Breaking The Block – Things to do when inspiration isn’t there

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Breaking The Block – When inspiration isn’t there

Everyone involved in creative arts, whether art, photography, design, or writing, has suffered from some form of “writer’s block.” I’m certainly not immune to this as a photographer. I’ve gone through multiple ebbs and flows of photographic output over the 30-something years I’ve taken photos. Yet, somehow, I always manage to find my way back. That brings me to my 2022 and some methods I plan on using (or have used) for breaking the block.

While putting together my 2022 Photo Highlights, I noticed a severe lack of content. In 2022 I took approximately 5010 photos. It sounds like a lot, but it’s really not much when you consider running time-lapses, and I’m often taking multiple shots to produce only one image (especially for wildlife when I’m just shooting in bursts). It amounted to 735 photos posted to my website galleries. The only year I took fewer photos in the last ten years was 2017.

YearNumber of Photos TakenNumber of Photos Posted
20225,010735
202125,4402,988
20205,6171,162
20199,5821,157
20187,806835
20173,279100
20165,519688
201513,5011,291
Looking back at how many photos I’ve taken since 2015

It frustrated me greatly when I wasn’t inspired to shoot. There was more than one occasion where I wholly resigned in my head and thought about selling off my equipment. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t getting out; I saw (or at least thought) that everyone else was. Social media compounds that frustration since every day, I see all the posts from other photographers who are clearly more productive than me.

Breaking the block

What to do, what to do?

So, how have I ever managed to bounce back from these lulls? If you’re suffering from a good case of photographer’s block, know you’re not alone.

First off, don’t let the panic set in. Don’t sell all your gear. Don’t lament that every other photographer is passing you up, taking your clients and followers. It’s fine. It’s all okay. My best advice for someone in a rut is that they are a natural occurrence. I see these ruts as a stage in my creative career. Almost every time I’ve gone through one, my photography has seemed to improve afterward.

This first bit of advice applies to everyone. What comes after is less definitive. Everyone is different and at different stages in their creative process. What follows are some things I’ve done in the past; some things worked, and some didn’t. Maybe one of these ideas can serve as a starting point to help someone else get going again.


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The do-nothing approach

Let’s begin with the easiest of all. So you haven’t taken a photo in a week or even a month. Who cares? Tomorrow is another day; maybe the inspiration will strike. Honestly, sometimes we burn out. Sometimes a short break is a good thing.

Participate in a photography challenge, or make one yourself

I’ve made a 365-day challenge for myself a few times, thinking I would take and post a photo daily. These worked well to get the camera in my hands again and click the shutter. However, I think the longest I’ve lasted was three months before finally missing a day (almost six months, if you forgive the two weeks I was sick with Covid during my last challenge).

This raises a good point about setting goals. Always make sure your goal is realistic and achievable. Trying to take a photo every day may just as well cause someone to burn out again. I can remember on more than one occasion finding myself frantic at 11:30 pm trying to find something to photograph and producing something fascinating, like a bookshelf. Forced creativity doesn’t have great results.

A photo of spices, sometimes we are lacking photo inspiration
The spice shelf – from my photo-a-day challenge in 2021. They can’t all be winners.

Some better alternatives to the 365-day challenge would be a 30-day challenge, a photo-a-week challenge, or a photo prompt challenge where you are prompted to produce a particular style or theme of a photo, usually weekly.

In the next few weeks, I will be posting some of my own photography challenges on my Patreon page. I hope this can be a community that provides inspiration and support to each other. They will probably start as weekly challenges and prompt challenges, and I’ll see where they go from there.

Don’t only look for photography-specific challenges. Look at other hobbies and interests and make your own photography challenge. During May in Fairbanks, the Alaska Songbird Institute hosts a spring birding challenge with a list of birds to spot during migration at different difficulty levels. I’ve made a point over the last two years to try to photograph as many birds on all the lists as I can.

Always carry your camera

These challenges forced me to always have my camera on me again. If you don’t need a particular challenge or prompt, often just keeping a camera in hand or on you at all times will help you start clicking again. I like this habit or method because it doesn’t necessarily force you to try to be creative. It may just be that something happens like, oh, say, the building next to your work burns down, and you happen to have your telephoto lens with you.

On a day I happened to bring my camera and a few lenses to work, the building next door burnt down.

You never know when something unique, incredible, or tragic might happen. Having the right gear near hand will ensure that you can capture any event that comes your way.

Throw some money at the problem

Usually, money doesn’t solve our problems. Although, I have noticed that whenever I get a new lens, camera, or another piece of photography gear, I shoot a lot. You don’t have to buy the equipment. Try renting a lens for a long weekend. (hint: you can rent with this link from Lens Rentals, and it helps support me and this site. Win-win.)

This is exactly how I got started with snowflake photography. I rented a macro lens because I’d never owned one before, instantly fell in love with it, and spent hours every day trying to perfect my process. About four years ago, I did the same thing with a large telephoto lens which spurred my love of wildlife photography.

Snowflake with my Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro lens

If you don’t have enough money or don’t want to throw money at the problem, you can still . . .

Learn new techniques or processes

Spend some time focusing on new types or styles of photography. You don’t necessarily need a specialized macro lens to take macro photos or a super-telephoto to take wildlife photos. There are hundreds of photography genres and subgenres. Landscape, wildlife, macro, sports, photojournalism, street photography, food, still-life, abstract, portrait, product, architecture, etc.

Chances are, you don’t already do all of them. But learning new ones will only make you better at what you do and provide fresh subject matter that can re-kindle interest in taking photos. This is just general advice for any photographer. Always be learning; you are never as expert as you can be. My anecdotal experiences have told me that photographers that think they already know everything (and act that way) aren’t very good at what they do.

I did my first engagement photo shoot this year. I’m really happy with how they turned out, as was the happy couple, but I freely admit I have much to learn.

This year, I hope to refine my skills in both wildlife and macro and try to learn how to take better photos of people — portraits, candid, and in action. I plan on learning more about artificial lighting and how to enhance natural light.

Choose a method that works for you. Read books, experiment, watch tutorials, try to replicate other photo styles, or take a class or online classes. Do it however you tend to learn best. Just do it.

Go somewhere new

You don’t need to book a vacation across the world. Maybe just go to a park or a lake you’ve never been to. I know that when I’m in a photography rut, I tend to be in a rut in other ways. Who hasn’t gotten lost in the day-to-day? Don’t go with aspirations or plans. Just go. And bring your camera.

My wife and I were in Anchorage for a consult before her ankle surgery, and we took walk after on a nearby trail at McHugh Creek. I wound up standing in the cold water, in the cold rain, for a half hour.
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In summary

tl;dr

You’re stuck in a rut. Don’t worry; it happens to everyone. Chances are, you’ll come out better than you went in. Set realistic goals, learn new skills or practice new styles, get in the habit of always having your camera nearby, try a photo challenge, and get out somewhere new.

Hopefully this article helps someone out there. Feel free to comment with things that have worked for you!

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