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11 Ways to Overcome Creative Blocks as a Photographer

How to overcome creative blocks (as a photographer)

This article was updated in July 2024 with contributions from Megan Kennedy and Jaymes Dempsey.

Stuck in a creative rut? You’re not alone. Creative blocks can happen to anyone, including passionate photographers. In fact, many of the most successful and dedicated photographers on the planet have experienced a creative block at one time or another.

When your inspiration is gone, it can be scary. You might start to think that your interest in photography will never return – and that you’ll be done with your favorite activity forever. I know from personal experience what it’s like, and it’s not fun.

Fortunately, I also know from experience that there are numerous ways to combat that dreaded feeling. Even if you can’t figure out anything to shoot or you don’t want to pick up your camera, there is a way forward.

So here are 11 ways to overcome creative blocks as a photographer!

What is a creative block?

The term creative block describes a condition that ranges from having difficulty coming up with new ideas to being completely unable to produce useable creative work. It’s not specific to photography, but it’s something that a lot of photographers struggle with at one time or another.

Some common triggers for creative blocks include timing, stress, boredom, fatigue, fear, and anxiety.

However, there are many simple methods that can help tackle this beast head-on, as I describe throughout this article:

1. Get some rest

How to overcome creative blocks in photography

The creative process (and daily life in general) can take both a mental and physical toll, and one of the key factors that can trigger a creative block is fatigue.

If you’re a photography enthusiast – that is, you don’t do photography to pay the bills – then it might be other parts of your life that are tiring you out. On the other hand, if you’re a photography professional, perhaps you’re just spending too much time behind the camera, and you need a break.

Rest can take the form of sleep, though it can also just involve mental relaxation. Making time to recuperate is not only good for the creative process, but for mental health overall.

2. Write

How to overcome creative blocks in photography

The written word is powerful, and it’s one of the many ways to overcome creative blocks. Actively maintaining a notebook full of creative ideas can come in handy in the event of a creative lull. Keeping a journal, blogging consistently, or even doing creative writing can help remove a creative barrier.

Brainstorming is another written exercise that prompts creative thinking. You can do this in a straightforward sense – by forcing yourself to sit down and list potential photographic ideas – though I encourage you to take a more open approach. For instance, try selecting an aspect of photography and write down as many associated ideas and phrases as possible within a short amount of time. Often the results can deliver unique new creative perspectives.

3. Listen to music

ways to overcome creative blocks music
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II with extension tubes | 1/40s | f/4.5 | ISO 320

It’s been scientifically proven that music can help calm activity in the brain, reducing anxiety and restoring emotional balance. So whether it’s listening while at work, resting, or playing, music can aid in restoring creative flow.

I’ll also point out that many renowned photographers (e.g., Ansel Adams, Paul Caponigro, William Eggleston) are also accomplished musicians. So if you enjoy playing an instrument or singing, that can be helpful, too!

4. Sketch your surroundings

Grab a drawing medium and a sheet of paper (or a tablet, touchscreen computer, etc.) and quickly sketch as much of the surrounding detail as possible for five minutes.

Furniture, cameras, people, shadows, animals, trees, plants, textures…draw anything that makes up the immediate area.

While it may seem simple, making rough sketches encourages mindfulness, utilizes creativity without the pressure of perfection, and reveals the creative possibilities of your surroundings.

5. Try a change of scenery

How to overcome creative blocks in photography

If you’re uninspired by your surroundings, try going elsewhere. This could be a lengthy trip overseas, or it could be an afternoon trip to a nearby city. Even a simple walk in the park has been proven to combat creative block.

After all, new places inspire new thought patterns. A change of scenery is a simple way to get into a more creative mindset.

6. Gear up

A classic way to overcome creative blocks is to seek out new equipment.

Trying out new gear sounds expensive, but economical accessories like extension tubes, prisms, and filters can have a significant creative influence on photographic practice.

ways to overcome creative blocks as a photographer macro flower
Extension tubes are an economical way to get into macro photography. Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II with extension tubes | 1/125s | f/4.0 | ISO 100

Even old cameras and lenses sourced from thrift stores can present new challenges and opportunities to engage with photography and therefore reinvigorate creativity.

Just try not to focus too much on the gear. You don’t need to buy every lens in existence; instead, consider how the gear can offer new photographic opportunities, then invest in one or two items and see where they lead.

7. Be distracted

Embracing distraction seems a little counterproductive, but putting an uncooperative artistic undertaking to one side for a while can be one of the best ways to combat a creative block.

Taking a break to reset and relax is conducive to a more fluid state of mind. Going for a walk, having a shower, and doing some tidying are all good ways to overcome creative blocks!

8. Seek inspiration

How to overcome creative blocks in photography

Creative minds feed on inspiration. Reading photography books and magazines, listening to podcasts, and researching artists can all chip away at a stubborn creative block.

Many galleries now offer virtual tours of art spaces online – which is a great opportunity to explore art establishments without leaving the comfort of your own home.

And you don’t need to restrict yourself to photography. Sculpture, painting, and even conceptual art can all provide that creative spark that gets you going!

9. Photograph something new

How to overcome creative blocks in photography

It can be easy to get stuck photographing the same thing all the time. And while there is nothing wrong with specializing, adopting a new subject or technique can help get rid of a creative rut.

Photographing something entirely new not only serves as a refresher but can also build on the skills and habits you’ve previously established. For example, a portrait photographer experimenting with landscape photography can uncover new ways to combine the two in environmental portraiture.

While it can be difficult to take on a new project during a creative rut, doing photography outside your comfort zone can lead to significant artistic breakthroughs. By embracing a new format, photographers can expand their creativity and shift a stubborn creative block.

10. Photograph your favorites

ways to overcome creative blocks as a photographer
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM | 1/50s | f/10 | ISO 400

It may seem like this point contradicts item nine above. Nevertheless, we often forget to photograph the very subjects that made us love photography in the first place.

A lull is a great opportunity to return to photographing a neglected favorite subject, rekindling that passion for creative image-making.

11. Make a visual diary

In a creative lull, a good source of accessible inspirational material is invaluable. Visual diaries are collections of visual materials compiled in a comprehensive journal. Consisting of images, notes, samples, scribbles, diagrams, photographs, etc., visual diaries are a manifestation of a photographer’s creative thought processes.

One of the most popular visual diary formats is a simple spiral-bound art book (usually A4 or A5 in size). However, there are other ways that artists can maintain a visual record of artistic processes.

For instance, Pinterest, Instagram, and other online venues are great ways to keep track of inspirational artistic material. In the event of a creative lull, visual diaries are a great resource to look back on, and they can help plan your next creative step.

Overcome your creative block!

How to overcome photography creative blocks

While frustrating, creative blocks can represent a good opportunity to expand on creative practice.

From resting to listening to music to trying a new technique, there are many ways to overcome creative blocks – while building on personal creative processes at the same time.

Now over to you:

Do you have any tips for getting rid of creative blocks? Share them in the comments below!

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Megan Kennedy
Megan Kennedy

is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications. More of Megan’s work can be viewed at her website or on Instagram at MK_photodiary.

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