I just got an e-mail from a photographer friend who completed a big project and now feels a bit challenged. He feels his creativity needs a kickstart and is feeling a bit at a loss. I am feeling a bit at a different sort of loss at the moment – I am in Northern Florida to attend the NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) Summit, but it starts later this week, so I am doing some nature photography. Or would be, except it is pouring rain! There have been some nasty heavy weather cells coming through, though it looks like they may be gone later today. So this morning is a good time to catch up on some things.
I really understand the challenge that this photographer is expressing. I have some ideas, but I don't think there are any perfect answers. We all have our own "journey" as photographers, as creative people, as lovers of nature, and so, what works for one person might not work as well for someone else. I would be very interested in your ideas – what has helped you, too?
When I finish a big project, I always have a period of mood drop. I am done! I am beat ... now what? Even if I immediately have another project that must be started, I still get that feeling. I believe it is a natural thing that is perhaps your mind and body telling you that you need a break.
So I think that is the first thing to do. Nothing! Okay, let me tell you that this is very hard for me to do. I think it is the right thing to do, but not necessarily the easy thing to do. I think sometimes we need to take a break from the thoughts and work we have been doing, no matter how much we enjoyed doing them, and take it easy on ourselves. Even do something completely different, totally outside of the range of what we normally do, such as watching a stupid but entertaining movie.
Another thing to do is some sort of exercise that forces us out of old patterns, regardless if the old patterns are good or bad. I have talked about shooting black-and-white as a discipline to make us better photographers, but I think it is also a mind-bender to force us to get out of old patterns. But you have to actually shoot in black-and-white to do this.
I have done some classes that have been designed to get people thinking in new ways. I have included shooting in black-and-white, even if the students have no desire to spend a lot of time working in black-and-white, and I have found that everyone seems to find new ideas from doing that. Two other exercises that seem to help are like shooting in black-and-white because they require one to shoot based on what you see visually and stop simply looking for subjects.
First, there is the exercise of photographing light. This means literally looking for light, and its effects, then photographing it rather than photographing subjects. If you have never done this before, give it a try. I guarantee it will get you seeing light in new ways. And it will get you out of thinking about making creative photos of a subject.
Second, there is an exercise of photographing color. In this case, you go out and look for color, then photograph it rather than photographing subjects. In both of these exercises, you are looking to do your best in photographing either light or color, but the subject is not the most important thing.
Exercises like this can be helpful, but in the long run, they are too short to have lasting impact. They help break patterns of thinking, but we have to work to continue new ways of thinking.
In the long run, our passions for things we care about will have a strong impact on our photography. Finding a project you can spend time with can be helpful, but even if you just find a special subject or area to devote yourself to, that can help. For me, going out into the chaparral is always beneficial. I have now been seriously photographing in the chaparral for a few years. I have no specific goal that I have to shoot for a certain project other than to shoot for me and for the nature that I am learning to love in the chaparral.
Once you start spending time in a place like that, or with a certain subject (I know a photographer who became passionate about butterfly photography and even started raising them as he photographed them), you have the potential to start forgetting what is creative or not creative, great photos or not great photos, and just to start experiencing the joy of being in nature and photographing it.
I am not saying that is an automatic thing. You have to work at it. So often we (and I definitely include me in this) try too hard. We think we have to be perfect, get great shots that everyone will love on Facebook or at the camera club, and we forget to slow down and feel the joy of being in nature and being with a camera. That is a sure way to actually stifle creativity and joy.
Simply being in nature, simply being there with camera, being you and enjoying your personal connection with that nature without expectations can be a very freeing thing. The photos you see here are from Wakodahatchee Wetlands in SE Florida – I stopped there Sunday morning after I arrived in Florida on a red-eye into Fort Lauderdale. These images truly are about me simply being in a place I like and enjoying this connection to a place of wildlife without expectations that I was going to create some stunning work that would impress anyone. It was about me and my connection to the nature there. When you do this with a specific place or subject you can return to again and again, this can be a truly life-affirming, creativity-inducing experience.
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