5 Tips to Break Out of the Creative Rut

Guest Post from Dale Benfield, a wedding and portrait photographer from Northwest Arkansas. Capturing timeless moments that tell the story of every wedding, Dale works with his wife Meredith as well as his lovely team of photographers to create amazingly unique images for every single client.

I have a friend who runs an art driven non-profit and recently she was met with some pretty massive opposition. From an outside perspective it seemed that giving up was the only logical solution. As a second wave of creativity and motivation hit her, she posted a photo on her Instagram that read, “Remember why you started.”  The quote is not a new one, a simple google image search will reveal dozens of variations and illustrations of the quote, but it IS a relevant one to all of us in the business of serving and delivering art to our clients.

When I started shooting for clients it was 1998, and I was 18 years old. I was fresh out of high school, and I was looking for a fun gig to pay my way through college. I never thought that photography could actually be my career. I shot because I enjoyed it. I shot because I loved seeing the look on my clients’ faces when they saw their images. I shot because it gave me a thrill to share my vision with others. I loved recording moments in time that my clients could look back and relive. It’s an important service we (as photographers) provide, yet we often need reminded that the moments we capture will be treasured for generations.

I’ve forgotten that many times over the past 15 years. Bogged down with mortgage payments or busy with dance recitals, it’s easy to forget why I chose to be a photographer as my career. Queue the burnout. The “important” things, like mortgages and keeping a tight schedule and paying sales tax (among others), make it really easy to lose focus of what’s at the heart of being a photographer: the art… the moments… the vision.

Here are 5 quick tips to stay inspired with your photography:

1. Write it down.

No matter where you are in your photography career, I encourage you to write down the reasons you wanted to be a photographer when you started. When burnout starts to set in, pull out your reasons and read them again and again until it sinks back in. Read them over and over until you snap out of it.

2. Try something new at every shoot.

Creative ruts are much more difficult to conquer, but don’t worry! I have a few tips on this as well. The first thing, which I’ve written about in a past post for the blog, is to try something new at every shoot. Whether it’s a pose or a location, trying new things every single shoot will give your brain practice at extending your creativity on a regular basis. At a recent out-of-town wedding, Meredith and I ran into Walmart for batteries before a wedding and she decided to grab bubble-blowing guns from the kids’ aisle. We brought them to the wedding, photographed the couple’s portraits with them, and we all loved the outcome!

3. Give your brain a breather.

Next, get away from shooting! Sometimes our brains just need a bit of a breather. I watch chick-flicks (yes, really!) and let myself relax – and sometimes be inspired – it seems to be the perfect getaway that reinvigorates my love of photographing weddings. Sometimes, however, getting FAR away is the only thing that does the trick. Ironically, when I leave my camera at home and take a trip it makes me yearn for my camera. I think it makes me appreciate the art again, and the act of photographing real moments for my couples. Speaking of getting away, one of my favorite getaways happens to be trips to photography tradeshows. WPPI always inspires me to work on my business, my craft, and my art. Every trip leaves me fully renewed on the journey home!

4. Second shoot for another photographer.

Another way to snap out of a creative rut is to second shoot for another photographer. I’ve only done this a couple of times over my career, but let me just say… it is FUN! I don’t have to worry about capturing every special moment of a bride’s day, and I can concentrate on being an artist. Wouldn’t it be fun to bring a new lens (preferably a non-zoom) to a wedding and keep it on the camera the entire day? Wouldn’t it be fun to shoot the reception with no flash? You get the idea!

5. Give attention to personal projects.

One last way to avoid creative burnout is to give attention to personal projects. Whether it’s photographing your own children (why are photographers the worst at this?), or giving yourself personal assignments, shooting for yourself helps you to remember the value of having photographs. To take this a step further, PRINT OUT your personal photographs. Too many photos live on our hard drives and our social media, and not enough live on the walls of our living rooms. Photograph for yourself, and get back to making prints.

I’m not perfect by any means, and I’m not sitting on any photo throne hall of fame – it was an honor just to be asked to write this – but I do practice what I preach. I do play around at every shoot. I do plan little brain vacations, whether near or far. I do photograph my kids on a daily basis. I do make prints. And I am still in love with photography. I wish the same for you!

To see more work from Benfield Photography, check out their website and Facebook.

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