Stagnation as a Photographer or Creative

It happens. Why does it happen? Because we are human. Because we are not robots capable of single-mindedly focusing on making things without life getting in the way. Sometimes stagnation is the effect of things outside our control, and sometimes it is things that we definitely can control – many of these are the result of our extended focus on what we are doing, and not the other things (life) that we should be doing.

Take the time to ask yourself these three questions and answer honestly:

1. What are the things that cause stagnation that I cannot control?
2. What are the things that cause stagnation that I can control?
3. What are the things that cause stagnation that I cannot help to cause to my own creativity?

It might help to actually write them down…. this is how I best think, by writing everything out, either on paper or onscreen.


– get away from your usual location and try or participate in a very different activity
– spend time with friends and family – take a break from thinking about what you are working on
– get out of your comfort zone
– start a new project in a different style or medium
– go on a meaningful outing/trip/vacation
– get your head out of the project and find/start a new one
– identify sources of frustration and write them down
– create written lists of what you like and dislike
– look for another creative source of inspiration such as a writer or notable person or art form
– (a good one) stop paying attention to what others say – especially on social media
– nature – go barefoot outside…. in the sun if possible, and feel the ground with bare feet. The outcome might surprise you!
– sleep – get a really good night’s sleep
– exercise – feel a burning cinder of uncertainty in the pit of your being? Go running, do something physically strenuous or do some cardio and burn that stagnation up and out. Spend at least an hour at it. The natural high will help get you back on track.
– (my favorite and most effective) go on an “art date” – more about this in an upcoming post.

In my own work as a photographer, very often I get sick to death of photography. It seems everywhere I go I can’t escape it. I’m constantly asked about my gear, where I’m published or how so and so can get published. More often than not, I’m filtering out photography posts when I’m browsing the web and social media (one of several reasons I follow so few photographers). When I’m invited to a party or wedding, I’m almost always asked to bring my camera. Who wants to enjoy some time off and have to work at the same time? (Not to mention all the added editing/processing time afterwards). I realize most people don’t realize what they are asking, and that’s fine. I get it.

Does this mean I’m burned out and I’ve “lost my passion”? Of course not. Variety is the spice of life. Very few of us can do the same thing repeatedly without getting tired of it and feel the need for change. And very few of us have a limited range of passions.

For me, what I love most often overlap. I love photography – always have since I was a kid burning through rolls of film on my Kodak 110. I also have a deep love of impressionism in art, natural history, hiking across the American landscape, and writing about my experiences. There is almost always an overlap to one degree or another, and if I do get bored or tired with one aspect I can quickly switch to another without a noticeable loss of momentum.

When I do feel like I’m getting burned out or feel that stagnation feeling where I can’t create, it often seems like a downward spiral that I can’t get out of. Of course that’s a cop-out whenever we think this. We just need to change course or tap into some new inspiration.

Here are a few of the things that work really well for me:

– stop creating and take a chill pill
– give the brain a break from thinking….. try sports and beer!
– take myself on an art date (solo day of discovering new things at a museum, historical location, etc – you HAVE to go alone) where there is something significant, powerful, and bigger than my sense of self that gives me a sense of awe and wanting to know more. Local history is a big one for me!

What do you do to rekindle your creativity? Please leave your comments below so we can all collectively learn from our input and experiences.

About Rich Leighton

pro photographer. writer. husband. dad. traveller. bad drawer. peripheral visionary.

04. September 2012 by Rich Leighton
Categories: Inspiration, Productivity | Tags: , , , , | 13 comments

Comments (13)

  1. This is a really great blog. I very much agree with taking yourself on an art date. Get out and see a different art form in all it’s glory by visiting a museum or other galleries or just take a break

    Rich this is a very informative blog, keep it up, thanks

  2. Great article Rich.. and Im sure it will get a lot of people really thinking Thanks so much for sharing as this is going into my bookmarked faves! 🙂

  3. Thanks! I hope it will help those who are stuck. I started keeping a list of “fixes” about a year ago, and this post is a result of not being able to add to it anymore…..

  4. Great Article Rich.

    I’m felling this a little now. Love to shoot, but it seems I’m shooting the same stuff.

    Maybe I just need to go shoot something I’ve never shot?

    Thanks Rich!!

  5. GREAT article!!!! I really like the part of STOP paying attention to what others say – very TRUE! As far as what I do to rekindle my creativity is pretty much all above …. and often times I take my laptop and external hard drive to Starbucks and do my work there. I can get even more inpired or motivated by just being among other people – something about the energy movement in those places. 😉

  6. I don’t get many opportunities to use my creative side but this article has now inspired me to pursue it more in my off hours (I work in an office in the construction industry- ZERO creativity here). Thanks for giving some solid, thoughtful advice!

  7. Very thoughtful and excellant thoughts. I will repost this as getting stuck in a rut is true for anyone in any profession. It also shows why it is important to have a hobby (even if it is also our profession).

  8. You’ve hit the nail on the head Rich with your tips. Spending time on social media and reading about the over exaggerated lives that your colleagues are leading is both anxiety inducing and a brain drain.
    To free up your creative neurons and happy chemicals, a person needs to start by listening to their own bodies needs, not what is going on in the lives of others. Doing 300m sprints up and down a football pitch at least three times a week has a super effect on me. My focus is pin sharp at work where I start and finish tasks without distraction. Running is like the reset button on my body and brain. Anyone can do it and the harder you find the exercise, the more able I find, the brain becomes, to deal with what the day has to throw at me.
    I have learnt the hard way to say ‘no’ to doing work for friends as I like to keep my job and social life separate and not always be identified as the Photographer. Joining a club and not telling anyone what you do is quite liberating.
    Thank you!

  9. Really enjoyed this article 🙂 hope it is okay i have shared a little of it with my sites readers ( with full links back to the full article and also your profile 🙂 Again Nice Work!

  10. Great article Rich! It’s seems our paths are somewhat similar. I’ve been dong photography for 37 years. Fell in love with photography and art in my teens. It’s tough to keep the passion going and a fire burning. I do many outside projects or activities away from photography that inspire my creativity. It’s tough to always carry a camera with me, especially after a day long shoot in the studio and then taking it to an event that should be photographic or scenic. Great ideas in you post!

  11. What aids me in creativity are:
    Nature walk or run (I am a forever nature child) 🙂
    Change of scenery (feeling NYC with all my being after quiet, retired, out of season Sarasota was an incredible change that I still cannot fully recover from)
    Surrounding myself with other creatives (celebrating my and others’ from around the world art displayed in Times Square was truly unbelievable experience I will never forget)
    Having passion for life (realizing that every moment in life is precious while getting back my health)
    Wonder of every little and big thing, and thirst for knowledge (wondering the name of flower, insect, studying behavior of animal)
    Seeing ordinary things in extraordinary ways (being artsy, playing with light and different techniques)
    Always learning, experimenting, seeing, feeling, reading, observing and in turn creating something new and exciting.
    Just reading your post and writing this reply gets me excited to create something new. And it is the middle of the night. Lol!

  12. I love artist dates! They help us writer types, too. I snap out of my creative funks in a few ways: writing in a different genre, reading, or heading outside. Something about being in nature really helps inspire me.

    Great post, Rich!

  13. Thank you, Rich. I’m going to try this and see if it helps. Thank you for sharing this with me! 🙂

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