Staying inspired to create new work is an on-going battle for most creative types.
Writers call that dead zone “writer’s block”. Wayne Labat used his blog to coin a term for photographers – “lens capped”. Call it what you want, it is when you come to the realization that there is nothing new under the sun. Lens capped is a feeling that taking another photo might be pointless. Knowing that out there, someone else has a better artistic approach, a better camera, a better… well everything, including attitude.
Here are a few techniques I use when I feel the inspiration waning and the blahs starting to take over:
1. I ask friends to recommend a web-site, a book, or a new technique or style they are working on. Just like when I was a kid looking for something to do on a rainy day. Call a friend and ask “What cha doing?”
2. Follow a thread around the Internet. Choose any topic and start searching. This does not have to be photography related and in fact, often is not. I was sewing on a button and saw a spool of red thread. I couldn’t remember why I had purchased the red thread, but then had this thought that red thread is symbolic in other cultures. So it starts. Red thread. Immediately I start finding references to it, a book based on the red thread connection, photographs of red thread and so on. I may decide to photograph literal red thread or maybe just friends who are connected by the invisible red thread. Or I may divert off course and see that blue thread is more interesting, which leads to old mills in the US that are open to photographers and there I go down another rabbit hole of inspiration.
3. Take a shower. That is just one of the random tasks that often allows the mind to relax and flow freely. It is the “Eureka” experience.
4. Housework. The opposite of allowing the mind to enjoy and relax is making it work. Physical labor has a way of bringing on ideas – for me. I don’t know why this works. Maybe the smell of cleaners stimulates my need to escape the work. Perhaps the repetitive task of motion used in cleaning. Maybe it is the feeling of completing a task brings a sense of satisfaction which shatters the blahs. The best part of trying this one is if it doesn’t work you end up with a clean office, or a clean kitchen, or a closet full of clean clothes. It is a win-win solution.
5. Give yourself a day off. The do nothing day. Put on pajamas. Watch TV. Read a book. Plan to do NOTHING constructive. Just give yourself a break.
6. Accept that not every project is going to be a winner. Alternatively, I call this embracing the EPIC FAIL. I like to try something new and often my first bite at the apple doesn’t work out nearly as well as it did in my brain. I see a photo I love. I want to try it. Let’s go with my first long exposure of water. I set it up and shot it and it is very overexposed. Ridiculously unusable. I had no idea why. I had seen dozens of this style shot and those all looked fine. Mine was an EPIC FAIL. I did an internet search and found out that for this type of shot I needed a neutral density filter. I didn’t say “yippee something else to buy”. I didn’t immediately run out and buy one or a dozen. I first decided if I will I ever need to take this photo? Is this something I wanted to invest in? How many other ways could you use a neutral density filter?
Some EPIC FAILS have lead to a better understanding of my camera; learning a new technique; or an artistic style which I can tweak and make my own. Some have lead to me owning a neutral density filter or two.
7. Music is my go to for breaking out of my blah patterns. It comes in two forms. Listening and being happy that the Ipod has made it all so portable. A world of music in the palm of my hand. Joy beyond words. Or playing music. I am fortunate that I find solace and joy in playing the piano. It consumes my mind in a way nothing else can.
8. Visit a museum. Any museum will do, but it certainly helps when you have the Smithsonian museums just 30 minutes away. National Gallery of Art is my favorite. Not just for the paintings and art, but also the gift shop and the underground café. The stimulation of colors, patterns, people, and lives of the artists are all enough to set me off in a new direction.
9. 365project.org. (Ross Scribner) You can set up your own album for free or pay $20 a year for bonus benefits. Take a photo every day and post it. The range of photographers is newbies to old-bies from casual to professional artists. There are fun competitions in which winning is the only prize. Just scanning through the “trending” or “popular” category will motivate you. But taking a photo every day, will hone your skills in one year beyond your expectations no matter what your skill level is when you start. It is harder and more rewarding than you can anticipate.
10. Read: "Steal like an artist" by Austin Kleon. And then do just that... steal like an artist.
Time to stop reading this blog and take the lens cap off.
About the photo in this blog post.
National Aquarium, Baltimore, Inner Harbor. Taking some time away to watch the dolphins play. This photo is what I term a "snapshot". It isn't meant to be an artistic masterpiece. There is not some technique used to elevate it . It is a photo that could have been taken by any camera, any photographer, and at any time. Just one of those photos that makes me smile and reminds me, I can always just take an afternoon and go watch the dolphins play.