Overcome Your Creative Rut

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Whether your photography is a business or avocation, it’s fair to say that photographers are a passionate breed. But what to do when you find your mojo has waned?

Have you ever found yourself in a photographic rut? Wondering where that rush of excitement went to grab your camera and head out to chase the light on the mountainside or the wildflower bloom before it’s too late? It can hit the best of us; regardless of one’s drive, intentions, success, and stature. If you’ve ever felt this, know that you’re not alone! It’s becoming more commonplace lately given the barrage of heavy news, climate change, Covid, geo-political tensions, etc.; pandemic lockdowns; travel restrictions; an oversaturation of virtual offerings; and the effect on print sales for many who sell. So, what can be done to rekindle your photographic flame? Let’s toss around some ideas and, surely, one or more may resonate with you, even if you don’t suffer from flagging enthusiasm!

It seems one of the best “restarting” points is to reconnect with your purpose – your authenticity. Why do you shoot? Is it purely for pleasure, business, scientific research, competition, or a combination of any of the aforementioned goals?

What Feeds Your Soul?

Do you seek relaxation, calm, exhilaration, intrigue, or an element of risk?

Do you hearken to the call of wild overgrown places, or do you prefer cultivated gardens? Do you have more than enough to keep you busy in your backyard, or do you long to travel to faraway places?

Are you most intrigued with chance, accepting unknowns such as weather, pests, or subjects past their prime, or would you rather shoot in a controlled environment?

How do you feel about the technical aspects of the shooting and post-processing?

Do you shoot solo, or do you enjoy the company of other photographers?

The question each of us must answer is, “What feeds your soul?” Coming from a place of authenticity facilitates the likelihood of sustaining periods of creative drought and understanding how best to and ultimately pull out of it.

Engage in a Community

A sense of community derived from a group of fellow photographers can serve as a force to jumpdrive one’s motivation, whether online or in person. Setting up routine get-togethers to shoot or discuss specific aspects of photography with friends, in person or virtually, is fun and adds a measure of accountability. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get over a slump.

Online communities, such as Nature Photographers Network (NPN), social media groups, and virtual classrooms also provide indispensable benefits. They typically lay all the groundwork for their members. For example, they lay the foundation and establish a framework; they take steps to attract like-minded photographers, run themes, occasionally host competitions, post informative articles/blogs, and foster interaction between members. It’s always a positive experience when colleagues support each other and show interest in their work.

What can you do right now? Let Boredom Lead the Way

If you’ve shot the same or similar subjects repeatedly and find a sense of boredom kicking in, take that as a cue to ratchet things up a few notches. This is a perfect opportunity to tap into your inner artist and give some thought to how you might change things up.

I lost count of the number of store-bought tulips I shot during 2020, when that was pretty much all I had access to during the initial stages of the pandemic. I tried to vary things up as much as possible using the following techniques:

  • Selective focus in my yard
  • High Key on Lightpad and window light
  • High Key against a white board
  • Low Key against black
  • Different effects in post-processing

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Selective focus

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High key image shot against diffused bright window light

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Low key image shot against a black background

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Deep red tulip shot high key (top) and with textures added in Photoshop (bottom)

When I was finally able to travel again (in 2021), I was met with a plethora of Echinacea (coneflowers) in just about every garden from May through September. Gardens were affected by increasing temperatures which caused many species to bloom uncharacteristically early. Punching through the potential boredom of shooting the same flower over and over again, I gave some thought as to how I could approach them differently. Here are some examples of what I did:

  • Different lenses, in addition to my Canon 100mm & 180mm macro lenses, I used my Lensbabies, such as the Creative Bokeh optic, the Sweet 50, & vintage Double Glass
  • Different vantage points – most notably from underneath shooting toward the sky, but also top-down, which I rarely do
  • Abstracts

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Lensbaby Creative Bokeh Optic

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Lensbaby Creative Bokeh Optic

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Lensbaby vintage Double Glass

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Vantage point from above

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Vantage point from beneath & defocused abstract with Canon 100mm macro

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Abstract with Canon 100mm macro

Post-processing Makeovers

Trying new techniques, such as adding textures or experimenting with Black & White color conversions, can pull you out of the same ol’, same ol’. Even if it’s a temporary diversion and you go back to your old-style ways, it can help to reset your fun meter and get the juices flowing. This, of course, can be done with new images, as well as images you can reinvent from your archives. It’s also something that can be done in any genre.

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Removal of distractions and addition of motion blurs on Water Snowflake in Photoshop before (top) and after (bottom).

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Artistic edit of Heliconia using textures in Photoshop, before (top). And after (bottom).

Accept the Challenge & Spread Good Vibes

Shake it up! Try a new genre perhaps, a new vantage point, a different lens, an interesting edit. Take it out for a spin and share it in a group. Set aside any preconceived notions and let go of expectations; have some fun and see what kind of reactions it receives.

Take time to sprinkle a few kind remarks on others’ images, spelling out what resonates with you about them. In the long run, spreading positive reinforcement benefits everyone, from the individual to the whole. When you feel valued and a part of a supportive community, it’s much easier to get your “creative” on!

About the Author
Jackie has been passionate about photography since her dad gave her a camera in high school. Orchids, hibiscus, and bromeliads at Selby Gardens and wading birds at Lido Beach and Longboat Key became Jackie’s favorite subjects. Although her photography has expanded to include weddings and portraiture, she remains an avid floral photographer. Jackie teaches individual and group workshops and also maintains an active online group, Phlorography – Artistic Floral Photography, with thousands of passionate floral photographers from around the world. Jackie is committed to supporting other photographers and using photography as a medium to build relationships and enrich others’ lives. ​
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