…but I don’t know what to photograph.
My life as a photographer usually involves periods of intense activity followed by fallow periods where I’m not shooting much. When I have photo gigs with clients, I have an objective, a subject, a theme. When I am shooting for myself, sometimes I am motivated by an idea, my own themes, a project, or some beautiful light.
Then there are times where the weather is right, the light is right, the time is right, and… nothing. Some days I feel intensely creative but without a muse, and some days I just feel aimless and blah. There are the times I feel like I should be out, that I should be taking advantage of whatever time or interesting meteorology I have at my disposal, but I just can’t make it happen. I find myself saying I want to shoot photos, but I don’t know of what.
I think it’s important to have these periods of inactivity or creative block–I think generally your brain is working in the background, connecting dots, recharging, linking ideas together, whatever. I think it’s important to take a rest sometimes, even though it is often frustrating. This week we have had a series of fronts moving through central North Carolina, and they have brought some dramatic weather and light with them. We have had my favorite kinds of clouds, brilliant blue sky, intense thunderstorms, the gamut. And I have had afternoon opportunities to go shoot, and ample cameras and lenses at my disposal.
Yet I have found myself going back to familiar places, familiar faces, taking snapshots at gatherings and revisiting things I’ve shot in the past. I feel like I’m not breaking new ground, or exploring new ideas, or advancing my photography. Sometimes I look back on these weeks and the photos they produce–because, believe me, I’m still out shooting even when I’m not feeling it–and I find some gems that I overlooked. Sometimes I groan and and wait for the creative juices to return.
I think it’s important to keep shooting, even when things don’t line up just right. For one thing, you never know when an opportunity might present itself and spark your creativity. If you don’t have your camera with you, or if you don’t give yourself the opportunity, it will be harder to come by. For another thing, just like playing scales, it’s important to practice on your camera–to build familiarity, muscle memory, compositional skills, whatever. It’s often a good time to work on something you don’t feel like you’re very good at, and get better.
My background is primarily in writing and American literature, not photography. One of the lessons I remember best from my days of reading and writing short stories, of workshopping drafts and fighting through writer’s block, is that you need to be there. You need to sit down, put pen to paper, and start writing. You might write for an hour and end up with trash, or you might write for four and end up with the start of a masterpiece. But you have to have the ritual, take the time, make the effort.
I like it when I hold my nose to the grindstone, keep getting out there, and come back with something that I like. Even if it doesn’t fit into some larger schema that I have in my head, even if it doesn’t blaze new trails or satisfy some particular itch I have, I like having the new work, and to see where my mind was, and to see what I was seeing. Sometimes it really ain’t so bad.
So here’s to holding your nose to the grindstone. Fight through the pain, fight through the frustration. I’m writing this as much for you as for me, as I struggle to find my next melody.