Posted In Inspiration

When The Well Runs Dry
Overcoming Creative Dry Spells

Kyle McDougall | December 1, 2016

Creativity, passion, drive—these are all things that over time I’ve come to realize can never run constantly at a hundred percent. As photographers, we live creative lives with the next image always on our minds, constantly striving to take our work to the next level.

Both consciously and sub-consciously we analyze light, texture, shape, and form throughout our daily travels. We become obsessed with golden light, to the point of becoming extremely disappointed with ourselves if we miss the perfect sunset. We get soaked in rainstorms, just about near freeze ourselves in the winter, and get devoured by mosquitoes in the summer, all to get the perfect shot. It’s only inevitable that eventually we all hit a wall where picking up a camera all of a sudden becomes a struggle.

The further I’ve progressed in my career and the more photographers I’ve meet, I’ve begun to realize that we are pretty much all the same. Our landscape photography careers all begin with a discovery of the medium and then we’re soon propelled into a driven, sometimes chaotic journey, with the goal to learn as much as possible as quickly as we can. Eventually, without finding a proper balance, we all experience moments where we crash and burn. I can truthfully say that there have been many times where I have just not felt like picking up a camera for weeks. Without the excitement and passion to create, I know that I’m guaranteed to bring home images that lack personality and depth. Over the years I’ve learned and also been given some invaluable advice about living a life as a photographer, and how to deal with/avoid the dry spells.

 

The seed of your next artwork lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.David Bayles

 

1. Don’t Compare

With the digital and social media age, we’re constantly surrounded by amazing images from extremely talented photographers throughout the world. I know for myself, viewing other photographers images plays a strong role in my love for the medium, as it did when I first started. The only downside is that it can be easy to fall into the trap of comparing your own work against others without taking into account a number of variables. For some reason, we choose to ignore the fact that things never really come easy for anyone. It can be easy to sift through other photographers portfolios in awe without accepting the fact that they have created a body of work over a large portion of time—time that was filled with many mistakes, and a large amount of images that simply didn’t turn out.

Accepting failure and embracing mistakes with the realization that you learn the most from them plays such an important role in a healthy career as an artist—the same can be said for many things in life. It’s extremely important to be excited with every image you create, good or bad, knowing that you learn something every single time you’re behind the lens. None of us will ever be completely satisfied with an image as we are sure to create one that surpasses it shortly after. Make sure you enjoy the journey no matter how many rough patches you encounter!

 

lake superior, photography, landscape, coastal, ontario, black and white

 

 

 

2. Take A Break And Accept It

As I mentioned at the start of this article, most of us are all very similar in a sense that we constantly strive to take our work to the next level. This can get us to a point where we feel as though taking a break means getting left behind. I can certainly vouch for myself on that one. The reality is that this applies to any career or hobby in which someone is driven to push themselves and accomplish certain goals.

It’s important to realize how beneficial it is to take a break from photography, and not feel guilty about it.David Bayles

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that if you’re building your photography business you should take a couple of months off, but instead, start with a weekend where you do nothing photo related at all. Pursue other hobbies you enjoy and take your mind away from photography for a short period of time. You’ll be surprised how healthy it is for your career and will most likely regain some of that passion and creativity in a flash. I find it’s the times that I’m completely burnt out creatively that I actually start to work backward, second guessing previous decisions and finding it difficult to stick to a structured plan. It’s all about balance!

 

kyle mcdougall photography, canoe, photograph, movement, landscape

The canoe is my escape. Even though I’m always compelled to create images while canoeing, leaving my camera at home and getting out for a paddle always re-energizes me.

 

 

3. Try Something Completely Different

Routine is something that can easily creep up on an artist and limit what subjects they focus on, and the approach they take creatively. I know for myself, there were certainly times in the past where I had an interest in different subjects and styles, but felt like I needed to focus solely on the style of landscape images that I had created in the past.

At this point, I’ve learned the importance of embracing whatever interests you a certain point in time—even if it’s something completely different they what you usually capture. Don’t be afraid to break the rules or stray from the norm. Be adventurous and let your creativity loose. Even if you end up capturing or creating something that doesn’t become a long-term focus, you never know what techniques you may discover, or what style you might build out of your curiosity.

 

abandoned, ontario, motel, urban, exploring,

One of my newest portfolio projects focuses on abandoned places. This is a subject that interested me for many years, but for some reason I always had a hard time pursuing because of my commitment to my landscape work.

 

4. Remember Where You Came From

It can be extremely easy to focus so strongly on the present that you forget to stop and look back at the past. A lack of creativity usually originates from a feeling of dissatisfaction with your work. Again, not every image works out—to be honest a lot of images don’t. That being said, take the time to review your body of work from the day you started and focus on the images that did work. As you sift through your portfolio you are almost guaranteed to notice significant changes in personal style, technique, and ability.

Recognize how far you have advanced your craft, and give yourself some credit for all of the hard work that has brought you to this stage.David Bayles

Not every image works out, but that doesn’t matter, because what does is the perseverance and dedication to stick with it anyways. I know for myself, looking back at past work always brings a smile to face; on one hand because of the things that were just mentioned, but also, because I re-live memories. Each image of mine is one that I chose to create for a number of reasons, and it reminds me of all the amazing experiences that this craft has brought me.

 

awenda provincial park, ontario, landscape, sunset, ontario parks, photo, photography, nature, wilderness, light

 

It’s inevitable that we’ll all hit rough patches throughout our journeys. But by embracing the positives and avoiding certain mindsets the rough patches can become a lot easier to jump out of. I hope that this article can help you along your way. If you have any suggestions about ideas or techniques that you’ve found to help with sustaining creativity make sure to post a comment. I would love to hear what works for others!

 

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4 Comments

  • Claude Hamel December 4, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Very nice, again!

    Reply
    • Kyle McDougall December 7, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks Claude!

      Reply
  • Alfredo Mora December 7, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Kyle, thank you for providing the content of this website as a resource. I have very much enjoyed reading the blog entries, especially this latest one.

    Reply
    • Kyle McDougall December 7, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      You’re very welcome Alfredo. It’s nice to know that you’ve been connecting with the content!

      Reply

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