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HABITS to Break Creative Block
In today’s blog post, I'll dive into techniques that have helped seasoned photographers like me find inspiration and have helped me push through creative blocks over my 30+ year career.
As photographers, we all experience moments when our creative well seems to run dry. It’s called Creative Burnout. These creative blocks can be frustrating and disheartening, but they're a natural part of any artistic journey. The good news is that with the right strategies and mindset, you can overcome creative burnout and reignite your passion for photography. Here’s how to do it.
1. Embrace the Unfamiliar: One of the most effective ways to overcome a creative block is to step out of your comfort zone. As much as specializing is important, you can also benefit by challengeing yourself by exploring genres of photography you've never tried before. If you're a portrait photographer, try your hand at landscape photography. If you're used to shooting vibrant colours, experiment with black & white. New experiences bring fresh perspectives, leading to new ways of seeing and capturing the world around you. There are so many ways to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. I do it regularly with street photography and street portraits. I shoot editorially so when I challenge to go out and photograph scenes and strangers I ask for photos, it always helps me battle my social anxiety as well as creating work that couldn’t happen if I didn’t put myself out there.
2. Study Other Art Forms: Inspiration can often be found outside of photography. Dive into other forms of art like painting, music, literature, or even dance. The emotions, composition techniques, and narratives in these art forms can provide a unique wellspring of ideas. Translating elements from one medium to another can result in a new, intriguing photographic vision. I love looking at street art, and painters like Jean-Michel Baquait. I also study design, typography, illustration and music videos.
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3. Limitations Breed Creativity: Paradoxically, constraints can stimulate creativity. Challenge yourself with limitations: a single prime lens for a day, a single colour theme, or a single location. These limitations force you to approach subjects in new ways, sparking inventive solutions to create captivating images. Limiting your equipment and techniques also breeds style. I get so many questions on how to develop a personal photography style, I’ll say again, the best way is by creating “Photographic Rules” for yourself to help you develop your style. Those rules are defined by the things that you do. Limitations make this list defined and repeatable.
4. Personal Projects and Photo Essays: I’ve always embarked on personal photography projects or photo essays that delve into a specific theme, story, or concept. I love the “Self Directed Project”. Working on a project allows you to explore a subject in-depth and develop a consistent body of work. This focus can help reignite your enthusiasm and open up new avenues of creativity. Dabbling in a little bit of this and a little bit of that is fun for your creativity but your self directed projects can be focused and tailored to developing a style, creating a new category of work which of course is key with getting you future work.
My first self directed project was secretly shooting portraits back 30yrs ago when I was only known as a fashion photographer. Later on, shooting video became a personal project. These days, my personal projects involve; street photography, street portraits, nudes, light painting, multiplicity, on black, documenting my children, still life and of course, photo education.
5. Break from Routine: Photographers can fall into repetitive routines that eventually lead to creative stagnation. Break free from these patterns by exploring unfamiliar locations, shooting at different times of day, or experimenting with varied lighting setups. The act of challenging your routine can trigger fresh sparks of inspiration. Do something radical. Take a road trip somewhere to photograph. Try to go to a brand new place you’ve never seen before. Are you feeling like you’re in too much of a routine?
6. Connect and Collaborate: Engaging with other photographers, both experienced and emerging is incredibly rewarding. Participate in photowalks, photography groups, workshops, or online communities. Sharing ideas, feedback, and experiences can lead to a cross-pollination of creativity. Collaborative projects can help you see photography from a new angle and inspire you to push your boundaries. I’ve recently brought on an apprentice and shooting and creating video content with him has made my video content so much better. Collaborating is beneficial, we should be doing so weekly.
7. Mindful Observation: Practice mindfulness in your everyday life. Pay close attention to the details in your surroundings, noticing textures, colors, and compositions that often go unnoticed. This practice can translate into your photography, enhancing your ability to capture captivating moments and scenes that might have been overlooked. The shy and the quiet are the best at mindful observation. Every time I go out I’m looking the interesting. If you see the same things everyday, day in and day out, it becomes difficult to really observe. Changing your surroundings and then returning to the familiar is also a great way for you to notice things that have always been there. Our observations crossed with our creativity is where our photography comes from. Be mindful with your observations and attempt always to see things from a perspective that goes beyond how everyone else sees.
8. Learning and Skill-building: Invest time in learning new photography techniques, software, or editing processes. Acquiring new skills can rekindle your excitement for photography and provide you with tools to experiment with different creative ideas. We learn everyday. Or we should be. Each time we endeavour into a new technique or evolution of or photography, it’s a learning experience. Each successful image we shoot, every failed frame, is a learning opportunity. Life is always one of 2 things. Pleasure or Learning. We seek pleasure and should be learning from our mistakes. I get great pleasure in learning something new. I see it as a level up each time is master a new skill. Even my writing skills have improved over the 7 months of writing this blog every week. This in turn makes my communication better, these posts better and the world a better place. [Seeing if you’re still with me]
9. Document Your Journey: Capture your creative journey, capture your “photographic life” including both your struggles and your triumphs. This not only allows for self-reflection but also provides a visual record of your growth as a photographer. Looking back can inspire you by showcasing how far you've come and motivate you to continue pushing forward. Celebrate every victory with your photography career. However small. This Photography Life is hard. There are amazing ups and horrific downs. Making as a pro is a lifelong journey. Make sure you document every step of the way.
10. Focus on One Thing at a Time: Lastly, focusing on one task at a time offers us photographers a powerful strategy to combat creative block. We could be reducing our cognitive load and distractions like our phones and notifications by muting our phones and putting them out of reach while we are focused. By tasking one thing at a time, this focused approach enhances our attention to detail, our problem-solving, and full engagement with our creative process. It enables photographers to enter a flow state, which alleviates stress, and promotes productivity while ensuring the production of high-quality work. Moreover, concentrating on a single task fosters effective learning and skill development, all while preventing burnout, ultimately unlocking their your creative potential.
Creative blocks are not roadblocks; they're stepping stones to growth. As you navigate this photography life and the challenges that go with it, especially finding inspiration, remember that it's okay to feel stuck sometimes. By embracing new experiences, learning from other art forms, and challenging yourself to change up your routines, you can unstuck yourself and unlock new levels of creativity. Allow yourself the freedom to experiment, fail, and learn from those failures. Your journey as a photographer is an ever-evolving one and in order to succeed, should be all consuming. I hope these strategies will help you navigate its twists and turns with renewed enthusiasm and innovation. You got this. The hardest part is showing up. If you’re experiencing Creative Block, take a break. Reset. Make a grand plan and then, attack. You got this. See ya next weekend.
Toronto Photowalk Sept 17th 2pm EST
My second photowalk of the Season is my End of Summer photowalk and it takes place tomorrowdf, Sunday Sept 17th at 2pm. We will meet at Underpass Park. We are scheduled for a pretty good day. Dress for the weather. We are on. Make sure you have memory cards and batteries charged. Expect Photo challenges! I’ll be broadcasting Behind the Picture Live from this photowalk as well as recording video content to be included in an upcoming video. This is the not to be missed LIVE EVENT of the SEASON!
29 Lower River Street, Toronto, ON M5A 1M6. Under and around the Eastern Avenue and Richmond/Adelaide overpasses, between Cherry Street and Bayview Avenue you’ll find Underpass Park.
How to Access:
From River Street, south of King Street. click the map below to take you to google maps.
If you aren’t in the city or can’t make it, make sure you’re subscribed to my YouTube channel to watch this event LIVE.