Articles: "Beating the Photography Blues"

It happens to the best of us at one time or another. After days of careful research, the thrill of buying your dream camera, and that initial period of excitement using your new acquisition, there comes a time when you don't even pick up your camera, never mind take a photo with it. This may be caused by other pressing commitments, such as family and work, or perhaps the novelty wears off, or maybe it's simply because the weather is awful and you'd rather stay indoors and watch Eastenders. Whatever the reason, once you have recognised that you're going through a lean spell, how do you get out of it and start being a photographer again? It's been a couple of weeks since I got back from a 3-week trip to Tenerife, and I haven't taken a single photograph for one reason or another, so here are my ideas for getting out of that creative rut. Now all I have to do is try and follow them!

1. Start a Photoblog!

As the owner of a popular photoblog (this one, silly!), this is an obvious idea to start off with. If you haven't noticed, Weblogs have been one of the growth areas on the Internet during the past couple of years, and Photoblogs are an important part of that growth. It's never been easier to establish your own little interactive gallery on the Web, where you can share your photography with whoever cares to stop by and take a look. Once it's setup and running, you will find yourself regularly taking photographs just so that you have some new material to post on your website, which can only be a good thing.

You don't need to be a web-design wizard to get your site up and running - there are loads of Weblog software packages that are either free or inexpensive which you can use. You just need to get yourself some webspace and a domain name, install the software and away you go.

PhotographyBLOG uses a package called pMachine Pro to provide the weblogging parts of the site. If I recall correctly, this cost me a mere $49 when I purchased it just over a year ago. As well as being cheap, it was also pretty straight-forward to install and then configure to the look and feel that I wanted. There is a very helpful support forum plus various add-ons that provide additional functionality. The makers of pMachine have just released a new product called Expression Engine which you may also want to check out.

In the interests of fairness and equality, here are links to a few more of the better-known weblog packages:

If I still haven't managed to convince you that having your own Photoblog is a great idea, then take a look at some of my favourite blogs to see what can be achieved:

2. Visit a new place

There's nothing quite like visiting somewhere that you've never been to before to open your eyes wide and make you reach for your camera. Maybe it's just me, but I'm always at my most productive when I visit a new location or find myself in a new situation.

Tenerife is a great example - both before and after my visit, I've taken very few photos here in Britain, but during my visit I took several thousand photos in a 3-week period. Having nothing to do all day except wander round, taking photos in the sunshine and eating nice food certainly helped, but the simple change of location was the biggest factor.

You don't have to travel abroad for such a long period of time to get your creative juices flowing again. A visit to a nearby town, a picturesque spot in the country, or the seaside will provide the perfect excuse to blow the dust off your camera and load some film/insert a memory card. If you live in the country, visit your nearest city for a completely different experience, and vice-versa if you live in the city.

The new place may only be a few miles away from where you live - we all tend to overlook what is nearby in favour of what we perceive as more interesting locations. Several of the photoblogs that I mentioned earlier are currently posting photos taken in London, where I currently live (they all seem to be visiting England's capital city at the same time!). A lot of the photos are of places that I have never seen before, despite only being a 30-minute tube ride away. So London is a rather extreme example, but I bet if you take a look at a map there are several interesting local places that you have never visited before.

Visiting somewhere for the first time is a guaranteed way to get you out of a photographic rut. You may not take fantastic photos as you madly rush around snapping whatever moves (or doesn't), but then you have the perfect excuse to go back and visit again later!

3. Attend a public event

Attending a public event is both a good way to get back into the swing of things from a photography point of view, and also helps to overcome any fears that you have of photographing people. Pointing your camera at someone is often one of the hardest things to do as a photographer, but at a public event people will expect to have their picture taken, whether it's by the professional with all the expensive kit and the press-pass or the amateur who has arrived early for the best view. If someone doesn't want to be photographed, they will soon make it obvious, but you will find that most people will just ignore you, and some may even stop for a chat!

Public events are usually one-of-a-kind occurrences that offer something completely different to the usual things that you photograph. Whether it's a public march against the war with Iraq, a trip to the circus, or a local football match, all of them will provide a different challenge, make you think about what you are doing and therefore get your brain out of neutral and into a higher gear.

Public events are also something that you can plan for and work towards. You will know that on Saturday next week you will definitely be at such-and-such event as a photographer, so you can prepare for it accordingly and maybe even get excited about it. They give you a concrete reason for getting out there and using your camera and because they usually only happen once, you will feel compelled to attend them, whatever the weather.

Photography magazines often list upcoming events on a national scale, but the best place to start is your local newspaper or website, which will feature similar smaller-scale events. Pick out a few that interest you, make a note in your diary and make sure that leave the warmth of your armchair and attend them!

4. Carry a camera everywhere

The first thing that I want to admit is that I don't actually do this myself. I drive to and from work everyday along a motorway and sit in the same office for 8 hours, so there isn't too much opportunity for creative moments. Therefore I don't currently own a compact camera, and I don't lug my EOS 10D around everywhere with me either. Even so, there has been the odd moment or two when I've really regretted not having a camera to hand.

So if your journey to work is a little more exciting than mine, or better still if you don't actually have to go to work (!), then a small, pocketable camera could prove to be the ideal way to keep your photography alive and interesting. It doesn't matter if the end result doesn't match the quality of your main camera - just so long as you keep taking pictures and looking at the world through the eyes of a photographer, rather than as a passer-by. Even if you only take a few shots every other day, that's a lot better than only going out once a month or however often you go on a photography day-out.

5. Enter a competition

Entering a photography competition can be a great way of defeating the photography blues, especially if you are required to try something new in order to enter. Just selecting an image from your existing library of photos and entering it is not what I'm talking about here - you need to either select a competition with a theme for which you have no suitable images, or force yourself to go and shoot something new.

Competitions are good because they impose a deadline and they challenge you to do the best that you possibly can, simply because other photographers are doing exactly the same thing. You can't be late with your entry and you can't be half-hearted about it either - perfect for getting you out of the armchair at least several times in the next few days/weeks.

Best of all, you could even win a prize for all that effort! The old adage is "you won't win unless you enter", so don't be intimidated if you think that previous entries are beyond your photographic capabilities - how will you know until you try? And even if you don't win that latest and greatest digital gizmo, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you've given it your best shot and that you have started using your camera again.

Most of the major photography magazines run year-long competitions that have monthly rounds with specific themes; in the UK, Practical Photography, Photography Monthly and Amateur Photographer all do this. Each round offers a prize, with an even better prize going to the overall winner.

Alternatively, there are lots of websites that run regular competitions. You could even enter the PhotographyBLOG March Competition! This month's theme is Springtime and the prizes can be found here.

6. Set yourself a theme or project

A lot of amateur photographers, myself included, will go out for a few hours, camera in hand, with no real idea of what they want to shoot. Personally I don't think there's anything wrong in doing that - a great photograph will often present itself in the least expected of places - just so long as you don't do it all the time. All of my tips are based on breaking the routine and trying something new, so if you always go out with only a vague idea of what you want to shoot, you are already falling into a routine. Worse still, if there is no continuity to what you are doing there is no way of measuring if you are improving or not. Setting yourself a specific project may sound a bit too much like being back at school, but it can help to give some much-needed structure to your photography.

Photography projects don't have to be several months or years long, as is often often suggested. During my recent 3-week trip to Tenerife, I quickly noticed that Santa Cruz had a lot of derelict buildings with interesting doorways. Most of them were numbered and had faded, peeling facades that were a photographer's dream. Or at least I thought so anyway. Before I knew it, I was stopping and taking photos of every old doorway that I could find, driving my girlfriend crazy in the process. 3 weeks later and I now have hundreds of old doorway photographs, which are quite interesting individually but even more so when taken as an overall project. I haven't decided how to present them yet, although I quite like the idea of compiling thumbnails into one master image. I didn't go to Tenerife with the intention of photographing doorways (I'm not that mad), but once the basic idea had taken root, it was hard to stop.

A project can quickly form a body of photographs that works both as a whole and as individual images. Having one great photo of the swan on your local lake is fine, but what if you had a series of photos of the swan through the seasons, in flight, with its young? You would have a great collection of images that tells a story, rather than just a single image that captures one particular moment in time. And best of all, you would have been on many photography trips in order to get those images, returning again and again to improve the quality of your photos and the quality of the overall project. Which is the whole point of this article - to get out there and start taking photographs again :-)

So there you have it. 6 relatively simple ways to beat the photography blues. If you have any more bright ideas (and I'm sure that you will) then click the link below to post them.

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