Photographing the same type of content over a length of time only leads to increased amount stress, scrutiny, and self-doubt. While we stick to our niches and genres of photography, it’s almost proven at this point that without consistent inspiration and motivation, our work seems to be a duplication of itself leading to the inevitable burnout of creativity. While burnout is so commonly discussed amongst creative professionals, we do very little to prevent it from happening in the first place which makes it hard to combat.
We reached out to 15 creative professionals to offer you tips on how to stay creative throughout your career without losing the integrity and passion for your art.
“Staying creative can be tough because burnout is fairly rampant with photographers. I found that you have to find new things to fall in love with throughout your career that keep you interested and motivated. Recently, for me, it’s been about getting to know my clients more and becoming more connected to them so I’m even more excited about telling their love story. I find the more emotionally invested I am a couple the more creatively motivated I’ve become.”
“Burnout is a real thing, and with everyone glorifying the hustle it’s hard to not feel guilty when you want to take a break. Soon you’ll get into a rut of not wanting to document your own family or create for yourself because you don’t want to see a camera. This is a good time to use something else to create. When I’m feeling like it’s become “work” I pull out my iPhone and get creative. That’s how I got into underwater photography. It was my release, and it all started with an Otterbox and an iPhone. Now I have a full underwater kit and shoot commissioned work. Being underwater has its own challenges that you don’t deal with on the daily so it’s exciting, fun, and very much freeing because you’re not fighting against what is expected and what is creative.”
“I like to think of my creative brain like a computer. Whenever it’s lagging, running slow, or just seems bogged down, often times what it needs is a reboot. The way I do this is by giving myself a small challenge to force me to use something that is not part of my standard process (a light, a lens, a technique.) For instance, I might say to myself, “for the next ten minutes you are going to shoot at f8, instead of the typical “wide open” f1.2 that you’ve been doing.” Or I might say, “Alright, Trevor go grab the 90mm Tilt-Shift lens out of your bag because it’s now the only lens you’ll be using for the next 15 minutes.” These challenges help to reboot my creative side and get outside that box of doing the same thing over and over again.”
“Get back to whatever excited you about photography in the first place. Often times we learn photography playfully in our immediate environment, but the career takes it into a completely different direction. For me, taking extended travel breaks and photographing the new experience takes me back to the feeling I had when I first discovered photography. I always come back to work with a clear mind to create.”
“I started 13 years ago shooting 100 weddings per year. The burnout was real after every high season. To stay creative and inspired, I found out doing art projects outside wedding photography kept me going. Right now I’m working on lino prints and I love it.”
“How to keep that creative spark burning is something I think about a lot in my career, and in life. I’ve learned to push myself outside my comfort zones whenever I can by avoiding patterns and routines. I find this keeps me on my toes and allows me to pull ideas from myself and the environment around me rather than doing the same thing over and over. If I am photographing at a venue that I’ve shot at before my goal is to never shoot in the same spot twice. There are more times than I can count where I’ve said to myself “How did I get myself in this situation? What was I thinking? I should have just taken the safe shot.” But when the dust settles I am usually amazed at the end result. It makes me feel like a true creative and keeps me inspired to push myself outside my comfort zone again the next time.”
“Travel has been my biggest inspiration. Exploring the world and connecting with cultures that have different wisdom, perspectives, and ways of being has helped me open my mind and heart to all kinds of new experiences. When I travel I’m outside of my normal life and my normal self. I see the world with fresh eyes and it helps me to love people and our natural world even more. I’m also passionate about exploring my inner world. When I’m continually growing and changing I feel fulfilled and creative. Everything in life can help me understand myself better; running a business, unpacking why something triggered me, reading a book, taking a course, meditating, etc. If I start to feel disconnected I reach out to my community of open-hearted healers and creatives. Simply being around them helps me to reconnect and remember who I am. When I’m filled up inside I can let creativity spill out.”
“We are creatures of habit and prone to a routine that keeps our minds in the same creative space. I do my best to disrupt patterns in my life and open myself up to new experiences. On a whim, I went to a friend’s cafe on a Monday night to randomly see a visiting musician who was touring the country from Japan. I was one of five people in the room that night and it ended up being one of my favorite musical experiences. Afterward, I invited the musician to shoot with me the next day and I was so fortunate to happen upon such a creative and interesting subject. Get out into your city and try something different for a change. You never know what opportunities will present themselves or how inspiration will strike you.”
“Jesh de Rox says it best, “If you want to make interesting work, live an interesting life.” That, and learn from our kids (the most creative, imaginative humans on Earth).”
“Ever since I began shooting 35-45 weddings per year, I always find myself hitting a hard creative rut right around the 3/4 mark of the wedding season. I feel like everything I do is repetitive. Everything is similar to some other shot I took earlier. I start to feel like my creativity that came so easily in the first half of the year, after a couple months of downtime, really becomes difficult to pull out. It was about 4 years ago that I started really feeling it, so I started shooting film at weddings. Shooting a different medium seemed to really help. Shooting film is a lot different than shooting digital, so it really forced me to switch things up. I did the same thing the following year. Due to the price of film and getting it scanned, it wasn’t the best move financially so I needed to try something else a couple years ago. Being that I’m an ambassador for Leica Camera USA, they often ask for new work so I decided to use that as an excuse to start giving them something other than just wedding photos. I began doing a lot more shoots with local models, something I still do today but more-so throughout the year now. When I photograph a model my approach is very different then it is on a wedding day. Obviously, for the fact that there’s only one subject but I’m not shooting in a photojournalistic style. I’m not anticipating moments. I’m working in a completely different style and it really helps avoid creative burnout. Burnout can really affect you as a wedding photographer and the end product that you deliver to a client. Try to switch things up, use lenses you don’t typically use that often, try different lighting techniques, or start to really push yourself in areas that you may struggle in. The other idea I would offer is what I’ve been doing the past couple of years which is to find something else to shoot besides wedding photography. It can also open up other doors to help financially as well.”
“To keep my creative spark going, I really enjoy going outside of my usual genre of wedding photography, and doing creative portraiture for actors and musicians. The organic, creative vibes they come to their shoots with always fuels my soul, and I come away energized and inspired by their creativity that they lend me on the shoots.
It’s a different vibe when you get to work with fellow creatives, and the ability to bounce concepts off one another — as well as knowing when you say, “Hey, I have an idea…” — is a beautiful thing, and the collaboration always comes out looking a little different. I love it, and I hope I can continue to create for creatives in the future.”
“I stay creative by staying curious, by always learning and improving, and then by acting on that curiosity by playing outside the lines. I find that maintaining creativity is particularly difficult when I’m not pushing myself to learn or when I get too complacent with what I have already learned. The more I know the more I realize what I don’t know, and that motivates me to explore further and try harder. Then, once I’ve explored, I can leave the path, and that’s when things get really fun. Put another way, each time I learn something new, it’s like adding a new color to my paint palette. Once I’ve mastered that new color, it’s time to paint outside the lines.”
“I stay creative by saying “YES” to work outside of photographing weddings and will often seek out new opportunities that get me out of my comfort zone. In the early days, I would turn down non-wedding related work because I was only focused on weddings and engagements. This was great for a few years however over time I began to hit some creative roadblocks. Over the last two years, I have been saying “YES” to a wide range of portrait work and I have been blown away by not only the amazing stories I discover about my clients but also how far I can push my creativity to showcase their story with bold creative artwork.”
“I try and combine my love of travel and photography to break out of my creative rut because sometimes it gets bad. Hanging with a group of friends, exploring somewhere I’ve never been and shooting with my small discreet Fuji making photos that please only me, meeting new people on my travels gets me revved up to get back to work and takes the pressure off.”
“Sometimes you need to step back and not give a sh*t what other photographers or award societies will think of your work. You need to look introspectively and ask yourself what’s important to you and how your emotions color (for the lack of a better word) the people you photograph. I sometimes have a very emo way of looking at things and my photos can sometimes be on the moody or dark side. I am obsessed with themes related to inner struggle/conflict, deliverance, and redemption. I like shooting underwater to draw out these themes and emotions.”
What are some of the ways you stay creative throughout your career? Let us know in the comments below.