Overcoming Creative Dry Spells

by Kyle McDougall | June 1, 2014

© Kyle McDougallCreativity, passion, drive, these are all things that over time I’ve come to realize can never run consistently at one hundred percent. As photographers, we live creative lives with the next image always on our minds. We constantly strive 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, frostbit in the winter and 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’re 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 to learn as much as possible as quickly as we can. Eventually, without finding a proper balance, we crash and burn. I can truthfully say that there has been many times where I’ve just not felt like picking up a camera for weeks. Without the excitement and passion to go out and shoot, I know I’m almost guaranteed to bring home images that lack personality. Over the years I’ve learned/been given some invaluable advice about living a life as a photographer, and how to deal with/avoid the dry spells.

Sunrise and stream © Kyle McDougall

New Beginnings

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

1. Don’t Compare

With the digital/social media age, we’re constantly surrounded by amazing images from extremely talented photographers throughout the world. I know for myself, viewing other work plays a strong part 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 it never really comes easy to anyone. We sift through other photographers portfolios in awe without accepting the fact that they have created a body of work over a large period 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 are 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!

Stepping stones © Kyle McDougall

Stepping Stones

2. Take A Break And Accept It

As I mentioned at the start of this article, we’re all very similar in a sense that we constantly strive to take our work to the next level. This can get to the point where we feel as though taking a break means getting left behind. I can certainly vouch for myself on that one. Really, this applies to any career or hobby in which we are driven to push ourselves 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. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that if you’re building your photography business you should take a couple months off, but instead, start with a weekend or even a day where you do nothing photo related. Pursue other hobbies you enjoy and take your mind away from photography for a short period of time. You will be surprised how healthy it is for your career and will 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 backwards, second guessing previous decisions and finding it difficult to stick to a structured plan. It’s all about balance!

The way back down © Kyle McDougall

The Way Back Down

3. 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 the 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, focusing on the images that did work. As you sift through your portfolio you’re almost guaranteed to notice significant changes in personal style, technique and ability. Recognize how far you’ve advanced your craft, and give yourself some credit for all of the hard work that has brought you to this stage. 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 relive 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.

Misty forest © Kyle McDougall

A Trip Through Time

It’s inevitable that we’ll 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 other suggestions that you’ve found to help with creativity make sure to post a comment, I would love to hear what works for others!

About the Author

Kyle McDougall is a professional landscape photographer based out of Ontario, Canada. He strives to showcase the spirit of the land in hopes that others can both re-connect and grow a deeper appreciation for the wilderness. With training in both still photography and motion picture film Kyle has had the opportunity to develop his skills through both mediums. His career has taken him across North America from the wilds of Alaska to the shores of the East Coast working as both a cinematographer and photographer for television and print media. His goal is to inspire and educate others artistically, creatively and emotionally through images, workshops and writing. To view more of his work please visit his website: www.kylemcdougallphoto.com.

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