Have you ever gone somewhere expecting to take some amazing photos only to get there and be so uninspired you don’t even take your camera out of your bag? It can happen for so many reasons and to most of us at one point or another. The important thing is to not beat yourself up over it but find ways to break through this undesirable condition. Here are a few reasons why it’s happening.
1. You’ve been looking at other people’s photos of the place too much.
Instagram and other photo-sharing sites can be a great source of inspiration and can help find new places to visit. But, as always there is a downside to this too. Sometimes it’s easy to get an image stuck in our head that we want to replicate, then we get to the place and find that for whatever reason we can’t get that exact same image, or it’s not as good as the one we saw online (forgetting that maybe that image we saw had the proverbial post-processed out of it!) I love looking at other people’s work and find it a huge source of inspiration, but one of my pet peeves is seeing people lining up at a place to all take an identical photo.
Find cool images online and ideas of places to go, then forget them. Try to leave a decent amount of time between looking at those images and when you’re going to be there. Spend a bit of time at a place having a good look around, there’s no rush to grab your camera and start shooting right away (unless it’s getting dark I guess!). If you’re having a tough time not taking the same photos that you’ve seen, challenge yourself to take 10 images of the same subject. Those first few will be the obvious cliched ones, but after that, it will get harder to come up with new ideas, and that’s usually when the magic happens and you come up with something original.
2. You’ve brought the wrong gear for your needs, or too much gear.
I’ve carried a tripod on so many hikes only to then never use it, cursing the weight and wasted energy I’ve spent on lugging it around, which then generally just puts me in a bad mood and makes me not want to take photos! Or I get lazy and just use my phone because it’s easier. Or there was the time I did an ATV trip in the Canadian Rocky mountains in the fall when I was completely obsessed with seeing a bear. I couldn’t take my whole backpack on the trip, I had to choose JUST 1 LENS! What would you have done? I stupidly was so convinced that I’d need my longest lens for that bear shot that I only brought a 300mm lens on a cropped sensor camera. Of course, we didn’t see any bears but that epic scenery of mountains and canyons with aspen trees in full golden colour? Yes, lots of that. With only a massively long lens. All I have are wonderful memories of those views!
3. You did not plan ahead, or things are generally just out of your control.
The weather is boring, it took longer to get there than you thought so you missed the good light, you didn’t use an app like PhotoPills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris to check the direction of the sun or milky way. This is actually not a big deal. Think of it as scouting and plan to go back at the right time of day or year to get the shot you’re imagining under the right conditions. If you can go to a place multiple times you will almost always take better photos than if you only go there once.
I find it quite interesting to see the changes throughout the year. For example, Valencia is famous for paella, and the rice grows in an area just outside of town. In September the rice fields are bright green as the rice is reaching its growing peak and becoming ready to harvest. By Winter the fields are barren, brown and desolate, but it’s not uncommon to see flamingos around this time and other migrating birds. Each season brings its own beauty and interest, and visiting at different times throughout the year will always bring new things to photograph.
4. You’re basically burnt out, either emotionally or physically.
During times of extreme stress (like lockdown anyone?) we sometimes need to retreat into ourselves. Sometimes creative pursuits can be a relief, but also it can just be too much, one extra pressure that we don’t need. If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you’ll see that self-actualization which includes creative expression is right at the top. According to the theory to be our most creative selves, all those other needs have to be met first. The basics of food, water, air are obvious ones, but so are good health, not living in a state of fear or anxiety, friendships and connections with others, freedom…oh wait, so actually many of those things that were denied us during the pandemic! So take it easy on yourself and trust that your creativity will return in time, take baby steps and don’t try to force it, just do things that interest you and seem like fun. Trying a different genre is helpful. After the lockdown I really started exploring my local region, getting outside and falling in love with landscape photography again, something I hadn’t been doing much of for the past few years.
Ironically the opposite can also leave us feeling drained. Too much of a good thing can leave us jaded and feeling a bit ‘meh’ about places and scenes that would otherwise be inspiring. Years ago I embarked on a pretty epic drive around the states of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. I was planning to hit the National Parks like Bryce Canyon, Arches, Grand Canyon, and other famous places like Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley and Horseshoe bend. After 3 weeks of seeing so much incredible scenery, I must admit I was getting very blasé about the desert and red rocks! Plus the crowds and conveyer belt atmosphere in many of the places only contributed to this feeling.
That trip was a great lesson for me. I learnt that you don’t have to go to all the big famous places to make incredible images, there are plenty of smaller quieter locations that haven’t been discovered by Instagrammers yet. Of course, it was amazing to see the Grand Canyon in a thunderstorm, and I would recommend it to anyone, but I would probably try to avoid fitting so much into one trip. The inside of the rental car looked like a chewed and spat out burrito by the end, and unless forced, I will never go camping in Arizona in July again. Ever.
5. You need some extra help.
Maybe you’ve got as far as you can by yourself and some guidance and inspiration from other photographers will get you passionate about making photos again. Photography can be a lonely pursuit and we can all benefit from some interaction with others, to laugh with, share work, get some tips and ideas and not bore our loved ones with too much talk about photography. Join a group online or in real life, take a photo tour, find a mentor, or join a photo walk. There are so many ways to get us out of a rut and back to enjoying taking photos.
In the end, don’t worry if you’re not feeling inspired, it happens to all of us, and unless you’re actually being paid to photograph it, honestly does it really matter? The important thing is that you look after your mental and physical health, get outside, connect with other people and find small ways to enjoy yourself again, with or without your camera.