Six Tips For Overcoming Photographer’s Block

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By Steve Russell

This isn’t going to be one of my usual 1,000+ word articles but for some people it may be more important than an article on the difference between bokeh and depth of field. Over the last two years I’ve seen enough comments here and on our Facebook page to make me believe that I’m not the only one that experiences this problem.

As a writer and a photographer I’m somewhat of an expert on experiencing that dreaded BLOCK. I know the moment it arrives to pay a visit and sometimes it’s really difficult to get rid of it. My first reaction is to just step away from the writing or photography. Frankly, I also believe that’s the wrong reaction.

Let me explain. I like to do woodwork. I don’t do it a lot but I really enjoy it. I’ve never, ever had woodworking block. My wife would say it’s because every time I take on a new woodworking project I get a new tool. I’ve tried that with photography, get a new lens or something, but block is block and a new piece of equipment doesn’t make it go away.

I enjoy gardening, especially vegetable gardening. I have never experienced vegetable gardening block. In a few weeks I’m going to have fresh, organic vegetables from my garden and can kiss the grocery store vegetables goodbye for the summer. How can you possible get a block to interfere with that?

The difference is that photography, and writing, is a creative endeavor. Woodworking and gardening is mostly a disciplined activity. Photography and writing is mostly freeform. Knowing how to determine shutter speed and aperture in photography is not different than knowing how to type or write and use a dictionary in writing. There are rules, for sure, but they can be broken and still have a wonderful creation. Break rules in the garden and you have dead tomato plants.

Because it’s so creative, the way to overcome block is to be creative, not walk away from it. So how do we do that? Here are a few tips:

1. Grab your camera and go shoot. As the old Nike slogan goes, Just Do It. Every photograph you take doesn’t have to be award winning, it doesn’t even have to be a keeper. Just force yourself to take photographs.

2. Think of a project or challenge to work on. Or if you can’t think of one, go back through some of Tiffany’s articles about Weekend Challenges and try some of them. Two thing will happen if you work on some of the challenges; 1) you’ll probably learn something about photography and how to apply certain things you learn to other situations, and 2) you just might find something that you really like and want to try on other things. Sort of a gee whiz moment, if you will.

3. Experiment. Most of us have something in the back of our mind that we’ve always wanted to try with our camera but never had the time to do it. We fall into the habit of putting the camera in our hand only when we have or think we have something we want to photograph or in some cases have to photograph. When you’re experiencing block, that’s the time to experiment with different things, especially wild ideas because experimentation puts us into creative high gear.

4. For yesterday’s article I wrote about My Favorite Subject to Shoot. Work on your favorite subject. For example, if you enjoy bird photography, build a blind or go to Bass Pro Shop or Cabella’s and buy one. I’ve seen them there for around $100 and they’re super portable. Yes, it’s a new piece of gear but it’s one you will want to go try out almost immediately. But work on your favorite subject even if it’s spending time in Photoshop or other post processing software. Recently, I was working on some photos and getting frustrated because I couldn’t make one photo look the way I wanted it to. I caught myself thinking, “If I’d only done such and such I wouldn’t be having this problem.” Ding. The bell went off. I grabbed my gear and left to photograph the same subject again, correcting the errors I made the first time.

5. You may be saying, “That’s the whole problem. When I get photographer’s block I don’t want to take photos.” Do it anyway. Sit in your chair in front of the TV and play around with your camera. Take a photo of your feet. That’s one of Tiffany’s favorites. While you’re playing with the camera, experiment. What would the same photo look like if I did this or that or the other.

6. Think of a project or a trip that would make you want to take photos. In other words, if you have the dreaded block and don’t want to photograph anything, think of something that would make you want to photograph. How can you not get excited about photographing Victoria Falls?

Overcoming photographer’s block requires an active approach. A passive approach will make you feel sorry for yourself but it won’t cure the problem. Looking the problem straight in the eye and laughing will cure the problem.

“I’m sorry. Is your camera still in the case or on the shelf? Don’t just sit there. Go get it and take a photo or two or two hundred and have fun while you’re at it.”

Photo Credits:

Rain Drops by ladytimeless on Flickr Creative Commons
Groucho Glasses by Teresia on Flickr Creative Commons
Feet on a Chairlift by Urbanmkr on Flickr Creative Commons
Victoria Falls by Dietmar Temps on Flickr Creative Commons

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  • nik sargent

    Hmmm.. I find this a bit odd – as the approach described to overcoming creative block reads much more like “go through the motions anyway” as to actually being creative about it.  I’m sure some of these techniques work, but my additional suggestion is to seek inspiration. Get immersed in photography and inspiring imagery – you only need to start at or somewhere similar and, for me at least, I’m soon looking at lots of images I am inspired to try or use as a spark for ideas.

  • Anonymous

    I really hate to be that guy, but this article could have used a little proofreading. I found at least a dozen or so typing errors that made getting through some sentences rather difficult. 

    Point number three is particularly sloppy. 

  • Steve Russell

    Don’t worry about being that guy.  Your comments are well intentioned, spot on and constructive. 

  • John

    Thanks! I needed that!

  • John

    Thanks! I needed that!

  • Marthin amature photographer

    I like the hole reed and it was helpfull in a pedagogy and down to earth.
    And i agree theat it’s important to allwase take a photo even if it’s in front of the tv after work as you seed in the article here!

    Good work and very helpfull.