Teach Yourself To Photograph More

crosswalk, crosswalk button, walk button

Sometimes I get tired.  I run a few businesses, have a fiancée whom I love to spend time with, a phenomenal family I love seeing, and now some plants in my house that need watering… Or don’t…  Who really knows with these things?  Life is hectic, I love it but it’s crazy sometimes.  I’m sure you’re dealing with just as much, if not more, and sometimes it’s tough to carve out time for your passions, like photography.  With all the crazy stuff that life throws at us its paramount that we get time to do all the things we love.  It keeps you healthy and happy.

So why does it seem so difficult to pick up the camera, something we love doing, and create photographs sometimes?  Is it a lack of inspiration?  No motivation?  Or just too damn tired?  Sometimes one can hide behind the other and if we don’t know what the issue is we can’t overcome the reluctance to shoot.

Identify The Cause

In order to defeat your reluctance to pick up your camera and go photograph some cats, clowns, dinosaurs, or whatever it is you like to photograph you need to identify what it is that is holding you back.  Is it an issue of motivation?  Inspiration?  Are you too tired?  Does your wittle tummy hurt?  If you can’t pin point the reason, you can’t expect to know how to overcome it.  Make sense?

It’s as simple as taking a moment to reflect on the day ahead, if you were to pick up the camera.  The what, where, and when questions are helpful to gauge your inspiration and motivation.  If you’re too tired then the only question you need to ask is why.  Let’s take a look at motivation, inspiration, and feeling like a bum.

Inspiration

The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

What inspires you?  There are very few people in this world that could say they have a continuous source of inspiration that’s overflowing all day, every day.  Part of me thinks that would be nice and the other part thinks that’s what turns you into those people you see walking down the street dressed completely in neon pink with their three cats stuffed in their purse (or satchel if it is a man) and a license to be weird.  Constant inspiration is rare, without constant inspiration it can be difficult to get the urge to engage in photography (or any art for that matter) for if you are not inspired your reluctance to pick up the camera can feel overpowering.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, a significant other, music, movies, reading, looking at other photographs, any or all of these wrapped up in one could be an excellent source of inspiration for you.  Think about what it is you’re doing when you get that feeling that you could go out and accomplish anything and do more of it (unless it’s drugs).  Surround yourself with things that inspire you.  Up until about a year ago all of the photographs and painting on my wall were purchased because they made the rooms they were in look nice, they went with the decor.  Now though, every painting and image hung on the walls of my office and house are there because they inspire me in some way.

Find your sources of inspiration and fall back on them.  When you are feeling like you are out of ideas and you’ve photographed “everything” there is to photograph around you tap into a source of inspiration.  If photographs inspire you then hang them on your wall in your home and make it a point to revisit them.  It’s too easy to hang paintings and photographs on your walls and never look at them, you need to force yourself to visit each image that inspires you and spend more than a second thinking about it.  Try this one morning before you head out of the door and I promise you’ll feel better about the day ahead.

Motivation

Motivation is the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way, it’s what powers us through even the most mundane tasks in life.  What motivates you to take photograph?  Is it money, attention, a source of inspiration in and of itself, approval from someone?

Just like identifying what inspires us, it’s important that we know and reflect on what motivates us.  There are two main types of motivation; Extrinsic and Intrinsic.  Extrinsic motivation is the motivation we get from external factors like money, rewards, praise, etc..  Intrinsic motivation comes from inside of us, similar to completing a puzzle and feeling that rush of accomplishment that comes from solving something difficult.

Photographers, I’ve found, draw a little from both extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.  This is a generalization of course, it’s impossible for me to say which method motivates you.  Most photographers are motivated by the desire to have social acceptance, you want people to tell you your photographs are impressive.  It would be weird if you didn’t.  I’ve also never met a photographer who wouldn’t sell an image if asked, it would be great if your passion could also pay the bills.  Right?

Intrinsically, there is an amazing feeling that comes over you when you upload your images to your computer and you come across one that, to you, looks amazing.  It’s a feeling of self accomplishment.

Staying motivated takes work, it’s a lot like pushing a snowball down a hill…  The more you work at it the more motivated you will become (the further you push the snow ball the larger it becomes).  Below are a few ways you can increase your motivation.

Set Clear And Measurable Goals

It’s important to know what you want out of life.  All the motivation in the world won’t do much good if you don’t know where to direct it.  Setting a goal in photography could be as simple as choosing to do a 365 project (taking at least one photograph each day for a year) or starting a photography project/series.  I prefer photography projects, I find that it’s hard to run out of things to photograph if I always have a project to fall back on.

Track Your Results

If you set clear and measurable goals it should be fairly easy to track whether or not you’re reaching them.  Keep a journal of your goals and the progress you’ve made.  Remember that this only works if you actually revisit the journal and update it, I’m guilty of forgetting this step from time to time.

Reward Yourself

When you’ve met your goal, reward yourself.  It’s that simple.  Tell yourself “I’m going to go photograph for 2 hours this afternoon but when I get home I’m going to reward myself with watching a movie with my significant other.”  You may find that once you’re out taking photographs the experience itself is quite rewarding.

Find Someone To Hold You Accountable

If there were a secret recipe to success I would say this is up there.  Find someone who has a similar taste in photography to yours and hold each other accountable.  Set up times to meet up and do photo walks, discuss your goals with each other, and even collaborate on projects.

It’s OK to want to compete with your friends.  It’s pretty amazing what kind of motivator competition can be.  I’m a very competitive person so when I started my first business I would constantly set my goals around beating my friends who started at the same time as I did.

You’ll find that there are a lot of similarities between motivation and inspiration…  If you improve one you’ll most likely improve the other.

Low Energy?

Low energy or a constant tired feeling is worse than lacking inspiration and motivation combined.  You could feel inspired and motivated but still struggle if you can’t muster up the energy needed to act on these feelings.  There are a ton of factors that contribute to low energy including depression, lack of sleep, poor diet, and many other health related ailments.

Just like above, you need to identify the reason you’re so tired.  This may involve a visit to the doctors, keeping a journal of the food you eat, or simply taking a moment to reflect on your life style.  Once you identify the reason you can start to correct it and you’ll find that you will be able to act when you feel inspired or motivated.

It’s worth noting that there is another very serious culprit that saps us of energy…  Laziness.  This is the worst of them all.  Without going into a huge rant about how lucky we are to be able to function in a capacity that allows us to enjoy photography let me leave you with this:

I believe each of us is born with a specific gift or talent, something that would allow us to leave our mark on the world…  Maybe leave it a little better than we found it.  There is a finite amount of time we have to realize this gift; one lifetime.  It’s paramount that we ask ourselves what we would say if, after we die, we are asked “And what did you do with the gift you were given?”     

One of the smartest women I’ve ever known taught me long ago that when there is a difficult task ahead, or something you plain just don’t want to do, making yourself just start it will motivate you to continue and complete it (thanks mom).  I have applied this to my businesses, my relationships, as well as my passions.  This single concept is the sole reason I’m able to sit here and write this in the hopes that a tiny sliver of inspiration reaches out and gut punches you into action.  What motivates or inspires you?

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3 Comments

  • good article, as always, John. Get rid of the plants — there, now you have an extra 10 min. every few days. You’re welcome.

  • I’m motivated by the frustration of not using the camera. So I pick up my camera and start looking for anything. Colors, shapes, textures, architecture, people, animals, plants and anything else you can think of.

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