Question #39: About Going Through A Creative Rut

Q: "I'm attending evening classes in a photography school - we basically have weekly workshops where we're given assignments on imposed subjects on a regular basis. So far I've been quite inspired by those and enjoying it a lot. The "end of year" assignment that's coming next, in contrast, is a freely chosen topic and our photos will be exhibited in a prestigious place and potentially exposed to lots of people.

I'm excited about this great opportunity to have my work shown but still can't possibly figure out which direction to head towards - a kind of "photographer's block" I guess. I'm most passionate about street photography, however I fear that my usual kind of street images is too mundane and not catchy enough to be exhibited. I believe in the power of simplicity and I'm aiming at producing striking, graphical pictures but I just don't know where to start. Every street around where I live I feel like I have roamed a hundred times for assignments or personal work, and there's not much new to get my inner photography flame kindled again. The deadline for giving out the photos for printing is June.

Do you have any advice on how to overcome that block ? Any artist you'd recommend as an inspiration, be it photographer, painter, filmmaker ?

Thanks and keep up the good work ! It's always a pleasure reading your blog and hearing you on TWiP." Guillaume


A: "Hi Guillaume, thank you for your kind words and for submitting a question to the blog. Tough question as I'm not sure if you are planning to pursue photography as a hobby or a career.

Street photography is really something you do for you and you alone. I wrote an article about that recently, which you might want to read: To Be Or Not To Be A Street Photographer. Street photography is not something that will get praises like landscape or nature images will. I don't think that's a bad thing. Not everyone understands the beauty of street photography and the audience is more limited. When you are out shooting, you should aim at pleasing yourself, not others. If they like your work and buy it, that's the bonus! 

You don't have to travel to exotic locations to capture beautiful street photographs. If you feel like you are in a rut, give yourself assignments. But not the same assignments that are required for your classes.  Some days you may just want to shoot some street portraits, other days focus your attention on silhouettes or motion. Find a stage and wait for the right subject to walk through. Maybe you need to do something completely different for a change. Pick up a macro lens and try your eye at macro photography for a while. Give yourself limitations, pretend you are shooting film for a day and shoot 36 frames only. That will make you slow down and think.  Get in your car and get lost on purpose, take a path you've never taken before and explore it with your camera.  You never know what is going to move the artist in you. Follow your heart!

I get inspired by art in general. Go look at paintings at your local museum, immerse yourself in a photography book, not only images that are available online. Watch inspirational videos on (Richard Koci Hernandez comes to mind) or (Wonderful videos featuring Jay Maisel). 

We all go through creative blocks. Don't look at it as a bad thing. On the contrary, it may just be a sign that you need to push yourself, to grow in the process. I think that a loss of passion may be an opportunity to renew and refresh your vision and turn it in a positive experience. 

I wish you the best of luck in all your creative pursuits. Keep in touch!" Valerie

Give yourself your own assignments. Work on silhouettes for a day for example. Find the right stage, wait for the right subject to walk through and capture the shot you envisioned. That is a sure way to boost your energy and passion! 

Give yourself your own assignments. Work on silhouettes for a day for example. Find the right stage, wait for the right subject to walk through and capture the shot you envisioned. That is a sure way to boost your energy and passion! 

If you received this blog post via email, click on the title to view the actual published post. If you found it useful, please leave a comment below and share your experience with the community. If you have a question, feel free to send it to Valerie for an upcoming Q&A blog post. This blog cannot exist without your questions! 

Question #7: About Feeling Discouraged

Q: "Ok, so I live in boring Copley, Ohio. I'm aspiring to be a photographer, but every time I look at photography websites where Im putting up my stuff, I cant help from thinking this jealousy feeling of seeing people with the best micro or tele photo cameras, and people that live in countries or near seas that just have the best scenes and subjects handed to them and on top of it they have the nicest camera in there lap. so I guess to wrap this up, until I get to where I want to go, should I just avoid looking at other peoples work? And/or to just pay attention to what I have in-front of me and what I can work with on my low travel budget. I like to think or know I have an eye and talent but the masses of people that seem to have it handed to them is discouraging. Any advice for a guy going to community college for photography to maybe create some sort of ladder of goals or important things to do to establish myself?" Eric S.

A: "Thank you for your question Eric. Many photographers experience the same feelings at one point or another, but few come out and admit that they are feeling discouraged or envious of others. You touched several good points in your question so I will do my best and try to answer them one by one.

- About gear lust... That's a common ailment among photographers. The cure doesn't have to be buying more gear. Feeling empowered by challenging yourself with what you have may just be what you need! I'm not going to dwell on the fact that the camera doesn't make the photographer. You're a photographer, so you already know that. Work with what you have and make killer images with simple gear, that will show your true talent. I see photographers every day who can't tell a story with the most expensive camera and lenses money can buy, while others demonstrate an amazing vision with their camera phone. No matter what you own, it's far better than any pro camera from 10 years ago. Gear should never be an excuse for lack of vision or creativity.

- Tired of your own surroundings? That happens to all of us if we allow it. Start looking at your own town as if you saw it for the first time. It may be boring to you but others would see plenty of great photo opportunities. Get out of your comfort zone! For example, if you shoot landscapes, get out and do street photography for a change. New stories happen in your streets every day, be out there to record them with your camera. Start a 365 or 52 photo project. Join a photo walk group or start your own! Be a mentor for someone.  Make the ordinary look extraordinary and it won't matter where you live or what camera you shoot with. Still dreaming of new horizons? Instead of saving for new gear, spend your money on a trip or a photo workshop. It will be much more rewarding than a new lens!

Envious of the work of others? Good, use that as a motivator! Get inspiration from the web but shoot for you. Shoot what moves you, pick subjects that you are passionate about and your passion will come through. Don't try to fit in a genre that is not who you are. A style is defined by technical skills and life experiences and it constantly evolves. You will develop a style of your own, but that takes time. Just like it takes time to find your niche. No matter what you do with your photography, make sure you always leave room for personal projects. It's the personal projects that will feed your creativity and keep things fresh.

- No one in this business 'has it handed to them' as you say. Starting out with the most expensive gear or living on a tropical island will not make anyone a successful photographer. It's hard work, it takes a lot of sweat and determination to make it and it's relentless. Someone said it's 80% marketing, 20% shooting, I'd say that's on a good week! But, if you're in it for the right reasons, it's SO worth it!

I wrote a few articles about the different points mentioned above. They are linked in the Publications page of this website. Good luck! 


Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear about your own experience. 

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