Creative Block in Photography: Practical Ways to Get Inspired
Do you ever find yourself in a bit of an artistic rut and wonder whether you’re just not that creative? Has there been a period of time since you last felt motivated to pick up your camera? We all go through cycles of highs and lows; as a photographer, this might mean that you produce great work, only to suddenly find yourself struggling to come up with new subjects to photograph.
There are many different reasons why you might experience a creative block when it comes to photography. As peculiar as your particular set of reasons might be, many artists before you have fought creative block and broken free. Some of them have even gone on to create masterpieces of work that have been displayed in galleries all over the world!
So before you give up on photography entirely, let’s take a look at what creative block actually is, as well as some tips and tricks that you can try when you’re in need of some inspiration.
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What is a Creative Block?
At some point in your life, you’ve probably experienced that dreaded feeling of being unable to access an internal point from where your creativity usually flows. This frustrating situation is what we term a ‘creative block’.
It doesn’t just affect photographers; artists, writers, painters, musicians, inventors and even scientists have been known to fall into a creative rut every now and then. It’s an affliction of both the obscure and famous alike.
A creative block is a state of mind that can prevent you from achieving your goals in photography. It can happen to anyone, usually pops up when you least expect it and like an uninvited house-guest, often hangs around for much longer than anticipated, draining you of all your mental energy.
To break through one of these periods in your life, you first have to be able to identify when you might be experiencing creative block. Once you’ve figured that out, then you can begin to understand the underlying reasons that might be holding you back from reaching your potential.
Symptoms of a Creative Block
Creativity is more than just a feeling; it’s a sense of being. It’s when you’re able to explore your imagination and use it to bring your ideas to life. Sometimes it feels good, as though a magical energy is streaming out of you into the world in a meaningful and productive way. Other times, it can be challenging to summon.
The signs of a creative block differ between photographers. However, you might experience one or more of the following symptoms:
Wanting to pick up and use your camera but lacking the desire or motivation to do so.
Feeling uninspired to take photos.
Missing the joy in photography.
Having a sense that you’re wasting time or effort with your photography.
Feeling stressed that you’re unable to produce any new work.
Spending time trying to take new photographs but being stuck and feeling as though you’re not getting anywhere with the results.
Note:If you have been struggling with the above without any improvement for a while, then it may be useful to talk to someone you trust or a healthcare professional. Don't assume that your symptoms are due to creative block, especially if you have noticed other changes in your mental health or general well-being. These signs may be indicative of other concerns, so it's important that you seek the appropriate care.
What Causes Creative Block?
If you’re wondering how you ended up in this predicament, especially when you’ve recently been very productive with photography, then you’ll be interested to know that creative blocks can manifest in a variety of ways and may be caused by a number of different factors. These include daily stresses, fear of failure, perfectionism and your overall mental health.
While creative endeavours can be great for stress relief, too much stress may have a negative impact on your productivity and leave you feeling uninspired.
This is because you only have a finite amount of brain power. Most of it is used to fuel your body as you undertake your daily activities, while a portion of it sustains your resilience to stress. The more stressors that there are on your plate, the less energy you'll have to dedicate to your creativity and imagination.
When you're under a lot of stress, you might end up prioritising other things over photography. At the same time, the guilt of doing so may make you feel even more stressed, turning the entire situation into a vicious cycle.
Too much stress can leave you feeling tired, drained and exhausted, inevitably leading to a creative block.
Stress might be one thing but fear is another.
Sometimes, the fear of doing something can hold you back from achieving your goals. Other times, it's the fear of failure.
We all deal with different fears. There's the fear of making a mistake, fear of having your work rejected and the fear of trying something new. Even the fear of getting a slightly different outcome to the one you want can hijack your creativity and put a stop to your momentum.
Many photographers experience some degree of fear that prevents them from taking photos. Identifying what you're afraid of will help you to decide which actions will be most helpful when it comes to moving forward.
If you're a perfectionist, then you might have the desire to quit photography before you've even started.
Self-doubt haunts many creative minds and it is often tied in with fear.
Photographers who are perfectionists may feel like their work is unworthy or experience feelings of inadequacy when they compare themselves to others in the field.
If you are a perfectionist, then you might even set impossible goals for your photography, only to find yourself in a slump when these goals can't be achieved.
It's no wonder then that the negative thoughts and harsh self-criticism associated with perfectionism can kill your creativity.
I have spent over a decade working in mental health care and if there's one thing that I know for sure, it's that your state of mental well-being can have a huge effect on your creative output.
Mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia lead to changes in your emotions, thinking and behaviour. As such, they can either facilitate or hinder your creativity. In the worst case scenarios, they might cause you a lot of distress and even block your creativity completely.
If you are a person with a mental illness or you think that you may be experiencing problems with your emotional, psychological and social well-being, then it's important to address it directly.
Your creative block could be a symptom of something more significant that is interfering with your overall functioning.
How to Overcome Creative Block
When it comes to getting unstuck from a creative block, it’s all about being experimental. What works for one photographer might not be effective for another. Even something that you may have found useful the last time you were in a creative rut might not work again! So here are three steps to follow that will help you to squeeze beyond this seemingly mountainous obstacle.
1. Create Realistic Expectations and Goals
Goal setting can be a difficult task, especially when you feel like you don’t have any creativity to draw upon. If that’s the case, then ask yourself what you want to achieve.
What can you do today or tomorrow that will take you one step closer to achieving that goal?
Maybe you’re in the middle of a photography project that has stalled. You might not finish it this week as you’re not feeling inspired at all, but are there other ways of shooting that you might be able to try? What about different compositions? When will you have some time when you can do a bit of trial and error?
As you work through your goals, make sure to review them regularly so that you can figure out what else you can do to reach your objectives.
2. Don't Compare Yourself to Others
Stop worrying about what other photographers are doing or thinking. Feeling insecure about yourself, your talents or your own work can prevent you from tapping into your creativity.
Nobody else needs to appreciate your photography. If you want to photograph your socks, then do it. Just because other photographers aren’t doing it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
As humans, we all see the world and understand it differently. So stop worrying about what other people think about your photography. When it comes to being creative, do it for yourself. Don’t let your insecurities block your creative process. Imagine picking up those insecurities inside your brain and putting them outside of your mind, one by one. Chuck them out into an imaginary rubbish bin if you have to. Just try to keep them out of the recycling.
3. Accept the Discomfort
When you’re in a creative rut, be patient and acknowledge that you’re stuck. Sometimes, there’s not much that you can do about a creative block other than to accept it and sit with it. Once you stop fighting back, you might be able to recognise what is actually causing the block and I’ll bet that it has nothing to do with you being uncreative.
The creative process is a cycle of inevitable highs and lows. It’s impossible to stay on a high, the same way that it’s impossible to stay low. Think of it as a bit like hula hooping. It takes a while to figure it out and to get going but once you do, it’s quite exhilarating! Eventually, you’ll end up out-of-sync or too tired to keep it up but once you’ve had a rest, you’ll be able to grab the hula hoop and try again – perhaps even with a new technique of shaking those hips.
Helpful Tips to Get Inspired
Keeping the above three steps in mind, it’s time to replenish your creativity! I’ve compiled some helpful tips that can feed your imagination and restore some of your inspiration.
Get Fresh Air Into Your Body
If you're feeling stuck in a creative rut, get outside and breathe in the air. Thinking uses oxygen and if you can get oxygen into your blood, then you might be able to spark some new ideas.
Try going for a walk, doing some light exercise, or having a coffee with a friend. Breathe deeply and allow your brain to declutter so that you'll have space for your creativity to flow.
For those of us who are a little more adventurous, get out into nature and try foraging for wild herbs, camping or even fishing for the day.
Mindfulness can set the stage for cleansing your brain of all the stress, anxiety and fear that accompanies a creative block.
Do something nice for yourself that reminds you of why you create. Or just do something fun that will allow your imagination to wander so that you can incubate new ideas.
It might be helpful to clean your workspace or to allow your mind to rest with meditation.
Even doing something mundane like having a bath or reading a book can be useful when it comes to relaxing and resetting your creativity.
It also helps to maintain good sleep hygiene and to nourish your body by eating well.
Seek Out Resources
To get your creativity flowing, try finding new sources of inspiration. Borrow a photo book from the library, check out your local gallery, visit a museum or listen to a photography podcast.
You might even find it helpful to surround yourself with different shapes, colours, materials and objects. If so, try visiting a fun-fair, a second-hand store or going somewhere new.
Too much social media and connectedness in the form of TV, smartphones, computers and tablets can really impact on your ability to come up with new ideas.
Try disconnecting from technology for a specific period of time so that you can recharge your creativity.
If you can't avoid screens for an entire day, then turn off your push notifications for an hour or two and create no-tech zones in your home, such as your bedroom.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
When you need to break free of a creative block, challenge yourself with something that you don't already do or which you would normally avoid.
Attend a photography meet-up or spend time with other artists and creative people.
Limit yourself to using only one lens the next time that you head out with your camera. If you usually take a zoom lens, then try using a prime instead.
If possible, hire a new piece of photography equipment that you've never worked with before. Try shooting a new style or genre. Branching out will give you some fuel to reignite your imagination.
Learn New Techniques
Perhaps your creative block exists because you don't have the skills to move forward with your photography. If this is the case, then learning some new techniques may provide you with some inspiration.
Freeze a moment in time with high speed photography, photograph the stars, play with motion blur, experiment with intentional camera movement or do some light painting.
You might even feel a bit more creative when you learn new ways to post-process your images.
By taking away the pressure of creating, you'll be free to let your imagination run wild! So get out there with your camera and take photos without setting any rules. Be spontaneous; shoot anything and everything.
Otherwise, try giving yourself a new assignment or framing a project with a certain theme. Look for an interesting subject that is broad enough to capture in a new photo series.
Set a Routine
There's a time for sleep and there's a time to be awake. There's no use trying to shoot when you'd rather be resting. That's why it's important to find your best time to be creative.
Sometimes, just bringing your camera when you go somewhere can be helpful. Develop a habit of shooting which you can link to a location or a cue. Perhaps there's a farmer's market every weekend or maybe you walk your dog in the evenings. If so, take your camera with you!
Take a Break From Photography
If you can't unplug that creative block, then don't waste time on it. Fretting is not going to get you anywhere. Accept that you can't produce photography to the standard that you want at the moment and take a break.
Work on something else. Explore other creative disciplines. Try painting instead or making origami. Bake and then decorate some cupcakes.
There are loads of ways in which you can channel your creativity. You can do far more than this little box you've crammed yourself into. Just keep in mind that this creative block with your photography isn't forever.
Your creativity will come back to you soon!
Have you been stuck in a creative rut with your photography? Do you have any techniques you’ve tried which have been helpful? Share your comments below!