Top 5 Tips and Tricks for Beating Creative Block

I always struggle with creative block over the first couple of months of the year. Whether it's a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), or just that I miss the sunlight and the warmth, I find the long nights and brief days of Northern Britain hard going at times. And it's a shame really, because January and February are some of the best months for photography.

It's been an unusually tough start to the year for me though and I've found myself feeling unusually uninspired, a bit flat and suffering with the longest period of creative block I've ever experienced.

Like most people, I do get short periods where I struggle for inspiration and sometimes struggle to get out and shoot and, although this recent dry period has been unusually long, I always know that it won't last forever. 

Over the years, I've discovered many little tricks that have helped me to beat periods of creative block and I wanted to share with you my top 5 tips and tricks that I use to beat my creative block and regain my spark!

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Take a Creative Break

The Number one trick I've found to re-invigorate my creativity is to take a break. This might sound strange at first - beat creative block by not being creative?? But bare with me on this one.......

One of the reasons I find January and February so difficult is that there is typically a lot of self-driven pressure. I feel that I should be out taking amazing pictures and making the most of the conditions. However, this pressure only tends to put me off or make me try too hard.

If this sounds familiar, I strongly recommend having a break and some time away from photography. Try going out for a walk without your camera. You may only need to do this for one day, or you may need to do it a few times, but you will find yourself starting to look around and seeing compositions everywhere and ultimately, you may find that you wish you'd brought your camera along with you.

Nothing helps me increase my creativity than leaving my camera at home and going out for a hike in a beautiful place. I almost always see compositions that I love and the light always looks amazing when I've not got my camera with me. I log the locations in my mind and when I get home, I'm usually raring to go and can't wait to get back out, camera, tripod, lenses and all!

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Take the Pressure Off

My second tip for beating creative block is to take the pressure off and just enjoy the process of being creative.

I've mentioned above how January and February can lead to a lot of pressure for landscape photographers. The weather can be extremely changeable, giving great skies or misty mornings to capture; the sunrises and sunsets are at reasonable times so we can either get up a bit later than at other times of the year, or we can afford to go a little further afield for the shot. 

Other things that might add to pressure can include: unusual conditions, such as snow, frost, mist, or autumnal colours, where we feel we should be going out and taking amazing images. We may feel pressure from our social media; our friends and our followers might expect to see some great images. We may have client work or feel that our portfolio isn't really up to scratch.

Pressure can come from all kinds of places, sometimes imposed on us from other people, but more often than not, it is self-imposed pressure. Don't get me wrong, a little pressure can sometimes really inspire us to go out or shoot something when we otherwise may not. But too much pressure can cause stress which can completely choke the creative process.

If undue pressure to capture "the image" is stifling your creativity, taking the pressure off can free you up to be creative and to enjoy the creative process again. Go out for a shoot (or shoot at home, in your studio, or your garden) and promise yourself that you will not share any of the images you capture on social media, with friends or family, or with anyone else. Just take pictures for yourself and feel free to experiment and enjoy the creative process in its own right.

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Remember to Play

We can sometimes get a little serious about our photography can't we (I certainly fall into this trap from time-to-tine)! But getting bogged down in the serious side of photography can contribute to pressure and, as I've already discussed above, ultimately lead to creative block.

So, make time to play and experiment. If you're a landscape photographer, try macro or portraits and likewise, if you're a portrait photographer, go out for a walk and try some landscapes. You don't need to share the images you take and you might find a whole new area of photography opens up before you.

When I'm suffering with creative block I often try abstract photography, such as: creative blur, creative Photoshop, woodland photography, or macro (I sometimes use mini train characters to make silly and fun images - oh no, my dark little secret's finally out)!!

Basically, to beat creative block, play around with everything and anything that will allow us to be free to just have fun and be creative. Image sharing websites such as Flickr can be a great source of inspiration for new ideas and new techniques to play with.

I have a whole post of the importance of play here.

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Read for Inspiration

Beating creative block can be easier if you surround yourself with things that inspire you and books can be a great source of inspiration.

There are lots of high quality photography books from every genre imaginable. My favourite photo book for inspiration at the moment is a collection of Frank Hurley images (it's an old second-hand book that I think is currently out of print - but there are plenty of similar books for sale in shops like Waterstones or on Amazon). I've also recently bought a copy of the 10 year edition of Landscape Photographer of the Year and I read monthly magazines like Outdoor Photography for a regular top-up of inspiration.

But be mindful when looking at photography books.

A sure fire way of worsening creative block is comparing yourself to others. Look at images for inspiration, but if you feel yourself drifting down the murky waters of jealousy or of comparing yourself to other photographers and thinking things like, "I'll never be as good as that" or "They're so much better than I'll ever be - I might as well give up", put the book down and look for inspiration elsewhere.

Inspiration from books can sometimes come from the most un-likely of sources. I often read travel or adventure books, look at maps or route guides and even fantasy books such as The Hobbit can inspire me to get out and be more creative.

Find what works for you, be prepared to cast your net wide and away from just photography related books.

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Get Social

In essence, we are social beings and whilst photography can offer us some piece and quiet in an otherwise hectic world, it is sometimes nice to share the experience with others.

There are many ways to get social in photography. The obvious way is to go out with a friend who also likes photography. This can be a fantastic way of beating creative blocks as your friend may introduce you to new locations, different compositions, or areas you would never have thought of going to. I also find it incredibly stimulating when I go out with a friend, as it's so nice to talk cameras and photography with a like-minded person.

Another way to get social is to join a local camera club. These can be great little hubs where you can learn a lot for more experienced photographers. Camera clubs are easy to find on Google, just search for camera clubs in your area - most areas have at least one camera club.

If you don't know any photographers and you are either unable to join a camera club, or you find it's not really for you, you can connect with other photographers on Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Social Media is a fantastic way to connect with other photographers in your local area. But please remember to use your common sense and to be safe and always meet-up with someone you've never met before in a busy public place - remember, you know nothing about a person you've met online and, whilst the majority of people are decent and honest, some are not!

So, In Conclusion

These are my top 5 tips to beating creative block:

  1. Take a Creative Break
  2. Take the Pressure Off
  3. Remember to Play
  4. Read for Inspiration
  5. Get social

Now I'm not saying that this is a definitive list and there are many more ways to beat creative block and to get inspired. These are my tips and tricks that I use to get un-stuck and I really do hope this post gives you a starting point next time you feel stuck in the mud of creative block.

How do you deal with creative block? I would love to hear your strategies and how you deal with a lack of inspiration, so please comment below - I read all comments and will try to answer as soon as I possibly can.

Next week......Video of the Month. If you haven't done so already, please subscribe to my blog so you never miss a post!