No matter how much energy you have going into a project, it’s likely that at some point you’ll run out of steam. When you’re hours in to editing your photos and are beginning to have an existential crisis about the real meaning of the words “tone curve,” you’ll suddenly stop and wonder why you’re doing this in the first place.
Then the next day, when it’s time to return to editing, you’ll stare blankly at your computer screen or come up with any number of excuses or tasks that will prevent you from getting started.
And that’s when you realize you’re now actually dreading returning to your work. Your well of motivation has officially run dry. The good news is: you’re not alone, it happens to all of us. On top of that, there are some simple ways to break yourself free and get your motivation jump started again. Here are a few things that have worked for me in the past.
When you’re feeling burnt out on photography, it’s often just because you’ve been doing the same kind of photography for a long time. It’s times like these I recommend exploring a new type of photography through a small project. In the past I’ve tried experimenting with some of the methods mentioned below and found great success, here are some things I’d recommend trying:
Light Painting — This is a great project because it’s really not hard to just pick up and try one night. Do you have a camera? If you’re reading this, likely so. Do you have a flashlight? Great, you’re ready. Go watch or read any of the hundreds of tutorials online on how to light paint and get started.
Another thing that makes light painting such an appealing escape from regular photography is how quickly your skills build. You’ll try one small trick, lets say writing your name, and after the five to ten minutes that might take to figure out (most of which will be spent figuring out how to write your name backwards for the camera) you’ll immediately be hit by another idea, and then another.
Once you start thinking in terms of light painting, the world quickly reveals itself in a new light (pun not intended but greatly enjoyed). Hopefully this will unlock some new inspiration, which in turn will lead to some new-found motivation.
Time-Lapse — There’s a reason there are a million time-lapse videos all over the Internet: they’re easy. And while it’s quite hard to make something that stands out amongst the glut of other time-lapses, it’s not hard to make something that simply looks good. It’s also not too tricky to just make something outright interesting.
Most people’s first inclination is to do a time-lapse of a road (that was certainly what I did for my first time-lapse) but it’s not hard to find a slightly more interesting subject such as various events or locales around town, or you could even turn to mother nature and explore shooting nature time-lapses.
This is a great project because it can have immediate payoffs if you want to just shoot a basic time-lapse in order to try it out, or you can invest some time and energy in it and come out with something amazing. The good part is, both are satisfying to some degree.
This is another project that will change the way you view the world in that suddenly you’ll start looking at the ebb and flow of things around you, trying to find some new and unique subject to shoot for your next time-lapse.
Multiple Exposures — Trying multiple exposures is another great project because, similar to the other two, it’s easy to pick up and try, and there are two approaches to it. You can go out and purposefully shoot subjects with multiple exposures in mind, then return home to meticulously meld them together; or you can do the good ‘ol experimental guess and check, perhaps even with photos you already have on hand.
I recently gave multiple exposure photography a try to help motivate me and thus far it’s been great. I started with some quick test shots of a few co-workers in the window on a sunny day and began combining them with a few landscape photos I had on hand. That produced some interesting results, so now I’ve moved on to some slightly more advanced stuff.
The point is, I hadn’t been motivated to shoot anything previously and now this has me back at it again. Granted it may not be what pays the bills but it still has me actively shooting and honing my skills, sometimes even creating new ones.
Listen to Your Elders
Sometimes you don’t need a whole project to get you started, or maybe it’s the opposite and you need a little boost before you’re even motivated enough to get to where you’re ready to try a project. In cases like this I recommend turning to documentaries and interviews.
Often, if I’m worn out and dreading opening Lightroom to finish editing a project, I’ll open up YouTube instead and search for a short interview with a photographer I admire. Ten minutes later I’m opening Lightroom ready to tear through the project with a new-found vigor.
Try full-length documentaries for a broader, perhaps more profound, motivation. This is great even if you’re not seeking a motivational boost. There’ve been quite a few times when I’ve watched a photography documentary simply as a way to spend my free time and ended up thinking of multiple projects while watching, or walked away with a determination to do something bigger and better with my work. Also, a lot of them are just good documentaries, so there’s always that.
Listen to Your Peers
I wrote a column recently emphasizing the importance of building a local community groups with other photographers, and this is one of the precise reasons why.
Sometimes the thing that motivates me the most is talking to my friends about what they’re working on. This is especially true if you’re burnt out from working on something after multiple exhausting and long days. I’ll go grab a drink with a friend and talk to them about the current job they’re working on, and once I hear that they’re in the midst of the same thing, it’ll motivate me to push through.
(Pro tip on this one: make sure to go out with a friend that’s currently REALLY busy… if you go meet up with your friend who just got back from an awesome trip to India, this could potentially backfire… horribly.)
But in all seriousness, just knowing you’re not alone in what you’re going through is often enough to get you through a rut, and talking to your friends and peers is perfect for this. If it’s worse than a basic rut, then maybe try one of the other ideas provided above.
Take a Break
I’m not really counting this one, but maybe you just need to set the camera down for a week or two and relax. Give yourself an intentional vacation instead of a vacation just because you don’t currently have a job. Indulge in one of your hobbies for a while and then come back after you’ve decompressed, or ease back in with one of the above ideas.
Image Credits: 40+293 Snooze by bark, Wonderful life by petertandlund and L-R Friendly and welcoming female photographers Cat Evans, Cheryl Strahl, and Dawn Beattie captured here are one good reason to participate in a digital social photo walk. by Mike Baird