Whether you are an amateur photographer or a professional photographer, there will come a time when you are simply burned out. Periods of your photographic life where just the idea of picking up your camera is exhausting.
Creatives of all types face these challenging times, and they can be both daunting and scary. It can feel like your passion may no longer be your passion or, for the professional photographer, it can impact your life in a financial or business manner.
So what can you do? One main approach is to wait it out. It’s a very Zen idea, for sure, but sometimes what your mind and body need is a break to recharge the batteries. However, there are two potential issues with this approach:
1. You don’t have the time to wait it out
Perhaps you’ve got projects, clients, or assignments coming up and you need to be more proactive in getting the creative juices and excitement flowing. You don’t want to risk producing below average work and messing with the trajectory of your career.
2. You have too much time to wait it out
What if the wait never ends? Perhaps the desire to capture beautiful images never comes back? Was your photographic passion fleeting, or did you just need to kickstart it somehow? Don’t let something you love fall by the wayside. Photography is like a relationship, it ebbs and flows but can only give back if you participate.
Here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, there are hordes of artists: photographers, painters, sculptors, jewelers, and more. This being the third largest art market in the United States, with over 240 galleries in a city and only about seventy thousand people, it’s in some ways the perfect place to explore creative burnout. It’s fascinating to hear the city’s artists discuss their inspirations and approaches to staying creative and productive. Burn out for any serious length of time is not an option — they need to make a living.
The most interesting idea in terms of rekindling creativity is a simple one that many people overlook: get out of your medium. As photographers, many of us dive deep into the pool of everything photographic, and it can be exhilarating as well as incredibly taxing. At a certain point, reading the blogs and reviews, packing up the gear, or taking the same kinds of photos can feel more like a listless routine than an exciting pursuit. Without realizing it, we’re tapped out and in danger of becoming jaded.
At that point it’s time to put down the camera, Ctrl-Q Photoshop (sue me, I use Windows), and go run a few important errands. Hit the art store and pick up some paints, maybe some modeling clay, and a pack of charcoal pencils. Stop by the bookstore and grab a fantastic cookbook. Get a cheap tuner for that guitar you haven’t played in a while. Then go home and create something.
It can be mentally exhausting to focus all of your creativity through the lens 100% of the time. Instead of just resting your creativity, a great jolt can be to refocus it on something not directly related to photography. It’s a win-win situation: you get to exercise different artistic muscles and it will often lead to revelations or breakthroughs in your photography when you pick the camera back up again.
It will most likely be tough going initially; it can be frustrating to work at something that you’re not as good at as photography. But this exercise is about letting go. Letting go of the camera, your attachments, and your ego. Remember the first photos you ever shot and have a hearty laugh at yourself, then keep working on your clay snow man.
Here in New Mexico, many landscape painters take their easels, canvas, and paints out to the desert and work “en plein air.” Others, for the sake of convenience, take photographs of the landscape to work off of in their studios.
Many of those painters find that the creativity of landscape photography inspires their artwork and gives their primary medium energy, helping them to stay productive. In times when painting doesn’t “do it” for them, they’ll go on a photographic expedition. It gives them a creative release while providing fodder for future paintings — win-win.
So if you’ve been having a hard time with your photography and the idea of yet another photo walk exhausts you, try a different form of creative expression. Give your mind something different to work on or with, it may just be the creative spark you need before you embark on the best work of your photographic career.