I think it happens to everyone sooner or later. Sometimes itsneaks up on you slowly; a late morning here or there, a missed opportunity, a subtle lack of inspiration on an outing, or it can come on all at once. Of course there are the typical excuses: I just need to set aside more time for this. If only I had time for a vacation-that is when I do my best work! What I really need is some new equipment, if I just had that new lens or the latest full frame camera. Believe me I have heard and given just about every excuse in the book, and a few that aren’t in the book.
Inspiration, gumption, drive to create, creativity, call it what you like, it is one of the most nebulous aspects of photography and can come and go with the blink of an eye. In over 30 years as a professional photographer I have seen mine come and go like the ebbing and flowing of the tide at times. Every photographer is different and every solution to the problem of a lack of drive or creativity is different. After years of coaching and teaching a wide range of students I have identified some traits about this amorphous state which I believe are near universal. Here are a few tips that for those of you who may suffer from this condition, I hope they are helpful:
Back to the Basics: if your knowledge of the medium is lacking, or you have gotten careless with your technique over the years-go back to the basics. If you need it take a basic photography class-one that teaches you how to use manual exposure, manual focus, depth of field, and basic compositional guidelines. There is nothing like going back to the basics to ground you and rekindle your sense of discovery. After all photography really isn’t that complicated.
Give it 90: if you don’t have time for a vacation try to set aside some specific time for your photography. If you work all week perhaps you can get out for sunrise on Saturday morning, or set aside an evening or two for some twilight photography. Setting aside specific time that is dedicated just for the act of photography is important. I find that it takes me at least 20-30 minutes to work through all the distractions in my head and really concentrate on what I want to communicate. You should set aside at least 90 minutes of time at a stretch. Less than that and you probably won’t be able to work through your yea-yea’s. Spend the first 30 minutes looking for photographs, leave your camera in your car, or camera bag, don’t even take it out just walk around and look.
Give yourself an assignment: I enjoy assignments-both self imposed or those given by a client. Almost all of my work is done while on assignment-but that is because I am that kind of photographer. I don’t carry my camera wherever I go (many people ask me if I do) rather I give myself a specific assignment. Most of my assignments are self-imposed, and most of my assignments are pretty simple and straightforward: “go to Stony Point at sunrise tomorrow and photograph the sunrise”. These are not “War and Peace” assignments, but they do the trick and they get me out to photograph.
Keep it simple: don’t try to do a photo-essay on The Americansif you don’t have the 3 or 4 months to tour the country in a beat-up old sedan stopping to photograph whenever and where-ever you are drawn. Great photography and great photo-essays are usually the result of very simple subjects. Great photographs are about the balance of light and shadow, or the play of light on an object. You can find this anywhere; it doesn’t need to be in Italy, the Swiss Alps, or Alaska, it can be in your own backyard. Great photo-essays are the result of perseverance and persistence. Keep at it; time and dedication will pay off.
Explore with new eyes: ok this is the hardest tip so far. It is hard because it is the simplest. Photographs are about the Now: What is in front of the lens at the moment you trip the shutter-that is what will be your photograph. In order to make great photos you don’t need to go to exotic new places you need to look at places in exotic new ways. Your own home, or your own backyard is a treasure trove of photographs waiting to happen if you explore it with new eyes. If you are struggling to use new eyes try this exercise: pick a 10×10 foot area in your backyard or home. Study it very carefully. Out loud but to yourself describe every object in that 10×10 space. Now describe how each object relates to the other objects in that space. If you still don’t see a photograph repeat this exercise at sunrise and add to the description how the morning light changes what and how you see the 10×10 area.