Staying motivated and feeling creative becomes a challenge at some point or another for all us. As professional photographers, we are paid to create inspired work on a daily basis. So how do we fight back when feeling unmotivated and when we are losing that creative spark? Here are five techniques for getting refocused and remotivated.
Find Other Creative Outlets
Creatives are not good at just doing one thing. Even if it’s something that we love, doing it over and over again can strip some of its luster. Finding other creative outlets can re-spark the interest in our main passion. Personally, I do well when I have multiple projects going on at the same time. By spending a few hours on one job and then flipping to the other, it keeps things fresh. Even better than that, however, is having a completely different outlet. It doesn’t need to be something that you're great at or even good at. Paint, play music, or find something else creative you enjoy and do that. That new activity will get you feeling engaged creatively and can carry over into the rest of your work.
Part of the right-brain/artist mentality is having sparks of creativity, so create and move on. Artists love the concept, the birth of the new thing, but not grinding away at something endlessly. The meticulous refining and tweaking is more left-brain oriented. I once had an amazing professor explain this to me in detail. She holds three college degrees, all from some of the most prestigious schools in the world — one in fine arts and another in psychology — so I tended to listen when she spoke.
When doing long, tedious tasks like editing a wedding or retouching a beauty campaign, or doing these things day after day, it can be very easy to lose motivation. By having other outlets, a common thing for creative types, you can keep things fresh and revitalize your motivation.
Think of a time when you were inspired and bubbling with ideas. What were you doing? Were you at an art gallery, reading a photography or fashion magazine, on a YouTube binger, or surfing the work of your favorite artist? Keep doing that. I keep a list of artists and photographers that inspire me, and when I can, I set time aside to explore their work - sometimes jotting down notes or images that inspire me.
It can be a challenge to break away from the grind, but by having set practices that you have decided to follow, it can be easier to stop what you're doing and create time to get inspired. Find what works for you. I would also encourage you to explore other mediums. As photographers, we tend to explore the work of others in our same genre. That is a definitely an amazing source of inspiration, but you should also explore other mediums of art. There is inspiration everywhere if you look for it.
I spoke with a handful of other artists and photographers before sitting down to write this. This quote from Jamie and Heather Schneider of the award-winning Dark Roux Wedding Photography really hit home:
Going back to the start is important for us. Remembering what inspired us years ago before we ever thought of photography as a career. What made us tick, what got us thinking differently, what inspired us.
Seek Out Other Creatives
When experiencing a creative drought, whether it is in motivation to get your work done or in finding a creative spark, seek out other creatives! Having time to socialize with others who are involved in the arts can have positive effects for a variety of reasons.
I recently had the chance to shoot some supporting images for a local publication. The shoot was a full day, much of it social, surrounded by a small handful of artists and none of them photographers. I left that day feeling tired, but inspired to work as my creative juices were now flowing. Recognizing this, I tried to figure out why. At no point during the day did I talk about my work or even think about anything related to photography. So why was I so inspired to work? I credit this effect in part to a healthy competitive spirit - the type of positive competitive nature that makes one feel like, “I could do that,” or “I can produce at that high of a level.” That competitive rationale also lends to what I believe to be the main reason why surrounding yourself with other creative people can revitalize you: the creative mindset.
Creativity breeds creativity, in the same way winning breeds winning. We hear this in sports all the time. Simply by surrounding athletes with others who are used to winning can turn those tagged as losers into winners. That's the creative mindset. People who create believe in themselves. They believe that their ideas can come to life and be great. They believe that the ideas of others can do the same. That positive attitude and creative energy can be contagious.
Just Jump In
It sounds simple, but it can be the hardest thing. Just start. Think back to a time when you lost yourself in your work and stayed up until 5 a.m. on accident or skipped meals without even knowing while working on a project and loving every second of it. Now, how can that same thing that we love and can lose ourselves in be the task we’re now avoiding like the plague? Retouching is the biggest culprit of this for me. When I’m in the zone, headphones on, I can go for hours all through the night without any concept of time. However, once I’ve been away from it for a while, it can be hard to load up the first file and get the engines going again. The best advice I have, for myself included, is just start. Just start, jump in, and soon you’ll find yourself right back in that zone wanting to do nothing else but that thing you were just avoiding.
I force myself to start. I just jump in. ... My competitive spirit makes me keep at it until something starts to emerge.
Declare Your Goals
Some of us just do to do; Painters paint to paint, photographers shoot to shoot. However, some of us have goals bigger than just the next image or next artwork, and neither is wrong in my opinion. Some of these goals may include being the best photographer ever, supporting your family with your craft, and so on. Use those goals. Use your goals, own them, and confront them.
It can be scary to give your dreams life. We all have things we dream of doing in our professional lives, but we don’t all believe that those things can be real. My suggestion is to write them down, say them out loud to yourself, and when you are ready, find the confidence to tell other people. Some athletes will even go to the extreme of writing their ultimate goal down every day. That repetition gives those goals life, and it makes them real and can turn them from being crazy things that will never happen to things they believe are realistically obtainable.
When you’re grasping for motivation, go back to your goals. Goals like "being the greatest ever" will probably mean doing extreme things like working and producing when you’re not feeling it. I keep notes of goals in a page in my sketchbook, and every once in a while I’ll flip back and read through them. Trust me, it gets me moving.
And when that doesn't work, just watch this video narrated by Eric Thomas: