How To Stay Motivated In Photography
To stay motivated in photography, or in any field of pursuit, can be problematical at times, especially those in the artistic world. Writers get writers block. Photographers get photographers block. It happens and the good news is, it can be overcome.
Every photographer inevitably reaches a point when the motivation starts to fade, you start shooting less often, and the inspiration is gone. When this happens, it’s time to start seeing things from a different perspective. Let me show you a few tricks you can apply to your own thinking, to help you stay motivated in photography.
First of all, being a perfectionist is one of the biggest barriers to staying motivated. There is no objective measure for “perfect” in the world. “Perfect” isn’t something you can measure, like weight, height, colour, or material composition.
For example, you cannot look at a photograph and say that image is “perfect”. It just comes down to subjective interpretation.
Also realise that no matter how good a photograph is, there is always room for improvement. You could have always caught a little more emotion, a more interesting background, more context or better light.
Overcoming perfectionism is one of the biggest lessons to stay motived in photography.
Give yourself the permission to take shitty photographs
Another point of frustration that a lot of photographers have is that they have this strange illusion that every photograph they make needs to be “good” or somehow “worthy”.
Give yourself the freedom to mess up, make a crappy photography project, or even fail. I think it is better to have tried or attempted a photography project, than to never tried it at all.
In order to make good images, you have to work the scene by taking multiple photographs. I personally suggest that if you think that you got the shot, you haven’t got the shot yet. Keep working hard, and don’t “chimp” (look at your LCD screen while shooting). This will give you a false sense of security, that you got a good shot. Don’t get distracted by your LCD screen, keep on shooting.
The more you “work a scene” by taking more photos is like having more swings as a baseball player at bat. The more opportunities you have to swing, the more likely you are to hit a home run. Similarly in photography. The more photographs you take, the more likely you are to make a great image.
In painting, there is a saying that you are never done painting. Rather, you simply stop at an interesting moment.
Similarly in photography, no matter how much you edit or work on a photography project, it will never be “perfect”. A project is always a “work in progress”. Photography (and life) is all about the journey, rather than the destination.
Overcoming the ordinary
I know a lot of jaded photographers who have photographer’s block because they feel that where they live is boring, uninteresting, and mundane.
But photography is all about capturing the beauty in the mundane. No matter how boring of a place you live in, always realise there is a place that is probably more boring than where you live.
There is always interesting subject matter, if you look hard enough. You can always photograph your partner, your family members, your kids, your friends. What about things around the house, things in your backyard or front porch, your neighbourhood, your city, or your grocery market?
If you really want a breath of fresh air, you can always jump in a car, subway, or bus and go to an area a little less familiar— and use that new sense of novelty to re-inspire yourself.
Not only that, but if your city is boring or uninteresting, that could be to your advantage.
Consider it a fun challenge to try to make interesting photographs in boring places. The more boring and unpopular your city, the less likely a photographer has done a major body of work in your area. Therefore the more opportunity you have as a photographer to make a unique body of work.
So think to yourself: “How can I re-interpret living in a boring place as a fun challenge and a benefit?” The more you see the positive upsides, the more inspired you will be, and the more easier to stay motivated in photography.
Think life-photography integration
I think the common mistake that photographers make is that they separate their life and photography. They say that they are “too busy” to make photographs. But we are never “too busy” to go to work, help out our friends and family, pay the bills, eat, breathe, and sleep.
Rather, we should think about life-photography integration. We don’t have to “make time” to go out and shoot, when photography is simply a part of us living our lives.
What this means is have your camera as your constant companion. Your camera is your third eye, an extra appendage, or a part that you literally cannot separate with you. For a long time, I have always tried to find the “perfect camera” bag. But I have realised that after all these years, the perfect camera bag is no camera bag. I have found the problem with camera bags is this: your camera mostly stays in the camera bag.
You want your camera to be always on you, always ready to shoot. So I actually recommend always having your camera around your shoulder, around your neck, or in your hand. When you are at home, leave it on the kitchen table, ready to grab at any time you get an urge to take a photo.
When you have a camera always on you and easily accessible, it is so much easier to make a photograph.
Focus on the process, not the outcome
Sometimes when we focus too much on the outcome and not the process, we can find it hard to stay motivated in photography.
I know that when I go shooting for a full day and end up home with no shots, I use to think to myself, “Man, I am a lousy photographer. I will never get any good shots. Why do I even bother and waste my time?”
I was more focused on the outcome rather than the process. But I think as a photographer, the process of shooting is actually more important than the final result. In today’s society we put more precedence over the outcome versus the process.
There is a saying by Taoist sage Lao Tzu who said something along the lines of, “The good traveler is not intent on arriving.”
Similarly, I think we can rehash that by saying, “The good photographer is the one who enjoys the process of going out, editing their photos, getting honest feedback and critique from others “.
Inject randomness into your life
I once read: “In order to make more interesting photographs, first live a more interesting life.”
It is pretty funny, but quite true. But what if we indeed have a boring life? What if we have all these responsibilities and duties that prevent us from living an interesting life?
You don’t need a dramatically readjusted life to live a more interesting life. Small injections of novelty can help re-inspire and re-motivate you. Start with small baby steps. Let’s say you have your camera with you and you drive or commute to work. Leave the house just 15 minutes earlier, and take a different route to work. Perhaps take a slightly longer route, and then when you see something interesting, get out of your car and make a photograph. Take a different train to work, or a different route to work.
If you always eat at the same place for lunch, once again— inject randomness and uncertainty. Try a different restaurant or place, chances are, you might see things that you haven’t seen before, which will interest or excite you.
Break out of your normal habits, and make slight little tweaks. Definitely a great step on your journey to stay motivated in photography.
Switch up your gear
I’m not saying you should spend more money on gear, but sometimes changing a lens, like perhaps start using a 50mm prime for the first time, will force you to see things in a different way.
Take a look at your current gear. If there is an item that you rarely use, why not sell it on Ebay and buy something you’d use more often?
I did this recently myself. I’m really enjoying night sky photography and want to shoot long exposure time-lapses. At the same time I had a lens that I rarely use. Up on Ebay it went and a week later I purchased a SkyWatcher Star Adventurer (a motorised Equatorial mount to track stars) with money left over!
Stay motivated in photography – Connect with other photographers
No man or woman is his or her own island. We cannot be inspired if we don’t have a community of artists, creatives, and photographers who encourage us, who give us feedback, and help support us.
I often find that when I spend too much time alone, I don’t feel as inspired or motivated with my photography. But when I know other people are expecting to see my new photographs, I am always inspired.
Also when meeting other photographers for a meal or a coffee and I hear about their photography and projects, I have a huge rush of energy to go out and start shooting.
Another practical solution to break out of photographer’s block is to attend a photography workshop or seminar. You can also attend a “meet-up”, where you simply socialise with other photographers or even go on a “photo walk”. You never know what kind of interesting people you might meet, and the interesting ideas that they may have.
Also when I learn the different philosophies of photographers I meet, their way of thinking always influences and inspires me in a positive way.
Connecting with like minded people is my favourite way to stay motivated in photography.