Dry Spells: How to Keep Your Brain Watered

As a perfectionist, I like to think I can always operate at maximum capacity. I visualize creative ideas pouring into my brain at measured, generous intervals, molding me into some human fount of originality. Obviously, no visualization could be father from reality.

Everybody has dry spells. Nothing seems to call your name and you end up sitting on the couch watching old episodes of The Wire for hours on end. I get it. These times are disheartening for me, especially when I hold myself as a photographer, journalist, and a person to such unrealistic standards of creativity.

But I’ve learned that to preserve my sanity and save the self-bashing energy, I must embrace these dry spells while they last and clear out of them once they start to loosen their grip. I’ve compiled a sort of resource list of some strategies to utilize, but not wallow in the dry spells. This is meant to be both a “note to self” as well as a helpful, applicable list for you as a photographer as well (hopefully).

Let me know if these are helpful, how you go about tackling your dry periods, or what advice you have for me. As always, your thoughts make these posts so much better!

1) Don’t deny it.
The worst thing you can do during a dry spell is pretend it’s not there. Identify the reasons why you no longer feel like shooting. Does it seem like you’ve run out of things to shoot? Do your surroundings seem stale? Do you feel like your recent work just isn’t capturing what you want it to? Are you comparing yourself to others and feeling subpar? Have you been shooting so much that you are burned out? After identifying what’s causing the dry spell, you can better tailor your steps towards getting out of the hole.

2) Take a day trip.
Most of my dry spells stem from the way I perceive the place I live. I have a very short attention span and my aesthetic choices can be fickle. If I continue my routine in a place for over a month, my eyes lose their focus on the area’s rich subject matter. For example, Columbia has lots of visual opportunities, from the urban areas to the national parks to the Saturday football games. But when I’m here all the time, I become jaded and blind to my surroundings. Driving an hour to Macon or an hour and a half to the Ozarks can be refreshing for the eyes and can help you see your home environment in a new light.

3) Take out the idea list.
During my high points, when I’ve got way more good ideas in my head than time to follow through with them, I make lists and tuck them in my assignment notebook. When in a rut, I can look over the list, and an idea (and some of the enthusiasm with which I wrote it down months ago) gets me back on track.

4) Narrow things down.
Seeing the big picture isn’t always a useful thing. Trying to fit all the elements of your environment or your subject into one sweeping glance usually is overwhelming and burns you out. A broad, big picture view usually doesn’t lend well to interesting photographs either. Narrow your mindset and focus on the miniscule aspects of a project, person, landscape or setting. Seeing smaller patterns can shed light on characteristics of the larger thing at hand.

5) Ask your peers about their projects.
If you’re not in a community of other people who value your creative medium, find one. And when you do, talk to them about what they’re currently pursuing. It might at first make you disheartened if everyone seems to be on a great path, but it can also get your mind started what you want to work with. And everyone goes through dry spells, so you can garner advice from those who have been there before. 

6) Go on a group shoot.
I usually am not a fan of shooting with other people. I like to observe intently, and I like to do it alone. But while shooting together doesn’t usually produce the most thoughtful and in-depth work, it can definitely widen your horizons. Always look at each others shots afterwards as well, as it can be surprising to see how differently each photographer sees the same setting. Seeing how other people see enriches and widens your own perspective.


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