Some thoughts on overcoming photographic blockages

I find myself in a transitional phase in relation to photography. I didn’t pick up my camera with a decisive thought or the motivation to go shoot something a few months from now.

Everyone hits a wall at some point. I’m only five years into my photographic journey, which isn’t really in the grand scheme of things, and yet at that time I started to see a trend: I maybe to be a good streak, where the photos come out the way I imagined them and I feel like I’m settling into a good routine, but every year for about four months I lose all momentum and my camera sits on a shelf collecting dust. I never gave it much thought since I always managed to get back on my feet, but as I found myself in the doldrums again, I started thinking about my coping mechanisms.

So here’s how I’m trying to overcome the year-long photography block.

Step 1: Be inspired

I find that by the time I realize I’m in a rut, I’ve already stopped consuming photography. It takes me too long to notice that I haven’t picked up a photo book in months, or watched a movie with great cinematography, or at the very least opened up social media to check out what my favorite photographer is posting. But, once I’ve done it, it changes my whole look, and all of a sudden I want to go outside and photograph something, anything.

Note: I’ve only recently started building a physical collection of my favorite photographers’ work, and while it’s not a lot, it is better than nothing. I’m not at the stage where I can unreservedly recommend that you buy the biggest and best collection, but I will say that even small paperbacks with poor print quality are better than seeing pictures on a screen.

There are many other ways to get inspired. Check the museums in your area, maybe there is a weekend photography exhibition or a photo walk organized by a local group. I know it’s much more case dependent, but it’s worth mentioning.

Printing your own images is another way to get inspired; you see your work in a new medium, probably in a larger size than before, and this can give insight into what you like about your style or what you would like to change/experiment with.

Step 2: Exit

This, for me, is the hardest part. Hopefully the momentum of inspiration is enough to push you out the door and into the world; however, if not, here is what tends to help me.

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Set small goals
I will tell myself that my task for the day is to capture, for example, interesting shadows. As simple as that; shadows are everywhere, and the time of day and your location will bring variety to your images. You can sit on a park bench and photograph the same shadow of a tree all day long if you don’t feel like going too far. For me, it basically removes any decision paralysis, it gets me out there and it gets me to press the shutter while being able to practice working with light and composition.

Make it a group effort
I tend to involve people around me in a photo walk, whether it’s my siblings when I’m home or my new roommates. You set a time limit, say an hour, and walk around the neighborhood and capture what you see. You can offer them ideas, teach them a bit of photography if they’re new, and when you retrieve the images, you can compare the results. They don’t have access to a film camera? Phones work just as well. I tend to give them my Olympus XA and let them have fun.

Leave the camera at home
Every time I go out, I have my camera with me, and I’m currently testing a theory that it may be just as detrimental to his (or at least mine) photography. I find that after a while, I start to get disappointed when I don’t take a picture during a day, which can be very demotivating. Go out for a walk and admire your surroundings, perhaps even viewing potential photos without relying on a camera. Ultimately, it’s more personal, but for those going through similar thought processes, it can be helpful.

In the end, the important thing is that you get out by any means possible. Interior photography projects have their own place, but I find going out clears my mind and allows me to reset.

Step 3: Reject stagnation, embrace routine

It may seem a bit paradoxical, but be patient. The important thing once you start breaking out of a photography block is to start a routine. Change your initial routine from before the block, perhaps incorporating an aspect you missed before; for example, taking a few hours out of your week to browse photography books at the library.

I think I want to be more consistent in creating scriptures to accompany my photography since it allows me to reassess my images in a new light. Some of the photographs featured in this article I haven’t seen in almost a year, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for them, seeing what I’d like to incorporate or remove in my photography today. Related to step 2, I set myself what I consider to be a realistic update goal my blog at least once a month from now on.

Conclusion

If it’s not clear yet, I wrote this article just as much to myself as for anyone going through something similar. I don’t claim to have all the solutions but the ones listed worked for me; if you have any ideas or proven approaches, please add them in the comments below! And if you find yourself in a photography block now, I hope this post is the boost you need to get back out there.

~Simon

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