Monday, December 07, 2009

PHOTOGRAPHY BURNOUT (and other common blunders) How.To.Beat.'Em.

"Derive happiness in oneself from a good day's work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us..." -Henri Matisse


"Ideas are the root of creation..." -Ernest Dimnet

This is a long post. It took me a long time to write it, and I consulted with a lot of people to have several different points of view on the who's, what's, why's and how's of creative ruts, and how to beat them. It's not a fast read, but it's worth it. I promise.

So here we go...and let's have fun with this.

Alright, in the 3 and 1/2 years I've been a photographer (from hobbyist to shooting professionally) there are 4 questions I get emailed to me on a daily basis:

1.) What music is on your website? (stock music from a stock site I do not know the name of...)

2.) How do you process your photos? (a long and tedious process, and a bit of a magician's trick)

3.) How much are your prints? (they are super affordable, I promise ;)

4.) "How do you continue to create, and stay inspired? I'm in a major creative rut, and hate all my work."

This blog is to answer that last question.

This leads me to the official 'blah' terminology....

We've all heard the terms. Yah, you know the ones...

*Photography Burnout
*Writers Block
*Burnt Out
*In a rut
*Fill in the _________ .


First of all -Grab a coffee or a warm tea. Maybe a cold beer or a glass of wine if that does it for you. Something you feel comfortable and happy with, however big or small, and have a read. Get comfortable. (This is just as important and what I'm about to blog about) This particular post is far overdue to those I've promised it to over the past few months, but I wanted to be sure I was in the right place to be able to give some solid advice, not only to Photographers, but to all creatives. My hope is that in writing this I might help a few out there that are really needing a creative boost. Whether Photography (or perhaps you are a Writer or Artist??), is your career or hobby, I hope you can take something away that INSPIRES you.

So, this may be a long post, but there is not a quick answer. However, in saying that, there IS AN ANSWER - actually several. There are a few key points that I think are 100% essential in all artists' lives to maintain a level of 'creative flow'. I will list them below, and then go into them, and break them down.

1.) Inspiration (Both finding, and becoming)
2.) You cannot make a masterpiece, everday.
3.) Give yourself downtime from what you love the most.
4.) Knowing & understanding what it actually means to be an artist.
5.) Slooooooow Down. Why is everyone rushing?
6.) Patience with yourself.

1.) Inspiration:

"Set Your Goals High Enough To Inspire You And Low Enough To Encourage You." -Author Unknown

THIS IS THE BIG ONE. Get INSPIRED. Just today I was speaking with Stephen (a landscape photographer) about this post and how I was going to go about this, and he said that 90% of his inspiration (and ideas) come while he doesn't have a camera in his hand. I found that impressive, but in no way surprising. Furthermore, I'd venture to say, 99% of my ideas come when I'm nowhere near a camera. They come when I'm out and about, watching a movie, at a bookstore, on a trip or even a walk, playing with my dogs, taking a hike, playing in nature, etc... We can't lock ourselves into our houses - same boring routine, day after day, enclosed within our spaces, where our bills are lying by our computer or notebook...blah blah blah, and expect to come up with something amazing to shoot/write/create. You have to experience something amazing (or that inspires you, usually in a new way). This something amazing can vary depending what you love, what you do, and who you are, but mix it up a bit.

*Find what inspires YOU.

*Surround yourself with it.

*Know why and what about it inspires you.

*Nurture that 'feeling' within you.

*Keep a notebook, because ideas will come when you create this environment for them.

How I achieve this step:

*I watch movies (new ones, with powerful storylines & beautiful imagery). At the theatre and stacks at home. I can't get enough of a good story that's made well.

*Long walks in nature with no goal, no decided path, and no deadline. Get lost like you did when you were a kid. Rediscover what it's like to be unplugged from the computer or a phone. I find such a different kind of inspiration comes from silence or the beauty of the woods.

*I surround myself with beautiful things (I call these 'little luxuries'). These can vary from cups of tea, or a comfy pair of pajamas you reaaaalllly wanted and saved up for. This can also include a beautiful photo book, or favorite novel. I literally will not even leave my home without a Pablo Neruda (poetry) book. Peruse (when it doesn't feel like work) Flickr, for example, looking only under their Interestingness & Explore pages to see some of the most beautiful images the net has to offer.

*Start an inspiration journal (I have one on my computer). Either a notebook or a folder that you can open, and see beautiful quotes, poems, imagery that you've compiled over time.

*I only listen to beautiful music (my favorites are solo piano ballads and soft acoustic ;)

*I meditate daily and am always amazed at what a little mellow and gentle introspection can produce. Giving the brain a little downtime can help it recuperate from all the thinking (and over thinking we artists are prone to ;)

*I get out of the house. My favorite indoor places are bookstores. Barnes & Noble, anyone?? Go to their magazine section, their art section, their poetry section, their travel section, their interior decor section. Grab a big stack of things that aesthetically appeal to you, and go find a comfy chair.

*Enjoy the company of whomevers company you actually enjoy. Don't hang around just anyone. Find those you truly enjoy, and who you look up to (Father, friend, neighbor, even an animal). Take from them what you love about them, and put it towards your art. :) Let it fuel you.

2.) You cannot make a masterpiece, everyday.

Leonardo Da Vinci did NOT paint the Mona Lisa in a day, and I doubt he'd have really loved it if he had. How can you love something that came to fruition and was executed in one day? True masterpieces are only such (imho) because they are being created by the artist giving that artwork, novel, or photographic piece a part of their own self. And in giving oneself to something to make it beautiful, you need to replenish it's source. You need to replenish you, because you are taking from you.

Robert Frost once said: "No tears in the writer, No tears in the reader."
Keep that in mind. Always keep that in mind. You must be overflowing to give (with any emotion).

3.) Give yourself downtime from what you love the most.

Have you ever heard anyone say that once they began doing what they loved as a career, it stopped being fun? Or, that in cultivating their passion for monetary gain, it lost it's allure or appeal?

I have. I think it's because things are fun when we have fun doing them, which also means we do them when we want to vs. when we are obligated to by others, etc. They stop being fun when deadlines are put onto our 'passions'.

How I beat this blunder:

Because it's sometimes almost impossible (especially for those of us under contract, or Commercial Photographers who have clientele' deadlines) to really take time off or have a lot of downtime, it's still important to remember that time off is essential in some form. Whether that is once a day, once a week, or once a month or if you need to rewrite an overbooked schedule, take a look at what you can do to get that fundamental personal time you need. Unplug for that amount of time, and really dedicate it to doing something else. Something, preferably that you find pleasant to do instead. It will help you to miss your passion in a way that isn't there or so obvious when it becomes the obsession. There's such a fine line, sometimes...

Also, I have found it's nice to remind yourself as to why you got into this business (writing, art, photography, etc) For myself and photography, I always look back to the beginnings. What inspired me about the process of film, and the process of telling stories through my lens? It's usually a pleasant and nostalgic and recuperative look down memory lane. These help to ground me when I'm floating on top of a crazy 'to do' list of deadlines. Don't forget why you do what you do. Don't forget to revisit why you started this job, and nurture those feelings. This almost goes back to the well known: "Don't forget who you are."

4.) Know and understand what it actually means to be an artist.

Have you ever heard the quote: "Being a Poet is a condition, not a profession".

This applies to all creatives. Writers, poets, photographers, artists, etc... If you shook your head yes to that quote, you get it. We 'right brainers' need to understand that our need to create indicates who we are and what we are susceptible to on a much deeper level. We are the feelers and the thinkers, etc... This often means we are sensitive (sometimes more-so than others) because we are creative at our very heart. And it's not just being sensitive to bills, or stress, but also being sensitive when we are out of whack with our own creative flow.

5.) Slooooooooow down. Why is everyone rushing?

Why is everyone rushing....? Drum roll please...MONEY, FAME, VALIDATION, OR BILLS (or some related aspect of this). Usually. I have observed this over and over, and have fallen victim to this myself many times -especially at the beginning. I think there is a common habit in this industry (again often reinforced by the above mentioned culprits) to rush and rush and so on .... to produce a million great pieces a week or month, to keep up with the demand put onto us by every single bill or deadline, so that we can continue to progress and not disappoint ourselves or others. This is also not helped by how fast social networking has made our lives, and this light speed technology. We must stay RELEVANT in such a fast paced world. It all reinforces our habit to RUSH. Yes, we can do it, but should we??? When we rush ourselves, we may also become exhausted or burnt out from going faster that our creativity naturally allows. The other culprit worth touching on is the fame and external validation that is such a key part of yes, success. And, in this 'creative' industry, it can be vicious. For those of you looking to 'make it big' (be famous) in this industry, so to speak, ask yourselves, again why it's so important right away. Is it the validation from others that we need to feel like our work is as good as we hope it is?Instead, perhaps ( before rushing to be famous), put in the time to learn your craft and really fine tune your skill - as those who are famous have done before you. Before getting featured in every major magazine, spend the time on making work worth publishing. And lastly, be confident in yourself (in the meantime) to continue with your vision while you complete pieces worthy of you and your ultimate goal.

How to beat the rush:

Remember feeling rushed is, by default, your body's way of telling you you are not giving something the attention it needs. Otherwise, you wouldn't feel you were rushing.

Also, I'm a big advocate for remembering that quality *in my experience* gets you just as far as quantity. It may take twice as long, but the praise will be greater, and you will be more fulfilled once all is said and done with your own work. Slow down. Be consistent. Be the quality. Exercise a little calm. This takes practice, but is better on the body and the mind. Remember the story: "The Tortoise and the Hare". There's a reason it's a fable...

6.) Patience with Yourself. Don't beat yourself up.

"He that can have patience, can have what he will..." - Benjamin Franklin

First of all, have you ever looked at some famous artists work and thought these very words: "My work is crap. I will never be that good."

Again, I've definitely had that moment.

You must remember those 'masterpieces' you are reading or looking at are in almost every case someone who's so far into their career. So practiced in their skill. So far along with their craft. So established in their style. Their first works were probably nothing near what you are viewing now. Their first photos were probably of little nooks and lacking compositions. Their writing might have been nothing more than a passing thought that you'd have passed on as well...

Don't beat yourself up about it. It's nothing but counterproductive. It's so invalidating. Don't compare yourself to the 'greats'. You are great. You will be greater.

How to beat this:

Instead of hating yourself, and throwing away all you've ever done, try looking at the greats, whomever they may be to you, and understanding what about their work evokes such an intense response within you. What in their work is so inspiring? Let it help you grow. Let it INSPIRE you. Never copy another, but allow those works to help you find your own style, and then be willing to give yourself the time and respect enough to find and BUILD upon your own unique style. We are all different. It's the gift of being an individual. Embrace it. Utilize it. Be proud of yourself.

Below are two artists' examples of how everyone matures as their career progresses. The proof is in the pictures. Would you believe my first shot was simply of a wildflower in my garden? I hope in seeing these examples, you can see how, over time, we all advance in style, vision, subject matter, processing, narrative, depth...etc. Please feel free to click on imagery in this blog to make it bigger. Again, please don't swipe. ;)

Stephen Newport, then and now...

Myself, then and now...

“Just don't give up on trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong.” -Ella Fitzgerald

And that's it!
It's as simple and as complicated as that! :p
Hope this blog has helped some of you!

And now for just a little more inspiration, if you've made it this far, pat yourself on the back, because for checking this out (and hopefully enjoying the read) feel free to leave your name in comments to win an 8x12 signed print. It's a surprise which one I've got stashed away (it's a goodie). I will draw a winner a bit later in the month :) If you would like to leave your name in comments for the drawing, but don't have a blog where I can reach you, please leave your email or contact info as well. x

Talk soon-
Ashley | Bottle Bell

To follow this blog from your own, simply click the follow button to your right. :)


Anonymous said...

This was nothing short of phenomenal, and so incredibly helpful. This must have taken a ton of time. Thank you so much for what you give back to this community!


ps. I'm off to the bookstore. :)

Anonymous said...

Incredibly well done! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Interesting read & I agree. The bookstore idea I do already; really helps with ideas.

Thanks for the refresher on inspiration.

.E. said...

what a great post.. really interesting read... I try to find inspiration all around me..

Stephen Newport said...

wonderful post Ashley, you are an inspiration.

Hannah said...

Ash, I love you. You always give such great advise and this is perfect. Im going to stop rushing now... I have sooo much time.

Id love to be entered into your give away. x

Keri-Anne said...

oh Ash!
you are truly an inspiration. thank you so so much for this post. And thank you for your friendship and support of my work!
Keri-Anne xx

Bottle Bell Photography said...

You are all very welcome. I'm glad it helps. :) xx

Jillian McGrath said...

This is awesome and extremely helpful. Thank you for your wonderful information! Your work truly is an inspiration.

Yulia Gorodinski said...

Thanks for sharing Ashley!


Anonymous said...

wow, this is great! i have a feeling i'll be coming back to this whenever i feel the photography blahs.
thanks so much for putting the time and effort into this for us. i really appreciate it :)

P.S. RTing right now!

Lola said...

Thank you so much for writing this! I will definitely be bookmarking this entry to look back on later when I'm feeling uninspired and stressed about what I'm doing.

I've RT'd this via DrifterandGypsy, by the way :)


Joe Whittle Photography said...

this was a great read! very validating to know that even the most talented struggle with finding inspiration. whenever i get down about my art and i'm feeling a lack of inspiration or "success", i remember van gogh, who sold one painting in his lifetime, to his brother. he once said "it is sure that i will never do great things." he said this while he was doing them. even the greatest masters dealt with lack of confidence and recognition. yet continued on. pressed forward and found that inspiration and lived it! i look at van gogh and think "my work is crap. i will never be that good." just like you said. i do that with a lot of work. it's heartening to know that he did the same thing while looking at his masters and contemporaries! but he kept creating because he wasn't doing it for validation. it WAS him. his interaction with the world while he was here. not rushed. just lived. he achieved something far greater than "success". he absolutely and completely LIVED his art, and transferred his soul to canvas. anyway, great post ash! that's what it made me think of.very inspiring!

Anonymous said...

Oh Ashley, you couldn't have posted this at a better time. I have been dealing with lack of confidence and recognition lately and even though it sometimes eats me and it doesn't matter how many people try to cheer you up ... all i can do is stop and wait for it to grab me again without having to!

Thank you for reminding me :) x


(aka lilli-kad)

bronwen said...

great post ashley. the bit about slowing down and having downtime is something i constantly have to remind myself about! thanks for putting this together :o)

x bronwen

Jen said...

This was a great read, I enjoyed it! :)

Giovanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Giovanna said...

Amazing! I so love your work, and this post is really inspiring! Thanks for sharing this with us :) I just saw your beautiful work on The Drifter and The Gypsy and felt in love!
I'm following you now :)
Lots of love,
❉ ✿ ✿ ❉

Katie said...

This was very inspiring :).
Your work is beautiful.
I was just wondering, you left this comment on my blog a week or so ago...

'I'd like to possiby feature your inspirational book on my blog, please let me know if that'd be alright. Just a few q&a's and then feature it to all my online networks??


Wondering if you were still going to do that..? :).

Anonymous said...

Great Post! Great Advice. I also have read the Artist Way by Julie Cammeron and taken a worksop based on the book. I would highly recommend both...

DeAnna Masella said...

Thank you Ash, that put a calm on some fears I've had. You've cleared a overgrown pathway. <3 <3 <3

Unknown said...

this is amazing, to put it in words is a gift for me..i get stuck around four times a day :)my email is, your photos are beautiful :)

Tina said...

Thank you for the lift out of this creative rut I have found myself in, I think I need to read this daily.

Your photography is divine, it's also inspiring and stirring my own creativity!

Anonymous said...

Great words Ashley. Thanks.

Would love to win a print too, email address is


Unknown said...

I also found this via drifter and gypsy, and I'm so glad I did! Thank you so much for taking the time to post this. I will bookmark and re read many times!

Anonymous said...

I get so frustrated sometimes because I spend a couple of weeks pushing myself to bring my ideas to life and then after shooting I feel exhausted and can't even find the motivation to pick up my camera. Reading this makes me realise that it's OK to not be constantly active and it's OK to give my brain, body and creativity a chance to rest and recuperate!

Great blog and your images are always so inspiring :0)


A said...

we just found you. and me oh my... you will be seeing and hearing from us on a regular.
loving your blog. your work is moving and your words are nothing short of inspirational.
two new avid followers from SF.


L H said...

thank you for your encouraging words. There's hope for me yet. :)

PS I'm glad I stumbled on your work. Truly an inspiration.

Ninad Pundalik said...

A very interesting post, and obviously, well researched. IMHO, anyone who needs a break or feels burned out, should read this. It applies as much to real life, as much to Photography, whether as a hobby or a profession.
For the inspiration, you've mentioned bookstores, theater, music and movies. They are on the top of my list too. I've often found that college campuses are buzzing with activity, and there's a lot that we can take back from them. :)
I've just started following your work, and its amazing! Keep up the good work! :)

MC* said...

Thank you so much for the great post you've made :) really!

Stacie said...

Stacie C. here, I had to read this in sittings :) It had a lot of great information and inspiration. I wanted to make sure I was able to focus my attention to each section. It will be something I refer to when I'm down and done with things, creative or otherwise. A lot of what was said can be used for everyday life. Slowing down and thinking things through is something I need to do more of! I appreciate all the effort and time you put into this blog to make it the best it could be! The "before and after" shots are both great! It just represents two different times in the lives of you and the other artist. Both great, just holding different stories! How exciting! If you don't mind, i'd like to be entered into your drawing. You can find me on facebook!

pepi said...

The best way to get out of creative rut is to read your blog :o)

thanks Ashley!!

Bottle Bell Photography said...

I really appreciate all the feedback, both here, and on the crazy facebook wall that gets out of control... ;)

SIGN UPS ARE CLOSED AS OF TODAY, so GOOD LUCK! -->> Will be doing drawing on this a bit later on in the week, and will notify the winner personally as well as post it. !!

asheeee x

Unknown said...

HELLO dear Ashley,
its kat from secretsofabutterfly
i found your blog and am soon to go to your flickr. just wanted to say how totally inspiring i find your photography,especially the girls in the woods as i love nature so much and have an affinity to the fairie realm, i also see stories hidden within them as you mention. they are magical.
going to print off this post on inspiration to read slowly.
i'd really like to feature you at my little blog next year.would you like to be on under the "share a secret" series?
luv kat x

Julie Blair said...

A wonderful read! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I too LOVE spending time at Barnes & Noble...I can get lost for hours going from interior design to fashion to photography, much to be inspired by. I also wrote on my blog about not comparing ourselves with other artists for it kills creativity. Thanks again...really love your work.

Laura Crowell said...

lots of great ideas in this post!

I love listening to music. I always have my tiny moleskin notebook with me to write down ideas when they cross my mind. I don't always have an image in mind, but certain lyrics or quotes from movies will stand out and I just know it has to be used somehow, so I stash it away until I need it.

lovely to hear someone else's process! thanks!


Anonymous said...

Crispy burnt white toast. Starting to resent my clients. I do high end weddings. Want to sell all my gear. Want to run away to where the dream still lives. I feel like a zombie, kissing wedding planner's asses. It used to be about telling a great story, now it is stress about making money. I have no heart in this path anymore. I keep listening to all the stupid voices with their bad advice (Mary Oliver) and I am lost on the branch strewn path. Thanks for your words. I am trying to jump start a broken heart. It all just seems so vapid and hopeless.

Sharon said...

Beautiful photos and fantastic blog - such an interesting and talented person! Thank you!

Cat said...

Thank you so much Ashley I love your photography and this was a great motivator.