Have you ever felt so uninterested and indifferent towards photography that you could barely look at your camera, let alone pick it up and go out shooting? I have, but I found a few things I'd like to share with you today that really helped me rediscover my passion.
The alarm goes off. It's 04:30am and the camera bag's packed. But instead of waking up with enthusiasm and excitement I look out the window and pray that it's too cloudy. Or that it's not cloudy enough. Or that it's raining. Anything to validate me crawling back in to bed.
When this started happening to me pretty much every morning, I knew something was really amiss. My love for photography had gone and I was in a deep, dark hole. But rather than put the bag away and find something new, I examined what was causing the torpor and made a pact to resolve the issues. These four tips below really helped and I am once again full of zest and love for my craft.
Focus on one type of photography at a time. The time period is up to you, it could be a day, a week, a month, a year, whatever. But don’t try to be a jack of all trades and cram everything into one day. I was trying to do macro, portrait work, sunset landscapes, surfing shots from land and in water, plus some product work for friends but I wasn't setting myself a schedule. I love all those genres at certain times but when you wake up of a morning and you have no clear indication in your mind about what you want to do, it can be incredibly frustrating and you end up suffering paralysis by analysis and disillusion through confusion.
If you use music as an analogy, you might say you love music but you can’t wake up of a morning and try to bust out a hip-hop track before breakfast, then a bluegrass song mid-morning, then a thrash metal ditty at lunch, followed by an afternoon power ballad and rounded off in the evening with some R&B. It sounds ridiculous, right, and would lead to serious burnout. But that’s what many of us do, and it’s exhausting. So I stopped. I made a decision to limit myself to particular styles of photography for certain periods of time.
For example, I recently spent a couple of weeks exploring the beautiful little island of Tanegashima, in far SW Japan. I decided before I left I would only do land shots of surfing, sunset landscapes, and waterfall shots and never more than one on the same day. That was my rigid plan and I stuck to it. So I brought the necessary equipment and left all other lenses and gear at home. It was so liberating and refreshing. On one particular day I spent four hours in a small waterfall area that wasn't much more than 100 meters long. But I really thought about my work, and angles, and lenses. I knew I wasn't going anywhere else and that I'd committed to that location for the day. Here are a couple of results.
Do what you love and what you’re good at rather than following trends and doing things you don’t like. That also extends to post-production. There was a time when I lost a lot of confidence in my photography because I was stepping out of my comfort zone and into a zone that wasn’t only uncomfortable, but entirely unenjoyable for me. And I found I wasn’t producing images of the quality that I expected of myself. But that wasn’t because I didn’t have the ability to learn or adapt, it was simply because I had no real interest in that genre or style of photography, yet I was forcing myself to do it because I felt like I had to “push myself” and “expand myself”. It was poppycock — I had no interest in it and it showed in my results. And it started to become laborious and I almost resented picking up the camera at times. Why do something that you don’t enjoy? It makes no sense whatsoever.
One example was portrait work. Many friends up in Tokyo love that gritty, high contrast look that works so well with monochrome and black backgrounds. And they were having a lot of commercial success with it. So I tried to incorporate it into my work but it wasn't for me. I grew up on a beach. My friends are mostly surfers and sun-lovers so the idea of dark, moody photos of mostly happy-go-lucky people was just a forced mismatch; so I stopped. Now I take photos that I love and that represent my outlook on life and how I like to portray scenes. For example, here's a couple of shots I took of my daughter recently.
She loves the sun, I love the sun, and we both love being outside. So these photos really resonate with me and reflect her growing love of nature. They aren't to everyone's taste but I love them and so does my wife. As the saying goes, "you can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time." So don't try. Just do what you love and work on perfecting it.
With so much social media around these days it's quite easy to fall into the trap of being a social media photographer and spend all your time and energy on uploading your photos to social networks. Especially when we're told ad nauseam that it's important to build our online brand and use the power of the internet to market ourselves and put ourselves in front of as many eyes as possible. That's all well and good and I'm all too aware of how powerful social media can be, but if your entire photographic existence consists of putting photos up online to be compressed by the whims of respective social media platform algorithms, then I think you're doing yourself and your work a disservice.
Print your photos and in all different formats. Whether it's on big canvas prints used as centerpieces in your living room, or little albums that you can put under the coffee table and reminisce over with your loved ones for years to come. There's nothing quite like the excitement of hearing the doorbell ring when you're expecting a big print. You run to the door with beating heart and excited anticipation and unwrap the box like a little kid at Christmas. Then you hold that big print up in your hands and run your fingers along the edges, surveying the colors and the light and the tones. Then you hold it up on the wall where you've planned to place it and stand back and admire it. That's your work. That's a real manifestation of your passions and the time and resources and energy you've put into learning your craft. Seeing it up there every day is far more rewarding for the soul than a couple hundred likes on a post that disappears for all intents and purposes within a matter of days. Here's a print of mine up on the wall back at home in Australia.
If you're looking for affordable prints, then you might want to look at Zno. I'm not an ambassador for them or linked to them in any way, but I have had great success using them and they're very affordable for all types of products.
It's quite ironic that as an Associate Professor in Japan with almost 20 years experience teaching at college, my learning of the photographic craft had stagnated and I'd become far too complacent. That led to boredom because my routine was pretty much the same whenever I went out shooting and whenever I did post-production. Sure, it was working, and I'd carved out a nice little existence for myself through photography but I wasn't getting inspired and my creativity was utterly dormant.
So I made a pact to keep learning and to incorporate as many new things into my photography that I felt could help me. I scoured free things on YouTube a lot but I also invested in a few online courses, including one on newborn photography. But without doubt the best course I've had the pleasure of using over the last couple of months has been the Photographing the World course available here on Fstoppers. It's a 15 part series where the first 8 episodes are set in Iceland and the last 7 episodes are set in New Zealand. The cinematography alone is visually stunning and wouldn't look out of place on the Travel Channel.
But it's the educational side of things that I love even more than the awe-inspiring scenery. Each episode is broken down into 2 halves: the first is out in the field and examines the thought processes behind making a beautifully composed photo, and the second half is back in the studio where you learn lots of new editing techniques in software such as Lightroom, Photoshop, and Color Efex Pro. I haven't even reached the New Zealand part yet but already I've noticed a huge improvement in the way I approach photography and my finished results. In particular I've introduced a new style of luminosity masking and blending exposures for highlights and shadows without the need for HDR. Some clients have also commented positively on some recent shots I produced so there is a definite change going on in my work and it's exciting to learn so many new things from each episode.
Any source of education whether paid or free is good if it adds value to your creativity and helps you improve. I thoroughly recommend the Photographing the World course, which is available here.
When you've invested so much time, effort, love, and money into a passion it's a horrible sensation when you feel that love slowly slipping away. But if you incorporate any of these things I've introduced today, I really think it'll help you rediscover your fire. What have you done to rediscover the joys of photography any time you've felt a real lack of enthusiasm? I'd love you to share them in the comments below.