Blocked - Identifying and Remedying Shooter's Block

Blocked – Identifying and Remedying Shooter’s Block

I don’t know about you, but I go through phases in my affair with photography. Some weeks (or months) I’m surgically attached to my camera and others, I can’t be bothered to get it out from under the desk. But when you take photographs for a living, there is never room for apathy and shooter’s block can be a damaging situation.

shooters block

{IDENTIFY IT}

Don’t worry – you haven’t lost your passion! My first big time slump was depressing to say the least. I actually wanted to cry at my lack of motivation but I’ve discovered that I hadn’t lost my passion, I was just in a rut and experiencing shooter’s block. My first huge downer came after a steady two years of passionate photography, establishing my business and having a baby. I felt that I’d photographed every possible moment with my children (our local playground has been sufficiently photographed should the police ever need detailed macro photos of any apparatus for investigation). One day, I woke up and just didn’t pick up my camera. I noticed that I had more free time and my computer was actually put away under the sofa at times. What was going on?! Could it be that I’d fallen out of love with photography? Say it isn’t so!

{REMEDY IT}

So when you think there couldn’t possibly be any more moments in your children’s lives or locations to photograph (and c’mon how many ways can you find to photograph yourself) what then?

{LOOK} Other than taking photos, my favourite thing to do is look at others’ photography or even my favourite shots from the past. Viewing photography and reading about the lives of the greats (try Diane Arbus or Henri Cartier-Bresson) can inspire you. I try not to use them just as inspiration, though, because I think that’s disrespectful. Don’t use and abuse – just bask in their works and soak a bit.

{TALK} Are you part of a local photography club? Unbeknownst to you, there are probably tons in your area who meet in places like the library. Even when I don’t have the motivation to take photos, I ALWAYS have the ability to talk about photography with passion. There are even discussions going on right under your nose here at DPS. Get involved!

{DO-OVERS} Sometimes when I don’t have anything fresh to play with, I go back to my original RAW files and re-edit old photos. I’m constantly learning so I find that even a few months later, re-editing my photos can make entirely new creations.

{ASK THE KIDS} Funny, the kids always know what to photograph. When I’m not feeling inspired, I can ask them what they think I should photograph and they always have an answer. Even if it’s something seemingly dumb like their snotty nose. Hey, I’m sure you could even sell that as a stock image!

{RIDE THE BUS} Go somewhere you’ve never been before. The nearest city or park. Take pubic transport. Take photos of strangers. Talk to strangers! Get inspired not just for taking photos of life, but for living it.

{TAKE A BREAK} Lastly, I would recommend that you even entertain the opportunity to embrace the slump and just take a break. I know that my husband and kids appreciate it when I take a breather and re-focus my life (pun intended) This doesn’t mean that I stop working, though. And I’ve never stopped wanting to work because taking photographs (and writing about photography) is my full-time job. I never ever stop wanting to create beautiful images for other people and as with any job, I’d suggest that the day you wake up and have truly fallen out of love with photography, you put down your camera and try something new. Photography shouldn’t be a drain, it should add to your life and not take away.

How do you get out of your slump?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Cesar Roa December 17, 2009 07:07 am

    This is a geat post very interesting and informative.It's a great blog

  • Dave Counts December 13, 2009 01:26 pm

    I had a photography teacher once who said where there is action turn around. Meaning to not look at the action everyone else is looking at but to view the people.
    While I have taken some awesome pictures, and people tell me I have the gift, I can tell you I have always had the simpliest of cameras. A fancy camera and zillions dollars of gear are not going to "make" your perfect pictures. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with people and they say how is your pictures better than mine. Its all knowing when to press that button and what to do with it once you have.
    I recently get ideas from DPS and the challenges though I have yet to enter any. Digital has changed my life as I can now experiment and see instant results, and well if I dont like it goes to the trash.
    One last thing another teacher told me there is always one good thing even in a bad photo. He would crop and crop and crop the bad away. He also said its better to take the picture "NOW" then wish you had later.

  • Gillian December 12, 2009 10:38 pm

    I have to admit I am blocked because I got so freaked out by stories of photographers being arrested or cautioned in London that I almost never take any photos in the city anymore.
    When I really can't resist i use my phonecamera but this is nothing.
    I know we're really supposed ot fight this injustice but I can't help just being scared and nervous.

  • kerry hammerton December 12, 2009 06:07 am

    Thank you for a fabulous article - I think that the principles apply to most artists. I am a poet and new to photography. When I get a poetry block I have invariably turned to one of the suggestions above - read others work, re-work some abandoned poems etc. I think that one of things that we forget as artists is that we need to re-fill our inspiration resevoir. Even doing something like taking a different route to work or going to an exhibition and just walking are all ways that we can do this!

  • Gary McQuerrey December 12, 2009 01:16 am

    I'm was having this problem and so glad to read this article. My solution this time was by chance when I was talking to my brother. I explained to him that I had taken photos of everything in the area several times and was feeling out of targets. His reply was, " Have you taken a picture of the, Old Cook Place? I would love to have a good shot of the old house". Well this was where both of us were born and had completely passed me by. Talking to family and friends can snap you out of it and allow you to maybe get shots you might otherwise overlook.

  • Elizabeth Halford December 11, 2009 08:24 am

    @johnfischer: I can't breathe I'm laughing so hard. Oh I needed that. Can't believe I missed that! ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaa *and breathe*

  • John Fischer December 11, 2009 08:16 am

    This was helpful, but please try some proofreading and don't just trust the spell checker. "Pubic transport" is not usually an option to get to the park.

  • Janet baca December 11, 2009 03:37 am

    I always the one the had a camera. I'm 46 years young. And have taken a zillion pictures. Recently, I don't have the desire or motivation even to look at my camera.

  • Francesca December 7, 2009 08:15 am

    Thanks for thsi instructive and inspirational article.
    Very helpful

  • cheduardo2k December 6, 2009 06:04 am

    THANKS a lot for this article, really helpful, seriously. I'm desperately looking how to get out of this shooter's block and nothing seems to work. i'll keep trying, never surrender!! :)

  • R Melanson December 6, 2009 03:00 am

    I just watched the video. Fantastic, very inspiring and very brave. I don't know if I have the guts to go and do something like that. It's amazing how a gutsy move like that can open up a whole new world. Maybe fear is what's holding back my potential. Thank you!!!

  • R Melanson December 6, 2009 02:52 am

    Thanks for the article. Sometimes I feel so down when the creative spark leaves me. I worry that I'll burn myself out and lose interest in photography forever by being so focussed on it all the time. After all, I've spent so much money on equipment, books and classes and so much of my free time taking pictures, I don't know what I'd do if I ever lost interest completely. It's nice to know that these thoughts and feelings are normal and shared by others.

  • Arun December 6, 2009 01:41 am

    I think you just read my position now before you posted this blog!!! I'm currently under-going this thing as a photographer's block!

    As a matter of fact, I've got all sorts of blocks - from writing to games to work to idling to flirting - just everything under the roof! And I think it's time I got this one too! :)

    Well, actually, I'm relatively new to photography if you consider some of the oldies who are around, but yet, I'm a little different in that, I go all out on anything new, and in this case, it was no different. Just about a year and a half, more of six months of intense shoots - flowers to landscapes to some portraits and others. I thought I was learning faster than I could buy equipment, and I craved for more each day. Finally, I didn't have enough dough to keep my thirst for knowledge, and had to grow some patience and acceptance. Thereby, slowly I started to refrain from shooting the same subjects, and the list grew bigger!

    Finally, a day came when I just didn't want to shoot anymore. Umpteen reasons that I can attribute that to - ONE, I was hardly moving out of my area;TWO, I was craving to have more whilst I couldn't have more equipment; THREE, I thought I've shot all the subjects under the sun I could with the existing stuff I had, and I can just go on!

    Well, like you recommend, just do take a small break from your cam.. But I think I never stopped Flickr or reading more or discussions!

    So, take that most needed break, and you'll again start to see the magic that was inside of you, you thought you lost forever! :)

    Thanks again for this post.. It helped me! :)

  • Freddy Gin December 6, 2009 01:36 am

    Your blog offers very valuable information which I enjoy very much.Thanks

  • SR December 5, 2009 09:17 pm

    I find doing a course at the local college useful to kick-start me. They normal have a project aspect to them and the topic criteria is limited so there's less thinking and more doing.

  • Jason Collin Photography December 5, 2009 02:13 pm

    This is one photography problem I don't have. I guess if one lived in a not so exciting or varied environment for photography getting photography block could be possible.

  • Tanlin December 5, 2009 01:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing. That is wat I am going thru rite now! Cheers!

  • Emon December 5, 2009 11:03 am

    A few days ago, I decided to challenge myself into forming a habit. You see, writers write every day, inspired or not. It's a discipline. Athletes and sports folks practice regularly whether their mood strikes or not. Why can't photographers do that?

    I think if we photographers let ourselves break away from a pattern, we do better. By taking pictures every day, whether they turn out good or not, it becomes a sharpening act of our craft.

    So, I thought of taking on a daily challenge of making and posting one image, at least, a day and posting them on my blog. The rules I gave myself are simple: only Canon's 50mm f/1.8 lens allowed. I'm calling it NYfty50 since I live and love NY and want this series to reflect the world around me.

    Since I started, I noticed a change in me. If I don't post a picture each day, I get a little restless. I make my butt move, go out, find within shots to capture, subjects to tackle. In essence it has started to keep my juices flowing.

    Do I expect all the pictures to mean something, say something? Hopefully, yes. But truthfully, no. Because thinking about something only keeps you from doing it. It's not brain surgery. It's bio-degradable pixels!

    I've only been into this a few days, and am loving it. Check it out and let me know what you think.

    http://www.emonhassanphotography.com/?s=nyfty50

  • Mei Teng December 5, 2009 10:59 am

    Sometimes, taking a break from shooting is what you need to recharge and get inspired again. Thanks for sharing.

  • the clubhouse kid December 5, 2009 10:24 am

    the video is priceless, thank you!

  • Andrew December 5, 2009 09:20 am

    Some great advice there. I've just finished a 365 and I am really enjoying walking without it, I can feel that the desire will just turn up again at some point though.

  • Brian Chen December 5, 2009 08:42 am

    This was a very well written article, I piked up my first dSLR about a year and 8 months about and it started out really strong! I started a photoblog and posted almost every single day. Then in the past 6 months its just been slowing down, I still have the passion but I guess right now I am just concentrating on other things (trying to land a job right now). In the back of my mind I still know that I have more in me and this slump is "natural". I really like how you put the "slump" in a more elaborate explanation. In a way I puts how I feel more into perspective, I will try and check out the local photography scene/clubs.

  • Ryan December 5, 2009 07:37 am

    I find I sometimes have the block problem, not when I don't feel like taking photos but more when I just don't feel like dealing with them all. You know the moment, you get home from a weekend of shooting what you think were amazing shots. You open em up on your machine and start to look at them all and just don't get any inspiration. Many are perfectly decent pictures and would look great after some photoshop work but you just can't find that zone where you know exactly what colors need to go where and how to make a good photo into a great piece of art.

    I find the best cure for this is to look at the art of others. Often a really great piece by someone else will inspire me into making my own.

  • Caroline December 5, 2009 07:36 am

    I have the opposite problem-- seemingly endless motivation but very little time to implement it!

  • Jack Fussell December 5, 2009 07:34 am

    Excellent suggestions. I do alot of reediting when I hit a block. It helps me work through the block by trying to see familiar shots in new ways. I also spend alot of time on Flickr. I'll load the previous day of explored photos into Cooliris and wait for inspiration to hit.