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7 ways to get out of the rut you're in

Story of "IN" © Sol Marrades


A friend of mine called me the other day. He is a highly accomplished photographer who excels at his craft. He has won very prestigious photo competitions, has top-of-the-line gear and he teaches beginner photographers on the side. Needless to say, he loves photography, and it’s evident in all of his work.

At some point in our conversation, though, filled with frustration and without an ounce of arrogance in his voice, he said, “You know what? I don’t think I can make better pictures. I don’t think there’s any way I can improve.” Silently, my jaw dropped – I did not see that one coming. He was stuck. How could such a talented, productive photographer hit a wall?

The truth is, we all fall into ruts every now and then. Work, responsibilities, daily habits and routines tend to dominate our lives, leaving little room or time for us to step across our mental boundaries. Amount of experience, knowledge or talent makes absolutely no difference when creativity suddenly stops flowing... and it sure can come to a screeching halt. A successful photographer can become stifled and directionless as quickly as a beginner photographer. We have all been there, and unfortunately we will all be there again.

So that got me thinking, and for my friend and for all of you, I have a few suggestions that just might give your creative juices a jumpstart the next time you feel like you’re coming down with a bad case of rut fever.

1) Get out of your comfort zone. If you always shoot in a certain place (i.e., the same street, garden, coastline, field), go somewhere new. A change of venue will challenge you to see your subject in a different light.

2) Rent a lens that you have never used before and commit to using only that lens for one week. Tilt-shift, ultra wide-angle, macro lenses, even a Lensbaby can open up an entirely new world of photography and possibly nudge you into trying a new genre. How about underwater housing for your camera so you can shoot in a pool or the ocean? Now is your chance — go for it.

3) Print. If you’re not feeling inspired to shoot, then sit down with your printer that’s been gathering dust in the corner of your office and print your photos. Make a new collection to mat and frame and hang them on your walls. Seeing your work on a daily basis will remind you how much you enjoy taking pictures.

4) If you’re shooting every weekend and ending up with so-so photos, just stop. Forcing yourself to take pictures is as pointless as a dog chasing his tail: you won't get anywhere, real fast. Give yourself a break for the next couple weekends. Do something completely different... and leave the camera at home. It’s called rejuvenation, and it’s really good for you.

5) Treat yourself to a visit to the library or a bookstore and take your time to look through photography books. Clicking the next button in your browser is nothing like turning the pages of big coffee table books. Let your mind absorb the lighting techniques and points of view of the masters. When you see an image you like, study it and figure out why it appeals to you. You could easily find instant inspiration, and there’s a good chance you will rush home to make your own version.

6) Give yourself a project. You have all of those stunning images just sitting on your hard drive, right? Create a book, make some greeting cards, design new promotional material. Free your mind and focus on the photos you already have to generate more interest in your work.

7) Submit your favorite images to photo competitions, magazines, stock photo sites or local galleries. What do you have to lose? Yes, it takes time to research and find the best fit, but you’re not in the mood to shoot anyway. Use this time constructively and give yourself the opportunity to stretch your wings. The payback could be huge. Huge!

So what do you do when you're lacking creativity? How do you combat the rut bug? Leave a comment below and let us know.


Great job Mandy as usual. I have always been motivated by other peoples work, there has been so many times that I will see something that someone else has done and think to myself if I do what they did with a few minor tweaks I think I may have something that I can call my own :-) Chris
answering your question, I use to challenge myself - changing the direction of my approach to composition every time I can; - applying what I use to do to other subjects by shooting things that I don´t really know how to shoot because they are not my favorite subjects Many thanks, Mandy
Very helpful and motivating suggestions! Thanks, Mandy. Best, Steve
Very nice Mandy. Your advice can be replicated in any other field using similar approach of the Photography example. I have been practicing photography with my 1DX camera and learning as I go along - practicing a feature and trying to get better - and many times a week or two goes by where I don't even touch the camera - due to work schedule - Thanks for the advice.