How to Find Your Photographic Zen – Tips to Recharge When You’re Feeling Stuck

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Lately, I have been feeling very burned out and unmotivated with my photography. Several months ago I was preparing for a summer away from my business. My days were spent photographing editorials, working on client images and writing photography articles to prepare for a three-month sabbatical. I was working non-stop for several weeks as well as managing other aspects of my life. All that hustle to be prepared seemed to have gotten the best of me. I was feeling completely unmotivated and stuck, almost to a point of being irritated to pick up my camera and take a few shots.

I knew this was a phase, and that I just needed to ride it out. But at the same time, I was trying to understand how to effectively manage this so that my craft and my business wouldn’t suffer too much.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

This was the scenery outside my bedroom window. I was so out of it that I did not even bother cleaning the window of raindrops before I took this shot (smudges seen in the bottom left of the frame) – I took the shot because I had to not because I wanted to!

As I write this article, I have spent the past 10 days living in a mountain village with incredible views of the Nanda Ghunti mountain range of the Himalayans right outside my bedroom window. My days are spent completely cut-off from most of the outside world, having copious amounts of tea, belly laughs with family, and intimate conversations by the fireplace listening to the frogs and beetles chirping all night long. I have probably lost many followers on social media, and I have several hundred unanswered emails. But I have come to the realization that time away from the outside world is just the thing I needed to recharge and get back my mojo!

So if you are like me and feeling a little deflated with your art, here are a few tips to help you overcome that lull and get back into it with renewed passion.

#1 – Permission to take a step back

Let me tell you something – burn out is very real and happens to everyone at some point in their lives, no matter what field of work you are in. For people in the creative arts, burn out tends to happen faster and more often because as a creative, all your senses are heightened and you are aware of everything around you 24/7. For photographers, burn out manifests either as a lack of interest in picking up the camera or disliking everything you create. If this sounds like you, acknowledge it and please give yourself permission to walk away from it all – even if it’s just for a day. If you can afford to take a longer break then do so.

#2 – Capture heartfelt stories and frames

As photographers, we have an incredible opportunity to document life stories – whether it is of people or for landscapes. The wrinkles and toothless smile of an elder speak volumes about his life’s journey. Don’t just take the shot and walk away. Spend a few minutes and listen with both your heart and your head. Then when you do take the shot, it will become so much more meaningful and special – even if it is just for you and your subject.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

On the left – A young village girl gave me the sweetest of smiles when I handed her an extra piece of candy that I had purchased for my kids. She pointed to my camera and asked me to take her picture and was giggling with laughter when I showed her the back of the camera! On the right – the local temple priest was going to town and as we were waiting for a ride together he started chatting with us. Everything about him calmed me down and gave me a sense of peace!

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

These three generation of women were chatting up a storm as I passed them by during a photo walk. When they saw a camera in my hand, they called me back to come take their picture! – I happily obliged and was offered a hot cup of chai in exchange – Before I walked away, I had made a new set of friends!!

#3 – Take a wabi-sabi approach to your images

A wabi-sabi method requires a slower, quieter approach to life. The concept is very similar to Japanese Zen gardens that promote tranquility and calmness. Slow down and quiet your mind. Stop chasing that next award winning frame for just a few minutes and open your eyes to all that is around you. Stop – Look – Feel and then click. This will make each frame more meaningful and help you convey the story better once you yourself understand what is unfolding around you.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

The fog was so thick that it covered the whole valley and only the tops of some of the trees were visible – this scene was so soothing and almost like a painting. It was the perfect zen for my troubled mind!

#4 – Rule of Thirds and negative space

Try and step away from rules and conformity. Resist the urge to put everything in the dead center of the frame. Instead embrace negative space, the rule of thirds and/or focus on singular elements in your frame. Not only will you create work that is different from the rest but you’ll also learn to approach life in a very different way – more relaxed and free flowing as opposed to stressful and rigid.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

#5 – Free-range photography

The best thing I can do for myself based on my personality is to practice free-range photography. For me, this means breaking free from my norm (leaving the status-quo and photographing something completely out of character). Not only does this clear your mind of preconceived photography habits and notions but also gives you a fresh perspective in the art of photography.

Do not approach this exercise with the idea of perfecting it and getting award winning shots. Instead, approach it with the idea of doing something different, making mistakes, and yet having fun with it.

How to Find Your Photographic Zen - Tips to Recharge When You're Feeling Stuck

I am fascinated with the old doors, windows, and archways found in India. To me, their textures, colors and characteristics speak volumes about their history.

Conclusion

So if you are feeling stuck and burned out in your photography, know that it is absolutely normal and expected. Don’t fight that feeling. Instead, accept it and embrace it with open arms. Once you accept it, you will figure out a way to work around it and create a meaningful body of work because you have given yourself permission to recharge, renew and get reenergized with your craft.

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Karthika Gupta is a lifestyle, wedding, and travel photographer based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images. She also has a Free Travel Photography Demystified E-Course a 5-Day video series to help you improve your travel photography.

  • Tim Krenzke

    Hi Karthika,
    I just finished reading your article and I found it refreshing. I was a university professor and spent the last 10 years teaching first and second grade children in Shanghai, China. I retired in 2007 with the thought of making a lot of photographs. While in China, I had to opportunity to travel all over Asia. I took photos with my Hasselblad which meant that I took fewer photos, but spent more time thinking about what and why I was photographing. The digital revolution and the lack of $10,000 for a digital back for my “hassy” has put me back into a Canon fulll frame camera. I have started doing what your article suggests…which is slow down…refresh yourself…try some new things to bring back the passion of photography. While in China, I used the technique of talking to people before photographing them. What a difference that made. Smiles everywhere. I invited them to look thrrough my viewfinder to see what I was photographing. Your article showed that I was on the right track. I have found a new project that involves photographing the Sonoran Desert. Thanks for a great article.

  • Leann McElhaney

    Hello Karthika,
    I like that the idea for stepping back. I get in hurry and then I take bad pictures. I will work on my zen thank you for sharing.

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