Street Photography is as much about psychology as it is about skill and creativity.
There is a mental process that goes into making photographs of everyday people in the street. Confidence is a huge driving force in getting strong, compelling visual content. When confidence is high, so is your creative flair. However, there will be times when you’re not your best self, and a high level of creative productivity is not always sustainable. Almost unknowingly you fall deep into a rut and your photography suffers. You can all of sudden feel stuck, and find that you are asking yourself, “how do I get out of this?”
Identify Your Street Photography Rut
The first step to overcoming any problem is to accept that there is one in the first place. If you’re out shooting street photography every week, or like me every day, then it can be hard to have a perspective of where you are at in terms of productivity. However, there are several key signs that your creative juices are no longer flowing as freely as they should be.
If you find that you are having to force yourself to go out and shoot, then this is the first sign that something may be wrong. Street photography should be practiced out of passion for the craft. If your shoulders are slumped and your mindset is ‘this again’ you will not produce your best work. A consequence of shooting when you are not really feeling it is that you will start to photograph the cliche. If all of a sudden your work is full of women in front of bright walls, or men walking out of a tunnel and into the light, then it is clear you are not thinking outside the box and that a mental barrier has been put in place.
Once the realization settles in that you’re not enjoying your street photography and that your work has suffered, it can be easy to run away from the problem, which in turn will only make things worse. I have been there many times, and through trial and error, I have been able to take practical steps to ensure I am not in that rut for too long. So, if you find yourself crying out to have your photographic mojo back, here are some things you can do to help accelerate the process.
Take a Conscious Break
Different to turning your camera into a top shelf ornament for months on end, taking a conscious break can be useful. By conscious, I mean telling yourself you are going to take a certain period of time away from practicing street photography, focusing on something else, and returning to street photography on a set date. How long you take is up to you, however, I suggest starting off with one week if you shoot every day, and two weeks if you shoot once or twice a week. This break can help you rediscover your passion. Like the old saying goes – absence makes the heart grow fonder!
“If you find that you are having to force yourself to go out and shoot, then this is the first sign that something may be wrong.”
Practice a Different Genre of Photography
When we care about something deeply we tend to want to have the best outcome. If we apply this to street photography, anything less than the best work can feel like a failure. But if we turn our attention to something else we are less passionate about, we are more likely to approach it with a lighthearted attitude. For example, say you want to dabble in landscape photography; during your rut is the perfect time to do it. You can learn to enjoy the trial and error again and rediscover the positive energy you associate with your camera. It may also make you appreciate just how much you love street photography. Remember, the grass is not always greener on the other side (okay that’s enough philosophical cliches for one article).
Use Emotions to Fuel Your Creative Fire
A big contributing factor to falling into a rut are issues in our personal lives. I speak from experience when I share that I have had external factors bring my work to a halt. Over time, I have learned to use that energy to get the best out of my photography. For example, I recently separated from my partner and for the first few days, I could not even look at my camera. As the emotional grief started to set in, I told myself I will use all this pain and help myself heal while doing something I love. With that in mind, I set myself a brief. I would go out and take photographs of scenes that I felt represented both love and loss. It became a form of therapy, and soon enough my camera became a vital crutch for my recovery. I look at the images taken during that time and get a deep, emotive response. I take pride in the fact I could capitalize on my art form in order to deal with a challenging time in a healthy and productive way.
Shoot Street in a Different Location
Familiarity can be a source of comfort, but it can also leave us feeling bored and uninspired. When you find yourself looking at the same streets and the same people, your eye can become lazy and you stop seeing the scenes around you. To counter this, I suggest going somewhere completely different. It can be a different area, a different city, or even a different country! This will help restore your thirst for exploration, giving you the excitement of discovering the unknown. You will be bouncing around the streets like it’s nobody’s business, connecting with your new environment and enjoying all the fresh images that you can create!
Take Comfort in Knowing This Time Will Pass
In any passion that we have, at some point we will feel like we have hit a brick wall. It is an unavoidable part of working on something you are emotionally invested in. In many ways, it can help us improve our skill set and give us clarity on what we need to do to grow as artists. Our minds can be delicate; they dictate what direction we go in and how that impacts our ability to create. For anyone finding themselves in a rut, the good news is it will pass. You just need to ensure that you own it, work on it, and come back stronger than before.