10 Tips to Motivate You out of a Photography Rut

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Are you stuck in a rut?

Have you reached a point where all your photos start to look the same? Feeling uninspired? Or maybe you haven’t gone shooting for a while at all?

It happens to us all now and then, kind of like writer’s block. When we get too comfortable with what we do, we get into a routine and everything starts to look the same. This is why it’s important for artists to break out of our own molds from time to time.

photography rut and motivation Prairie Dog, Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming, by Anne McKinnell

Prairie Dog, Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming.

To help motivate you out of your photography rut, here are some of the best ways to get your creative juices flowing.

10 Tips to Motivate You out of a Photography Rut

#1 Explore other art forms

First of all, just remind yourself that it’s okay to think about something other than photography for a little while! Allowing your mind to take some time off will relieve the stress and tension that builds the scaffolding for creative blocks. Instead, devote some time to exploring other art forms to feed your creative soul – go watch a play, listen to music, check out a museum, or read some poetry. All of these experiences feed the muse, where they become thoughts, which associate with other thoughts, to then become new ideas.

photography rut motivation - The Museum of Man, Balboa Park, San Diego, by Anne McKinnell

Museum of Man, Balboa Park, San Diego

#2 Look at other artists’ work

But how do you know what to do, if you’ve never done it before? For inspiration, see what other people are doing. Look at pictures from other visual artists that you admire, or find a photography exhibit at a local gallery or museum. Go to the library and flip through photo books. Absorb as much as you can. Which photographers do you like best? What is it that you like about each of them, and what do they all have in common? Think about how each photograph was created and ask yourself: which direction is the light coming from? What focal length, aperture, and shutter speed do you think were used?

#3 Look at your own work

Open up your boxes and folders of old photos – the older, the better! As you look over them, think about how you’ve progressed as a photographer. With each photo, ask yourself what you would do differently if you were taking it now, with all you’ve learned since that time. Be honest with your self-critique; admit to yourself when something doesn’t work out, but be sure to congratulate yourself when something does. Feelings of accomplishment build your confidence to create new things.

#4 Try a new style

There are many styles of photography – portraiture, nature, street, abstract… the list can go on and on. If you’re getting too embedded in your usual style, step out of it and try something completely different. If you usually photograph people, photograph animals or still life instead. If you’re into landscapes, you could try your hand at street or architecture photography. You could even shoot exclusively in black and white for a while. Just do something you’ve never done before!

Try some new processing techniques too!

photography rut motivation - Anne McKinnell

Car decorated with bible quotes at Salvation Mountain, California.

#5 Re-create an image

If you find an image (either yours or someone else’s) that really interests you, grab your camera and do your best to emulate it. Look closely at the settings, lighting, depth of field, degree of blur (or lack thereof), the camera’s angle of view, and try mimic it with the tools and locations you have at your disposal. This is a fun and educational exercise that really gets the blood flowing through your creative brain.

#6 Take a class

Talking to others about photography can do wonders to rekindle your passion; seek out other photographers and try to connect with them. This could mean taking a recurring class, a one-day workshop, or joining (or creating) a local photography club. The artistic critique – the practice of discussing your work, as well as the work of others in a group setting – offers so many new opportunities to see things from differing points of view. Feedback, whether strictly positive or even constructively helpful, is very nourishing to the creative spirit.

#7 Borrow some new equipment

Having a new toy to play with can spark all sorts of ideas and inspiration in your imagination. If you are lucky enough to have a fellow photo friend who happens to shoot with the same kind of camera that you do, maybe you can share lenses or other accessories (flashes, etc.). You can also check with your local camera store about renting lenses and camera bodies, or borrow through a reputable online lens rental agency.

On the other hand, if you want to go lo-fi instead, you could opt to get your hands on a 35mm camera (they’re everywhere – try a thrift store) and some film (yes, they do still make it). Limiting yourself to the 36 shots per roll forces you to think about each frame more carefully, and is a completely different way to approach photography.

photography rut and motivation Bicycle with flat tire and Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans, by Anne McKinnell.

The effects in this image of a bicycle’s flat tire were achieved using a Lensbaby.

#8 Offer your services

If the opportunity arises, volunteering your time and skills for a good cause is a great way to challenge yourself and help others. You could run a photo booth at a local fundraiser or offer to take portraits of your friends and family, and there are countless charity organizations that would jump at the chance to have their fundraisers and other efforts documented.

#9 Get a new perspective

Look at the world from a different point of view. This can be as simple as getting up high – on a ladder, a building, or anything else – or down low, by crawling on your knees and belly to get a worm’s-eye shot. But it can also mean a more dramatic change, such as altering your surroundings all together. Try finding a brand new location to shoot in, whether that location is just another neighbourhood or whether you’d prefer to…

#10 Take a trip

This is, of course, my personal favourite way to keep my outlook fresh.

Sunset at Badlands National Park, South Dakota, by Anne McKinnell.

Sunset at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Going to a completely new place lets you view the world with fresh eyes and renewed wonder, and lets you see all the little details that get glossed over when you’re accustomed to the place you’re in. For me, traveling and photography are almost inseparable.

Creative ruts and blockages happen, but sometimes it’s our own hesitation that makes them seem so daunting. A lot of the time, all we need to get over that wall is to try jumping on a trampoline instead!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Anne McKinnell is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems. You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

  • Raghavendra

    Motivation is needed in every field of work. Photography is art at its best.

    #3 Look at your work, how it all started, how we progressed and how we came out of realm. You can start with the photos which you thought it is not the best, recreate it.

    if you have taken any landscape, go to the same place & try to take the picture in a different angle, different perspective.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/2012/05/wonders-missed-in-home.html

  • Zufall Adventures

    Spontaneity always helps with creative ruts. Try going somewhere chosen at random (roll the dice, use our app or throw a dart at a map) and then seeing what there is there to photograph. You might find nothing remarkable there and that’s where the creativity comes in – because there is always something to make art out of. It’s almost like #9 and #10 rolled into one — get a new perspective by exploring the world around you (even it’s only a few blocks away).

    http://www.zufalladventures.com/app

  • Great tips! I love being spontaneous jumping off at places and see what comes to mind. Here’s an example of such moment where I only had my iPhone4 at hand and I went off the metro to grab some shots in the autumn sun: http://anetteiren.com/autumn-mood-in-oslo/

  • Chuck Boyd

    I post pictures on my 8-year old blog. Fun to look back and see how my style, my eye and my subjects have changed. I also now use Plug-ins…on the old and the new ones.

  • John Jennings

    Thanks for a great article. I printed it out and I plan to work down the list!

  • Tracy Atwood

    Great post!

  • Meri Clason

    Thanks for some great ideas–I’ll definitely try them–re #4–about 10 yr ago I decided to shoot only black & white for a year (still film back then) and was that an experience!! By the end of the year I had only managed to take about 6 rolls & was a basket case, but I definitely learned that anything can be a learning experience!!

  • pinkan

    great post! I’m a SAHM and take tons of pictures of family and sometimes I need some motivations to do other type of photography

  • MLD

    My #1 tactic is to pick up my camera and start taking photos – of anything, anywhere, anytime. If I’m not motivated, it will come with the action of taking photos. Reading about how to get out of a funk just makes it worse.

  • Calvison Maynard

    this article is helping me in my quest to become a great photographer, i’m looking forward to the next one

  • Richard Taylor

    +1 on travel.
    +1 on shooting for other organisations, in my case it was shooting an opera production (including concerts)

    Go on shoots with other photographers.
    Have grandchildren, they make great, but can be difficult to shoot, subects.

  • Ralf Hildebrandt

    Thank you for this interesting model. Very appreciated. Needed it right now! 😉

  • Sandra

    Great ideas Anne, these are really helpful. I also read your bio – I love your life…I’ve had the itch to explore in an RV with my camera, my cat, and my hiking shoes since last spring. You’re inspiring!

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