7th November 2019
Categories of Photography
5th December 2019

Are you stuck in a photographic rut? Do you love taking photos but still shooting the same images today as you were a year ago? Let’s look at how we get stuck and, more importantly, how to escape.

Person sitting at a table watching the the world go by, representing being stuck in a rut.
Are you stuck in a rut?

Know everything there is to know about photography?

Assuming we know everything about anything is a sure way to stagnation; it leaves no room for learning.

We all need to learn. Not only is is a basic human need, there are always new areas of our art to discover. It’s learning that inspires us and helps us grow.

Stuck in a rut with your photography
Stuck for something to photograph? Try shooting in the rain.

As I said in my last blog post, creativity is an evolution of ideas and we should take every opportunity to grow creatively. Anyone can hold a camera and press the shutter button, but making photographic art takes creativity and creativity requires building our knowledge.

Besides getting on a photography course, new knowledge is discovered from an array of sources. Books, videos, discussions with other photographers about ideas, and especially experimentation all lead to better photography. If you want to learn, then read, watch, listen, write, talk and practice photography.

Get together with other photographers, either informally or in a good photography club. Shoot alongside others. There are hundreds of online forums too. Good ones encourage discussions and post challenges aimed to inspire.

Share your ideas with someone you trust. Then take time to consider before accepting or rejecting their suggestions and questions.

Join the Royal Photographic Society and subscribe to magazines. Your local library may well have subscriptions you can sign up to for free.

I’m always learning

Having the good fortune of teaching photography is an absolute joy. When a client finishes a course or workshop and knows something (hopefully lots of things) new about photography I get a real kick. But, most importantly for me, I learn on my courses too.

On every course I discover something new. That may be a technicality of a particular camera or a better way of putting across an aspect of the course, or something the client has discovered about shooting images that I hadn’t noticed. I always take every possible opportunity to learn.

Stuck with Photographer’s Block

Do the pictures you took today look very similar to those you shot a year ago? If so, you may be trapped in the photographer’s equivalent of writer’s block.

We can learn from our past photography to break this. Look back at your images over the last few years. Pick half a dozen or so and compare them. Can you see improvement over time? If so, why are your contemporary images better? What has changed? What do you know now that you didn’t before?

If your images haven’t changed, you know it is time to learn something new.

Now compare your shots with similar images from other photographers. How do yours stand up against theirs? What do they do differently?

The power of failing

There is one more way of learning and that is probably the most important way of all. Failure! Trying out new ideas will lead to failures. It’s through failure we learn.

This means ridding us of the the mindset ‘I failed. I am rubbish.‘ We all fear failure, but trying and risking getting it wrong shows we have interest in our art. Risking failure opens our minds to new concepts.

Stuck by fearing failure hinders progress.
An old photo taken many years ago. Although pleased with the story it tells, if I shot this now I would be meticulous about removing the specks of dust.

Avoid Perfection

The modern world seems to want us to pretend everything is perfect. We see pretty people on the television in their pristine homes. Plastic-faced, skinny supermodels adorn our magazines and Instagram filters mimic that look to make our friends look flawless. In fact, we are all blemished and we all get things wrong, all of the time.

It is human to err; we all make mistakes. That’s great! It’s important that we do too so we can learn from those mistakes. Pushing the boundaries and trying things that could well go wrong is the best way of acquiring new knowledge and skills.

An experiment that failed

The image below is the final and most successful (yet still very imperfect) result of a series of photos I took several years ago. I illuminated different objects by laser. I didn’t ever get around to revisiting the exact technique but I learned a lot from my experiments.

Glass of water illuminated by laser
We learn from experimenting and making mistakes. Glass of water illuminated by laser. (2015)

Experimentation is all about seeing what works and what doesn’t. Play with different techniques and if you are not pleased with the results, work out why. Decide whether it is worth continuing with the experiment or abandoning it altogether.

Of course, experimenting and making errors are not great if we are being paid for our time, such as shooting a wedding or images for a client. Hopefully, before taking on a project like that, you first ensure your skills will be up to the job.

Try something new

Keep taking photos. Especially, photograph things that are out of your comfort zone. If you are into landscapes, shoot abstracts. If you shoot abstracts try your hand at wildlife. You only shoot colour? Switch to monochrome. Break all the rules while you are doing it. You will find that having a wide portfolio of camera skills will make you better at shooting what you love best. Furthermore, you may discover an unexpected joy from trying a different photographic genre.

If you are stuck, try shooting something new that is out of your comfort zone.
If you are stuck, try shooting something new that is out of your comfort zone. and break the rules.

Practice what you learn

Use your camera and practice the new skills. Find new shooting techniques or discover a setting you haven’t used before. Spend time every day analysing photographs, reading books, watching videos or just playing with your camera.

Get on more workshops or shoot alongside other photographers. Write a blog about your photography or post your photos elsewhere online.

Black and white photo of a woman on the beach, uncertain of a distant figure entering the frame.
Uncertain (2016)

Still Stuck?

One last thing to do if you are stuck is to put your camera down and walk away for a week or two. Let your subconscious mind ponder your photography. When you do it, put a reminder in your phone or write in your diary to come back to it. Then set a photographic challenge for yourself. Something like, “I am going to shoot images that contain shadows.” Or, “I want to show how we are damaging our environment.”

A free course

From January 2020 I am intending to start posting online photography lessons. Beginning with the very basics, each lesson will build upon the previously learned skills. I hope these will inspire you to go out and shoot.

Good luck!

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