I guess we all know the feeling of not being in the mood to create stunning images. But what can we do when this temporary state becomes permanent?
The Photographer’s Block
Most people will have heard about the writer’s block. It’s a state in which a writer isn’t able to write a proper story, poem, or article at all. Of course, he or she can write a word or two, but the story doesn’t develop. Crumpled sheets fill their desks and during their sleepless nights they wonder what’s going wrong.
There are many other forms of creative blocks. Often, it’s just a short-term lack of motivation. Sometimes, they are seriously disturbing our development as artists. In our case as photographers, we might have to deal with empty memory cards instead of white sheets of paper.
The difference between photographers and writers is that photographers don’t have to write a whole book, but only shoot a few images. Still, we want our photographs to be good and outstanding. The issue is: If we don’t put too much effort into our work, we’ll get disappointed and question ourselves. We’ll become pessimists. Being pessimistic stops us from being encouraged and engaged. It’s a downward spiral that can just be overcome by doing something creative. We need to satisfy our brain.
What is Creativity?
You don’t need to be a pretentious artist to be creative. Creativity can be a solid skill and I personally assume that creativity can be learned. Only when you know the tools that you can use, you are able to develop ideas and create something meaningful or beautiful. Creativity means being able to create something.
Creativity also means the ability to find new ways of solving a problem and thinking out of the box. Most artists’ creative power arises from their ability of finding new ways of communication. They know how to use art to transport a message. But they don’t know it by birth. They know it, because they learned how their media work and they develop concepts how to use their media. A good painter knows the differences of colors, how to use the right brush, and which elements make a painting become more scary, melancholic, or bright. A photographer knows the effects of different angles, hard light, and long exposures.
People who suffer from a creative block, mostly don’t suffer from a loss of memory or skill. They still remember the rules of composition, the exposure triangle and the difference between 20mm and 200mm. It’s their mind that plays tricks on them.
Photographer’s Blocks From the Inside
What are the reasons why we sometimes loose the energy to create art? Often, we don’t see development and we ask ourselves: What’s the use after all? Our self-esteem suffers under these poisonous thoughts. Sometimes, it happens because we're stuck in routines. It’s strongly related to the fear of failure: We stick to what we know and don’t look for new ideas.
Development, change, and new ideas are very important for our motivation. Failure shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but as a chance to develop new tools for new challenges. If you fail in your first attempts of macro photography, that’s all right. Most of us did. It’s another chance to fill your photographic toolbox with brand new tools. The fastest development is possible wherever you are scared to fail, because there is so much to learn.
Hence, curiosity and play instinct are very important components of creativity. The more ideas you actually try, the more original solutions you will be able to find for any problem. Play with props in portrait photography, use DIY light sources and photograph a still-life with weird colors. Whatever you like, take it. Whatever you don’t like, toss it. Failure isn't a crime and it won't harm in the long run.
Photographer’s Blocks from the Outside
Often, it’s not ourselves whom we fear. Especially when working with other artists, we might get stuck into a routine, because we fear that others will dislike our concepts. We start repeating our procedures, don’t take risks, don’t develop, and lose our energy and motivation.
For this reason, it’s important to find people whom you can trust. If a customer does not appreciate your portrait concepts, you should offer whatever he or she expects. For your innovative ideas, you can search for someone else. TFP is a great way to get to know new people and try different ideas, even if it’s on a budget. You don’t have to fear that you use a client and your cooperation develops from a neutral ground. Often, creative models come up with their own ideas and can enlighten your fire. Most photographers dedicate some time to personal projects. Here, they can develop, experiment and try out new collaborations.
Another creativity-killer for many people is pressure. You have to be very self-confident to try a risky concept in a short period of time. Especially if there is no chance to reshooting. In a job, you need to deliver the best you can. When there is a big chance of failing, go for the safe option.
Your private projects should be your playground, though. Free them from pressure and dare to experiment. Given an amazing sunset at a certain location, you might be under pressure, too. Do you take the standard shot of the Mesa Arch or do you roam around to find something new? One option will be riskless — but not very original. The other might not become a keeper at all. But does that really matter? Shouldn’t it be a form of practice? It could also become a new story and an image that no one else ever shot. If you are in such a situation, better go for the latter option. Feeling average is a main source of creative blocks. A unique image can push your self-confidence. Its a reward for courage.
Overcome the Block
There is no evidence or case in research that a writer’s block is not curable. It won’t be a long-term problem for photographers either. The most important measure is lowering expectations. Both from the inside and outside. You’ve got to take your time and not put yourself under pressure. It’s a confidence issue, after all. Work for yourself first and just go through a project, no matter how doubtful you are. Once you’re done, you can still decide to toss it. It’s just important to realize that you can get something done. It may not be your best work, but does it really have to?
You can’t always outdo yourself. It’s hard to deal with it, but at one point you’ll have to realize that you can't. Most superstars have already had their peaks in their career. Most of them will never get back to that success. How could they? Still it doesn’t mean that they won’t develop as artists. The ones who stay successful work consistently, even though they know that their next song, movie, or book won’t become their best one. Steve McCurry didn’t stop after the Afghan Girl.
Don’t measure yourself in terms of success as viewed by the public but in terms of your own feeling of improvement. Compare yourself to yourself of yesterday and not to your projects of yesterday. You’ll always grow and maybe your biggest project is still waiting for you. There is a lot of chance involved, too. Try out new fields and techniques or just stick with your old stuff for a while. It doesn’t really matter if it’s better or worse than your former work, as long as it’s good. The ideas will come while you work.