Most people get into photography because it is fun and exciting. But when you do photography as a job or even if you are in school studying photography, it can at times lose its luster. Finding ways to bring joy and fun back to photography can be a challenge, but is a worthwhile pursuit.
I’m sure most of us have been there at some time or another. Photography can at times feel like a chore, instead of something you want and are excited to do. Maybe it is because photography is your career and you have been focused on the photography needs of other people and not your own goals. Or perhaps things have become so technical and formulaic that the play has been taken out of the medium for you. No matter the situation, when you lose the joy that drew you to the medium, it can be frustrating, to say the least.
My first article here at Fstoppers was about getting out of the creative doldrums, and while those tips can certainly apply here, feeling like photography is, for lack of a better word, work, can require a slightly different approach.
Go Low Tech
When I was in my undergraduate years, I had a photography class that was solely dedicated to learning The Zone System. This was done on black and white film, and the first half of the semester involved photographing nothing but a gray card on a light table. Photography went from being creative, exciting, and spontaneous to mathematical, tedious, and predictable. Don’t get me wrong, The Zone System was valuable to learn, and I am very grateful for that course, but at that moment, I felt like something was missing from my photography world and desperately missed being creative.
My answer to that was to pick up something that was the exact opposite of what we were doing in the course: a Holga. Holgas are extremely cheap, plastic film cameras that have very minimal options for settings. They have only manual focus, two aperture options (one for sun and one for cloudy conditions), and a whopping two shutter speed options; bulb mode and somewhere around 1/100 s (yes, the one shutter speed isn’t even precise). They are prone to light leaks, don’t advance to the next frame exactly, so it is easy to partially overlap images, and because of how you release the shutter, it is easy to end up with blurry images. But, it was all those quirks that drew me to the camera. I wanted something that I didn’t have to think about and something that would give me wild results no matter how much I tried to control the situation. The low-tech, minimal camera sparked that love of photography once again and fueled me to keep creating.
Holgas are still out there, as are lots of other cheap, low-fi film cameras. If you don’t want to mess with film, there are also Holga lenses for digital cameras, which was a fun tool to play with during my graduate school work. And there are also some low-fi digital options these days as well, which mimic the film toy cameras. Finding a low-tech camera or tool can be a great way to take the precision and pressure off when it comes to photography, which can lead to making photography fun again when the joy has been sucked out of it!
Budget Time for Personal Projects
Some genres and areas of photography lend themselves to creativity more than others, but if you are in one that doesn't allow for that, it can become tedious quickly. There will, of course, be times that this just isn't possible, but purposefully scheduling time for personal projects among your client work is an important thing for keeping the fun alive. Perhaps set a few hours on Saturdays aside for photography fun or maybe a day once a month. Finding a good groove with regular, consistent time to create just for fun can be extremely beneficial. There is, of course, something to be said for spontaneity, but getting into the habit of making time for your own passion projects is also important.
Your personal projects don't have to be related at all to what your professional work is focused on, and in fact, it might be good to stray from that significantly for the sake of boosting creativity. Personal projects also don't have to be serious or focused or meant for anything more than just playing around. For example, I really enjoy photographing water splashes, but those are just pure enjoyment and not intended to be more than that. Perhaps your personal project is even more focused on the editing side as opposed to just shooting. The important thing is to find something that makes you excited about photography again!
Be More Selective With Your Clients
I understand that many do not have this option, as simply having any client is a necessity. Being more selective with your clients can be an extremely difficult thing, but if you have the flexibility to do this, it can be hugely helpful. Choosing to work with clients that fully trust your creative vision and style and will let you do your thing can be the key to staying excited about photography while you are also working. This can be done with commercial clients or even if you photograph weddings or portraits for families. I have worked with clients before that have had extremely specific opinions on how they want their photographs to look, and it doesn't necessarily align with my existing style. I took the job because I needed it, but it became a bit frustrating and tedious trying to meet their expectations instead of going with my normal process. On the flip side, I have worked with people who have given me free rein, allowing me to explore and do my thing, and that fueled me instead of draining me! It made me want to continue creating, instead of having me dreading sitting at my computer to edit images or go take more photographs.
Take a Break
Lastly, sometimes, it is important to take some time off. This is true in basically every profession, and photography is no different. At times, just an afternoon of complete freedom and no photography-related activities whatsoever is enough. Sometimes, however, a bigger break is required to hit the reset button and feel excited to work again. Time away from responding to emails and client inquires, although hard to do, can also be important. With the freelance photography life or even if you work a more structured, traditional photography job, it is easy to get sucked into the mentality that you have to always be working. The boundary between work and life can easily become extremely blurred or even non-existent, which isn't healthy and can quickly lead to burnout. Giving yourself breaks and setting up boundaries with your time will help prevent that burnout and keep you enjoying photography.
Do you have tried and true ways to keep the fun in photography? Share your tips below!