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Overcoming Photography Ruts

by Steph Doran (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

No matter how much you love photography, chances are that at some stage you will fall into a rut. Nothing inspires you anymore, you aren’t pleased with your results, or you just can’t be bothered picking up the camera. Here are my top nine tips for overcoming a creative block, and rediscovering your inspiration.

1) Try Something New

You may have fallen into a rut because photography has become a repetition based exercise. Perhaps you always photograph nature, or are continually shooting long exposures. If this is the case, it’s time to try something new! Practice a new photographic style, or investigate using a new technique. There is an abundance of information and tutorial material online, so make the most of it. Try a technique that is completely different or the exact opposite of what you are used to. Like long exposures? Try shooting high-speed flash! Usually photograph sunsets? Be brave and capture some engaged street portraits!

2) Look At Inspiring Work

Researching and examining the work of other artists is not only a great way to broaden your knowledge of photography, it's also a surefire way to gather inspiration for your next shoot. Spend some time looking at the work of photographers who you admire, and really allow yourself to get lost in their imagery. They don’t have to be famous or well known photographers, but their work should interest or speak to you. Don’t limit yourself to looking at websites either – go to the library and pick out some photo books, or head to a newsagent or specialist magazine shop and have a look at some photography magazines with images that are specific to your interests (landscape photography, fashion, portraiture, etc.)

Set yourself a challenge to find an image (whether it’s a photo, a painting, or something else) and re-create it. This can be a lot of fun, but it will also test you artistically.

3) Start A Long Term Project

The concept of a ‘365’ photo series is not new, but it is a very popular challenge that requires you to take one photo every day for 365 days in a row. Some people choose to work within a theme, and others just take a random shot each day. The beauty of projects like these is that they motivate you to keep shooting, and you can do them on your SLR or your smartphone.

Feeling stuck for ideas? Try working with a theme such as;
Red (or any other colour)
8pm (or any particular time of day)
Interesting people I talk to
Fashion on the streets
Self portraits
Black and white
Documenting a particular suburb
Trees or flowers

Uploading your images to a photo-sharing site such as Instagram or Flickr is a great way to show what you are doing, and at the end you get a little time-capsule of your year.

4) Use Some New Equipment

Do you have one particular ‘go-to’ lens, or find yourself always using the same focal length on your zoom? Mix things up by hiring or borrowing some new gear. If there’s a lens you have always wanted to try, go to a hire store and take it out for a day – it will quite literally give you a new perspective! Perhaps using a tilt-shift lens could interest you, or you could play with a set of neutral density (ND) filters to explore long exposure.

5) Shoot Film

Shooting film requires a different mindset to shooting digital, as you have to slow down a lot and really consider every picture you take. This can be quite a meditative exercise, and it will let you reconnect with the basics of composition. You may have an old film camera lying around, or know someone who does, or if not, you can go to the supermarket and buy A cheap disposable film camera. Working with film can be very refreshing, and will not only get you out of a rut, but can enhance your skills and train your eye at the same time.

6) Enter A Competition

Sometimes creative ruts can come from not having a clear direction or idea. Entering a photography competition (including the fortnightly Photoh Challenges) can help by providing you with a theme or brief to stick to. Make sure you set out to capture an image specifically for the competition, and don’t just flick through your old photos trying to find something that ‘kind of’ fits the brief (as this defeats the purpose of overcoming a rut!) Being given a clear theme can help get creative juices flowing.

7) Explore A New Location

As humans, we get used to our environment very quickly, and over time this can reduce our ability to gather inspiration from our surroundings. If you find yourself thinking ‘there's nothing interesting for me to photograph near my house/work/etc,” then it might be time to explore a new location. Think about how heightened your senses are when you visit a new holiday destination – everything is new, and photographic subjects seem abundant. Exploring a new location needn't mean taking an overseas trip (although if you have the time and funds, this is always a great way to refresh your creativity.) You can just as easily become inspired by visiting a new suburb that you haven’t been to before, or taking a road trip to an interesting location a few hours from home.

8) Join A Photoh Meetup Group

Being amongst other photographers can spark your enthusiasm and it’s also a great way to get new ideas. Come along to one of the fortnightly sessions in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth or Adelaide, which always have different topics to help you try new things. Sharing your photos with others in the group and discovering how they see the same subject as you can be very inspiring and encouraging.

9) Stop Shooting

If all else fails, it may be time to take a break from photography all together. This doesn’t mean packing up your camera for good and selling your tripod, but just allowing yourself some distance from your gear. Take your time to see the world through your eyes rather than a viewfinder, and engage in other activities or hobbies that you enjoy. Our creativity is like a muscle, and sometimes it needs to be rested. Taking a break from photography allows your creative eye to recharge, and you’ll have that itch to get shooting again before you know it.

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