It happens to all of us, and we’re usually in deep before we even realize it. I’m talking about stagnation, burnout. It happens in life and it happens in photography. You’re comfortable, producing some nice shots, even a few great ones. You got this down, right?
Not so fast! One day you wake up and realize you’ve been in your comfort zone for way too long. Maybe you’re not strictly bored with photography. But you’re not happy with where you are either. You’re simply not growing as a photographer. If you’re not growing you’re stagnant. And that stinks.
This is where I’ve found myself lately. Too many landscapes. Not too much nature, but too many similar images of nature. I’ve been trying to get more wildlife images, and that has helped. But it’s not often enough. Getting back into shooting macro has also helped. But that feels too familiar. I needed a real shake-up. To find out what I did, go to the end of the post for an ‘Extra’.
So has your image-making become staid or even boring? Here are a few ways to fight that tendency:
- Keep Learning: The most obvious strategy is to keep learning about all aspects of photography. Especially if you’re still a relative novice, this is a sure-fire way to stay interested. But again, it shouldn’t be about spending a lot of money. So be careful of workshops that might be more about going to a beautiful place than really learning something.
- Practice another Type of Photography: If you’ve been doing mainly landscapes, corral someone to act as a model and do some portraits. You can do a lot with natural light, so don’t think you need to buy or rent artificial lighting. On the other hand, if you want to learn about artificial lighting techniques, renting is a great option. In fact, this weekend I’m going to shoot some senior portraits of a friend’s son.
- Practice with Different Exposure, etc: If you’re a nature photographer and haven’t gotten into it yet, macro (close-up) photography is a gimme. You can do it without buying an expensive new (macro) lens. Just get a Canon 500D close-up filter that fits a lens you already have (it works best with telephoto zooms, such as 70-200 mm.). Or get a set of extension tubes. If you haven’t done any very long exposure photography, get a neutral density filter or two and go for it! If you’ve mostly done standard portraits at long focal lengths, practice environmental portraiture, where you get up close with a wide-angle lens and emphasize backgrounds more.
- Practice another Style: If you already have a well-developed style of your own, dive into another one or two that you admire. But if you aren’t confident of your style I don’t recommend this. You don’t want to be an imitator after all. You can stretch both your capture and post-processing skills this way.
- Go Mono: Shooting in monochrome (black and white) is a simple way to fight boredom. Set your camera to display what you shoot in B&W for a session or two. You can still shoot in RAW so that the capture is in color, but your LCD shows each picture in black and white. If you instead shoot Jpeg, you’ll end up with only black and white photographs.
- Teach Someone: If you know a budding photographer volunteer to take them out shooting. Follow up later and help them to evaluate & process their images. Playing off a newbie’s enthusiasm is a tried and true way to get jazzed back up.
I’m sure you can come up with other ways to stretch your skills and freshen up your photography. Please don’t be shy about sharing them in the comments below. Have a fantastic weekend and happy shooting!
EXTRA: MY SOLUTION
I recently purchased a waterproof housing for my camera, plus a kayak. The kayak is also great for wildlife, along with fishing and just plain fun! I bought both the housing and kayak used; both can be quite spendy!
But a caveat: mine may not be the best example in one respect: money. Although freshening up your photography is very worthwhile, both for personal growth and for the diversity of your portfolio, it is most definitely not about spending a lot of money on new gear. Still, depending on your particular solution to burnout, a purchase or two may be necessary. For me, taking it under water has been playing on my mind off and on for a couple years.
Now I’m not talking here of shooting clownfish and coral while on vacation. Although I’d love to combine scuba diving with photography at some point, images from warm ocean environments are just too common. Standard scuba photography may not be a new enough thing to be a burnout-buster, and I can’t afford tropical getaways right now anyway.
What I plan to do is snorkel and free dive in fresh water ecosystems closer to home: clear lakes and rivers. Getting good images of unusual subjects under water promises to be difficult. But that’s the point. If it were too easy it wouldn’t be challenging enough. Stay tuned. Soon you’ll see my trials, errors and (hopefully) successes right here!