Overcoming Creative Blocks | Photography Unfolded

Overcoming Creative Blocks

 In Tips + Tricks

Happy New Year! And new decade!! The new year often brings the best intentions. Photographically speaking, maybe it’s to start a new project or shoot more often, take more classes or workshops 😉 . All great ideas. The winter doldrums can also bring creative blocks. I know it’s happened to me many times. And I’ve been asked how I overcome these. There’s no magic to it and sometimes it’s just allowing myself a bit of a break. But if you want to be more proactive about it. Here are a few suggestions.

Get in a Routine

“I always say that inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” – Chuck Close

Pick, at the very least, one day a week to get out and shoot. Make it the same day and time, if possible, to create a habit that’s easier to stick with. Then get out there and make some photos whether rain or shine. When my kids were really small, before they were old enough to be in school, I hired a babysitter for one day a week for 4 hours so I could get out and shoot. Nothing like money on the line to force me to get out there and shoot regardless of weather or mood. Also, if I didn’t take advantage of it I’d have to wait an entire week for another chance to make some photos.

Set Limitations

 “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” – Orson Welles

Pick a theme for the day. It can be as easy as a specific color, reflections, shadows, framing, a specific location. Pick one camera and one lens. The more limitations you put on yourself, the more creative you’re forced to get. Not to mention, you start seeing things you wouldn’t see otherwise. Below, all the images were shot within 2 hours of each other on the same day only using my 14-24mm lens with the idea of searching for lookup shots and reflections. Lots of restrictions, right? I could add blue to that idea too, but that was something I noticed after the fact.

Start a New Project or Series

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”  – Jonathan Swift

This can be something that you do for a week, a month, a year or many years. It’s up to you. It can also be something as simple as revisiting the same subject every week and choose just one thing to change about the circumstances…your lens, the time of day, technique, what you plan to focus on for each visit…the whole subject or just a piece of it. You don’t need dozens of photos from each visit. You need one solid one. Build up a body of work. This is just one idea, there are so many ways to create a series. Buildings from one architect, sculptures, staircases, the list goes on. It can be subject dependent, mood dependent, a unique way to see the city you live in. Even those 365 projects steer you in this direction. However, the more specific the idea you choose for the 365, the more interesting and unique your images will be. This kind of ties in with setting limitations. However, if you’re super stuck and don’t even know what to shoot, the 365 can be great to, at the very least, force you to shoot regularly. I guarantee by the end of the year you’ll have favorites which can help guide you to a more specific theme, style or project you want to continue with.

The first series or project I ever had this kind of focus on was my From the ‘L’ series. This came after a pretty rough 365 series. Yikes, if you want to see some bad photos, dig deep on Facebook for those treasures. But, I’d venture to guess, in some way it got me where I am now and to greater focus even if I can’t quite find the link. Anyhow, back to that ‘L’ series. Each week I’d choose one of the Chicago train lines and ride it from end to end photographing the city from this vantage point. Same day of the week, same time of day, same camera and lens (24-70mm), all sorts of weather.


Get Inspired

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”  – Henry David Thoreau

Head to a museum or art gallery. Explore art outside of photography too. And even things you don’t think you like. You never know what will stick with you or help you see the world in a new way. Read a book or magazine or watch a movie in a different genre than you usually prefer.

Attend a Class, Workshop or Conference

Always do what you are afraid to do.-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes you need a little jump start or a little push. A class or workshop can be the perfect solution. Not only will you be more likely to show up because you paid a bunch of money for said classes/workshops but if you don’t, you’ll get some questions as to where you were. Don’t underestimate that whole accountability factor. Also, being around like-minded people can certainly renew your enthusiasm for creating.


Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Find a friend in a different genre of the arts than what you focus on and find a way to keep each other moving forward. A writer, a musician, a painter, photographer that shoots differently than you do. It’s all about exposing yourself to different views of the world.

I did this about 8 years ago with a writer friend. I had just quit doing portrait work and had no clue what I wanted to focus my energy on photographically. So, each week I was tasked with sending her a photo and she would write a blog post inspired by that photo. This was a perfect match at the time. I was finding my bearings as a photographer and she had just left her career in law writing. We both needed motivation and accountability. Win win! It was fun to see what thoughts and ideas that image brought out in her. Sometimes very similar to what I was thinking or feeling, other times vastly different. Quite interesting to see how others view your creative endeavors.

I later collaborated with a painter and even other photographers. Chris Smith, to contribute images to his blog very early on and most certainly Michael’s style of shooting architecture has influenced me as well.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote related to photography…

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”   – Ansel Adams

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