Breaking Free of Photography Ruts

I noticed when I looked through my Lightroom catalog that I take an awful lot of floral images. Even as I think about my Picture Spring project, flowers, trees, plants all appear, and they look about the same. I do play with some in Photoshop, adding textures and other effects, but still, there is that rut I’m in when it comes to subjects. So, it’s time to break out of the rut and see what else I can do.

Anne McKinnell offers this tip as a way to break out of a rut: Explore other art forms. Read, listen to music, visit a museum, watch a movie or go see a play. In other words, sometimes, we have to “feed the muse.” Julia Cameron says much the same thing in her various books on creativity. She recommends weekly “artist’s dates” when we simply go somewhere or do something that feeds the soul.

Both McKinnell and Bethany of {Beth}-adilly Photography recommend studying other artists’ work as well. We can pull out those photography books sitting on our shelves and pour over them. As we do this, we can make lists of the subjects that they work with, the lighting, the post-processing techniques, and other treatments. It is a form of feeding our muse.

The Artist's Way: 25th Anniversary Edition by [Cameron, Julia]

Another Digital Photography School author, Mike Newton, recommends getting out of our comfort zones—physically. He suggests going somewhere completely new. I am a “nature” photographer, and my friend Mary would say that I do floral photography very well. But sometimes I get bored with the same old-same old. (Perhaps I need to take the advise of a poet and figure out thirteen ways to photography a flower as he did writing about a crow!) I do not do street photography very well, and I don’t do a lot of architectural photography even though I love the textures and shapes and designs of old buildings. Changing locations, going somewhere completely new, can force us to be more creative in our photography.

In addition, Newton suggests learning a new technique or style. Related to this is learning a new piece of equipment, something I wrote about earlier this week.

Laura Sullivan says that we can put the camera away for a bit. Taking a break from something allows the brain to rest a bit. It also forces us to see the world. Contemplative photography practices like those suggested by Kim Manley Ort in her book Adventures in Seeing help develop the eye as well. I know that since I started a contemplative photography practice, I see the world differently and notice more even when I don’t have the camera with me.

adventures in seeing book

Valerie Jardin offers some additional suggestions:  join a photography club or meetup group. See what others are photographing and how they work. She also recommends experimenting with new equipment. I confess that I rarely use the camera on my smart phone. And I sometimes forget I have that phone and camera with me the majority of the time. “Phone-ography” is very different from photography with a DSLR or even some of the advanced point-and-shoot cameras. You can also rent equipment to try for quite reasonable rates. And another suggestion she makes is to create a photography bucket list of things you want to photograph as well as to create a list of things you’ve never tried to photograph.

The writers for SmugMug offer the suggestion of shooting a theme: the color yellow, for example; or feet, or hands. My friend Mary does something similar. Last year, she used leaves as her theme, and this year she is using textures of trees. I’m working on the theme of “by the waters.”

I have a couple of books that I use sometimes when I need inspiration to get out of my rut. One that I recommend is The Photographer’s Play Book by Jason Fulford. If you want photographic examples of the exercises and suggestions, don’t look for them. It’s all text. The point is for you the photographer to interpret the exercise in your own way. Sometimes, our imaginations just need a swift kick to get us motivated.

Every artist, whether a painter, sculptor, musician, or writer goes through these dry spells and ruts. Most of the time, it passes. Finding other ways to express creativity helps as well. I find that when I’m in the groove with photography, my writing falls into a rut; when the writing inspiration strikes, then photography dims. Another tip is to show up for the work. Sometimes, just having a camera near by is enough.

By Olivia Fulmer

I am the OliviaIrene of OliviaIrene Photography. I am a photographer, a teacher, a story teller. I use this space to tell stories of life, family, and faith through words and images. I'd love to share your stories as well. Join me in this journey.

I love conversation, the close, intimate kind amongst friends. Won't you join me? I look forward to a good coze.

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