Creativity is like a tap. You can turn it on if you know how, but sometimes, it can run out and trickle down to a drip.
Lately I’ve had conversations with a couple of friends who are very successful photographers. They have built businesses around photography, and they work some 12-16 hours a day, often more, shooting and preparing images and selling these to clients.
Lately though, our conversations have centered on feeling overwhelmed by all the photography they do. The problem is probably not that they are shooting too much, but that they are shooting too much of the same thing. They’re burned out, and it worries me that they are talking about quitting and ‘finding something else to do.’
Whenever a creative I know tells me they’re quitting, I get upset for several reasons. One, every single creative I know did not start their journey in photography with the goal of making money. They started out with the wonder of arranging the chaos of their surroundings into beautiful harmonies. Two, photography, like everything creative, isn’t a destination to reach but a path of lifelong learning to traverse and savor. Three, I believe that creativity isn’t beyond anyone’s reach, and it is one of the most enjoyable states of being. If you combine the joys of wonder, engagement and learning, you’ve got a heck of a potential for being happy doing what you do.
So how do you know that you’re experiencing creative burnout?
1. You start thinking about your couch in the middle of a shoot.
If you are in the middle of something you supposedly love, and you begin to think of less interesting things like sitting on your couch doing nothing, it’s time to step back a bit.
2. Your feet hurt, and a little voice tells you, you shouldn’t have booked this one.
Working too much on the same repetitive tasks brings boredom. Your capacity for creativity ranges from the end where you are not challenged and you get bored, to the end where your skills are challenged beyond what you can handle, and you get frustrated.
3. Dramatic lighting leaves you going, Yeah Yeah.
Light is one of the most important ingredients for a photograph. If great light leaves you indifferent, it’s definitely a sign that you’re burned out.
4. You don’t feel excited about carrying your camera around.
If you have the chance to carry your camera around and the thought itself makes you tired, you have creative burnout.
5. You scoff when people like me talk about passion.
We tend to push away the things that bore or frustrate us. If you are pushing away things that used to sound and feel good to you, it is a sign that the creative person in you is in danger.
If you experience similar signs as the ones above, all of which involve boredom, frustration, or indifference, there are a few simple things you can do to rekindle your love for photography and combat creative burnout.
1. Leave your camera at home, and go to a place that makes you feel peaceful.
Seeing the world through a viewfinder sometimes gets in the way of experiencing it. This sounds trite, but sometimes a photographer can get so used to viewing everything through the lens that he or she forgets that the world is so much more than that rectangular space. Freeing yourself from the frame can sometimes reframe your perspective and give you the nudge to try to capture what you find beautiful, again.
2. Watch a movie without analyzing lighting and camera angles.
Someone who picks up a camera, sometime in the beginning of their journey, has seen something beautiful and wanted to take that beauty with them. Movies are made the same way. Watching a movie just because it’s a great story can help you find a similar simple feeling, and this might be the spark that lights your fire for photography all over again.
3. Engage your imagination instead of your eyes.
The imagination is a powerful source of creative drive. Activating it by asking it to turn on by listening to music, a podcast, or reading is a great way to open the mind. Opening your mind will help you to free associate, or float from one idea to another in a relaxed way. This free association is often the source of those insights that move you to produce something creative.
4. Socialize with non-photographers who are creative.
Not just photographers, but musicians, painters, and others have to find their wellspring of inspiration in order to stay creative. Hanging out with creative people gives you a support system for your own creativity, and it also helps you tap into the enthusiasm and love that creative people have for their art. This support system is not essential, but it helps you keep fresh. Hanging out with artists not only is fun, but being in a creative atmosphere can spark imagination.
5. Watch a TED video.
I’ve been a great fan of TED for a long time, and what attracts me to the videos is the unconventional ways that the speakers think. TED videos open up connections between things that we may never have thought about, and are enjoyable to watch simply because the ideas that are discussed in them are interesting. One of my favorites is this creative talk that asks, Who Am I? Think Again.
6. Get pampered.
Taking time to step back and slow down is something difficult to do these days. You’re always connected to a huge community who want to talk to you and have you talk back. There’s wi-fi everywhere now pretty much, so it seems you have the obligation to always stay on the grid. But the thing is, attention takes energy, and if you are constantly paying attention, all that concentration is going to wear you down.
There is no reason why you can’t rest. A little rest goes a long way to rejuvenate your spirit. Going for a foot massage or a facial is something I sometimes do, just to stay still and have someone take care of me. Similarly, if you’re not in Asia where those things are very affordable, you can go out for a good meal or take a walk then sit on a bench in the park and just breathe. There are endless possibilities for simple things you can do to feel pampered, and you can give your concentration abilities a rest for a while.
7. Experience life through your other senses.
With the rise of visual media it’s hard not to use our sense of vision all the time, to engage with our world. But as a visual author, we tend to overuse and overwhelm our sense of vision, creating an imbalance. Balancing out our senses, and experiencing life through taste, touch, smells, and sounds might just be the trick to triggering a creative period.
Creative burnout is something that you might not be able to avoid when you are passionate and driven about photography. But there are signs to let you know when your drive has driven you to burnout. Knowing when to step back, give yourself a chance to rest and refresh your perspective can go a long way to combating creative burnout.
Taking care of your creative self helps you to keep the sense of wonder and engagement you found through your photography, and enjoy your world for a long time.