Jumpstarting Yourself from a Photographer’s Block
We’ve all heard the term “writer’s block.” It’s easy to envision a writer ensconced away in their writing room, snapping #2 pencils in half, wadding up paper balls and hurling them across their room. Okay, so maybe these days writers are grinding their teeth together as they hold the “delete” key and watching letters vanish from the screen. Whatever they’re doing, one thing is certain - they are not building words into paragraphs into chapters into books.
For a photographer, photographer’s block comes in the form of image after image scrolling across the screen as the words “Dull...Boring...Cliche...” and so on scrolls through their head. Or maybe it’s one more day of having the camera with you and not finding a single thing that begs you to click the shutter. After a while you start to think “why bother?” Hopefully you don't throw your camera across the room.
I say it’s worth the bother. In “Zen and the Art of Writing” Ray Bradbury tell of writing a thousand words a day until one day he found himself crying at what he wrote - because he realized he finally wrote something good. Like writers, photographers have to work hard and practice, even through the blocks, the drudgery, the uninspired days.
Here are some ways to jumpstart yourself out of a photographer’s block:
1. Carry a camera - any camera - with you EVERYWHERE. Then use it. Every day.
2. Visit a local museum, or flea market, or farmer’s market, or zoo, or biological park - anywhere filled with things outside your daily routine - and take pictures of ANYTHING that captures your eye. Look for things illuminated by natural light. Be open to whatever you see. I recently visited a small historic village and amongst my many photos of the mundane (dull...boring...cliche) I have one that I love - of a young boy using stilts for the first time. A school class was spending the day at the village, and had it not been for my having a camera and taking photo after photo of anything that caught my eye, I would not have been ready for this image.
3. Go with someone who allows you the space to wander and make photos, or go alone. Photography often asks us to spend time with one thing, to the bewilderment of our companions. I have an acquaintance who will tell his family “I need two hours alone.” And then he goes to a nearby park and takes photos, returning home refreshed. Others I know will go someplace with a friend and part ways, agreeing to meet in an hour. This can work even with a non-photographer friend, as long as you’re some place that holds interest for both of you.
4. Process an old image in a new way. I revisited a color photo of a wooden boat, and started trying new crops, color balance - and then - black and white. I realized that I had overlooked a way of “seeing”. Not only did it give me an image more to my liking, it helped me to look through my camera viewfinder at new subjects with greater appreciation for contrast and texture.
5. Say “Yes” to opportunity. I recently had a 4 hour layover in the Dallas airport. My camera was with me, so I hopped on the skyway shuttle between terminals and rode it around the airport - 4 times. I took photos of people, of the sun setting outside the shuttle window, of the rails, of a vacant stop along the way. It was a great time to practice without interruption.
Next time you find yourself at a block, try these things to work your way through it. There is another image out there for you to find and to share.