I wanted to write you this letter about the importance of staying fresh creatively by taking a break from your photography, not forcing you to take photos everyday against your own will.
Replenish your fields
If you’re a farmer, you cannot constantly force your fields to yield crops. There is a cycle: you put fertilizer in your fields, you plant seeds, you harvest your crops, and then you let your fields replenish nutrients, and you start the cycle over again.
A similar cycle happens with exercise and physical fitness. You workout, you eat protein, let your body recover (this is apparently when your muscles actually rebuild and grow), and then you start the cycle over again.
I believe there must be a similar cycle with our photography and creativity. We gain inspiration from other sources, we then go out and create art or photos, and then we need to take a break, relax, regain new sources of inspiration, and then create work again.
The problem is in today’s society, we are always told to be productive, efficient, and to always be working. There is little to no emphasis on the importance of rest, relaxation, and replenishing ourselves creatively.
Listen to our pain
Pain– we hate it. We take pain killers, wish we didn’t have it, and see pain as a sign of weakness.
However pain is one of the biggest blessings that nature has given us. Without pain, we wouldn’t know when to stop doing something, and when something is bad for us.
If we didn’t get pain in our elbows, our shoulders, or bodies after intense physical exercise, we would never take a break. Extended exercise and physical effort without rest often leads to massive injury that can debilitate us for months on end. Pain prevents us from crossing that threshold.
I feel that similarly in photography, the more we push ourselves, harder and harder, the more pain and discomfort we have. We feel “pain” in our photography either by not enjoying the photography process, by boredom, or by a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction.
For example, I know a lot of photographers who have done a “365” project where they’ve taken photos everyday. Honestly, it sounds painful. They force themselves to take photos when they don’t really want to, which leads them to take boring and mundane photos that don’t bring them any joy. Photography becomes more of a chore (like commuting and going to work against their own will) rather than being like a child, being curious, and having fun.
Embrace photographers’ block
I used to think that “photographers’ block” was something that needed to be conquered and overcome. I thought the way to do that was by forcing yourself to take photos everyday.
Now my philosophy has changed somewhat; I feel the best way to get over a “funk” in your photography is to take a break. Don’t force yourself to take photos if you don’t want to.
I think that any behavioral change which sticks happens when you actually enjoy your process.
For example, if you want to continue being motivated and inspired to take photos, give yourself this rule: only take photos when you want to, and only take photos of what you want to.
If you don’t like taking photos everyday, so be it. This might be a good way for you to focus on “less is more”, and only taking photos of things that bring you joy.
Also realize that as photographers, we don’t need to focus on how many photos we take, or our output. More is often less.
At the end of our lives, if you even have 1 photo that you are extremely proud of, you have done your job as a photographer. I hardly doubt there are any photographers who have taken 10,000 photos they are proud of.
What to do if you’re taking a break from photography?
If you’re bored of photography, don’t feel inspiration, or feeling lost– take a break. Discover new artistic avenues, and replenish your creative fields.
- Video: my friend Todd isn’t getting as much joy from photography, so he is picking up video. He is enjoying the video making process, the editing process, and how he can make stories. Video and photography share many different elements — you can find ideas from film to inspire your photography.
- Physical fitness: some of my most creative ideas happen when I work out. I think it is all the endorphins and hormones which excrete when I’m doing an intense workout session. Pick up powerlifting, weight lifting, body weight exercises, yoga, or any other form of physical fitness which is fun for you. Never exercise (or do certain exercises) that you hate– or else you can’t make it into a habit and routine.
- Music: I personally gain a lot of inspiration from music, especially hip hop music. I’ve recently been watching more music videos, which I love the cinematography, energy, and colors. The “Runaway” music video by Kanye West has inspired me to shoot more false-colors in my photography, and seeing how hard rappers hustle has also inspired me to work hard in my writing, photography, and teaching. Find sources of inspiration from other artists and integrate it into your work.
- Theater: I recently watched Cirque du Soleil in Vegas (“Ka”) and was blown away by the performance. Seeing how much work and passion went into it inspired me to make similar photographic spectacles.
I recently did an interview with my buddy Jacob Patterson from the Thinktank gallery in downtown LA. He gave an idea about creativity which I liked: treat your creativity like a gas tank. Keep filling up your gas tank with creative ideas from all different sources of information. When you fill up your creative tank to full, then all the ideas and creativity will just spill out.
Don’t forget what photography is about
Photography is all about making personally meaningful images that enhance your life. Photography isn’t about making photos.
So if your photography isn’t bringing you any joy at the moment, take a break. Put your camera away, focus on “being in the moment”, and bring back the camera when the urge arises.
Let’s say your passion for photography never returns. That’s ok. Perhaps you can find another creative outlet, whether that be painting, music, dance, theater, coffee roasting, or something else.
I have faith in you; live life to the fullest, but don’t forget the importance of resting (and taking a lot of naps whenever possible).
*August 1, 2016 with some lovely Sightglass coffee espresso made at Cindy’s family’s house in Orange County. Just finished a great workshop in la this weekend, and I’m full of all these creative ideas I want to share. Funny enough, I typed this all out on an iPad with the “IA writer” app with the touch screen. I guess whenever I’m inspired, the words just flow out of me without worrying too much about what tool to use to write. I guess it’s the same with photography — just photograph when you feel like it, and never complain about your tools. *