One big question, and a concern for every photographer, is how do I keep improving? If you’re like me I’m sure from time to time you feel like your photography is stale. You feel like you aren’t doing anything new with it, that you’re just taking the same images all the time. Creativity is a very odd thing, in that it usually comes in huge bursts or doesn’t come at all. I remember the first 2 years I got into photography I would blow through a roll of film in no time. My eyes would see in a 2×3 ratio, I had the ability to see things in a “different way”. Perhaps it is just that my taste is much more refined now and that I am more selective in what I choose to photograph. I’ve had a roll of 36exp in my film camera, for over a week now, how frustrating.
Backstory: I’ve been doing photography for 10 years now, however, there was about a 2 year stint in there where music became a bit more important to me than my images. I played in a band, I wrote a lot of music, we played shows & recorded one full length record & one EP. I didn’t stop doing photography completely, it just wasn’t my main focus (ugh I really didn’t want the pun there, but it just… clicked 🙂 I found myself not thinking about imagery so much, as I was writing at a blistering pace. Eventually we dis-banded, and I was a little lost for a while. I don’t think I was ever totally happy playing. It was always a push to go play a show or go to rehearsal. So when I stopped the music thing (I still play from time to time) I naturally fell back into photography, and I fell hard. It was like I had missed out on about 2 years of photographing, and we all know how much we can miss in 2 years.
Since I stopped playing I have been taking photos at a crazy rate. I have immersed myself into everything photographic, and am happier than I have ever been. When I got back to it on this dizzying pace I found myself having to work at it more than I had before. It was like when I started playing basketball again after taking 2 years off, I just couldn’t do the same things I used to be able to do. Well I guess I could with photography, I just needed to concentrate & practice a bit more.
I started taking my camera with me all the time again, and once I started doing more of my fashion work I would shoot models as often as schedules would allow. Anytime I find myself in a rut I don’t believe that simply stepping back from photography and assessing things will help. Some people will say that when you’re in a rut you need to do other things, read a book, watch a movie, go for a walk, and leave the camera at home. The problem for me is that when I’m doing those things I’m constantly thinking about photography. I need to be shooting. Now let me say that sometimes you need to do other things than photography, and simply relax, and that sometimes you can also be inspired by doing these things. I always find it very interesting to see inspiration for my photos come from somewhere non-photographic.
To break out I’ll go for a drive, revisit an old location, or try and find a new place to shoot, always with my camera in hand. When revisiting an old location I’ll look for new ways to shoot the same thing, look for angles I hadn’t shot before. Maybe I’ll shoot with a macro lens, or with a fixed 24mm. I really enjoy shooting with prime lenses most times as it forces me to get more involved with my subject. If I want to shoot something a certain way, instead of simply standing back and zooming in, I physically have to get closer. When I do that, I see other things around my main subject in a way I wouldn’t have seen them from standing back with my zoom. I also will try kneeling, standing, laying down, climb a tree, stand on my car, etc (sounds exhausting doesn’t it? it made me tired just typing it)… anything that will change my regular perspective. But most importantly I just keep shooting. I’m not standing out there firing off nine frame bursts or anything, I am being selective about what I shoot, but I am making sure to exhaust that location.
Watching Chase Jarvis interview Zack Arias was extremely interesting for me. For whatever reason we always glorify people in our society. We think celebrities have these amazing fairy tale lives, and as photographers we think that full time working photographers, that we respect, are always ecstatic with their images (in case this is the first post of mine you’re reading, I really enjoy Zack & Chase‘s work). At one point they talk about how frustrated they both get with their work from time to time & to hear those 2 guys talk about that was refreshing. I think as long as we learn from what we don’t like it helps boost us out of that rut that much more. If I’m in a rut with model work, I’ll shoot landscapes, or even iPhone photos, or I’ll call a model who I love to work with as I know they will push me. I find sometimes just switching formats can help as well. Shoot in a square format rather rectangular. It will change your perspective and force you to think “inside a box” (cause a box is square… get it?…. tough crowd). I push myself like crazy all the time to be constantly creating, and sometimes that in itself can put me in a rut. At times we can put too much pressure on ourselves, and really try and force creativity. At times like this I’ll step back and try and take some images in a more laid back fashion, not trying to be so serious about it. Just yesterday my wife and I went to an indoor amusement park and just walked around taking photos with our phones. Nothing too serious, just having fun with it. It helped me refresh a bit & I was still able to be creating.
When that creative burst hits, and you feel that rush, run with it. Run for as long as you can and take advantage of it. Huge creative bursts don’t last forever (at least not for me). Life is full of peaks and valleys, as is photography, but photographing valleys can lead you to a peak, and when you’re on that peak it feels damn good to see your valley from up there.