Feature photo by Jyotsna Bhamidipati
You accept that there are feasts and seasons in all of life, so it’s only natural for your creative urge to estivate now and then. But what if when now and then threatens to become now and forever? We asked 10 seasoned photographers to share their advice and insight on how to break out of a creative rut.
“I haven’t picked up my camera in months and I wouldn’t care if someone stole all of my equipment. What’s wrong with me?” — Jennifer Sebring
Going through a creative rut is totally normal.
“It’s totally normal to go through big slumps. It sucks, but it’s normal. I went through a huge one and set aside my camera for six months, except to document my son’s birthday. But I got anxious even thinking about trying to be artistic.
The key is finding what makes you feel those creative juices flowing. For me it’s travel, and I always feel like photographing a ton. When I can’t travel, I photograph something that doesn’t involve anyone else. Macro, landscapes, food — whatever won’t talk back to me. I don’t put pressure on myself to publish it somewhere, but I might if I like it enough. There’s something to be said for photographing for yourself only.
Sometimes it’s OK to take a big break. Sometimes you need it. Maybe you need to focus on other things, your exercise or whatever. Step back and reevaluate. Then when you’re feeling more creative, jump back in. Photography won’t go anywhere.”
— Megan Arndt
“I cannot be good at all things at once. I feel this so deeply. I think that’s why we have seasons and ruts. It’s all essential to the whole. This is hard stuff, so grace, grace, always grace. Also, I hired someone to do my cleaning and laundry so I can stay in business and not resent my family. I’m literally paying for creative space in my brain.”
— Erin Brant
“One thing’s for sure: You are not alone. Remember, your camera doesn’t make or break you. It’s a tool to help us do what we innately need to do: create. Not using it is just where you are right now in life, no more. It does not define you.”
— Aubrey Bahr
It’s OK to just observe.
“You know what? It’s OK to sit and watch, to just observe without a camera. That’s been so healing for me to realize. I don’t need to be running every second, looking at my life only with my lens. [Tell yourself] you were there at that moment, remembering how it went — to me, that’s a major step! You’ll get through this.”
— Jyotsna Bhamidipati
“My kids are older, 24, 22 and 17. I didn’t start photography until my youngest was about 7, and my work was never completely centered around them. Still, I understand how naturally that happens. Then they go and grow up, and where does that leave you? I have some tips to help you reset your focus.
First, I think you have to be flexible about how you document your kids as they grow. Photograph them in their extracurriculars when that stage begins. This might not be your most creative work, but it could be among your most important. With my youngest heading to college in a year, I cherish all her sports and band photos; my daughter’s dance photos are among my faves!
Second, turn your camera on yourself and give self-portraiture a go. You may find yourself there! And there are so many non-kid-centric genres to enjoy: landscapes; macro; street scenes; food. Endless possibilities. Take a class, do a workshop. Or just give yourself some space until you’re ready to pick up your camera again.”
— Melissa Bissell
Give yourself grace.
“I try to stay authentic to myself, and I capture and post what I love and is important to me. That frustration you’re feeling could lead to something really amazing.”
— Ashley Marston
“I got home yesterday to a huge to-do list, said forget it, and picked up my pens and paper and drew for hours. Art has become my new outlet. I feel it’s analogous to an oxygen mask: I need to give myself oxygen before I can help the people who live with me. Obviously, we all need to eat and such, but sometimes you have to feed that [non-corporeal] part of you until the edge is off and you can balance.”
— Erica Everhart
Everyone goes through a creative rut at some point.
“If I were a betting woman, I’d bet that every photographer has faced something similar at sometime. I’ve spent the past several years feeling completely unmotivated, just on and off blah about it all. Some weeks I don’t even pick up my camera. It ebbs and flows, and perhaps that’s part of the creative process.
I’m taking fewer photos of my daughter now that she isn’t around as much, and I have feelings of guilt about that. I also love shooting macro and nature, so I have that outlet, but I still want to take beautiful photos of her as well. But sometimes I feel that’s not where my strength lies, sometimes I am not sure where it does.
Stepping back without stressing out about it is probably helpful. I’m sometimes surprised when inspiration comes back in full force and I’m excited again about shooting. Give yourself some grace; could be a big burst of inspiration just around the corner. Meantime, focus on other interests that bring you joy. Trying something totally out of your comfort zone could be helpful too. Trust that the spark will come back.”
— Eileen Critchley
“My family relies on my income, so not shooting is not an option for me. Thus, my funks are quick; I have a super-session and I pop out of it. Try taking your kids out of your focus to shoot a few things just for you; no pressure to share them anywhere. I think creativity is like going to the gym: You have to train your brain to make it a routine. Sometimes when I’m in a slump, I create art in new ways, like oil painting. It re-engages that muscle, and I start to crave creating every day.”
— Fiona Yates
“It’s totally, totally normal! I once put away my camera for six months! My best advice is to give yourself space to do so until you feel inspired. You’ll get to the other side again, I promise. Go be inspired outside of photography. Art has so many sides. That’s why I started shooting with film again and now it’s all I want to shoot.”
— Megan Carswell Gladden