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When I first began my photography journey in 2005, I was fortunate enough to meet a good group of photography friends. Everyone in the group had the same enthusiasm and passion. We had the same goals of getting out in nature and capturing some captivating images from the adventure. Unfortunately, none of these like-minded friends are around today. With each year that passed, friends for one reason or another seem to disappear. As the years went by, I continued to meet photography friends who come in and out of my life. Curious to find out what has happened, I reached out to these people and asked why they were not involved in photography anymore. The answer was the same for all my friends; they got burned out with photography.
I was confused by this common thread of ‘burnout’ It wasn’t until several years later that I had reached the same feeling. With the flood of social media images, the increased competition, and the intensity of rivalry, the concept of ‘burnout’ is real.
Realizing I had become frustrated with the monotony of photography, I needed to either quit photography or find a way to get inspired again.
With photography, it’s effortless to find yourself in a rut. Practicing methods that have worked in the past become too easy to replicate. To avoid failure, we continue to do the same things and avoid coming out of our comfort zone. Thus, these practices lead to doing the same thing over and over.
From a creativity point of you, it’s tough to come out of your comfort zone. Through past experiences and practice, we learn what works. As humans, we stick with these methods. After long periods of developing the style, we are afraid to change. I had a particular manner using a wide-angle lens where I was scared to do anything but wide-angle. When I look back, I was hesitant to try something different in fear of failure. Many of the photographers that have succeeded today have pushed these creativity boundaries. These photographers continued to push outside their comfort zone. For example, they tried using different methods, such as a telephoto lens, in scenes that most photographers would have used a wide-angle. They photographed in light that wasn’t optional but found ways to use the light in creative ways. They choose time to develop styles that were against popular trends. Eventually, they created a unique path. The consequences of these actions helped avoid the dreaded ‘burnout’ that many photographers face.
Facing then the dilemma of ‘burnout,’ I had to make some uncomfortable choices. I needed to break out of my comfort zone. I tried many different avenues to revitalize my enthusiasm.
Although different methods work better depending on the photographer, I thought I would share one way that worked for me.
The first thing I did was research articles on finding ways to self-motivate oneself. I started with audiobooks and made it a goal to listen every morning for 30 minutes. I thank my fellow Photo Cascadia member Erin Babnik for this suggestion and the recommended audiobooks. The audiobooks based on self-growth and finding inspiration within yourself. Although the audiobooks weren’t specific to photography, the same principles could apply to any subject. After just a few days, I began to feel and think differently. The first time I listened to the audiobooks, it felt out of place; but shortly after, I found myself being transformed and inspired. I realized I first had to recognize within myself that I was in a rut and doing the same thing over and over.
Once I realized this, I could then start finding methods to avoid this. Taking an in-depth hard look within myself wasn’t easy, but I had to change the way I did things. I started by making short terms goals and applying small daily habits. I had to be realistic with what I could achieve. The process of change had to be a journey, not a destination. I realized if a transformation were to happen, it would not be overnight. Changes would have to occur in small increments. I realized the only way change was going to happen by making consistent efforts every day. These changes will be different for every photographer, but I had to identify precisely what it was that I could achieve from a realistic point of view. I started to see changes and positive growth in daily habits and wanted to apply these fundamental changes in all areas of my life.
I expanded my repertoire of audiobooks to include other areas such as self-confidence. For me, believing in myself and worth, especially in photography, is a tough thing to do. I find myself in many situations where I’ve doubted my quality of photography work was comparable to others. The quality of images posted today on social media is incredible. The talent continues to keep getting better and better. The constant rut of my photography work helped perpetuate the feeling my work was not worthy enough. The combination of listening to audiobooks in different areas not only helped me get out of a photography rut but also stagnation in my personal life. It has been a few months since I began the daily habit of listening to audiobooks, and I still make the conscious effort to begin my day with the audiobooks. Many areas can help with ‘burnout,’ but for myself, the audiobooks have helped me grow and look at things from a different perspective. Is there something that has helped you to get out of a rut?
Kevin McNeal is a landscape photographer who resides in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. He focuses on grand colorful landscapes that reflect the most unique places on earth. Capturing moments of magic light and transferring this on print, images behold a combination of perseverance, patience, and dedication to capture the images in ways unseen before. The stories of how these images are rendered come across in the feelings the images convey.