Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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I'm an amateur in photography (as hobby), but I have a lot of stuff: $1000 DSLR Camera, 4 lens, cool external flash, two tripods and umbrella. My friends and people who subscribed to my blog says I'm a good photographer (That I have my own taste and sense of photography). Of course not for professional work, but just for me and people around me. I was really enjoying it for a long time.

But last 3 months I took the camera only one time and it was just casual picture of a crowd on friend's birthday. I'm not interesting in photo now, not in articles and galleries that I was looking a lot earlier. And it scares me. So what? Sell all the stuff and forget about the hobby at all? Or let it gather dust on a shelf?

So my question is: How can I determine that the photography is lost to me, and the muse will never return to me? What do you do to bring the muse back to yourself, and make yourself happy again from photography?

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Looking at your blog, I agree w/your friends, great photographs! –  Shizam Dec 10 '10 at 19:42
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+1 for "muse" tag. –  MainMa Dec 30 '10 at 14:50

7 Answers 7

up vote 21 down vote accepted

I'm currently in a similar kind of a position (because of or despite the fact there is beautiful winter outside). And I think, as mattdm said, project is the way to go.

But the hardest part in having a project is starting one. What helps me to get started is:

  • Have a clean memory card, full battery and any lens attached to your camera.
  • Leave your camera in the place where you spend the most of the time, e.g. on your desk, so it is easy to reach and constantly reminding/nagging you of its existence.
  • Go through your own collection: re-organize it or tag it or rate it or add more notes to photos if you have done the rest already.
    • Do not try to review your collection in one sitting. Do not procrastinate your ideas because you are re-organizing your collection.

I've found that going through your own gallery is one of the best inspiration methods, especially for semi-beginner hobbyist like me. What I look for is all the errors I've made; especially in focusing and exposure, since I try to shoot in manual a lot. Also it helps to see my usual type of composition and noticing it is the most important part in breaking it in the future.

When you get enough "I could do that better now!" kind of thoughts: pick up your camera in the spur of the moment and go shooting; you can continue your re-organization later on, it doesn't go anywhere. Now your project would actually be your blind spots you've noticed in your collection, and if you are as engineering-minded as I am, it could be mostly technical (rather than a theme/subject):

  • Notice you mainly shoot at small apertures outside? Put your lens manually to the widest and go out.
  • Notice you mainly shoot with flash indoors? Leave the flash!
  • Always shoot in color? Turn your camera on B/W and do not rationalize you could do it in post-processing anyway.
  • Always zoom to get closer to subjects? Attach a prime lens and make your legs your zoom.

What also helps my creativity is giving strict rules how to photograph. E.g. f4 100mm ISO1600 B/W, people outdoors, go! That forces you to think the photo more than the settings AND it is also inspiring if your rules are atypical for you. Follow your rules for a fortnight or for a month rather than few hours. After the period you probably have an interesting collection, which shows you the pros and cons of the settings.

So, in conclusion: I think the best way to get back to shooting is to realize you have taken a lot of bad pictures and to realize you can always learn more from photography. It is nice to hear you have taken few good photos, but don't leave it there. Be your own most brutal critic.

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I like your idea to review my own photo gallery (with 10k+ photos). I just saw couple of collections from my bike travels and very impressed from them. OMG, I even don't remember these pictures I did few years ago! Thanks. –  Genius Dec 12 '10 at 9:32
    
I would also like to suggest a "No cropping" or "Straight out of the camera" rule. This makes me at think at least twice before snapping a picture. Also, it makes me take a few steps closer, or choose a different perspective if something is in the way. Also, trying to expose just right, in camera, adds a competitive feeling, even if it is only you who is "playing". –  Arcadie May 6 '11 at 6:17

Only you can really say, it may come back, or it may be gone. Do you want to be interested in photography? Any way I will share the following, which I hope will be of use to somebody:

The same thing happened to me in university, I had bought a camera, taken a lot of photographs over summer and then didn't touch it for months when term started. I felt like I had wasted a lot of money, so I decided to sign up for the university newspaper in order to force me to get out and use it! I got a lot of poor initial assignments, which I carried out through a sense of obligation.

But then slowly I got to do more and more interesting work, more fashion/portraiture based. I was forced to develop new techniques, learn how to do proper lighting, and eventually discovered talents I didn't know I had which propelled my interest in photography, which has continued to grow continuously to the present day!

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Very good selfmotivation story, +1. But I'm not planning to come back to university ;) –  Genius Dec 12 '10 at 9:40

Sounds like you need a project.

The first thing you give to show your prior interest is a list of gear. And photography can be a fine hobby for someone who wants to focus on accumulating gadgets -- but sounds like that doesn't really hold your interest for very long. (Isn't that always the case with tech toys? Gotta keep buying the new thing!)

Instead, think about something that interests you in the rest of your life; not photography for its own sake. Choose a different hobby you're involved in, perhaps, or something from your job. Or something technical: focus on a certain color, or an abstract concept.

Make a project to document whatever you choose from a unique perspective, with the aim of producing something at the end: a small cohesive body of work to display, or a small photobook (perhaps with text as well if you enjoy writing).

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A project, you are absolutely right! That's what probably I need. I accepted an answer from '''koiyu''' because he explained it in more detail. But thank you! –  Genius Dec 12 '10 at 9:38

Like people say, the only real judge about that is you, however like the two Matt's I'll give you my "solution" to the problem. The funny thing is, my experience is almost the reverse of Matt's, I got into photography as the editor of my college newspaper and then let it drop after I finished school. It was digital that got me back into it with my first real keeper of a dragonfly (practically a cliche now) shot.

Anyways, my solution... Try something completely different than what you've been doing. The approach I took, to get me to shoot more, was a Project 365 with an express goal of not having a lot of duplication. I'll be honest, I had duplication of subjects (I like water drop and smoke photography), but I also tried a lot of new things. I also wasn't always really motivated, every day, to shoot, but I did it anyways and so now, with less than a month to go, I'm almost there and I'm glad I did it. I think I ended up with some really good shots and some, well, not so good ones, but that's half the fun.

So, some of the new things that it got me to try were:

  • street photography
  • landscape
  • long exposure
  • various strobe techniques
  • studio portraits
  • light painting
  • more artistic post processing

It also got me doing some DIY stuff for light modification, shooting arrangements, etc. It also got me to buy more gear (such as studio strobes, backdrop stands, etc.). There are days, during this project, that I've had more fun with photography than I have ever had, especially doing the Christmas portraits of my neices and nephews. So, while I'm sure that I won't shoot as much in the new year when this project is done, I'm pretty sure I'm still going to shoot a lot.

I think the biggest reward, really, was the obvious enjoyment my friends and family got from the shots this year. I've had many ask me to continue, though they have no idea how much work it is. Anyways, it was a success for me personally.

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Very good idea! Thanks. Changing the subject of interest is good not only to wake up the muse, but even to enhance a field of view. –  Genius Dec 12 '10 at 9:34

Instead of suggesting you different ways to wake your muse, I'd say let her sleep! :o)

3 months is hardly a big period to assume your interest in something has gone. Photography (as probably all forms of expression) is highly subject to personal questions that certainly can make you go up and down for periods like that.

I know a bunch of people (me included) that stayed away from music for years, just to see everything come back on a sudden day. Of course when you play an instrument and stay away of it for years, your muscles are not the same and there is a recovering time before you get back.

But the recovery can, in some cases, even surpass the previous performance! Because during that time, even if you have not played (or photographed in your case) your senses were not turned off, so your perception of the world will have evolved and this will show on your new way to approach whatever you were doing.

Bottom line, relax, take a break, enjoy the view. It will pay later. :o)

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It's an option, +1! :) But may be for the future. Because The New Year holidays are coming, snow is falling and it's not a time to miss this period. Thanks –  Genius Dec 12 '10 at 9:43
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Have to agree here totally. Over the years I have repeatedly gone through similar up-and-down rhythm (currently going through a down-phase) - but in the end I always come back with more passion and vigor than before. I make sure to keep my mind busy doing completely different creative projects so that when I do come back, I will hopefully have new ideas borrowed from the other arts. –  glenneroo Dec 14 '10 at 16:00

Try different angles: you have 4 lenses, how about forcing yourself to use the lens you use less, to "force" your mind to see different perspectives. Last year I had to do so to "clean" my mind of using ultra wide angle lenses (I even loaned mine so I couldn't use it) and it brought me lots of different perspectives. Or shoot only with your cameraphone or a compact camera, and shoot often.

Try different themes, even themes you don't like, that could bring challenges and different ideas.

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Take a moment to relax and look at other aspects of your life. Artistic creativity requires a certain peace of mind whether you realize it or not. If there is something in your life that is stressing you out or otherwise distracting you it could be preventing your muse from operating so to speak.

One question to answer is if you've taken up an interest in something else in the three months. If not, if you just feel blah, it might not be photography specific.

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