Man dressed in black standing in front of a lake while holding his camera.

Photographer’s Block: 7 Ways to Break Out of a Creative Rut

“Some days the genius will be in you, and you will sail. Other days the lead will line the slippers, and you’ll be staring into the void of your so-called creative mind, feeling like a fraud. It’s all part of the big ole cycle of creativity, and it’s a healthy cycle at that.” –Jamie Lidell

Everyone’s heard of writer’s block, but most creative people, no matter what their craft is, experience blocks every now and then. Creative ruts can stem from many things, including:

  • Burnout
  • Fear of rejection
  • Self-doubt
  • Anxiety
  • Perfectionism
  • Criticism

Whatever the cause, creative blocks can feel debilitating and frustrating. It feels like you can’t get started, like there’s no inspiration, or if you do pick up your camera, none of the photos come out the way you’d like.

If you’re feeling like you’ve tripped and fallen into a creative black hole, hope is not lost. There are plenty of creative, yet practical ways to set yourself free and break through any photographer’s block you may be experiencing.

Man with his back against a brick wall and his feet propped up against the opposite brick wall in an alley way taking a photo facing upwards with his camera

1. Get a new perspective.

Literally. Take a photo upside down and at different angles. You might be amazed at what unusual, but beautiful photos transpire. A fresh perspective can spark new ideas and help you think outside the box.

2. Creation, not consumption.

Think about how much you consume through the internet in one day. You’re constantly bombarded with other people’s creative projects, photos, and accomplishments. It’s tempting to compare yourself to the people you follow on social media, but as long as you’re consuming, the less you’re creating. Instead of trying to find inspiration from other photographers’ photos, unplug for a while to give your mind space to come up with its own ideas.

Young man in a plaid shirt and carrying a backpack taking a close-up photo of a piece of glass he is holding with his camera while standing around trees.

3. Take a photo walk.

The point isn’t to capture an award-winning photo (although you might), but to get the creative train chugging along. Take pictures of random things and don’t think too much about technique or whether what you’re shooting is worthwhile. You’re just playing and exploring without expectation.

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” –Chuck Close

4. Try something else creative.

Walk away from your camera and paint, draw, write, play an instrument, sing, dance – something unrelated to photography.

5. Stop overthinking everything.

Your inner critic may be holding you back, spinning thoughts like, Everything’s already been done, All these photos are ugly, No one cares about my work, All my ideas are boring. Tape that critic’s mouth shut and just allow yourself to explore your ideas, capture mundane things, and BE a photographer.

Your photos won’t always be perfect or come out the way you envisioned, but that’s just part of the creative process. Get out of your own way and don’t be afraid to create trash. No matter what the result is, remember that the act of photographing is the reward. Anne Lamott said it best. Although she was referring to writing, this can be applied to any creative process.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

6. Walk away.

No, not forever, but if you’re experiencing burnout from handling too many projects or working on the same type of project over and over again, it might be best to take some downtime to clear your head. The amount of time you take is up to you, but during downtime you might focus on a hobby, meditate, exercise, take a vacation, or whatever helps you distance yourself from your photography pursuits.

Bird's eye view of a woman with head phones on drinking a latte at a white counter that has a small camera, her iPhone, and an open book of nature photos.

7. Create space.

Messy bed, messy head. Sometimes our homes and offices can cause creative blocks because the clutter starts building in our heads and leaves little room for creative thinking. Spring clean your spaces, get rid of unwanted/unused stuff, or at the very least, make your bed each morning. See how you feel afterwards.

Related: 10 Fun and Useful Photography Projects for the New Year

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