QOD 8/15/2017: Advice on Climbing Out of a Photography Slump

by | Aug 15, 2017 | QOD | 2 comments

I might catch some kickback for beginning with this, but, If photography is not your livelihood, embrace the slump. Don’t fight it.  Lean into it even.  A slump is your mind and/or body giving you feedback that it needs rest, personal development, diversion, and/or distraction.  Watch a movie, spend time with friends, take a walk (without your camera), write, cook a beautiful meal for yourself.  Do those things that have historically given you inspiration without the camera.  When it’s time to return to the camera, you’ll come back to it and things should resume without a hitch.

If a break is not possible or desired (or perhaps you’ve already tried that strategy without success), then we’ve got to start from the bottom up: find the source of the slump so that we can address it.  Cameras and lenses, computers and software…they’re all static.  They’re neither the cause nor the solution to a slump.  And a slump is not about technical competence either.  By definition, to be in a slump we must fall off of some base level of attained performance and/or satisfaction with the camera that we once experienced and hope to again.  So, the only place left to look is ourselves.  When that slumpiness begins to creep into our routines and cramp our style, it’s time to turn the mirror around for a change.  We are the source of the slump and only we can be the solution.

All photographers must have something to say for the camera to be a useful tool. That sounds so simple that it’s almost juvenile, I know.  But how many photographers do you know—especially those who enjoy landscape photography—who understand and can articulate why they feel compelled to pick up a camera and do what they do.  Without putting forth the internal effort to probe this question, we’re all left pretty helpless when we lose our way; how can we find what we lost if we don’t know what it was in the first place?  One of the surest strategies to getting back on track as a photographer is to revisit what we do and why we do it.

Photography at its most basic is a form of communication. Those who pick up a camera instead of a pen or a keyboard or a microphone, choose to substitute composition, light, color and line—elements of the visual language–where others prefer to use words, sentences, and paragraphs.  Like any communication medium, however, the goal is the same:  connection.  And connection is strongest, clearest and the most satisfying when it’s delivered authentically.  For those who gravitate towards the camera, the process of making and sharing a photograph is how we most comfortably and authentically communicate.  So, photography is important and there are no direct substitutes.

But what are we trying to communicate? The answer to that question will dictate what you decide to put behind your lens and how you decide to go about making images.  Let’s look at a few examples outside of photography:  TED exists to spread ideas; Uber evolves the way the world moves; Lego inspires and develops the builders of tomorrow; and Facebook wants to make the world more open and connected.  So, what are you trying to do with your photography?  It doesn’t have to be catchy or complicated, but give it some real thought.  If you’ll excuse the awkward use of third person here, Mark VanDyke Photography exists to appreciate the value of the natural world.  The way that I appreciate the inherent value of the natural world is by giving my attention and my energy to the exploration of it.  And yeah, I happen to create photographs that I hope represent the honest and authentic character of place along the way.

So, you’ve got your whys all buttoned up—you know that the camera allows you to communicate and connect with yourself and others in a meaningful way, and you’ve figured out what subject matter resonates with your own message–but you’re still in a slump?  This is where we can tinker with how we approach the process of making photographs.  Start switching things up one by one, or all at once.  Whatever feels right for you.  Typically shoot alone?  Grab a friend next time you go out, or join a camera club.  Only shoot at sunrise or sunset?  Shoot during the middle of the day or with flat overcast light.  Move away from comfortable focal lengths, lenses, and places.  Rent camera gear that you don’t have and can’t afford; experiment with it.  Try different genres of photography.  Typically take a whole bag of gear with you everywhere?  Limit yourself purposefully.  Choose one lens and one filter.  Choose one subject.  Create small projects with deadlines and hold yourself to them.  Typically research the place you’re visiting to death before you go?  Don’t.  Show up with no expectations and leave with the same.  The point being, changing how we create photos is relatively easy.  This list could go on and on without end.  But nothing—and I repeat, nothing–will change a state of slump if the photographer doesn’t bring the basics:  a drive to say something personal and meaningful using the visual language of photography.

The slump. I know this thing.  We walk about the landscape, uninspired.  The weather doesn’t seem to cooperate, the compositions don’t come together in our mind or on our LCD monitors, and our camera technique doesn’t seem anywhere near adequate to convey what we hoped for in our mind.  You name it, when you’re in a slump things just feel unnecessarily difficult.  I know this struggle.  I’ve seen other photographers go through this struggle.  We get lost, all of us—we find ourselves in a slump—when we lose our focus and clarity on why we’re doing this photography thing in the first place.  I’ve been there.  It all feels a bit meaningless.  I question why I’m driving thousands of miles or hiking hundreds or sleeping on the ground or carrying heavy packs or participating in online training courses.  My advice:  find your why.  If you don’t have one, put some energy into developing one.  If you already have one, reevaluate its validity.  People change, purpose evolves.  Let yours.  When you do find yourself once again with something to say and you make the choice to use photography as your communication medium, I believe the path will become pretty focused.  What you need to do and how you need to do it will fall in line with your goal.  But more important for the sake of this post, you’ll be so busy getting after your vision that whatever slumpiness might have been clinging to you before will fall away as you progress towards fulfilling your new purpose.

Got a question?  Fire away!  Use the comments section below and keep an eye on the blog in the near future for an answer.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This