For this article today, I figured I’d switch things up a little bit and write about a topic that I’ve become very familiar with throughout my career, and also one that I’m constantly trying to find new solutions for.
That is—how to get unstuck when you’re feeling burnout, lacking creativity, or even just getting bored.
The point of this post isn’t just for me to share the solutions that I’ve found work best for myself, but also for others to share what works for them. It would be awesome if we could put together an ongoing collection of ideas and thoughts with the goal of helping one another either get through rough patches or reach a new level with our work.
After doing this for over ten years, I’ve come to accept that I’ll always experience ebbs and flows with my photography. There is no point of mastery or bliss to be reached where all of the struggles magically disappear. But, the low points don’t always have to be so difficult if we learn to take specific actions and not dig ourselves a deeper hole.
So, with the hope of helping others, and as a reminder to myself, I want to share a few actions that have helped me move forward whenever I’m feeling burnt out.
𝗣𝗵𝗼𝘁𝗼𝗴𝗿𝗮𝗽𝗵 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗢𝗽𝗽𝗼𝘀𝗶𝘁𝗲 𝗢𝗳 𝗬𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗡𝗼𝗿𝗺𝗮𝗹
This one is definitely an action that I need to remind myself of on a consistent basis.
We all have a certain genre/subject/style that we like the most. For myself, that’s the American Southwest captured on film. As much as this will likely be my focus for the foreseeable future, I often need to remind myself that there are other subjects and genres out there as well and taking a short break from my current work, even just too dabble, is a must.
Even if I don’t do anything with the new images I create, it’s still important to bring back some of that curiosity that we all experience so powerfully at the start of our careers.
𝗧𝗮𝗸𝗲 𝗔 𝗕𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗸
Another huge reminder for myself here.
I can definitely be stubborn at times. When things aren’t working, my immediate reaction is to keep pushing, keep working, and find a solution.
Over time, though, I’ve learned that’s definitely not the best approach.
I’m getting better at accepting that time away from photography is a necessity. There’s only so much creative energy we can burn before the tank runs dry. And when it’s empty, we need to immerse ourselves in other activities and experiences that help fill it back up.
This is probably the biggest area of self-improvement that I’m currently focused on, as an artist. Every time I take a break, even if it’s for a few hours, I come back re-energized and full of ideas.
More time spent on something doesn’t always equal progress.
𝗧𝗮𝗰𝗸𝗹𝗲 𝗔 𝗙𝗿𝗲𝘀𝗵 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗷𝗲𝗰𝘁
As artists, routine can sneak up on us. Outside of creating the actual images, what we do with them—how we present them, how we sell them, how we market them—can also become repetitive.
I often get in a routine of shooting, processing, and then posting to Instagram… and that’s it—forgetting that what I choose to do with the images can be just as creative as the process behind them.
Prints, zines, a book, a website revamp, blog posts, YouTube videos… there are so many ways that we can express our creativity and showcase our work, and those different avenues often force us to learn new skills or set new goals—all important stuff.
My next move is to take some time away from actually creating images and spend some of it updating my website with a new portfolio that’s been buried for far too long. It’ll also give me the chance to sequence some of my latest images, and re-evaluate how I’m presenting my work. There’s a good chance that this will spark some new ideas for images as well.
There’s nothing worse than feeling stuck as an artist, and even though there’s no way to completely avoid it throughout a career, there are ways to make the rough patches a little shorter and more enjoyable.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’d love to hear what works for you. What do you do when you’re feeling stuck? What have you found helps move you forward and brings back your creative energy?
Kyle McDougall originally wrote this article for our private online photography community here at OFFBEAT. There are dozens more where that came from. If that sounds like something you like the sound of, sign up for our community!