Five Methods To Recover From A Creative Collapse

Five Methods To Recover From A Creative Collapse

Whether we're a photographer, graphic designer, painter, musician or dancer... throughout our career, we’ll slam right into a rock solid wall and it some cases it can be so traumatizing that some of us may never recover. It’s not really a question of if; it’s a question of when and if you’re a new artist then brace yourself, there will come a time when things just don’t click. I’ll be honest; I hit that wall with writing for Fstoppers this past month. Writing 1,000 words once a week is no easy feat, I figure it's only appropriate to write about this very topic as I sit here in recovery from a creative collapse.

If you’re anything like me; a business owner, photographer, filmmaker, social media geek and blogger, you’ll certainly experience creative burnout sooner than later. It truly does affect your mind, body and spirit. It’s frustrating both mentally and physically. Fortunately, using the following methods, I’ve been able to break through the wall and kick start my creative drive.

Unplug And Step Away

While traveling this week for PhotoPlus Expo, there was a brief moment in the Chicago airport where I glanced around the waiting zone and every single person had their head down buried into their phone, tablet or laptop. Some were wearing headphones clutching the corner of the wall, while others were standing in the middle of the walkway. Not one of them looked up to pay attention to the fact I was staring right at them. Our world is connected in hundreds of mediums, but it seems as if we are disconnected more than ever. I’m not one to start preaching about deleting Facebook, but I think it’s important that we take 5 minutes of our day and just stare at the sky or watch a tree move in the wind. Unplug from your iPhone, tablet or MacBook and step away from the noise. You might find the creative inspiration you need, just by looking up.

Try Something New

Whenever I seem to find myself doing the same thing over and over again, I like to try to break the glass ceiling or break the boundaries by stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying something completely new. Take for example, the beauty shoot I publicized in this article “Unique Beauty – Lighting Out Of The Box,” I didn’t prepare for it or really plan much, I just knew I needed to try something different. Since that shoot, I’ve been working with a beauty dish more often, which I something I never did. It collected dust for months and now it has re-energized my love for hard light. Whether it’s a new lighting style, concept or re-touching technique, set yourself up to fail. The more you fail the more you’ll learn and learning is the best way to kick a creative rut.

Invest In Different Gear

When I finally purchased a 70-200mm f/2.8, I thought I was set for life. I had an incredible 16-35mm f/2.8 and I just didn’t think I need anything else for my collection. I knew people stood by prime lenses, but I really didn’t see the need in having that extra depth of field. I’m not sure where or when I decided to invest in a 50mm f/1.2, but when I did it inspired a chain of shoots that really etched my style into what it is today. I still prefer using a 50mm prime over any other lens on the market, because of how much of an impact it made on my shooting style. The same can be said for the Photek Softlighter II, a simple brolly-style umbrella that creates gorgeous soft light. If I hadn’t invested into that modifier, I’m not sure what my work would look like today. The point of the story is to make smart investments, but experiment with new technology and never be afraid to try new pieces of gear. It’s like sushi, you won't know if you like it, unless you try it. Check out my friends over at BorrowLenses and try before you buy. You never know what lens or modifier may clear the path for a unique style that you can call your own.


I’m not a street photographer by any stretch of the imagination. I also do not travel all over the world looking for indigenous tribes or homeless people living in a tunnel. However, the most important life lesson I’ve learned in my career in music and photography is that it’s all about whom you know and the hands you shake. By traveling, you are placing yourself in the ultimate opportunity to meet new people and open doors. Just, by smiling and saying “Hi” to the person sitting next to you on a plane can change your life forever. I was fortunate enough to travel for 2 solid years of my life all over the United States, it was an amazing time that I won’t soon forget. That real life experience gave me the foundation for what I needed in the photography business. So, get out and travel as much as you can, the right hand shake can make all the difference. Just don’t ever get too comfortable.

Collaborate With Other Artists

If you happened to tune into my recent podcast with Taylor Mathis with Business Of Creatives, then you know I promote the fact that collaboration is the key to success. Not only can working with other people inspire you to try new things, but it can also expand your marketing reach with potential kick back. Although, I have a “black book” of trusted makeup artists, hair stylists, photographers, cinematographers, designers and models I can lean on, I’m always looking for new talent that can be added to that book. Point being, If you always work with the same people, then your images will probably start looking the same to onlookers, in turn decreasing the value and energy of your work. Give new artists a chance, everyone has their own doors to open and leave open for you. That is a sure-fire way to receive that needed push towards creative rejuvenation.

So, if you’re in dire straits and just can’t seem to come up with anything to salvage your creative drive, then perhaps put these techniques into play and see how they change the game for you. I know it has worked for me time and time again.

Clay Cook's picture

Portrait and Editorial Photographer, Clay Cook has learned the importance of going the extra mile, after a long, arduous run in the music business. Clay has shaped creative projects with History, Lifetime, Comcast and Papa John's Pizza. In addition, he has photographed assignments for Time, Forbes, The Guardian, W Magazine, USA Today, ESPN and Inc.

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Good article Clay. It was great meeting you at the Flug party. The PhotoPlus Expo is the yearly event that keeps me motivated to keep going. This industry can feel very lonely at times.

Thank you Manny! Great meeting you as well! I love this industry, but you definitely have to know the right people.

I've been stuck in my creative collapse for well over a year now...great article!

Thanks and good luck my friend, I hope you can recover!

Awesome article Clay! Inspired to experiment!

Thank you so much Keegan, I really appreciate that. Get it done!

Thank you for the article and the creative steps for over coming the collapse. I want to Thank you again for speaking and spending time with me after your presentation at Unique Photo at the Photo Expo last week. After our conversation, I really felt that I can be creative and successful in my neck of the woods (a little outside of NYC) just as you are in Kentucky. Thank you for sharing your words of Wisdom about the industry, photography, and the Softlighter II.

Gregory! Man, it was so nice to meet you! I'm glad I could help, anything you need, feel free to give me a shout.

very good article with a real vision of the contemporary world

it's nice to hear people who have this vision of our day

even though I am from France, a day if you're in my country it would give me great joy to meet you

sorry for my english

Thank you for reading Jean! It's awesome that you took that time. Hope to cross paths one day!

Great post Clay, today i received a huge kick in the balls, a main long time client pulled the plug on future work (financial reasons) and iv'e sat since i opened that email at 7am thinking about what i'm going to do.
I realised that iv'e been doing the same shoots for past 3 years, i think i had a creative collapse without realising it so time to do something about it instead of sitting here licking my wounds. Maybe it was meant to be to get me going again.

Thanks for sharing Keith and thanks for reading. You're right, take that as a kick in the teeth to explore outside your box. Get up off your feet and do better. Good luck with everything man!

Good Article Sir, Inspiring Words to find new ideas and to explore it .......

Thank you so much for reading!

I own Paul Buff PLM's, their construction appears to be nearly identical to Photek's, have you ever had a chance to compare notes with their form and function Clay?
I acquired a profoto light recently and I am now in the process of testing it with my plm's.

I have been a painter and photographer for let us say 45 years now. And I got to that wall you wrote about several times. Since I had a stroke 7 years ago I cant travel or walk much, so being only around the house, moving just for a few kilometers by train I have been stuck to a rut I couldn`t break so easy. And then I bought a Lensbaby 50mm sweet and this let me break through that glass-wall…
I want to encourage all friends to try LENSBABY lenses: it can bring you a real breakthrough from your rut!