How to overcome photographer’s block

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There you are standing in the middle of the street, life racing by and you have no idea what to photograph. You want to but the creative side of you says “let’s get a pizza and find that couch”. What do you do? Eat the Pizza because you will need the energy to help you find that creative spark you are currently missing as you have a small case of “Photographer’s Block”.

Every artist in all of history has stood there, tools in hand wondering “OK, what next”? But how do you overcome it?

Every year usually around October I suffer quite badly from this and fight to remain creative through the winter (as I am generally an outdoor photographer). There have been many weeks spent looking through the years notes trying to become inspired again. I found these simply rules/tips to overcome Photographer’s Block.

  1. Create an idea book that you continually make notes in all year.

    I tend to actually have my best ideas while sleeping and would email myself the ideas’. In the morning I would read, transcribe and smooth out the ideas into the journal. I always leave a few pages per idea so I can add to the ideas overtime as I get closer to shooting them. Throughout the year I would refer back to the idea book and become inspired to shoot something that I may have simply forgotten about or put aside for any number of reasons.

  2. Get yourself out of the routine of shooting by changing one thing or everything.

    By changing what equipment you use, what, who, when and where you shoot will also force your brain to turn on its creative engine again. Some creative ideas to restart that engine for me have been:

  • Leave the good digital camera at home and take an Instant camera out with only one pack of film. This will force you to make every shot count. This will also force you to slow down and really make sure it is exactly the way you want.
  • Pull together a group of photographers, let someone else decide where, when, what and who you will be shooting. This will also take you out of that comfort zone and force your creative engine to turn on as well. A fun twist to this is for everyone to use older 3-5 mp digital cameras so you have to be aware of the print quality and think harder about this issue as well.
  • As almost every major city has a camera store that rents equipment, drop by and see what lenses are available for your camera. Rent a lens that you have never used before and go explore.
  1. I can’t stress the importance of having creative people in your life.

    Surround yourself with artists, photographers, models, writers and others who are constantly exuding that creative energy you need. Whenever I feel a block coming, I start to visit more art galleries and events to hopefully trigger something in my brain.

  2. As photographers are inherently visual people, sometimes a simple trip to the local bookstore will help.

    I find that I try not look at many photographers work in detail, more like skimming as I want my subconscious to click onto an idea. Quite a while back while attending an event at the local bookstore my eyes started to wander through the book covers and one caught my eye. The book of comic art was on display and on the cover was a winged superhero. The superhero did nothing for me but the wings themselves triggered a rush of visuals from religious imagery to vintage Vogue magazines. Could I mix these in my style of photography? Out came the idea book and hundreds of ideas came rushing out as I found a seat and started documenting these ideas. One simple visit to a book store, I saw something that triggered almost 100,000+ photographs, 4 photo series that have been published all over the world. Allow your mind and subconscious explore these amazing resources for ideas.

  3. The last idea is weird, I will be the first to admit it but it is fun if you allow it.

    Every photographer shoots different size images so whatever size you shoot make a cut out of cardboard and imagine this as your viewfinder/photo frame. I was shooting an old Hasselblad 503 film camera at the time. The camera took images that were 6×6 so I made my cut-out that size and spent the day walking around looking at the world with just this (and no camera!!). I learned to see the world in this size frame and still actually see it in a frame. The idea was when I would hold this up to the skyline I could immediately see the photo and would say to myself “how can I make this better or more interesting”? As I stood looking through my cut out some children walked by blowing bubbles which fell into my frame. There it was, more inspiration to create.

Ultimately we will all suffer from some form of creative block, but it is up to you how to overcome it. Many of these ideas may never be used by you and that is ok, what I want to stress is simply leave your mind open to creativity and amazing ideas that surround you. If you are too focussed on fixing the block you will probably miss that next great photography and series.

Happy shooting!

Robert MacNeil
Published in over 400 magazines worldwide, Robert MacNeil in continually on the search for that perfect image that encapsulates his search for beauty, colour and fluidity.

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Robert MacNeil

Author: Robert MacNeil

Published in over 400 magazines worldwide, Robert MacNeil in continually on the search for that perfect image that encapsulates his search for beauty, colour and fluidity.