Photographer’s Block? Here’s how to get out of a creative rut

Mar 20, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Photographer’s Block? Here’s how to get out of a creative rut

Mar 20, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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This is an interesting video from photographer Rick Bebbington discussing a topic that can hit all of us. Not just photographers but all creatives. Creative Block (or Photographer’s block, if you prefer). A mental block that’s stopping you from being as creative as you’d like, preventing you from pursuing those projects or even coming up with ideas for them in the first place.

Rick covers a number of topics and describes five ways that help him get over a creative block and refind his passion and creativity again. What makes the video most interesting to me is that all of this is advice I’ve seen coming from social media groups, online forums before those, and even face-to-face with other photographers. I don’t necessarily agree with them all.

[Related reading: How you can strengthen your creative muscle even when you don’t feel inspired]

Creative Barriers

The first topic Rick touches on is the creative barriers one faces as a photographer or artist. What are the things stopping us from being creative? It’s a fairly complex section, as Rick mentions, but chief amongst them is that of comparison. Looking at the work of others can bring you down. When you’re looking on social media at countless amazing photos, especially when they’re photos you’re not capable of creating yet, it makes you feel bad about the type of work you’re producing at that moment.

Don’t compare yourself to others

I always see posts on social media telling photographers not to compare their work to others. I get it. I understand it. Comparison is the thief of joy, etc., but I don’t think it really applies in this context. At least not to everybody. The phrase is typically applied to situations that are beyond your control. Things you can’t do something about in order to try and change the situation. But with photography, you can.

I see countless photographs all day, every day. It’s not just on social media, either. I write for DIYP. I have projects submitted to me for a possible feature on the site all the time. I see the work creatives are doing with the new tools that get released. I don’t look at this work and think, “I suck, I’ll never be that good!” – the way this advice suggests photographers typically see it. I look at work that amazes me, that I’m currently incapable of creating, and it motivates and inspires me. It pushes me to keep learning and experimenting. To keep trying new things. I’m not saying I go out and try to copy those images, but I look at the principles used and try to create an image that gives me a similar feeling both as a viewer and as its creator.

Striving for perfection

This one kind of goes hand-in-hand for me. It’s another on that can go either way. Strive for perfection and get upset or mad at yourself that you didn’t reach it? Or strive for perfection, knowing in advance that you’re not going to reach it, accept that, do it anyway and see how close you can get? Rick says to aim for “good enough”. And while, yeah, I do sort of agree, I think “good enough” can leave one complacent.

If I strive for “good enough” and just pull on the knowledge I already possess, how am I improving? I want to aim for perfect, even though I know I won’t reach it, just to see how far off I am. The lessons I’ll learn trying to push myself to do something that’s perhaps outside of my capabilities allow me to get further the second time I attempt it. That allows me to get further the third time, and so on.

If you’re a photography business aiming for “good enough”, you’re eventually going to find yourself in that race to the bottom as cameras become more capable and photographers need to be less so to achieve half-decent (or spray-and-pray lucky) results. If you keep pushing yourself to try to do way beyond good enough, you’re always going to stand out above the rest.

Just start making something

This is one piece of advice I can agree with Rick 100% on. Just get started trying to make something. It might be amazing, it might suck, but you won’t know until you try. Sometimes, just picking up the camera and walking out the door with it can be enough to get us right back in the swing of things. Sometimes, the recovery can take a little longer, but picking up that camera and forcing yourself to at least try and start on something gets you in that mindset.

Just go make something. And after you’ve made it, if you’re still stuck, look back at what you shot, figure out how you can try to make it better, then go out and make it again with your new mindset and rules. This topic goes hand-in-hand with Rick’s next one, which is overthinking. Forcing yourself to go out and just make stuff when you don’t want you stops you from overthinking. You might be surprised how much you can do on autopilot and don’t really have to think about anymore when you’ve been shooting for a while.

The other stuff

What I’ve written here isn’t a comprehensive list of things that can affect a photographer’s creativity and it’s not even a comprehensive list of the topics Rick talks about in the video. He also covers various aspects of planning, discipline, taking action and simply just having fun. After all, whether you’re doing photography for money or not, isn’t having fun what everybody wants?

Rick’s only a small YouTuber, but he’s well worth checking out his channel. He’s got a few great videos on there that you’ll either completely agree with or utterly hate, depending on what side of the fence you reside.

How do you get out of photography funks?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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