane).
10. Choose a Goal. Do you ever think to yourself, “Once I do X, I will feel great about my photography”? One of the biggest goals I gave myself was becoming a CM Pro. I spent months shooting, editing, organizing, shooting more, reediting, etc to prepare my CM Pro application. Receiving that acceptance email was one of the most exciting and gratifying moments in my photography career. Giving yourself a huge and long term goal is one of the best ways to keep chugging, all while improving your work.
The great news about being in a funk is that it’s only a phase, and you’ll be out of it in no time. Personally, all of my biggest “ah-ha” moments have come after a rut, which I talk a lot about in my breakout,
. “There is always darkness before the dawn”. Hang in there and don’t give up. I am confident when I say something great will come out of this.
What is your go-to solution for a creative rut? What was your biggest ah-ha moment after a funk?