You Should Never Force Yourself Through a Creative Rut

Forcing yourself through a creative rut sometimes puts you right back into a spot you were in before.

The last time I suffered through a creative rut, I spent about a year trying to figure out who I was as a photographer. What I learned during that time is that it doesn’t make any sense to force it. During their creative ruts many photographers spend time trying new things over and over again. It’s fun. Sometimes things don’t end up in their portfolio and sometimes they learn new things that they can add to it. For some, that’s fine. It’s part of the process and they’re not forcing themselves through their rut.

What do I mean by “forcing yourself through a creative rut”? I essentially mean getting frustrated and trying too many new things that your mind, your emotions, and your body don’t have time to adjust to. This, in turn, prevents what you created from really becoming a part of you and what you do. Every photographer needs a photographic identity that encompasses who they are and what they do. Some like to simply copy one another. Others like to shoot just because they like doing it. But when it comes to creating genuine work, you need to figure out what’s inspiring you. Many times, a good idea is to take a break from photography but still be involved with it. Reading about it, watching videos, and going to galleries and exhibits can help. Here are some realizations I’ve made through my years of conquering ruts:

  • I like prints
  • My images are best made as prints, really big prints
  • I hate Photoshop
  • I really don’t like post-production at all unless I really need to to it. I see it personally as a crutch
  • I adore manual focus lenses and how they make you carefully think about composition
  • Film helps with all of this
  • But digital helps you actually get stuff done
  • Natural lighting is for capturing, artificial lighting is for creating in many instances
  • I’m a creator, not a documenter. When I document, I create.
  • Street photography is the absolute fastest way to demotivate oneself if trying to capture moments rather than waiting for them
  • Patience is a virtue
  • I’m a conceptual shooter: I take emotions and ideas and find a way to put them into images
  • I’m a natural extrovert who needs to work with other people to create my best work
  • I like my photos to look like paintings and the sharpest images are sometimes the worst
  • If my photos don’t elicit a reaction out of someone then I’ve failed as a photographer

What have you learned?