Photographer’s Block…

What is photographer’s block? Does it even exist? And what to do about it?

Most people might have heard of writer’s block, and some might have even experienced it. [It can be debilitating!] But how about photographer’s block? Does photographer’s block even exist, especially in this day and age of selfies and smartphoneography (made-up term inspired by iPhoneography :-)), of images being posted online constantly? Also, speaking of smartphones (and social media), has today’s technology allowed us to finally conquer the dreaded creative block, regardless of a specific art form?

Creative block, I believe, still happens at times. Photographer’s block does exist, as does writer’s block. Creating work for a living has less to do with muses and inspiration and more to do with guidelines and deadlines, and, indeed, getting paid for your work. That should be a good enough incentive to start creating, and yet, it doesn’t always help break through the block, if you happen to hit a creative block.

Light Streaks. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Imagine you work on an assignment, such as a longer project that involves in-depth research, testing, submitting parts of your project on schedule, while keeping in mind the final deadline that, by the way, can change at a moment’s notice and, thus, can force you to reschedule and reshuffle and rethink every bit of work you’ve done so far, if necessary. You have to do the prep work that has little to do with the muse or creativity or inspiration and more with planning, organizing and thinking things through, researching, checking and double checking, and so on. And yet, sometimes, even after doing all that prep work, words and/or visuals still don’t come easy…or, at least the right ones don’t. That’s because of time pressure (tight deadlines) or sometimes the story we have to tell or the message we have to send through our work is so powerful that it doesn’t make it easy for us to find just the best way to capture it, to do it justice.

Velvet Branches in the night's wind. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Velvet Branches in the Wind. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald.

And yet, deadlines are pretty much set in stone, and clients want to see the project completed. And, so, what’s for us to do? Here are a few ideas that could help break through photographer’s block:

  • give yourself a moment to breathe (meditate, go out for a stroll, etc)
  • surround yourself with possible sources of inspiration for that particular project or assignment, for yourself and/or for the client/subject you photograph; for example, years ago, when photographing my “vampire” friend and model for a related photography book and show, he put on a song about…vampires; when I photographed NYC actor Steve Hayes for his one-man show Steve Hayes with a Hitch, he brought a CD with music from Hitchcock films; when I photographed NYC actor and celebrity host Ron B, she, also being a Tina Turner impersonator, brought with her a few Tina Turner songs to photograph on; and also, as you might have noticed by now, I’m a fan of Freddie Mercury, and years ago I wrote Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of award-winning, legally blind photographer Kurt Weston while listening to Freddie and Queen ; I still do, and to classical music, too
  • look through older images (your own images or work by other photographers) that could be included in or inspire your project
  • snap pictures with that particular project in mind; you’ll look at the surrounding world through the lens of that specific project, in terms of subject matter, place, time of day, lighting conditions, etc.
  • check out photo contests that have themes similar to the photo project you’re working on; this could be time consuming and research heavy, and usually time is of essence, so, maybe keep that in mind
  • give yourself self-assignments (and assign them a reasonable, yet limited time) to test out ideas for your project
  • take notes throughout the process, and take it one day, one test shoot, one idea at a time; some ideas might work, many might not, but you’ll learn a lot in the process and sometimes even discover things you were not aware of in the first place
  • if possible, allow yourself the time do figure out what works and what doesn’t work. And while time is a precious commodity, especially nowadays, give yourself that time, as a gift to yourself. See what happens….
The Magic Box. Photo by Alina Oswald.
The Magic Box. Photo by Alina Oswald. Originally published in A&U Magazine–America’s AIDS Magazine.

Happy creating!

And, as always, thanks for stopping by.

Alina Oswald

PS: If you want to share your thoughts on dealing with creative block, photographer’s and/or writer’s block or if you ever lived through one and are willing to tell the story, please feel free to comment. Look forward to learning from your experiences.

AO

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