Not a very positive article to post from the perpetually optimistic Alpha Whiskey, or to pull me away from the exciting Euro soccer tournament (although this particularly pedestrian game will forgive me the distraction of writing this). But on a recent escapade a friend of mine seemed to be missing her photographic mojo. I’m not sure what happened but it had definitely vacated her previously enthusiastic demeanour. Perturbed to see my friend so forlorn I rationed a few brain cells (not having that many) to consider this problem.
Plenty of articles have been posted elsewhere on how to defeat the inevitable slump that all photographers, both hobbyists and professionals, have from time to time. I won’t have any original ideas here. Most of the suggestions revolve around changing something about one’s photography and these are all perfectly valid. Pursuing a dedicated project, using just one lens, shooting only one colour etc. can all challenge one to see the world differently and re-ignite the fire of one’s enthusiasm. Bravo, internet.
Some people believe they need a new piece of technology, a new lens or camera to get excited about and make them want to get out and shoot. That can work. I’d be the first to put creativity and vision before the gadget but if a new focal length or higher ISOs take you to new frontiers than by all means go with them. Every once in a while I commit micro-four thirds infidelity by picking up my DSLR and shooting with that for a day.
My initial suggestion to my friend of finding other hobbies and pursuits may have seemed a little insensitive but there’s merit in taking a break and winding down from something you’ve invested yourself in. Revisiting it with a fresh eye, so to speak. And since I’m not in any way beholden to photography it was admittedly a little hard for me to empathise with her desolation. Personally, I can take photography or leave it. There are plenty of other things that interest and occupy me; photography is just one. Maybe that means I don’t have the pulsating passion for the craft and therefore the credibility of others, or maybe it means that I’m more fortunate than they are. Who knows? But if you put all your eggs in one basket don’t be surprised if they all crack when it drops.
There is usually more than one strand to one’s creative DNA. Photography doesn’t have to be the only outlet. If you are good at seeing things and framing things and composing things then there’s a ton of stuff you’re good at beyond photography, believe me. Don’t sell yourself short. Your talents aren’t limited to the confines of a viewfinder or LCD.
Anyway, she had other hobbies and enjoyed them in spite of her photographic slump so that wasn’t the answer. It wasn’t the gear either; she wasn’t obsessed with the latest technology and was perfectly satisfied with her current aging kit. Maybe she needed to travel somewhere or find a new location. I’ve shot London ad nauseam, for instance, but a recent trip to the top of the UK’s tallest building gave me a fresh perspective.
Nope. She’d recently returned from the Far East and prior to that, Australia. I reluctantly suggested she might try another buddy to shoot with (reluctant because she’s a beautiful woman and I enjoy her company). But to my relief she was happy to get drunk on Whiskey.
Perhaps a different subject? Like myself she wasn’t committed to just one type of subject. Goodness knows I get easily bored shooting just one thing so I could definitely relate to that. I’ll go from travel postcards to wildlife to food to landscapes with more vacillation than a serial philanderer. Tomorrow, everything has to be in black and white. The day after that everything has to shot with my macro lens. The day after that everything has to be ISO 25,600 – on my m4/3 sensor (cue laughter and finger-pointing).
Eventually we sussed that the emotional rewards were not as great from her photography as they once were. There was a time when just pushing the button and capturing a great moment were enough, and then rendering it even more gloriously in post was the icing on the cake. She could see familiar things differently each time but in the end it was just pushing a button. It was creative enough but it wasn’t enough. There had to be more meaning, more significance to it than just a pretty picture (at this point my head bowed, feeling slightly embarrassed).
This won’t be true or necessary for all of us, of course, but she’d reached that point beyond just taking pictures. They had to matter now. I suggested taking a course or a workshop, or going to an exhibition to draw inspiration from the work of others. Go to the library (a few of them still exist) and look at the works of great photographers past. Find out how images can be more than just art or story. Find out how they can captivate people or change minds.
No, she declared, instead she was simply going to take fewer photos, full stop. Perhaps just one photo a week. But it was going to be worth it. It was going to be something worth shooting. And over time she would develop a smaller body of hopefully more impressive work. Well, I thought to myself, that’s certainly one way of dealing with a slump. Instead of looking for ways to come out of it why not use the slump for potentially greater rewards? In true Alpha Whiskey fashion she turned it into an opportunity.
Maybe we don’t have to be out every day shooting something. Maybe we don’t have to compete with other photographers for attention or post something on social media every five minutes to prove we exist. Maybe, like this soccer match, there’s a greater value in the long haul, waiting it out for the right… no, the best moment, and ultimately being defined by and known for some quality rather than quantity. Shoot less. Be more. Not a bad idea.