How To Avoid Becoming Stale
When I very first started learning this stuff there was a photographer in my area whose work I was just shy of being fully obsessed with. I wanted to create images just like his and I studied his images extensively. Over time, as I learned more techniques and my work improved, I understood what he was doing and I could create similar work. Kind of like learning how the magic trick is done, a bit of the awe I originally felt had gone away. I continued to follow his work for several years and at some point it occurred to me that he’d been putting out pretty much the same stuff for a very very long time. It was still fine work, but it looked the same as it did a decade earlier. It wasn’t inspiring anymore, in fact it was boring to me. Like he had fallen into a rut and was just sailing along, getting the job done. I wondered when he last felt inspired or tried something new, and hoped that I never found myself in the same situation.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I began to understand how that could happen. It became very clear when I started looking back at some of my earlier work and noticed that it had so much more energy to it than what I was currently doing. I could feel it. I had “settled into a groove”. I had my bag of tricks to pull from and was no longer stretching out and trying new things. That was a big eye-opener for me.
So the big question is – how do we avoid falling into the same groove? I have some suggestions. And this is by no means an exhaustive list.
If you’re new to photography this will help you install some positive habits. If you’re a veteran, this is a great challenge to your ego…
- Seek out challenges. One of my favorite things is to ask the model to bring something ridiculous to the shoot, and use that as a starting point to spark creativity. Here’s a great example of that working out wonderfully, when Sarah brought her rollerblades.
- Look back through your older work and give an honest comparison to your current work. If you’ve made improvements, you’re doing something right. Do some self reflection and find out what it is so you can do more of it intentionally. If you find that your work hasn’t improved much, or you’ve actually regressed, then it’s time to get back to the basics. If you’re anything like me, it may be pride that’s getting in your way. The fundamentals aren’t just for beginners. They should be revisited often. Every time you do, you learn something new, something deeper
- Make a habit of writing notes to yourself. I have a note pad app on my phone and whenever some spark of inspiration hits me I try to write it down as best I can. So I have tons of pages of notes like “brown bag, purple light. Put the screen over to emulate shadows from grid, with the red wall only”, and I have to try to figure out later what the fuck I was talking about. But it usually leads to something creative, and that’s what it’s all about. Gotta try some crazy things out sometimes just to see if it works.
- Let frustration be your guide. If you never feel frustration during a shoot it means you aren’t trying anything new. You need new problems and new challenges to work through. Get out of your comfort zone and do something you’ve perhaps been avoiding.
- Teach someone what you know. Without fail, every time I’ve given a lesson I end up learning something myself. The act of explaining your thought process out loud to someone else has an illuminating result. And their questions often open your mind to things you may not have considered before.
- Take some time off from touching a camera. Even if this is how you earn a living, find a way to put some solid blocks of down time in your schedule to give your brain a chance to reset and come back with some fresh eyes. I found that when I crammed my schedule full of shoots it didn’t take long for me to get burned out and start seeing it as a chore. I don’t like feeling like that when I shoot, and it definitely has a negative impact on the work I produce.
Well I hope this has given you some food for thought. Your assignment this week is to choose one or more of these suggestions and jump in with both feet. Take some chances. Set a specific goal for yourself and move in that direction without hesitation.
As usual, the comments section is open for members. I’d love to hear your experiences.