Relaxing My Way Out of a Photographic Rut

No one is immune. Even as someone who has shot every day solid for upwards of 500 days in a row, I was still susceptible to falling into the dreaded artist rut. It happened at my least inspired time of year: the beginning of summer. No dreamy snow, twinkle lights, autumn leaves, warm fire, moody indoor scenes. When summer hit this year, I took a big hit. I stopped bringing my camera to family events and outings. I admired the breathtaking golden light of summer evenings, but I didn't run for my camera. 

I have gone through other smaller periods where my creative well has run dry. For all of those, the best solution was to push through. Or change up a lens. Try a new technique. Take a class. So when this one came upon me, I did all of those things. I tried every lens in my bag- I even tried wrapping a bag (a plastic one) around my lens after seeing the special effect on Facebook. I experimented with double exposure. I signed up for The Observant Photographer at the Click Photo School..... Nothing. helped.

So this time, I just stopped. Intentionally and a bit nervously, I put my camera down and turned my attention to other things. I gardened. I read a big stack of books. I enjoyed outings with my kids without the heavy weight of my camera on my shoulder. 

I used my iphone to capture events I didn't want to forget and I started playing with creative editing apps. One, in particular, really put a spark back in my step. The Brushstroke app (probably one of many) is an app that transforms your photos into rich, textured oil paintings. The first photo I tried it on hooked me on the app. It was this one: 

painting of kids on bikes at golden hour

After that, I still didn't feel the desire to pick up my camera, but I started shooting more regularly with my iphone and applying Brushstroke to every single image I posted on Instagram. This is not usually something I'd recommend. In general, it's not a particularly thoughtful way to process your photos: run every single one through a single and very narrow application! 

But here's the thing: Even though I was doing something that in my mind, was almost subversive (Would I lose followers? What would other photographers think?), every photo was making my heart sing. My photos looked like a Norman Rockwell summer. They reminded me how heart-breakingly beautiful this season of life is. And so for maybe the first time ever in my short little career as an artist, I stopped caring what other people would think and just started making art that made me happy. And that's what did it! Soon, I didn't feel the need to use the app any more. I continued to to shoot with my phone-- the simplest tool I had to boil down my observation skills. Then without warning, I started feeling the call to shoot with my Nikon. Even though I'm back to shooting every day with my camera, I'm still working on a summer Brushstroke set.

Every photographer is different. But my hope is this might help you: I relaxed my way right out of the biggest rut I've ever encountered. I gardened, read, and played. But I didn't totally put my beloved art out of my mind as I relaxed. It's more like I held it in a sheltered place where it could no longer be damaged by my negative, self-reproaching thoughts. I knew I still loved it and I knew it would be there when I was ready, but I needed to enjoy life to rediscover my reason for making photos. Even if photography is my "thing," I realize that to be good, I must dig deep into other parts of my life. Maybe, when the next rut hits, I need only to relax my way out of it.