New Year's Resolution: Don't Pick Up Your Camera

New Year's Resolution: Don't Pick Up Your Camera

The New Year is a good opportunity to pursue new goals or finally get around to doing those things that have been on your long-list. However have you thought about not picking up a camera?

As photographers our raison d'etre is to take photos, notwithstanding that our reasons for making images may well be multi-faceted. The urge that pushes you out on to the street, in to the wilderness, or across to the studio can be the result of the creative urge, technical accomplishment, the warm glow of Instagram likes, or just because of a love of gear. But who cares why we get out there and do it as long as we keep on shooting. And what is remarkable about photography is that it is such an all-embracing, pan-societal, activity.

However as the first few days of January firmly take hold, maybe now is the time to consider putting your camera down and not taking any photos. It may seem heretical to consider stopping doing what you enjoy, but bear with me because I think there are three great reasons.

1. Burn Out

Everyone goes through periods of burn out where life, the universe, and everything gets the better of them. It may be too much work, too much photography, or too much life. Either way you may end up at a point in life — and New Year often seems to get that way — where you are exhausted. The simple answer to life's woes and worries is simple — take a break. Rest is something we all need and now is a good time to do it with the work and home stresses of the Christmas season out of the way.

2. Fall Back in Love

Every photographer goes through periods where they don't much feel like taking photos. It's natural to lose interest for stretches of time but there is no need to get stressed. A lack of photography can be a good thing in the same way that Dry January or fasting can purge the body, allowing you to come back refreshed and revitalized. As the saying goers

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

3. Creativity

It may seem counterintuitive that not doing your creative pursuit can make you more creative, but it really can be the case. One of the problems of being a "creative" is that it isn't like painting a wall or digging a hole. Depending upon your type of photography, there is to a greater or lesser extent, artistic direction and you need to be able to harness that urge to create. As I've noted above, falling back in love with photography may well increase creativity, however take this a step further and allow those creative juices to flow without the constraint of having to produce something. That way they can flow unfettered allowing you to develop as an individual.

One method I've found that can work well is to:

Look but don't take.

That is, purposefully go out as if you were actually shooting, but instead of making photos, make a creative logbook. Use the time to think about what you would shoot and how you would shoot it. By removing the constraint of actually creating the photo you envisage, you can focus instead on the process of coming up with ideas. Start by jotting down a sentence that describes the image or go further and sketch how it might look, along with notes on how you would go about creating it. The latter might even resemble a call sheet.

In addition to these three great reasons, do you have any others that show how taking a break can be good for your photography? Have you any tips or recommendations for other readers? Vote now and see how many others are in the same boat as you.

Lead image a composite courtesy of DariuszSankowski and biancamentil via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.

Mike Smith's picture

Mike Smith is a professional wedding and portrait photographer and writer based in London, UK.

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These suggestions may work for some people, but they surely wouldn't work for me.

I am most definitely not an "absence makes the heart grow fonder" kind of person. That's not how I work.

As for creativity, for me, creativity comes when I am actively doing creative things. It is the engaging in the endeavor - the work of it - that induces creative ideas and thoughts. If I am not DOING photography, then I will not be in a position to have any creative development; no insights and no new ideas. Action spawns the idea, not the other way around.

One of the reasons I hate the frigid weather of Winnipeg. I like to just go out and shoot, but like it is today, 0° F at the moment, it's just not fun being out for any length of time. Were I younger, it might be different and the fact that prior to my move here, I spent about 30 years in Florida and Louisiana just make going out in the cold a chore.

I do it, but not very often. Putting down the camera on purpose wouldn't work for me either.

I might add that walking around with $5,000 worth of glass on an icy and slippery day for hobby shooting may not be the wisest choice, especially if your city is stingy on salting sidewalks.

Many of my best photos came from just being out walking somewhere, seeing something interesting and grabbing a phone photo as a reminder - then thinking about it later, eventually coming back with a plan and getting it.

Maybe I need to do more of that.

Photo tech is so advanced, lenses are so sharp, that photography has become easy. Even effortless. Sure, to get spectacular images takes work, time, and practice. If you do advanced studio set ups, it often requires human assistance. Most everyday photography that all pros make, which may be technically perfect and pleasant to look at, is no longer special. I was first published 40 years ago, so maybe this a time-acquired perspective.
When you see your practice becoming an exercise, it is time to add a new element into that workflow. My suggestion is writing. Or how a personal vision may express similar visual sentiments with words.
Not writing about photography or on photography, but on how you may see the world just as your camera may capture it. Subject based or poetic. In the age of film, I used to write a poem from a contact sheet. One of two dozen lines could come to be seen (and felt) just like one of those tiny printed frames, as a departure point for further study, or as a core sentiment for an entirely new perspective. Or new poem. Thing about poetry is you should choose to keep it to yourself. Share it like it is your philosophy. A haiku per day, but share only one per week. Stack them together like they ARE photographs of Nature, for a true haiku should mention the natural world.
This is just one path away from being part of a digital world that has become ubiquitous.
For younger persons who have lived their entire lives in a digital world, best advice is to introduce the analog into your practice. From a fine art perspective, a photo is often too perfect in its technical materiality. It NEEDS an artist’s mark. That separates its reason to be. Often that is intent. Intent can be readily found in analog diversions and processes.

"Introduce the analog" - great sentiment and I can align myself with writing (perhaps obviously!) as a great way to express myself. I also feel it goes hand-in-hand with photography however I havent written about how I think a photo should feel or look. Thats something Im going to try to practise this year. Thanks for the thoughtful comment


I enjoyed reading your comment. I think there is a lot of merit to your suggestions to write; especially about writing poetry. Learning to explore and celebrate one's subjects without the camera is a path to creating more meaningful images once one is back to photographing them with the camera.

You said, " ..... photography has become easy."

That is one thing that I do not agree with, when it comes to the wildlife photography that I do. When I read that line of yours I was actually a bit stunned, and had to stop reading your comment and think that over for a while.

I pondered all of the time and the travel and the miles of hiking and the dozens of hours lying on the ground in the cold in cramped little blinds and the nights sleeping in my little car and the days standing waist-deep in murky swamp water and the hundreds of hours researching my subjects and .....

For you to say that photography has become easy would not resonate well with any of the hard-core wildlife photographers I know. The sacrifices they endure in order to photograph wildlife at a high level are rather epic. The time and the grinding, uncomfortable effort they put into it are immeasurable.

The images that we capture with today's gear are of a higher technical quality than those we captured with the gear of yesteryear, but what we must put ourselves through to get those images is just as difficult as it has ever been.

Great article Mike!

A fundamental rule of creativity is that in order to grow and thrive as an artist, the artist must be connected to life beyond the making of art. Life and its living of it is the real grist of the creative muse.

Being a photographer is all about the "seeing". While seeing through the viewfinder is where I am in my comfort zone, taking a brief hike through some woods without my camera allows me to "see" more broadly without the temptation of taking a shot. When I see something, it triggers the urge to shoot, but without my camera, the urge deepens into a creative tension that is beneficial...anticipation.

Here's an example: I shoot at the beach a lot, and at times it becomes rather stale...just the same stuff over and over. Then when I go to the beach and just relax, swim, or just walk - I feel the absence of my camera, wishing I had it, because I "see" something - the way the sunlight is beaming through the clouds, some wildlife that unexpectedly is allowing me to be closer than normal, a sailboat appears, tidal lines on the sand, and dozens of things that I might not have noticed if I had my camera. I keep notes of such outings without my camera - making plans to return with my camera.