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5 Ways To Break Out of a Creative Photography Rut

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I’m a full time photographer that concentrates on shooting restaurant and bar interiors, food, and cocktails. After strictly shooting that subject matter for long time I found myself uninspired, so I decided to do something about it.

I’m going to share four tips I’ve used over the years to get back on track creatively, hopefully they will help you get out of your photography rut too.

1. Get out of your comfort zone – physically

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I find that I loose inspiration when I’ve been in the same area too long. When things become familiar they become less exciting. If this happens to you there is only one thing to do: leave!

There is huge value in leaving your area, city, or even state for a day or two. The process of traveling to an unfamiliar place jumpstarts the creative process.

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My photography was becoming stagnant so I left downtown San Diego and took an hour drive to Lake Cayumaca. Being in a totally different geographic area afforded me new opportunities to shoot things I don’t see every day in downtown San Diego.

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2. Learn something totally new and uncomfortable

A few years ago I had gotten in a photography rut while shooting a ton of portraits. I decided I needed to learn something new so I decided to learn how to photograph water drops.

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I read a tutorial online and set up a little station in my garage. I didn’t have any experience with macro photography but was excited to try. Check out the setup below:

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It took me a while to start getting decent results but I found myself loving the learning process. I had a great time and came away with a new skill set and a revived creativity.

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If you find yourself in a rut, learn something new that is unfamiliar. While there are people who put my water drop photos to shame I’m still proud of these images and the rut they helped me get out of.

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3. Try a new style of shooting

A few years ago I was starting to learn about rear curtain sync on my flash. I had a few friends who shot really cool light trails in their nightlife photography. I felt a renewed surge of inspiration to try this during a rock concert.

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I plugged an Alien Bees flash trigger into my speed light and put the receiver onto my camera’s hot shoe. This enabled me to hold the flash up, and to the left, with my left hand while holding the camera with my right hand.

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I put my camera and flash on manual. I used a one-second-long shutter speed and set the flash power to properly expose the musicians a few feet in front of me.

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I clicked the shutter to start the exposure and immediately tilted my camera around in circles or side to side. Moving the camera while the shutter was open captured all the lights in the concert hall in different shapes. In rear curtain sync the flash pops at the end of the exposure and the shutter closes.

This combination of using a long exposure and rear curtain sync to create light trails taught me a new skill that I was excited to keep using in future shoots. It is important to master new skills to keep your creativity up.

4. Start an ongoing project

How ironic that my initial rut that was caused by shooting the same subject matter would become a source of inspiration. After half a year of shooting tons of bars and restaurants I looked back on my photos and noticed my favorite photos from those shoots were the corner bar shots.

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After realizing this I got really excited to get back out there to start a project and shoot more bars and restaurants to add to my collection.

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I’m really excited about this now!  I’m already thinking about my next trip and what bars I’ll stop at to add to my project.

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Getting in a rut happens to us all at one point or another. What ways have you guys found to kickstart your creativity? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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Mike Newton

Mike Newton teaches photography learning shortcuts and other photo hacks at Hacking Photography.