Over the last 6 to 9 months or so, I have been a bit flat with my photography. A really deep phase of CBA (Couldn’t Be Arsed) had come over me which I seemed unable to shake off. I would usually be keen to grab any opportunity to get out with the camera, however, over the previous few months it had to be something more special which forced me to get out, such as meeting up in Manchester with Brad & Barb when they came over earlier this year from the USA or disappearing up to Malham for some dark sky astrophotography. This got me thinking as to why I have gone through a bit of a ‘dry’ spell with an activity I really enjoy, and the possible reasons for the lull with some minor thoughts to shake it off.
Photography, like any other creative pursuit, can lead to burnout if you’ve been intensely focused on it for an extended period. The pressure to constantly create “stunning” images can become exhausting and this is especially common when your hobby morphs into a major part of your identity or when you feel pressured to excel in it. This then leads to monotony: doing the same activities or pursuing the same goals and a lack of variety or challenge can become boring over time. I’d argue that much of this is a subconscious desire to excel, and striving to constantly be better whilst not realising it, and that this pressure to continue ‘producing’ great images does take away the enjoyment. Only last year I went through a period of growth on Instagram (having largely given up on Flickr) – I quadrupled my following! I was posting images 3 times a week, and ‘Reels’ twice a week, (and thankfully ran out of decent stuff to post up). This intense posting on Instagram lead to a position of continual striving for perfection in an image – and the constant pursuit of an unattainable standard can become exhausting. The lack of satisfaction that arises from this state of mind then becomes self-perpetuating and, naturally, interest wanes gradually. Admittedly, over time interests and passions can and do change, but the need to constantly produce marketable content can really suck the joy out of the creative process. I suspect this is where I had got to with my photography. Having now re-evaluated Social Media I wouldn’t say stay away from it, but don’t allow it to become your master and only post stuff when you want to, and not because ‘the algorithm’ requires it. It’s all ephemeral anyway!
As we are all aware, and more so for those who attend camera clubs, competition and comparison with others are rife in clubs and within the photography genre itself – and this has become more prevalent with greater online presence in photography. Seems to be all about the prizes. I fully understand why clubs do this, however constantly comparing yourself to others or engaging in competitive aspects of photography with the desire to outperform others or to meet unrealistic standards can be mentally and emotionally draining and will also contribute to reduced enthusiasm for the art. I’m not a club member but have considered joining my local Photographic Society for the social side of things as I can be quite gregarious. I don’t think I’ll try the competitive side though. I’ve exhibited in local galleries and sold prints, so I don’t really need the sort of validation that comes from somebody doing the camera club judging circuit.
Another aspect of photography which can impact on ones desire to get out and do it is mental exhaustion. I’m not talking about the drain from the mathematics behind rocket science here, but part of the cycle to turn out high-quality images coming from processing digital images. If you push yourself too hard without taking breaks in order to hit a deadline for uploading an image, it can lead to mental exhaustion and reduced ability to “see” what you are actually aiming for when processing an image. Very lengthy Photoshop sessions can become a fun sponge. I now tend to leave pictures for a couple of days if I have had an intense session in Lightroom or Photoshop so I can come back to it with fresh eyes and then determine whether to carry on, or bin it.
Sometimes, you may find that you’re simply not feeling inspired by the landscapes around you anymore, or some landscapes just don’t ignite your passion at all. The Peak District just doesn’t do it for me – I cannot explain it, but it just leaves me unimpressed. I cannot get excited about that area at all. The lack of excitement about an area can also arise when you have photographed the same locations multiple times; it can be challenging to find new angles or perspectives – no doubt they are there, it is just that you are not seeing them. Weather conditions and seasons can greatly affect how much you undertake landscape photography. If you’re experiencing a long stretch of uncooperative weather or a season that doesn’t excite you, it can contribute to a dip in enthusiasm. For me, Summer is the worst time due to the light nights, and (occasionally) harsh daytime sunshine. Astrophotography is difficult too at this time as the light nights prevent good contrasts in the sky, and remove details – even in Dark Sky areas. However, do remember “There is no such thing as bad weather” when undertaking landscape photography. Isn’t that right, Pete? 🤔
As noted above, a short period of lack of inspiration then leads to a longer-term creative rut. Creative ruts are common in any artistic endeavour. You might feel stuck in terms of your style or the type of landscapes you’re shooting, which can lead to a loss of enthusiasm – loss of enthusiasm impacts inspiration… which then affects lack of achievement and starts a cycle of doom, spiralling ever downwards. Constantly comparing your work to other photographers, especially on social media, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and reduced enthusiasm for the art. This would be compounded by the feeling that your skills have plateaued, and you’re not seeing improvement in your photography – it can be discouraging. Photography is meant to be enjoyable and fulfilling, and if you lose enjoyment in it then it may be time to re-evaluate your approach or explore new genres. As noted above, there is a multitude of reasons for my lack of interest and they would make up a huge Ven Diagram with me at the centre!
To reignite my enthusiasm for landscape photography, I’ll be off to the Outer Hebrides for a short break in mid-October which will hopefully get the creative juices flowing – I just love the light, landscape and beaches up there. I’ve been chatting to friends who are interested in photography in the hope of seeking new sources of inspiration or experimenting with different styles. In conjunction with this, I’m thinking of joining my local photographic society – as previously noted, not for competition entries, as I don’t take criticism too well, but interaction with a wider group of people may get me firing on all cylinders again. Who knows?
The act of writing this blog post has focussed my mind on the reasons for my period of CBA, and made me remember that creative pursuits often have ups and downs – in my youth, I used to play in bands and write music, and the same happened way back then, so it’s nothing new. My conclusion to this rambling blog post is that it’s okay to take a step back, rediscover your passion at your own pace, and then start again from where you left off and move forward again, but practising moderation, maintaining a sense of perspective, and regularly reassessing the genres that are of interest and goals achievable from them.
Hmmmm… I think I’ll go and clean my lenses!