Hitting a Wall With Your Photography? How to Defeat Creative Burnout

Hitting a Wall With Your Photography? How to Defeat Creative Burnout

Do you feel at a certain point, after making a long run of photoshoots, that you're hitting a wall with your creative side? Or have you "lost your touch" so to speak? This is also known as "Creative Burnout." As creatives, we've all been there before. At one point we all plateau and need to find a way to break the "funk" to get back of the swing of things. So how do we overcome this?

A great analogy relating to creative burnout is bodybuilding. When bodybuilders adapt to the same workout routine and diet, after awhile they will eventually plateau and then show little improvement; the law of diminishing return comes into play. They overcome this by switching routines and altering their diet, to keep things fresh and to continue challenge their bodies. The same thing goes with photography, sometimes we may just need to switch things up for a shoot or two. 

Personally, I experienced a plateau this past winter. 99% of my shoots are using 100% natural light, for reasons that I will likely explain in an article in the future. I needed to skew a little bit and try something different. I contacted a model that I've worked with in the past, Fatima; after bouncing around some ideas with her, we decided that we should try a studio session. And since I love to play with lights in a studio setting, it was a no brainer. It was time for something new and fresh. 

After looking around on our own Fstoppers Community and 500px for inspiration, I grabbed a couple of photos with different lighting techniques that caught my interest to create a mood board. With my good friend Minh's help, we nailed the light that was appealing to us.

Lighting: Octabank/Profoto B1 mid-power above • 2 strip boxes at lowest power for fill •
Camera Settings: 85mm @ f/5.6 • 200/s • ISO 100

We ended up with a very simple lighting setup with one box above as the key like you would see from photographers such as Peter Coulson use. I love the simplicity and mood it portrays.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BB01QpPvtVX/

Since this was a unique shoot for the team, we collaborated with a fashion designer based in Florida. We also decided to go forward and submit our set to a publication that was looking for black and white themes. Here's what we captured below:

As you can see, this look and style is something completely different from what you would expect from my work. What I took away from this shoot is that there is an advantage of trying new things, its that you can apply what you've learned to your signature style. There's always room for improvement and tweaking; stepping out of your comfort zone gives you a fresh perspective on your photography and creative juices. 

Here's a quick behind the scenes video I put together from our editorial:

I put together a brief list of things you should try, that have worked for me personally. Because I've found myself in situations where it's photography and nothing else, "all in or all out" so to speak. I'm sure we've all been there since photography is our passion and it burns us out, but sometimes it's good to break the norm for a brief period. Here's what I put together:

1. Try Something Completely Different in Photography

Just like the example above, I did something completely skewed from my norm. Being so used to using the sun as a light source, I decided to challenge myself from a different perspective. For you it may be trying landscapes, street, still life, anything. Reflecting on my black and white session even though they won't go into my portfolio, I'm glad I made the decision to go forward with it because I've noticed a 'step up' in work and creativity since.

2. Divert Your Mind Into Different Genres of Art

You are a creative, you're a photographer, it's a part of you even if you don't realize it yet. Personally I've always been that way, as a teenager I would play guitar regularly. Sometimes I put down the Wacom pen and pick up the guitar to free up the mind. For you it may be drawing, painting, or piano. Keep those creative juices flowing.

3. Spend Time Doing Other Things & Hobbies

You've been on a roll and it's been go, go, go. Then you hit a wall...I know the feeling. Sometimes it can be refreshing to put the camera and/or the computer down for a moment. Spending quality time with family or taking up one of your old hobbies that photography may have taken over. Maybe even taking a short trip somewhere or visiting an art museum.

With that being said, what do you do to overcome your creative rut? Do you have other hobbies or arts to keep your mind fresh? Share your thoughts!

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6 Comments

Nick Rains's picture

Puts me in mind of a (paraphrased) quote from Jay Maisel, "If you want to take more interesting photos become a more interesting person".

it takes courage to talk about one's creative burnout and the author did not only a great job of being honest to himself about it, but also actively looking for new challenges that help to overcome it. A very inspiring and important lesson for us all. Thank you.

Great article Nick!....I'm about to do some test shoots for differnt agency models, but I feel that I don't only want to give those "clean shots" that agencies always want, and give them something fresh to go along with the clean looks....that is what i've been racking my brain with lately and I need to put forward that creative step

I was sitting there in the garage having a beer; perplexed and frustrated a my seemingly lack inspiration for a new photographic challenge. Then it hit me, not the alcohol but what was in my hand. In all my years of my photographic hobby I've never really put much thought into photographing beer or liquid. Sometimes the best ideas are siting there right in front of you. I have no idea what I'm doing but that's half the fun.